Mt. Washington Cog Railway
The Mt. Washington Cog Railway has the distinction of being the very
first such system ever put into practical use in the United States when
it opened just after the Civil War. The operation was conceived by
Sylvester Marsh who believed the railroad would become a popular tourist
attraction after he climbed New Hampshire's Mount Washington in the
early 1850s. His idea proved to be quite a success and, just like the
Manitou & Pike's Peak Railway in Colorado, thousands of folks
continue to descend upon Bretten Woods annually to ride the train.
Interestingly, the railroad does not scale the entire mountain but
begins about a quarter of the way with grades reaching incredible
levels, which peaks at 37.4%! For much of its existence the Mt.
Washington line relied on standard steam power to shove trains up the
slope but today it uses cheaper, and more environmentally friendly,
bio-diesel units alongside its steamers.
|Mt. Washington steamer #9, the "Waumbek," receives some attention at the shops while others watch during August of 1970.|
For years, the White Mountains of New England, located in northern New
Hampshire and Maine, have been a popular tourist attraction, which only
grew when railroads finally reached the region. The first of these
system was the appropriately-named White Mountains Railroad, which
opened a line to nearby Littleton about 20 miles away in 1853 (the
company would eventually become a subsidiary of the Boston & Maine).
It was just one year earlier, in 1852, that a meat-packer from
Chicago, Sylvester Marsh, had climbed Mt. Washington and realized its
potential to attract tourists given the spectacular views it offered as
the tallest slope east of the Mississippi River (6,293 feet). First,
however, he would need to develop a cog, or rack, railway system to
scale the mountain as similar designs were already in use in other parts
of the world.
He began to work on his new business idea
in 1855 and in the spring of 1858 decided he was ready to showcase his
contraption to the New Hampshire State Legislature using a model
locomotive and a short stretch of track. His cog design (which was
later patented on September 10, 1861 and known as the Marsh System)
ultimately won over the legislature, which approved his charter although
unable to raise funding he had to use his $5,000 of his own money to
construct a small test section to show the public how it worked. This
small stretch of track, a quarter-mile in length, was constructed at
Cold Spring Hill at what is now the opening section of the Mt.
Washington Cog (located about 2,700 feet up the slope of the
mountain). The demonstration occurred on August 29, 1866 and the public
was incredibly impressed with the Marsh cog system which used a simple,
ladder-like rack sported by outside-bracing "L" shaped rails.
|Another view of #9 as it begins the climb up the mountain during August of 1970.|
This was engaged by a pinions on the locomotive with deep-setting teeth
to not only "grab" the rack securely but also designed in such a way
that two teeth were always engaged for added safety. The success of the
demonstration allowed the formation of the railroad, private funding to
be secured, and Marsh nominated as president. A year later, in 1867 he
had one mile open and by August 14, 1868 the line had reached Jacob's
Ladder. Finally, in July of 1869 the 3.25-mile railroad was opened to
the Mt. Washington summit and had cost $150,000 to complete. One of the
first dignitaries to ride the new system was none other than President
Ulysses Grant, the heralded Union general which had helped win the Civil War for the North.
The first steam locomotive used was an upright boiler design named Old Peppersass, #1 (which also went by the name of Hero and Peppersauce). It somewhat resembled the Baltimore & Ohio's Tom Thumb
and featured a trailing tender with a rating of between 45 and 50
horsepower. It was slightly angled to remain at a level position while
climbing the mountain and pushed a single passenger car
on its journey, a practice still used today as an added safety measure
(locomotives also lead the way on the journey back down for the same
reason although it also saved time by not having to turn the units).
After years of service the railroad knew it needed to replace #1 and
would eventually roster a fleet of steam locomotives that looked like
traditional designs with an enclosed cab and tender but used a slightly
angled horizontal boiler (about 10 degrees) so that water always remained above the crownsheet. These later units bore names like Cloud, Atlas, and George Stephenson.
Soon after the cog opened the Boston,
Concord & Montreal Railroad, which acquired the White Mountains
Railroad, completed a branch from Littleton to Bretten Woods to offer
guests a more comfortable means of transportation to ride the tourist
attraction. Since the 19th century not much has changed for the
operation, which has been in almost continuous operation since its
opening. Today, the branch from Littleton is no longer in operation and
the cog line is once again disconnected from the national railroad
network. It still utilizes some of its 0-2-2-0 steam locomotives for
trips up the mountain although the historic units, which date to the
early 20th century, have larger been replaced by newer power these days.
Mt. Washington Cog Locomotive Roster
|Peppersass||2-2-0||1||Campbell, Whittier & Company||1866|
|Mt. Washington||0-2-2-0||1 (Originally #7 and known as Falcon.)||Manchester||1883|
|Moosilauke||0-2-2-0||8||Mt. Washington Cog||1983|
|Kroflite||0-2-2-0||10||Mt. Washington Cog||1972|
|Wajo Nanatassis||Diesel||M-1||Mt. Washington Cog||2008|
|Algonquin||Diesel||M-2||Mt. Washington Cog||2009|
|Abenaki||Diesel||M-3||Mt. Washington Cog||2009|
|Agiocochook||Diesel||M-4||Mt. Washington Cog||2010|
(Thanks to S.S Worthen's "Steep But Slow" from the July, 1956 issue of Trains as a reference for this article.)
|Two of Mt. Washington's little steamers await their next assignment while sitting at the shops during August of 1970.|
In 2008 it acquired a biodiesel-powered diesel locomotive, #M-1 and now owns four numbered through M-4, which handles most duties. Interestingly, the railroad still owns nearly every locomotive it ever operated although several steamers are now either on display or stored. To learn more about the Mt. Washington Cog Railway please click here to visit their official website. For more information about train rides around the country, including the Mt. Washington Cog Railway you might want to consider the book Tourist Trains Guidebook, which is put together by the editors of Kalmbach Publishing's Trains