The Cog Railway and Mount Washington

I wasn’t quite sure where I was but a pretty little restaurant showed up on the right side of the road. There were cars in the lot, always a good sign. Since I hadn’t seen any other places for lunch I pulled in to take a chance. The name of the restaurant is Banner’s.

 It was clean with a down to earth interior.

The staff was friendly and the service was quick. There was outdoor seating surrounded by vines and flowers but it was so hot today that the section wasn’t even open.

My waitress said I was about 45 minutes from Mount Washington and the Cog Railway. If that’s correct I should get there about 3:30. Plenty of time to get a ticket for the 4:30 ride to the summit.

Mount Washington Summit

I wanted the 4:30 train because it is discounted $9.00, That would cover my lunch! I love getting a break on prices. I can’t say saving money because any savings are sure to be gone before the week is out! 🙂

The Mount Washington Cog Railway is the first mountain climbing cog railway in  the world. Cog railways had been around but they were all “flat landers”. 

The concept of a railroad to the summit of Mount Washington came about as a result of a near tragic incident. Sylvester Marsh of Littleton, NH and a friend climbed Mount Washington where they were caught in a fierce storm. They were forced to stay overnight and nearly perished in the frigid temperatures. This experience gave Marsh the idea of a railroad so that travelers could reach the summit of Mount Washington in comfort and safety.

 Marsh designed the railroad but there were more skeptics than supporters so financing was a problem. Building of the railway began in 1866. At first there was only enough money for about 150 yards of track. Undeterred, Marsh ran his trains up that 150 yards and back proving that the little railroad was feasible.

The New Hampshire Legislature finally gave Marsh the go ahead to build his “Railway to the Moon”. The first excursion to the summit was on July 3rd, 1869. 

It seems fitting that the first “Mountain Climbing Cog Railroad” should be on the highest mountain in the Northeastern United States. The summit of Mount Washington is 6288 ft above sea level and it known for its erratic weather. There’s a sign stating that the strongest winds ever recorded were on Mount Washington and although this record has been disputed in recent years, the sign is still there for all to see.

The Cog Railway is located off RT 302. There’s a 6 mile drive from RT 302 to the Marshfield Base Station. The comfortable building houses a small snack bar/restaurant, a gift shop, museum and rest rooms as well as the ticket office.

Boarding commenced with a hearty “ALL ABOARD” from our brakeman Darrell.

 Darrell was assisted by his #2 Darrell.

I’m not sure if their names really were Darrell and Darrell or just the joke from the movie but it was fun anyway.

Each train consists of 1 passenger car and 1 engine. The engines are biodiesel locomotives. With a nod to the past there’s one trip a day with a coal-fired steam engine. That’s the first trip in the morning leaving promptly at 8:30 am. 

The trains no longer run in the winter. The season runs from spring through fall.

It felt strange to be carrying a jacket on board when it was 100 degrees or close to it, but that was the recommendation. I was assured that I would need it at the top.

Once on board, Darrell #1 began to tell us about the train and the route. The railway isn’t built right on the mountain. In fact it is a trestle track all the way up to the summit. 3 miles in fact! One section, known as Jacobs Ladder sometimes appears to be climbing right to heaven as low clouds can hide the top of the tracks. At times the gradient is 37% making this the 2nd steepest train tracks in the world and the only one built entirely on a trestle.

At the half way point there is the Halfway House built right next to the tracks. The house appears to be built on an incline but it’s actually an illusion created by the steep pitch of the train. On the side it says “This house is level”. I wanted a picture of that but the train was so close to the house that I couldn’t get it. I guess you’ll just have to go to see for yourself.

The total trip is about 3 hours. The train drops you off at the summit and returns to the bottom. You have an hour to enjoy the views, visit the snack bar and gift shop or mail a post card with a Mount Washington postmark.

 The visibility was quite clear on my visit which I am also told is unusual. Often the summit is engulfed in clouds. Sometimes the clouds are lower on the mountain and you break through at the summit, but clear days for viewing are rare. It was very windy and the temperature was hovering at 57-59 degrees. Add in that wind chill factor and I was glad I brought my jacket.

About an hour later the next train arrived with a new batch of passengers. After they off load it’s all aboard for us again.

Going up reminded me of riding a roller coaster when it starts its climb. That comparison might not be so far off. The engine is not attached to the passenger car. Going up it just pushes the car in front of it. Going down the car’s bumper rides on the engine and they let gravity do the work.

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When I got off back at Marshfield Base Station another visitor asked me if it was worthwhile to take the ride. I told him yes,  everyone should experience it at least once.

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