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The Mount Washington Cog Railway 150th Year Anniversary

Below is the brief story of the Mt. Washington Cog Railway, with excerpts from the new book, “Our Railway to the Moon” by Donald Bray. The book is available in stores or online at our online gift shop.

"Might as well build a railway to the moon..."

150 Years of Progress, Innovation & Ingenuity...

In the years just prior to the American Civil War, one 54-year old retired businessman wanted to make a quantum leap by building a railroad to the top of Mount Washington. His idea was immediately met with ridicule and disbelief from state legislators, railroad officials and friends who believed his plan to be preposterous.

Nevertheless, he never lost faith in his ideas for a rack railway up Mount Washington and he held his ground against withering dissension of his peers, some of whom labeled him a “crazy person”. But, with courage and unfailing determination, he kept faith with his beliefs and did what railroad men of the time said couldn’t be done, by fabricating what he needed and making it all happen. To the public, he became a hero, but from friends, railroad men, business associated and politicians, who had doubted his plan was feasible, there came only condescension and jealously. That man was Sylvester Marsh. 

Sylvester Marsh the Inventor of the Cog Railway
Peppersass Building the Cog Railway
Peppersass Last Run


When the [first] locomotive arrived and was assembled, it looked more like a hoisting engine that might be used to raise a piano to a third story window, rather than a revolutionary machine to climb Mount Washington.  It had no cab, no provisions for fuel, water storage or even a pump to fill the boiler. It couldn’t go very far without these things, but it was only intended to prove itself on a track that went about 600 feet up the mountainside.

It was August 29, 1866 when stockholders, railroad officials and other invited guests arrived at the base of the mountain to witness the demonstration. The locomotive had been named Hero, but somehow it didn’t look like the hero it would soon prove itself to be. Someone in the crowd thought that the upright boiler looked like a pepper sauce bottle, a common item on kitchen tables of the period, and cried: “There’s your Peppersass!” From that moment, the engine was never known by any other name…

Peppersass at the Base Station
Photos Courtesy of Conrad Ekstrom Jr

1869 - 1951

On July 3rd, 1869, the Mount Washington Railway officially opened to the public! It would soon be acclaimed as one of the great engineering feats of the century. It was 544 days after the golden spike had been driven at Promontory, Utah, which celebrated the opening of the first transcontinental railroad in America, and Ulysses S. Grant was in his first term as President…[Grant] would ride on the Cog Railway later that summer…

In 1895, the Boston and Maine Railroad leased the Concord and Montreal Railroad which included its subsidiary the Mount Washington Railway…When the great economic depression began in 1929, the Boston and Maine Railroad wanted to divest itself of the Mount Washington [Cog] Railway, but no one showed any interest in buying it. After more than a year of unsuccessful solicitations, a potential buyer was found in the person of Henry Teague [who owned and operated the railroad until his passing in 1951]. In gratitude, he left the Cog Railway and all of its property to Dartmouth College when [Henry Teague] passed away in 1951.  

Curators of the Cog Railway...

Sylvester Marsh the Inventor of the Cog Railway

Sylvester Marsh

1869 - 1879

Boston and Maine Railroad Logo

Boston & Maine Railroad

1884 - 1931

Henry Teague, Owner of Cog Railway

Henry Teague

1931 - 1951

Arthur Teague

Col. Arthur S. Teague

1962 - 1967

Ellen Teague

Ellen Teague

1967 - 1983

Presby & Bedor Families

Presby & Bedor Families

1983 - 2017

Sue and Wayne Presby

Presby Family

1983 - Present

1951 - 1983

[During Henry Teague’s ownership] He succeeded with the help of those he hired, and they were often carefully chosen. One such person was Arthur S. Teague, who had the same last name, but was no direct relation…Arthur Teague was a very capable man who combined innovative mechanical ability with management skills. He ultimately became Vice President and General Manager, and would emerge as one of the most notable figures in the annals of the Cog Railway. 

[After Henry Teague’s death] Arthur Teague remained as the General Manager [under Dartmouth College’s ownership], and with a mortgage purchased the railway from Dartmouth in 1962. 

Arthur Teague’s sudden and untimely death in 1967 came as a great shock to his family, his friends and his employees, who liked and respected him. Ownership of the Cog Railway then went to his wife, and in August of that year, Ellen C. Teague became the world’s first female railroad president…One of her most notable accomplishments was winning exemption for all steam locomotives in the State of New Hampshire from the air pollution act in 1972. It was during her times that the Cog Railway employees built a new steam locomotive for the first time. 

1983 - Present

In 1983, the demands of owning and running the railway became too much of a strain for Ellen Teague’s age and her health. In that year, the railway was sold to a group of prominent New Hampshire businessmen. Over a period of the last three decades, the current owners of the Mount Washington [Cog] Railway have continued to innovate and invest in an on-going program of improvements and modernization. 

For 139 years, the Mount Washington Cog Railway remained rooted in 19th century technology, with but few minor changes since the beginning. Then in 2008, the Mount Washington Cog Railway made a quantum leap into the 21st century with a fleet of cleaner, more efficient and state-of-the-art biodiesel locomotives designed and built on the property by railway personnel. 

In a time of rough iron and wooden things, the Mount Washington [Cog] Railway was an outrageous idea, but enough was rightly done in its creation for it to last into the next century and the next. It has always been privately owned, first by big railroads and then by a succession of local business people. Through the influences of many changing eras, it has survived hurricanes, washout, fires, depression, recessions, energy crunches, politicians, experts, tinkerers, bad coal and porcupines.


to be continued...

Excerpts taken from Donald Bray’s book, “Our Railway to the Moon – the Once and Future Tale of the Mount Washington Cog Railway”. Copies of the book can purchased in store at our gift shop or online in our digital gift shop. 

Our Railway to the Moon Book Cover
Mount Washington Cog Railway 150th Anniversary Logo

Mount Washington Cog Railway 150th Anniversary

Starting in 2019, in celebration of 150 years of innovation and operation of the railway, the Mt. Washington Cog Railway will be hosting several gala’s and events throughout the operating season along with special memorabilia celebrating 150 years of the Mt. Washington Cog Railway. 

Mount Washington Cog Railway 150 Years Anniversary

Three major events will be offered throughout the 2019 season in honor of 150 years

  • On June 22nd, 2019 a 150th Anniversary Gala Event will be held at Marshfield Base Station for the public. 
  • On June 23rd, 2019 a 150th Anniversary Employee Reunion will be held in honor of the past and present employees of the Cog Railway.
  • Finally, on July 3rd, 2019 in honor of the original opening day for the cog, activities and festivities will occur at the Cog Railway all day for visiting guests!

Special Discount!

Opening Day Ticket Sign

Each day of the 2019 season, our 150th passenger with a ticket purchased online will receive the same price it was in 1869: “…Summit and Back…$3.00!” 

Wooden Steam Train

Along with Donald Bray’s book “Our Railway to the Moon”, we will have a selection of new items in our gift shop including:

  • A hardcover and softcover coffee table book dedicated to the imagery of the cog railway,
  • A special wooden train version of the #9 Steam Engine, Waumbek, created by Heritage Wooden Railway!  

These items and more can be purchased at the Online Gift Shop.


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