High Anxiety
Operating the Royal Gorge Tram
Name Bob Cupp
Age 70
Title Tram senior operator, Royal Gorge Bridge & Park
On the job Five years
Location Cañon City
Typical tram operator salary $22,000 to $23,000
A lot of people are afraid of heights—but most of them probably don’t clamp themselves to the outside of an aerial tram that runs from one side of the Royal Gorge to the other, suspended 1,178 feet above the Arkansas River. Once a month, Bob Cupp, who admits he has anxiety about heights, does just that. The tram, which ferries up to 190,000 passengers a year, requires regular inspection of its 2,200 feet of cables for flaws and imperfections. Cupp took the job to occupy himself after he retired from 33 years at the state Department of Corrections. “It took me six months to really get comfortable,” Cupp says of being atop the tramcar, “because if you get a good gust of wind, 40 or 50 miles per hour, that thing swings pretty good.”

Cupp’s daily duties, which he splits with another tram operator, include servicing every part of the ride on both sides of the gorge, sometimes 30 or 40 feet above the ground: He greases the cable wheels, inspects the tower buildings, mans the ride’s control room, and occasionally assumes the conductor position on the tram. If there’s an electrical outage—which happens a handful of times every year—and the tram grinds to a halt in the center of the gorge, passengers can thank Cupp for his speedy reboot with the gasoline motor. And although it’s never occurred in real life, the operators are trained to evacuate the tram while it’s suspended over the gorge; the maneuver requires exiting the car through a trap door, swinging out over the edge of the tram to a ladder, and climbing to the top of the cables. “Any time we’re doing that, we’re very cautious, and we’re always harnessed in,” Cupp says. “Every foot has to be placed carefully. The main thing is, we’re here if something goes wrong. To do a job like this, you know what you have to do to be safe. And you just do it.”