Mount Washington Cog Railway History
His dream began in 1852 when, after becoming lost and nearly losing his life trying to summit Mount Washington, Sylvester Marsh happened upon the Tip Top House where he stayed the night. While recuperating from this experience he decided that there had to be a better way for people to reach the highest mountain peak in the Northeast. Upon his return home, he immediately started working on a plan to build the world’s first mountain-climbing cog railway.
Marsh, a native of Campton, New Hampshire, had made his fortune in Chicago’s meat-packing industry and was considered by his contemporaries to be a creative and innovative thinker. However, upon first presenting his idea to members of the New Hampshire Legislature, they laughed at Sylvester Marsh and said that he “might as well build a railway to the Moon.”
Undaunted and driven by his contemporaries’ skepticism, Marsh began the task of building his mountain climbing railway, along with inventors Herrick and Walter Aiken, a father-and-son team from Franklin, New Hampshire. The task was not an easy one, as equipment and materials had to be hauled by oxen for 25 miles to Bretton Woods, and then another six miles through thick forest on “corduroy roads” to the base of Mount Washington. But on July 3, 1869, ‘Old Peppersass’ became the first cog-driven train to climb 6,288-foot Mount Washington.
One Hundred and Fifty Years later, The Mount Washington Cog Railway is designated a National Historic Engineering Landmark and part of our American heritage. Complete with vintage steam engines and replica coaches, as well as environmentally friendly biodiesel locomotives, the Mount Washington Cog Railway is a “must do” while visiting the White Mountains of New Hampshire.
In 1983, The Presby and Bedor Families became owners of The Cog. Lacking commercial grid power and winter access to the base station progress was slow at first, but the Immediate restoration and rebuilding of the locomotives and aging track system began. By 1994, for the 125th anniversary, a new base station was built. In the last 20 years, new switches and a passing loop were designed and installed, environmentally-friendly biodiesel locomotives were introduced, passenger cars were redesigned mechanically and massive track improvements were made. The first biodiesel locomotive christened in 2008 Wajo Nanatasis (Native American Abenaki for “Mountain Hummingbird”), significantly reduces emissions and our reliance on foreign oil. Over the next several years, more biodiesel locomotives were added. All were designed and built by the Cog’s local work force of talented craftsman and engineers in the shops of the railway located at Marshfield Station. The Cog still runs two steam locomotives along with seven biodiesel locomotives.
What's Next for the Cog Railway?
In 2017 the Presby Family consolidated its ownership of the railway and are currently involved in a massive multi-year project to further upgrade and enhance the railway’s operations. These projects include the building of another diesel locomotive, enhancing the technology of its coaches to provide a quieter and smoother ride, replacing all the rail used on the rail line and making renovations to the base station, including a new work shop and many other surprises to come. The Cog will celebrate its 150th anniversary in 2019. To celebrate this milestone, the Cog has kicked off a program of special events culminating with a public anniversary bash in the summer of 2019.