Fire Cloud...
An irregular marking on the exterior of Native American pottery: usually resulting from burning fuel coming in direct contact with the vessel during firing

Thursday, 5 October 2006

Mt. Washington Cog Railway

Mt. Washington, New Hampshire

The Mt. Washington cog railroad was approved by the New Hampshire state legislature in 1866. It was the world’s first cog railroad. Some state legislators hooted and suggested approving an extension to the moon. However, the railway opened in 1869 and President Ulysses S. Grant brought his family to take the ride two months later. A lodge at the top offered the affluent cool summer views.

I stick out my head to snap some pictures and end up with tiny coal chunks in my hair and on my face. These locomotives look like a fire on the mountain from ten miles away. They burn over a ton of soft (bituminous) coal on each ascent. They force a huge amount of air through the burning coal to produce the steam and blow black smoke and coal chunks up though the stack... After a mile we stop to take on water.

The Appalachian trail intersects the rail line near the summit. The New Hampshire segment of the trail is considered the most rugged and difficult for hikers. There are hundreds of stone cairns along the trail here. We see one lone hiker. Hikers have been known to “moon” the trains but this hiker disappoints us.

As we approach the summit visibility drops to 30 feet. Winds today are forecast at 50 to 70 MPH. It is cold. I remember the rule of thumb from flying that the temperature drops two degrees centigrade for every thousand foot of elevation gain.

The coal powered steam cog train grinds to the top at 6.288 feet in just over an hour at an average speed of 3 MPH. We have ridden cog trains in Scotland and Switzerland but nothing with such archaic engines.

At the 20 minute stop at the summit, 75 old men from two trains head for the three urinals and two toilets. Time passes slowly. I can only shudder to consider what the women must be enduring.

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