Among The Clouds


While the accident—the only one involving passengers in ninety-eight years of service—has naturally cast a temporary pall over the cog railway, there is every indication that it will survive this worst blow in its history. The New Hampshire Public Utilities Commission has reported that “the primary cause of the accident was human error and not … any structural or mechanical deficiency of the railroad.” Mrs. Arthur Teague has bravely announced her intention to carry on her husband’s work, and full service to the summit of Mount Washington is positively expected to resume in the spring of 1968, as it has every spring since 1869. New safety measures, however, will be in effect.

A trip on the cog railway will remain as unusual and exciting as it has always been. Expectant crowds will wait for each train, will eye the steeply sloping track with awe, will crowd closely around the locomotives. Still a tradition will be the ticket-collecting stop on Jacob’s Ladder; because of the 37.5 per cent grade, passengers at the front of the car are thirteen feet higher than passengers seated at the rear. Buildings beside the track, actually level, appear crazily tilted. So does the world that moves past the windows and the tilted seats in the coach. As the train ascends, the red spruce trees of the Base Station are soon replaced by wiry evergreens that diminish to twisted shrubbery at the timber line. Above the timber line is an Arctic world, the legacy of the long-gone glaciers. The train moves across a gray lunar landscape, its barrenness relieved only by the scenic panoramas that stretch for miles away from the heights. If the mountain is in a benevolent mood, travellers can see no fewer than seventy-four bodies of water, from the Atlantic Ocean to the Connecticut River. Visible from the summit on a clear day are the Adirondack Mountains of distant New York, the nearer peaks of Vermont’s Green Mountains, and Mount Washington’s neighbors in the Presidential Range. Portland, Maine; Laconia and Portsmouth, New Hampshire; and innumerable smaller towns are all in view.

Surprisingly, the trip up the mountain is a quiet one. For all their herculean labors, the six engines of the cog railway are mild of voice; their exhaust is a series of gentle chuffs rather than a staccato of explosive blasts. For children, each is The Little Engine That Could, come to life, its muted exhaust surely saying, “I-think-I-can, I-think-I-can,” as it climbs New England’s highest mountain. Ahead of it in the coach will be another three or four score riders who will agree, as thousands have before them, with P. T. Barnum’s comment on the view from the top of Mount Washington: “The second greatest show on earth.”

Little Giant