1995 20¢ Transportation Series: Cog Railway, 1870s
US #2463 pictures engine number 5, The Cloud, climbing Mount Washington in New Hampshire.

On August 29, 1869, Sylvester Marsh demonstrated the world’s first mountain-climbing cog railway, earning the recognition and funds needed to complete it.

In 1857, Marsh, a businessman, visited New Hampshire’s White Mountains. Tourism in the era had just recently begun expanding, so roads and paths were not fully developed. On a sunny August afternoon, Marsh and a friend hiked up Mount Washington. After passing the tree line they became caught in the middle of a terrible storm with hurricane strength winds, freezing rain, and near-darkness. They lost their way, but eventually found one of the mountain’s hotels. Once they reached the safety of the hotel, Marsh realized what his new mission was – to create a safe and easy way to climb the mountain.

1995 20¢ Cog Railway Classic First Day Cover
US #2463 – Classic First Day Cover

Marsh immediately began researching possible types of railways that could climb the steep mountain. He then realized that he needed an engine that could propel itself up the mountain as the railway was being constructed. He found his answer in the cog railway. Though cog railways had existed for sometime, none had been designed to climb a mountain such as this. Marsh designed a cog locomotive and applied for a patent in 1858, though it wasn’t approved until three years later.

1995 20¢ Cog Railway Colorano Silk Cachet First Day Cover
US #2463 – Colorano Silk Cachet First Day Cover

In 1858, Marsh applied for a state charter and demonstrated his train with a wind-up model. The legislators weren’t convinced and burst out laughing. One even joked that he might as well build a railway to the moon. In spite of this, they agreed that Marsh could “fool away his own money” and granted him the charter.

1995 20¢ Cog Railway, Imperforate Error Pair
US #2463a – Imperforate Error Pair
2006 39¢ Mt. Washington, Windiest Place
US #4053 –Mount Washington was featured on the Wonders of America sheet as the “Windiest Place.”

Construction was delayed by Marsh’s other business ventures, as well as the Civil War. Work finally began in the spring of 1866. Marsh oversaw the creation of the first 660 feet of track as well as a six-mile road to the site and the experimental locomotive, Old Peppersass. However, he also needed to convince the nearest major railroad, the Boston, Concord & Montreal (BC&M), to extend its line so customers could easily reach his railway. They agreed, if he could prove his invention worked. So on August 29, 1866, the Old Peppersass moved railroad executives, engineers, and reporters up the completed portion of the track with ease. No one was laughing at Marsh now – his doubters were silenced. He earned the backing of the BC&M and completed the railway in 1869.

2006 39¢ Crops of America: Chili Peppers, convertible booklet single
US #4012Old Peppersass received its name due to its vertical boiler’s resemblance to a pepper sauce bottle.

The Mount Washington Cog Railway was the first in the world built to climb a mountain. The train runs on a track with a toothed center rail. There are wheels on the locomotive that have teeth that interlock with the rail so the train can travel safely up steep grades without slipping. The engine and cars are not coupled to each other, and the cars are pushed up the mountain from behind. The passenger coach has its own brake system to slow the descent down the steep slope.

Still in operation today, the Mount Washington Cog Railway uses two steam locomotives and four biodiesel-powered locomotives along the second-steepest rack (cog) railway in the world.

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One Comment

  1. I have been sprayed by the Mount Washington Cog Railway while descending down the Jewel Trail. Never been on it but have observed it in operation several times while hiking the Mountain. If memory serves me correct there was at least one mishap with the Cog Railway, late 1960’s, where several individuals lost their lives. I think the state of New Hampshire may have taken over operation of the railway after and made it safer.

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