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The Mount Washington Cog Railway
… an engineering marvel for almost 140 years

In 1857, Sylvester Marsh climbed New Hampshire's Mount Washington and was
caught in a fierce storm that forced him to spend the night on the mountainside.
This near-fatal experience prompted him to invent a train that could safely carry
passengers to the summit.

Railway to the Moon

A native of Campton, N.H., Marsh made his fortune in Chicago's meat packing
industry. The following year, he applied to the New Hampshire Legislature for a
charter to build a steam railway on Mount Washington.

He needed the state charter to acquire the three-mile right-of-way up the mountain
by eminent domain. The Legislature laughed at Marsh and skeptically allowed him
to build his “railway to the moon.”

A Special Type of Train

A conventional train could never get up Mount Washington. The average grade on
the right-of-way would be 25% with the steepest being 37.4% -- more than 37 feet for
every 100 feet it went forward. At that point, people in the front seats of a railway
coach would be 14 feet higher than people in the back. It would take a special type
of railway to carry passengers up the mountain.

In 1861, Marsh was granted a patent for a steam locomotive using a cogwheel to
grip a center notched rail. He founded the Mount Washington Railway Company in
1858 but didn’t begin construction of the railway and its first locomotive until 1866.

Building a Steep Mountain Railway: An Engineering Marvel

Building a mountain railway was no small task. Equipment and materials had to be
hauled by oxen for 25 miles to Bretton Woods, N.H. and then another six miles
through thick forest to the base of Mount Washington. Building the extremely steep
roadway and almost three miles of sturdy wooden trestles was an amazing

When Marsh made his first rail ascent to the 6,288-foot Mount Washington summit
in 1869, the Cog Railway was an engineering marvel. President Ulysses S. Grant and
his family were among the passengers in August of that year.

In 1876, a six-mile branch rail line was built from Fabyan’s Station to the base. This
allowed passengers from Boston, New York and points beyond to travel to the
summit of Mount Washington entirely by rail.

The Boston and Maine Railroad acquired the Cog Railway in 1894. A fire in B&M's
Lyndonville, Vt. service shop the following year destroyed several of the railway’s  
cog locomotives.

1938 Hurricane Destroys Track

The Cog Railway ran without incident until 1938, when that year’s great hurricane
destroyed much of the track including the remarkable Jacob's Ladder trestle. The
track was rebuilt and a new base station erected.

In 1972, the Cog Railway’s own machine shop built the first new locomotive since
1908. It was a testimony to the ingenuity of shop craftsmen.

In 1983, a group of NH businessmen bought the Cog Railway. Electrical lines were
finally brought in to the base station in 1987, allowing year round maintenance and
construction work in the shops.

A new Marshfield Base Station was  completed on the 125th anniversary of the
railway in 1994.  The Victorian-styled building contained a cafeteria, gift shop and

Museum at the Top

The museum features wonderful old photographs of the construction and early
years, a full-size mock-up of a locomotive cab and boiler, an actual locomotive
frame complete with driving mechanism and a section from a railway coach.  

One of the most popular exhibits is the reproduction of a "Devil's Shingle," the
homemade slide board that workers used to rapidly descend the mountain after a
days work. Made of wood and hand forged iron, the slide board fit over the cog
rack and had just enough room for a worker and his tools.

Common times for descent of the mountain were about 15 minutes; but many
accounts report a descent in less than three minutes, requiring speeds of over 60

Old Peppersass, the Cog Railway’s first locomotive, and other antique steam
engines are on display outside.

The First Mountain Climbing Railway in the World

The Mount Washington Cog Railway was the first mountain climbing railway in the
world. It is a National Historic Engineering Landmark that is part of our American

But the Cog Railway is not just an antique. Technology is as important today as it
was in the 19th century. All of the locomotives and coaches are built from scratch on
site using modern technology. The new trains are safer and more comfortable than
ever. To eliminate soot and help preserve Mount Washington’s fragile environment,
The Cog Railway is converting most of its steam locomotives to clean-burning
liquid fuels.

As it has been since 1869, the Mount Washington Cog Railway is one of the world's
great railway engineering marvels.

For more information,  visit the Mount Washington Cog Railway website.
The Heart of New England
Celebrating the unique character & culture of Maine ~ New Hampshire ~ Vermont
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...celebrating the unique character & culture of Maine, New Hampshire & Vermont!
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