“The Museum That Works”
Obscurely nestled behind what appears to be an original western ranch house at the southeast corner of the I-25 exit to the North Gate of the United States Air Force Academy, is a building that houses a unique collection of western mining and industrial machinery and western mining artifacts. The building’s exterior belies the size of the large and fascinating machinery that lies inside. As you walk in the door you will not miss a 37-ton, 500-horsepower Corliss Steam engine around which the building is constructed. If you are interested in the history of mining or industry and the machinery used to make it all happen, then this engaging and absorbing museum is for you.
I usually browse through a museum alone, but on the day of my visit an enthusiastic and knowledgeable gentlemen named Brad Poulson suggested that I take the guided tour with him. I accepted, and am I glad that I did. He started by having me view a short video about the history of mining in Colorado, and over the next two hours, he demonstrated and explained how the machinery is used to cut through hard rock, to drain water from the mines, and to power other machines.
To see the machinery standing alone is one thing–impressive though it is; to watch it work is another. Powered these days by an electric motor instead of steam, the Corliss Steam Engine is a fascinating machine to watch. The seventeen-ton, fifteen-foot-in-diameter flywheel and the huge arms that it drives, if run at maximum speed, could cause the building to shake off of its foundation, or it certainly feels that way. The flywheel powered a large belt that was used to power other machinery. Other working machines inside the museum include an air compressor, a rock drill (cover your ears), an 1881 Edison Dynamo and a 1910 Orr and Sembower Steam Engine, and a steam-powered generator. Brad is there the entire time to explain how each machine functions and precisely what it was used for.
The stationary displays include an eighteenth century assay office, a melting furnace, an ore cart, a hoist, a compressed air trammer, an explosives exhibit, and many others. The museum even houses an extensive library of mining related materials available to the public by appointment only. Outside the building are a Bucyrus Steam Shovel, a Swedish made electric locomotive, a Cornish Beam Engine, and a steam stamp used to crush ore.
I recommend the guided tour, so allow at least two hours for your visit. The museum also offers, in addition to the daily tours, lectures, special events, and school tours.
If you live in or are passing through the Colorado Springs area, pull off at exit 156A on I-25 and experience “The Museum That Works.”