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Mount Washington Cog Railway

Mt. Washington, New Hampshire
Completed 1869

Claim to Fame: When completed, the Mt. Washington Cog Railway was the first mountain climbing railway in the world. Its cog rail system allows the railway to overcome grades exceeding 37 percent.

Mount Washington Cog Railway
Courtesy Flickr/Brian Snelson

People thought inventor Walter Aiken was crazy when he proposed a railway to the top of Mt. Washington.  Aiken built a model of the roadbed and track with a cog rail system, but entrepreneur Sylvester Marsh is credited for launching the Cog Railway and bringing Aiken's ideas to fruition.  

In 1858 Marsh applied to the New Hampshire Legislature for a charter to build and operate the steam railway and was granted permission in 1859.  Legend has it that an amendment was added offering permission to extend the railway to the moon.

Work started in earnest in 1866 after the Civil War.  The route follows a prominent ridge that runs from the base to the summit. The first train reached the summit on July 3, 1869 and has operated as a tourist attraction ever since.

Facts
1. The summit of Mt. Washington is 6,288 feet above sea level, the highest peak in the Northeast United States. Mt. Washington is considered to have some of the world's most extreme weather.
2. All construction supplies had to be hauled in small lots from Littleton, 25 miles away. Workers logged trees and built a cabin for their headquarters at the construction site. A water-powered sawmill was erected on the Ammonoosuc River, and felled trees provided timbers for the trestles. Total construction cost was $139,500.
3. The railway climbs 3,719 feet from the base station to the summit. It has an average grade of 25 percent, or 1,300 feet to the mile - the steepest rail line in the world. The maximum grade over Jacob's Ladder (a steep section about 2/3 of the way up) is 37.4 percent. This means that there is approximately a 14-foot elevation difference between passengers in the front and back ends of the coach.
4. The engine's drive wheel has 19 cogs. As the wheel turns, the cogs mesh with the teeth along the central rail to draw the train up the grade, or, turning the other way, to brake its descent. The first locomotive was nicknamed "Old Peppersass."
5. The railway is 3+ miles long, 3 miles of it on trestle. It takes a cog train 70 minutes to climb to the summit and one hour for the trip down.

Resources

Kidder, Glen M. Railway to the Moon, Courier Printing Co., Inc., Littleton, NH, 1969.