The International Steam Pages


The Mount Washington Cog Railway 2011 

2011 has been USA year for James Waite, here he describes how a business trip gave him an opportunity on a line which at 4'8" gauge just squeezes in as narrow...

The weather at the Mt. Washington base station at Bretton Woods was very dismal when I pitched up there around 7.45 on Sunday morning after a long drive from the south (not as painful as it sounds as I was still living in UK time!). The only steam train nowadays leaves at 8.30 each morning and there were perhaps a dozen of us standing around the station and I guess we were all wondering if it would be worthwhile buying a ticket to ride on the train with the cloud cover being so low. However the lady at the ticket office assured us that the sun would be shining on top of the mountain as it was above the level of the clouds so we paid up, piled in and were off. What she didn't tell us was that there had been heavy snowfall on the mountain overnight and from about halfway up the views of the snow in the sunshine became increasingly spectacular. From the top the glint from the rising sun off the Atlantic, which must have been 50 miles or more away, was clearly visible to the east as were the hills of Quebec to the north and New York state to the south west. Quite memorable!


Just short of the summit station the train stopped to let everyone off as the snow on the track needed to be swept off there. I ventured very gingerly out to this spot on the sunny side of the tracks, well below the level of the line on a steep slope and keeping far enough away so that my footprints wouldn't spoil the photos. The only other gricer on the train was a German chap who was travelling with his wife and small son and they definitely weren't letting him follow me so I had the place to myself.

The loco is no. 9 "Waumbek" built by Manchester Loco Works in 1908. I liked its all-black paint scheme!

Not the most elegant of views but it clearly shows the (braking) cog wheel under 9's tender as it moved gingerly up the final few yards to the summit station, the next train up was diesel propelled as expected about an hour later.

The next two photographs are looking to the east with the sea in the distance:

The next two are from the train window on the way down. Note the nice US-style water tank, made from vertical planks held together with metal hoops like the ones in Colorado. The large white building just visible in the distance in the right hand picture is the Mt. Washington Hotel where FDR, Churchill and others stayed when the Bretton Woods agreement was being negotiated and completed.

There are three locos stored at the back of the shed. The nearest is no. 8 "Moosilauke" which was built by the railway in 1983. As you can see it looked in quite good shape though it apparently no longer works. Behind it is no. 3 "Agiocochook" (Manchester Loco Works, 1883) which came second hand from the Green Mountain Cog Railway on Mt. Desert Island off the coast of Maine where it was their no. 2. On the left of the photo is no. 1 "Mount Washington", also Manchester Loco Works, 1883, looking very derelict. The right hand picture shows no. 6 "Kancamagus", the line's second oldest loco. It was built by Manchester in 1874 as a vertical boilered loco and rebuilt with a (more or less!) horizontal boiler four years later. It's supposed to be in working order but looked very woebegone.

Parked behind it in the shed was no. 10 "Kroflite" built by the railway in 1972. Note that it and no. 9 are the only two locos which have their cabs parallel with the boiler, the cabs on the others all being parallel with the track. "Peppersass" the first locomotive and still with a vertical boiler lives on its plinth at the station.

The train then ran down from the base station to the shed, something like one third of a mile further down the valley. 

At the shed the loco uncoupled and drained off all its steam ready for the shed staff to grease round and prepare it for its winter storage as this was the last steam run of the year.

No. 2 "Ammonoosuc" (Manchester Loco Works, 1874) is now the spare steam loco and lives in front of the shed.

Quite a railway! One problem is that it runs on a wooden trestle for its entire length, mostly just above ground level though there are a few good-sized viaducts. As a result you can't get off except at the termini. Apparently its promoter originally envisaged that it would be fixed conventionally to the ground like the European lines (which all followed later, this being the world's first rack mountain railway when it opened in 1869) but chose the trestle as it was reckoned to be cheaper. Not sure if it still counts as a working steam line now that the four nasty new diesels have taken over nearly all the trains though apparently there's still a little steam working during the summer holidays in addition to the 8.30 train which is promoted as being the only guaranteed steam run.


Rob Dickinson

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