Today marks the birth of the Mount Washington Cog Railway in 1866. The worlds first mountain climbing cog railway. It was the brainchild of Sylvester Marsh. Marsh was then known for his advances in the meat packing industry and for something called Marsh’s Caloric Dried Meal, which I think is kiln dried grain for animal feed. I hope so because it doesn’t sound very appetizing.
Marsh had become lost one day whilst climbing the mountain and the idea of building a train track to the top struck him as a good one. Trains aren’t notoriously good at going up hill, in fact they’re terrible. So when he put the idea to state legislature, they didn’t really believe it could be done. But Marsh was offering to put up $5,000 of his own money and to build a hotel that would provide accommodation for the tourists he expected to attract. They saw no reason to decline his proposal. They told him to go ahead. They told him he could build a railway to the moon as well if he wanted.
The 1866 experimental section of track attracted enough investors for him to begin building. The railway took it’s first paying passengers in 1868, even though the track was still unfinished and did not reach the summit until July 1869. Marsh devised a special engine and track to stop the train rolling out of control down the slope. There is a massive cog in the middle of the axle which engages with a row of teeth down the centre of the track. The Mount Washington Cog Railway was massively popular and inspired many others to build similar tracks. You can still ride on it today. Though most of the trains used now run on bio-diesel rather that steam.
There is a museum at the top where you can see, among other things, the contraptions built by the men who worked on the construction of the railway. They wanted a way of getting themselves and their tools quickly back to the bottom of the mountain. So they each built themselves a sort of sledge that fitted over the central rails. They have a lovely name that tells us they were quite small and also quite dangerous, they were called Devils Shingles. It generally took about fifteen minutes to ride down the mountain in this way. The train would take around forty minutes to make the descent. It seems the fastest person made it down in less that three minutes. The Devil’s Shingles were banned in 1906 when a worker was killed. I could not find out whether these two events are connected.