Bob and Marshall Jensen's Mt. Washington Cog Railway Photographic Special: 
Part 1 (History)

Bob Jensen at Trinity University 


Son Marshall visited in July 2012.
On one of his days visiting with us he and I took the Mt. Washington Cog Railway for the first time
Erika was unable to accompany us since the Cog Railway is not advised for people with spine problems

I think this 19th Century Cog Railway is one of the man-made wonders of the world
The engines and cars are still manufactured and overhauled in the Cog Railway's own foundry
The engine leaving at 8:30 a.m. each summer day is a sooty steam engine
The engines leaving the remainder of the day are cleaner biodiesel engines that look like the steam engine
This is the world's first mountain climbing train

This is Bob and son Marshall prior to boarding the passenger car


Mt. Washington ---
Before European settlers arrived, the mountain was known as Agiocochook, or "Home of the Great Spirit"

Images of Mt. Washington --- Click Here"Mt.+Washington"&hl=en&lr=&as_qdr=all&prmd=imvns&tbm=isch&tbo=u&source=univ&sa=X&ei=MWFMUNXxLKjv0gGYnoCQAw&ved=0CEYQsAQ&biw=1024&bih=609

Mt. Washington Summit Observatory and U.S. Weather Station ---

Mt. Washington Auto Road ---

The Cog Railway goes up one side of the mountain and the auto road goes up the another side. In July, Marshall and I first had a brunch at the Mt. Washington Hotel that is less than 15 miles from the Cog Railway Train Base Station  called Marshfield Base Station ---
Then we went a mile or so on Rt. 302 to where the Base Station road turns north. It felt like a 10-mile drive to the station. It's recommended that tickets be purchased in advance (prices and purchase deals vary somewhat with the season when the railroad is running) ---
Weary Appalachian Trail hikers may purchase one-way tickets down the mountain on a space-available basis.

This is the Marshfield Base Station


This is a view of Mt. Washington from my desk in the winter time
In Winter the Cog Railway and Summit are closed partly because the average winter wind speed is over 75 mph

Mt. Washington is the only part of the 2,184 miles (3,515 km) Appalachian Trail above timberline and on permafrost
The weather in the winter is much too fierce and dangerous for hiking this part of the trail in winter

Above timberline these types of stone piles mark the Appalachian Trail

The Presidential Range ---

I took the picture below from the Summit of Mt. Washington
Note that it is always windy at the summit.
Even on hot days take a jacket and cap. Sundresses are not recommended
Although it is fun to watch women struggle modestly with sundresses at the summit


Mt. Washington Cog Railway Home Page ---

Mt. Washington Cog Railway ---

The Mount Washington Cog Railway is the world's first mountain-climbing cog railway (rack-and-pinion railway). The railway is still in operation, climbing Mount Washington in New Hampshire, USA. It uses a Marsh rack system and one or two steam locomotives and four biodiesel powered locomotives to carry tourists to the top of the mountain.

It is the second steepest rack railway in the world with an average grade of over 25% and a maximum grade of 37.41%. The railway is approximately 3 miles (4.8 km) long and ascends Mt. Washington's western slope beginning at an elevation of approximately 2,700 feet (820 m) above sea level and ending just short of the mountain's summit peak of 6,288 feet (1,917 m). The train ascends the mountain at 2.8 miles per hour (4.5 km/h) and descends at 4.6 mph (7.4 km/h). It takes approximately 65 minutes to ascend and 40 minutes to descend although the diesel can go up in as little as 37 minutes.

Most of the Mount Washington Cog Railway is in Thompson and Meserve's Purchase, with the part of the railway nearest to Mt. Washington's summit being in Sargent's Purchase.

The railway was built by Sylvester Marsh (1803-1884) of Campton, who came up with the idea while climbing the mountain in 1857. His plan was treated as insane. Local tradition says the state legislature voted permission based on a consensus that harm resulting from operating it was no issue — since the design was attempting the impossible — but benefits were guaranteed: The $5,000 of his own money he put up, and whatever else he could raise, would be spent largely locally, including building the Fabyan House hotel at nearby Fabyan Station to accommodate the expected tourists. The railway is sometimes called "Railway to the Moon" because one state legislator remarked during the proceedings that Marsh should not only be given a charter up Mount Washington but also to the moon. After developing a prototype locomotive and a short demonstration section of track, he found investors and started construction.

Despite its incomplete state, the first paying customers rode in 1868; the construction reached the summit in 1869. The early locomotives all had vertical boilers, like many stationary steam engines of the time; the boilers were mounted on trunnions allowing them to be held vertically no matter what the gradient of the track. Later designs introduced horizontal boilers, slanted so they remain close to horizontal on the steeply graded track.

Sylvester Marsh died in 1884 and control of the Cog passed to the Concord & Montreal Railroad, which ran it until 1889 when the Boston & Maine Railroad took over.

Control by the Teagues began in 1931 when Col. Henry N. Teague bought the Cog. In 1951 following Col. Teague's death, Arthur S. Teague, the colonel's protégé but no relation, became general manager. Arthur S. Teague gained ownership in 1961. After he died in 1967, the ownership passed to his wife, Ellen Crawford Teague, who ran the Cog as the world's first woman president of a railway. In 1983 Mrs. Teague sold the railway to a group of New Hampshire businessmen. The Cog has been in continuous operation since 1869 with service interruptions only during the World Wars.

In the summer of 2008, the Cog introduced its first diesel locomotive. The late 2000s recession and the 2000s energy crisis led to fewer passengers, and the Cog sought to cut costs with the diesel, which could make 3 round trips for the cost of one steam train round trip

. . .


The first of two major accidents in the railway's history occurred in 1929. The first locomotive, #1 (first named Hero and later Peppersass because of its vertical boiler's resemblance to a pepper sauce bottle) which was used to build the railway was found after being lost for many years as it had been moved about the country and placed on display at many exhibitions. The owners of the railway at the time (the Boston & Maine Railroad) decided to restore Peppersass and make a commemorative trip for the railway's 60th anniversary. During the ascent, however, the locomotive's front axle broke and the locomotive began descending the mountain at high speed. All but one of its crew jumped to safety (though some suffered broken bones), but one man did not escape and died. Although the locomotive broke into pieces, the boiler did not rupture, and the pieces were later reassembled to reconstruct the locomotive for static display. It is now located at the Cog Railway Base Station.

On September 17, 1967, eight passengers were killed and seventy-two injured when Engine #3 derailed at the Skyline switch about a mile below the summit. The engine rolled off the trestle while the uncoupled passenger car slid several hundred feet into a large rock. An investigation revealed that the Skyline switch had not been properly configured for the descending train. The railway nonetheless has a solid safety record having taken almost five million people to the summit during its existence.


At the Summit in the 19th Century
No skimpy sundresses in sight


Engine Number 1 is now an antique machine on display at the Marshfield Base Station



New Hampshire Historical Society Cog Railway Photos ---

The construction of this then-unique railroad between 1866 and 1869 fortuitously coincided with the establishment in 1865 of the Kilburn Brothers stereography business in nearby Littleton, New Hampshire. By 1869, the year the railroad was completed, the Kilburn's Littleton factory was producing twelve hundred of these three-dimensional photographic cards daily and had become one of the largest such operations in the nation. In the initial years of their enterprise, the Kilburns were able to record on film the successive steps in the construction and development of the railroad soon to be considered "one of the greatest wonders of the time." The symbiotic relationship that inadvertently developed between the stereographers and the railway helped later in promoting both businesses.

As soon as the rail line opened to the top of the highest mountain in the eastern United States, passengers were able to buy "Kilburn Brothers' admirable stereoscopic pictures" as souvenirs of their adventure. As early as August 21, 1869, Kilburn photographs had been transformed into engravings for publication in Harper's Weekly, bringing national attention to New Hampshire's special technological achievement. The stereoviews and the engravings derived from them familiarized people with the engineering feats, the specially designed locomotives, and the landmarks a tourist would encounter on a typical trip up Mount Washington via the cog railway. In 1870 alone, five thousand people, or the majority of those who ascended the mountain that season, did so by this exciting new method of reaching the top.

The Kilburns were long considered the leading photographers of the cog railway, but others soon followed their lead. Through the years, cog railway imagery, produced in a wide variety of media including stereography, engraving, postcard photography, and printed advertising, tended to be tourist oriented and practical in nature. While the new means of transportation enabled many more people than ever before to experience the mountain landscape that had inspired generations of artists, the cog railway itself seldom appears on artists' canvases. In the years that followed the railroad's opening, even those few academically trained artists and engravers who focused on views of tourists as opposed to strict landscape scenes tended to picture relatively romantic views of small groups of horseback riders on Mount Washington's bridle path rather than the innovative railroad with its innumerable passengers. By contrast, sign, vehicle, and general ornamental painters who produced artwork for advertising and other commercial purposes, did not hesitate to incorporate images of the popular New Hampshire landmark into their products.

Summit in 1890

Old Postcard

This is son Marshall before we boarded the train

We had reservations on the second train leaving the station
We followed immediately after the train ahead
The engine pushes the car up the mountain

Our conductor normally is an engineer in the foundry (called the "Shop")
However, this day he was assigned to be our conductor and uphill ride-guide

We were fortunate to get the first seat on our car that followed the train in front


Technology Then and Now ---

Each train consists of a locomotive pushing a single passenger car up the mountain, and descending the mountain by going backwards. Both locomotive and car were originally equipped with a ratchet and pawl mechanism engaged during the climb that prevents any roll-back; during descent, both locomotive and car are braked. Recent improvements in design have replaced the ratchet (gear and pawl mechanism) with sprag clutches and disc brake assemblies. Most of the locomotives were made by the Manchester Locomotive Works.

The rack rail design used is one of Marsh's own invention, using a ladder-like rack with open bar rungs engaged by the teeth of the cog wheel. This system allows snow and debris to fall through the rack rather than lodge in it. A similar design, called the Riggenbach rack system, was invented by engineer Niklaus Riggenbach in Switzerland at about the same time. The Swiss Consul to the United States visited Marsh while constructing the railway up Mount Washington, and his enthusiastic reports persuaded the Swiss government to commission Riggenbach to build on Rigi Mountain the Vitznau-Rigi-Bahn, opened on May 21, 1871.

Initially, there was no way to pass on the Mount Washington Cog Railway. In 1941, a nine-motion switch was invented, and two spur sidings were added, each long enough to divert two up trains so others could pass down, enabling more round trips per day.

In 2004, work was completed replacing the lower Waumbek Switch and Siding with an 1,800-foot (550 m) passing loop equipped with electric and hydraulicly powered automated switches. These switches are powered by batteries and recharged by solar panels. One switch is located at each end of the loop, allowing ascending and descending trains to pass one another


This is Marshall's picture of the solar panels part way up the mountain


While we were waiting at the summit for our downhill trip, I snapped this picture of the cogs under the engine
These are what prevent the engine's wheels from spinning uselessly
They obviously would not work when there's three or more feet of solid ice on the track in the winter

Marshall took this picture on our climb toward the summit

Note the pile of rocks marking the Appalachian Trail

The Visitors' Center at the top of Mt. Washington has a huge observation deck
And on frequent occasion winds strong enough to blow people off the deck
This is the view from the train approaching the top of the mountain

And here are a couple of Marshall's photographs from the deck of the Visitors' Center above a restaurant


One of the Appalachian Trail's historic shelters on the top of Mt. Washington was the Tip Top House Hotel
Although I would not call it much of a hotel by today's standards
It has stone walls over three feet thick to provide shelter from the mountain's legendary winds
Weary hikers rented a bunk (in stacks of bunks) are not much bigger than stacked coffins

These are Marshall's pictures of the Tip Top House bunks
I don't think many babies were conceived in the Tip Top House Hotel

This is the lobby, dining room, and kitchen of the Tip Top House Hotel

This is one of my favorite shots that I took while waiting to board for the descent

What goes up to the top of a mountain must go back down
There were two biodiesel engines and and passenger cars waiting for us to board



\Steamtown National Historic Site (steam locomotives) ---

More of Bob Jensen's Pictures and Stories ---
Over 70 Historical Photographs ---

Blogs of White Mountain Hikers (many great photographs) ---

Especially note the archive of John Compton's blogs at the bottom of the page at

AMC White Mountain Guide:  Hiking Trails in the White Mountain National Forest ---

Find Hiking Trails ---


On May 14, 2006 I retired from Trinity University after a long and wonderful career as an accounting professor in four universities. I was generously granted "Emeritus" status by the Trustees of Trinity University. My wife and I now live in a cottage in the White Mountains of New Hampshire ---

Bob Jensen's Blogs ---
Current and past editions of my newsletter called New Bookmarks ---
Current and past editions of my newsletter called Tidbits ---
Current and past editions of my newsletter called Fraud Updates ---
Bob Jensen's past presentations and lectures ---   

Our address is 190 Sunset Hill Road, Sugar Hill, New Hampshire
Our cottage was known as the Brayton Cottage in the early 1900s
Sunset Hill is a ridge overlooking with New Hampshire's White Mountains to the East
and Vermont's Green Mountains to the West


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