Launching for "the moon." Back in the 1850s, when New Hampshire native Sylvester Marsh first pitched the idea of building a railroad to the top of Mt. Washington to the State Legislature, they laughed at him. He was asking to be granted a charter for the project and during the hearings, one legislator allegedly stated that Marsh should be not only granted a charter to build to the summit of Mt. Washington, but also to the Moon. They gave him the go-ahead because they figured that even if his proposal didn't succeed, he'd still infuse a fair amount of money into the local economy in the process of trying. The charter was granted in 1858, but the project had to wait 8 more years, as America was immersed in a Civil War. During this time, Marsh developed his ideas for mountain-climbing railway equipment, and when the war was over, he began pitching those ideas to investors. As he found funding, construction was started, and in 1869, about the same time that the Transcontinental Railroad was completed, Marsh's line reached the summit. Over the past 150 years, the Mt. Washington Cog Railway has become an icon of New England ingenuity, having transported over 5 million passengers to the summit.
In some ways, "The Railway to the Moon" has changed little in the past century and a half, and in other ways it has changed a lot. As late as the early 2000s, the railroad still fielded a fleet of 7 steam locomotives, and the trains still climbd the "rock pile" the same way they had for so long. In the past 10 years however, the steam engines have largely been retired, and the 7 primary locomotives are now diesel hydraulics. Gone is the old coal bunker at the depot, and gone are the old sidings and 7-piece, "Survivor Puzzle" switches. The diesels no longer stop on the way up the hill, and they make the trip in a short 40 minutes. Instead of the hiss of steam, the hikers hear the whine of a John Deere Tractor. But fortunately for the history buffs like me, the railroad still clings to a little piece of its heritage. Although 5 steam engines have been retired, two have been retained in operating condition, and according to the crews, the revenues generated by the very successful diesel conversion have enabled the railroad to maintain the two remaining tea-kettles in the best shape they've been in for a very long time.
In the scene above, MWRC #9 "Waumbek" launches for the summit with the C-section of the 2:30 PM train. Yes, that's right, even under a dark, threatening sky in June, there were two diesel-powered trains and one steamer heading for the summit this hour, all with coaches completely full. Even with the steam tickets selling for a premium price, the runs are selling out. 150 years after its construction, Sylvester Marsh's "Railway to the Moon" is still going strong.