For well over a century, people from around the world have come to New Hampshire to visit the highest mountain peak in the northeastern United States aboard the Mount Washington Cog Railway. The steam-powered train -- the first and oldest of its kind still operating -- pulls itself up a steep, ladder-like railbed not on wheels, like regular trains, but with a big-toothed cog wheel turning underneath the engine.
Sometimes the ride is a climb above the clouds. And when passengers reach the top, they enjoy magnificent scenery that's limited only by the curvature of the earth - and sometimes the clouds below. But the ride to the top on the Cog Railway is an adventure all its own:
It has always been risky to reach the summit of the 1900-meter-tall Mount Washington. When adventurer Sylvester Marsh tried hiking his way to the top in the 1860s, he got caught in one of the mountain's notorious storms and nearly perished. He thought there should be a better, safer way to get people up the mountain. That better way was a one-coach car running on a rail track called the Cog railway.
"He was a very wealthy man," says Charles Kenison, who has been in charge of the Mount Washington Cog Railway, restaurant and museum for 10 years. "Sylvester Marsh conceived the whole thing and made a demonstration model, took it to the State of New Hampshire legislature, and got the approval to go build it. In 1866 they started building it."
He says the train has been running all year long, through rain, wind and snow since 1869. "It's probably New Hampshire's number one attraction," he says. "We carry roughly 70,000 people a year to the top."
Mr. Kenison says the cog rail trip stretches for about five kilometers. "It takes you from 2.700 feet ,900 meters, to 6.288 feet ,1900 meters, elevation," he says. "It takes about one hour 15 minutes to get to the top. You stay at the top for a while and then come back. On the way down you usually will pass other trains going up."
In the museum, Mr. Kenison says, visitors can study the history of the cog train from the 19th century to modern days. "We have a pictorial description of how the place was built and what has happened over the years," Mr. Kenison says. "How it was connected with the other railroads. You can see how running gear works. We have a boiler cabin, so you can climb in and see what the boiler in a locomotive looks like inside."
Marsha Rouillard has worked at the Cog railway restaurant for six years. She says people are always impressed with the magnificent scenery from the summit of the mountain. But it's not only the view that appeals to people, she says. It's also the idea of slowing down -- of riding a steam locomotive in an age of high-speed jets and the Internet. "They sit in the air, relax. They get a taste of history. They are not rushed," she says.
White Mountain Mikey, who is the official spokesman for the White Mountain Visitors Center, says that without experiencing a ride on the Cog Railway, any trip to the area would not be complete. He says people often come back and share this memorable experience with their loved ones.
"People like to come up here, parents with their kids, and grandparents coming with their grandchildren," he says. "Where everything in the world is changing, they can come here so many years later to where it's the same as when they were kids. They can come back and say, 'I remember when I was a little boy my Daddy brought me here.' We all like to have things that stay constant in our lives."
White Mountain Mikey says the Mount Washington Cog Railway has been more than an important source of income to the local economy. He says it is part of the region's proud heritage. People here hope they will be able to resist development pressures, preserve the wilderness surrounding Mount Washington and ensure that the cog railway continues to take visitors up the mountain for generations to come.