Cog Railway Owners Celebrate 25 Years
Back in 1983, two men with family roots deep in the White Mountains were scouting the area for an historic property they could take on as a renovation project and a business opportunity.
When their search ended, it was not at the doorstep of any building, but at the base of Mount Washington, where, more than a century earlier, New Hampshire native Sylvester Marsh had looked up at the summit and became determined to find a way to bring visitors to top and back.
Marsh's legacy is the Cog Railway, the first mountain climbing railroad using a tooth-racked rail system and an oddly-shaped steam locomotive that made its first trip to the top of the 6,288-foot peak in the summer of 1869.
Twenty-five years later, Wayne Presby and Joel Bedor are still at the helm of the Cog Railway, working to bring the unique railroad into the 21st century.
From the restoration of the tracks that wind more than three miles skyward to the top of the northeast's highest mountain, to construction of a new train station to the development of an environmentally friendly locomotive, the efforts by Presby and Bedor have been guided by Marsh's vision.
"He was quite an inventor who was ahead of his time," Bedor said. "The cog technology was new at the time."
History aside, the first years of their ownership was a roll-up-the-sleeves effort to turn the business into one of the premier visitor attractions in the White Mountains.
"Over the past 25 years, we've rebuilt all the locomotives and fitted them with new boilers," Bedor said. "We built new coaches, which allows us to bring more passengers to the summit, while keeping the same design as those first coaches."
Presby also counts as achievements over the past quarter century the Cog's ability to bring passengers halfway up the formidable Mount Washington in winter and running power to the base and construction of the new Marshfield Station in 1994 to replace the much smaller facility that had served passengers for years.
But their biggest accomplishment, which will roll out in this anniversary year, is the development of an environmentally-friendly bio-diesel locomotive that will join the roster of the venerable coal-fired locomotives that have transported visitors from around the world to the top of Mount Washington.
"That is the single biggest achievement we have made in 25 years," Presby said. "I don't think we'll ever lose the sense of history of the place, but we have spent a lot of time implementing some modern changes. Things are changing in the world and we need to change, too, if we are going to preserve what we have. With technological advances, we are providing a better level of service."
Presby and Bedor have not had to look far for the talent and knowledge they've needed to design the new locomotive. Tucked below the Marshfield Station is a train shop where most of the work on everything from the track, to the construction of the coaches to development of the bio-diesel engine has taken place.
"We have employees who are tremendously loyal to the railroad," Bedor said. "We find that many of them went to work here when they were younger, fell in love with it and could never forget it. It's a part of their being."
Over the years, Presby and Bedor have tapped into that institutional knowledge often as they balance the historic significance of the 139-railroad with modern times.
If Marsh could see what Presby and Bedor have done with his railroad, both men agree that he'd be pleased and impressed
"His vision was to get people safely to the top of Mount Washington," Bedor said. "We're continuing that. Back in his day, there was no such thing as a cog - this was his technology and it was brand new."
As the present owners prepare to introduce the new bio-diesel mountain climbing Cog Railway engine, they recognize that they'll join Marsh in history.
"It will be something that is modern, but will become historic," Presby said.