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Winter at The Cog

They Work on the Railroad All Year Long

BRETTON WOODS, N.H. - Every week throughout the summer, Dave Moody walks the steep tracks of the Mount Washington Cog Railway, carefully checking every inch of the three-mile railroad to the sky.

He carries a notebook with him on these inspections, keeping a log of the condition of things like wood, the ties and the rack and what needs immediate attention, but mostly, what Dave keeps track of is what his crew will be working on come winter. Dave is the track shop foreman at The Cog, the world's first mountain climbing rack and pinion railway and the second steepest rack railway in the world. Opened in 1869, it was the dream of New Hampshire native Sylvester Marsh to build a railroad to the 6,288-foot summit of Mount Washington, the tallest in the Northeast.

Each year, from May to November, The Cog brings tens of thousands of passengers skyward through three seasons, before the deep winter snows begin to fall, cooling off the steam engines and putting to rest the biodiesel engines. Once the snow begins piling up, that's when the crew gets to work, getting ready for spring, which never seems that long away.

"Working up here in the winter is kind of unique," said mechanical engineer Al Laprade, who took an early retirement from the Portsmouth Naval Shipyard to work at The Cog in 1993. "We are at 2,700 feet above sea level, which is quite high for New Hampshire and we get snow here practically every day, no matter what's going on in the valley below. From December to May, it gives us an opportunity to work on the equipment. In a way, winter is nice because it's quiet, and we get a lot done."

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Cog Railway in Winter Cog Railway in Winter Cog Railway in Winter

Hidden in a small hollow below the Marshfield Station, The Cog shop is a huge red, rambling building, broken into compartments - the track shop, the welding shop, the machine shop and the engine bay. In the winter, the entire building, which has been there since the 1890s, literally hums, creaks, and groans with activity. Dave is working on cutting and spinning spools, which then head into the welding shop. On this frosty winter morning, shop welder Ryan Mooney is working on cog racks.

"I start off with the angle iron and I have to bore out every hole out slightly to make the spool fit properly, then I put 36 spools on each rack and clamp them together." Then comes a long process of heating the racks and welding and rolling the racks over and welding the opposite side. "It's 72 welds per rack, so 144 welds per set up and I'll repeat this process until my job's done, which ranges anywhere from 70 to 120 racks a year and after they're done in springtime, we'll go up and put them all in," Ryan said. The Cog shop is one in which the workers clearly enjoy, dedicated to the calling of such an historic place.

Machinist Joe Orlando first came to the Cog as a passenger and was so enthralled by the end of the ride, he put in for a job in the shop. That was over 20 years ago, although he still hasn't lost his Long Island accent. On this morning, he working on a machine making an exhaust adapter for a locomotive under construction in the engine bay.

Over in the engine bay, Laprade and his crew are checking out the first of the biodiesel engines they made right on site three years ago. This is the green one, christened Wajo Nanatasis. Since then, three others have been constructed at the Cog shop - red and black and yellow - have all been built from the floor up. Al designed the biodiesel engines and notes with pride that "everything for the diesel is made right here," using materials obtained locally, such as steel from Isaacson Steel in nearby Berlin.

While work continues on the biodiesels, Joe Pychevicz is the man who does windows. On this day, he's sanding a stack of windows from the passenger cars and applying Marine spar varnish. "They start to bubble up," he said, running has hand along one of the wooden window frames. "These will go from 70 degree weather to 30 degrees, two or three times a day, all summer long. You get a drastic change of weather, drastic change of temperature... it takes a beating."

So as the snow begins to fly on this morning, the 12-man crew continues on track, for before they know it, spring will blow in, taking with it the snow and bringing out tens of thousands of passengers for the unique experience of riding the Mount Washington Cog Railway. 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. For more information about the Mount Washington Cog Railway, visit TheCog.com or call 603-278-5404 or 1-800-922-8825 outside of New Hampshire.

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