- Historic Sites
Among The Clouds
Tourists who ride the famous cog railway up the precipitous slopes of Mount Washington often feel the sky itself is their destination. Overcoming many obstacles—including a recent serious accident—the little locomotives with their tilted boilers have been huffing and puffing people to New England’s highest summit for nearly a century
April 1968 | Volume 19, Issue 3
Apparently cut out to be a genial bear of a man, the Colonel became less genial and his temper shorter. But he coped admirably. The railway had been running two trains a day to the summit, a schedule geared to the twice-a-day arrival of the branch-line trains from Fabyan, when those were still running. Aware of the greater freedom afforded by private autos, the Colonel began running one train an hour—a schedule that remains substantially unchanged today. To lure passengers, he inundated roadside restaurants, tourist cabins, gasoline stations, and diners with advertising folders. He drove to every convention within reach to promote the line. When he wasn’t away promoting, he often sat at the Base Station surveying his domain; when an acquaintance said, “How are you?” the Colonel replied, “Cross as ever.”
His crossness was suspect, however. He was genuinely fond of the college boys he recruited annually to run the railway and paid them bonuses at the end of-the season. A lonely man who never married, he made the railway and its workers a substitute for a family, and the boys repaid him with loyalty and affection. His skills at promotion soon doubled the annual passenger traffic. He enlarged the parking lot at the Base Station and built comfortable cabins, a restaurant, and a gift shop.
Henry Teague proved the wisdom of the Boston & Maine in choosing him to shoulder a burden it could no longer bear. But he matched the railroad’s good judgment with his own in his choice of a successor—another Teague (but no relation) and another “colonel” (this time a real one). At the time Henry Teague recruited Arthur S. Teague—whose physician-father was a friend—all the older man knew was that the youth seemed a likely prospect for a summer job on the cog railway. An engineering student at Clemson College in South Carolina, Arthur Teague had planned to begin an eighteen-month General Electric apprenticeship following his graduation. Retrenching to suit the times, General Electric dropped the program. So it was that in 1933, his career plans sidetracked, Arthur Teague came to the cog railway. He stayed there until his death in the summer of 1967, although he took time out to serve in World War II; he entered that conflict as a lieutenant and emerged as a colonel with nearly every decoration for bravery the United States can bestow save the Congressional Medal of Honor.
There were more parallels between the two Teagues than their surnames. Each man brought to the cog railway at the time of his arrival the qualities it most needed to survive. Henry Teague geared the line to the age of autos, motels, and expressways. Arthur Teague, charged with the operation of a railway that could be fairly described as an anachronism in action, brought to the line the engineering and technical knowledge needed to operate it successfully, make needed improvements, and hold the reins on costs. His work evokes memories of Mark Twain’s Connecticut Yankee: “I could make anything a body wanted—anything in the world, it didn’t make any difference what; and if there wasn’t any quick new-fangled way to make a thing, I could invent one.”
For example: the cog railway’s Base Station is six miles from the nearest electric power line; the necessary connecting links would have cost $20,000. Arthur Teague harnessed falling water on the mountainside to turn a Pelton water wheel that generates electricity for the Base Station, operates all the shop machinery through belt drives, and turns a water motor that pumps water to the summit of Mount Washington at seven gallons a minute at a pressure of 2,000 pounds to the square inch.
The cog railway had a maintenance problem: the twelve-tooth pinion gears keyed to the two crankshafts of each locomotive frequently required replacement because of the heavy strains involved in running. Arthur Teague redesigned the assembly so that now shaft and gear are made from a single piece of chrome molybdenum steel.
By no means devoid of sentiment, Arthur Teague artfully restored an 1875 coach to its Victorian grandeur and equipped it with modern roller bearings. On the other hand, needing more and larger passenger cars, he designed coaches built from stock-size steel and aluminum sheets, thus reducing the price of the finished cars.
In one instance, Arthur Teague took a negative rather than a positive approach. In 1946, General Electric offered to build three diesel locomotives for the cog railway at $100,000 apiece, but Teague rejected the proposal, reasoning that the season was too short to permit the line to carry such a heavy debt. Today, twenty-two years later, the cog railway’s six steam engines are a major attraction in themselves.
Their appeal is, of course, their rarity in a diesel age, yet that rarity poses problems. The cog railway’s machine shop is required to do every imaginable job called for in keeping the six extant engines running: making and installing new boiler tubes, sidesheets, and flues; machining bearings; and making new crank and main shafts and its own patterns for outside casting.
Arthur Teague died last August. Almost as if this were an ill omen, tragedy struck the Mount Washington Cog Railway a month later. On September 17, 1967, a train carrying some eighty tourists was backing down the mountain in its usual lazy fashion when it ran into a mistakenly opened switch about a mile from the summit. The engine jumped the track; the coach, with nothing to hold it back, plunged on down the mountain another 500 feet and then bounced off the trestle, turning over as it did so and crushing eight passengers to death. Many others were injured.