Story and Photos by Justin Franz
From 1869 until 2008, steam ruled the west slope of New Hampshire’s Mount Washington, the tallest peak in the Northeast. Constructed in the 1860s, the Mount Washington Cog Railway was the world’s first mountain-climbing cog railroad. In the early years, a locomotive with a standup boiler moved tourists to the summit 6,288-feet above sea level. The locomotive was officially named “Hero” but locals said it looked like a pepper sauce bottle so the name “Old Peppersass” was applied. Later on, locomotives with traditional horizontal boilers arrived, but they were no less weird-looking. On flat ground, the boiler angles down at about 15 degrees to keep the water inside level while climbing the hill with an average grade of 25 percent. On either end of the boulder is what looks like an unnecessarily large cab and an unnecessarily tall smokestack. Under the boiler and cab is a mess of piping, cylinders, rods and wheels. Somewhere in that mess, out of sight of the casual viewer, is the cogwheel that does all the work muscling the little train uphill.
These locomotives were the primary motive power on the mountain until 2008 when a brand new diesel locomotive was built by the railroad. Since then, more diesels have joined the fleet, but at least once a day in the summer and fall the old steamers roar up the mountain.
In the late 1990s and early 2000s, Associate Editor Justin Franz spent time photographing this unique railroad in the White Mountains of New Hampshire.
Crossing the Ammonoosuc
Locomotive 9, Waumbek, crosses the Ammonoosuc River near Base Station on July 31, 2010. Locomotive 9 is one of only two steamers still in operation on the railroad today. The railroad usually runs at least one steam-powered train every morning in the summer and fall.
Climbing Jacob’s Ladder
A steam-powered train climbs the 37.4 percent Jacob’s Ladder, the steepest part of the entire railroad, on June 7, 2009. Getting to Jacob’s Ladder requires a tough hike and scramble from either the top of the mountain or the bottom, but it’s well worth the effort for those who do make the trek, especially when steam is running.
On a crisp and clear October day in 2002, a Mount Washington Cog Railway train approaches Skyline siding on the west slope of Mount Washington. This siding has since been ripped up after another siding about halfway down the mountain was extended.
One of Mount Washington Cog’s new diesel locomotives sits on the transfer table at the Base Station shop on June 28, 2008. Locomotive M1, named Wajo Nanatasis, made its debut just a few weeks before this photo was taken.
Read more about the Mount Washington Cog Railway in the March 2022 issue of Railfan & Railroad. Subscribe Today!