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Mount Washington Cog Railway marks 140th anniversary
BRETTON WOODS, N.H. - The Mount Washington Cog Railway celebrates its 140th year of bringing passengers to the summit of the northeast's highest mountain this summer and although the technology of the world's first mountain climbing Cog Railway has changed, the experience is as it was in 1869.
That year Campton native Sylvester Marsh rejoiced as Old Peppersass became the first engine to ascend the 6,288-foot summit. This year, along with the coal-fired steam engines that have made the trek for over a century, the eco-friendly biodiesel Wajo Nanatasis shares the track with them.
"This is the 19th century meeting the 21st century," said Wayne Presby, president of the Cog. "In 1869, steam was the cutting edge of technology and in 2009, biodiesel is at the forefront. But for our passengers, the experience is no less dramatic and exciting than it was 140 years ago?
Late last summer, the Wajo Nanatasis, an Abenaki moniker meaning "Mountain Hummingbird," was dedicated as the first eco-friendly engine fueled with biodiesel to climb Mount Washington. It was designed and built right at the Cog. This past winter two more biodiesels were completed and added to the steam fleet.
This summer, passengers making their reservations can now choose the way they take the 3-mile ride to the summit, either with the classic steam engine or the biodiesel engine.
One of the biggest changes for those passengers this season is that they will usually get to spend an hour at summit, giving them time to explore the mountaintop community, which includes the Mount Washington Observatory.
Through a partnership between the Cog and the Obs, riders will receive a complimentary admission to the Mount Washington Observatory Museum. Tickets purchased this summer will also include complimentary admission to the New Hampshire Historical Society in Concord, another partner with the Cog. The state's historical society has a number of Cog-related items in its collection.
"Now that the Wajo Nanatasis is in place, we've been able to adjust the schedule, which now allows for an hour at the summit," Presby said.
The biodiesel engine, at 4.8 mph, is considerably faster on its ascent than its steam counterparts and does not have to take on water at the Waumbek tower part way up the mountain, he said. The steam engines run at 2.8 mph heading up the mountain. Both engines descend the tracks at a rate of about 4.8 mph. Several years ago, the Cog constructed passing loops, which means trains do not have to wait for one another at a siding.
While the Cog has made great advancements on the tracks in recent years, Presby said what is beside the tracks is also undergoing a transformation.
"We've been doing a tremendous amount of clean-up work beside the tracks, clearing up the old wood that had been left there through the years," he said.
The Mount Washington Cog Railway is a National Historic Engineering Landmark. Its first locomotive, Old Peppersass, reached the summit of Mount Washington on July 3, 1869, making it the world's first mountain climbing railroad using a toothed cogwheel to engage the rack between the rails.
Old Peppersass is on display at the Marshfield Station and the Cog Railway Museum, which is full of memorabilia and the rich history of this pioneering railroad, is open to the public. Admission is free to the museum.
Tickets for Cog Railway excursions and the ability to choose a steam or biodiesel train can be found online at www.thecog.com. Due to the popularity of the rides, advance reservations are strongly recommended.