Monday, September 05, 2016
Mt Washington by coal fired steam locomotive
Back in 2009 I was invited to speak at a conference in Mt Washington New Hampshire. I had never been to New Hampshire or Vermont, and it was an interesting conference, so I said yes. I knew nothing about Mt Washington. Through the magic of google I quickly learned that Mt Washington is home to some of the nastiest weather in the continental United States. The top of it sets in a sort of a natural wind tunnel, famous of high winds, fog, rain and generally ugly weather. You can drive up one side, on the side that I was staying on there is a Cog Railway running up the side of the mountain. When I checked into the train, I discovered that it was in it's next to last season of running coal fired steam engines - it was already phasing them out and replacing them with diesel powered hydraulic drive engines. I paid the extra to assure a seat on the steam train.
Riding coal fired steam on a cog railway up the side of a mountain engages all of the senses. You can feel the locomotive spitting, breathing, coughing as it struggled to push against gravity. You can smell the coal smoke and steam, fell the heat from the locomotive 4-5 feet away from the end of the single passenger car. The noise is an assault on your ears, you could hear every push of the steam pistons against the load. You could taste the coal smoke. You can see the changing landscape and the look of wonder and at times horror on the faces of the passengers. Very little scares me, and I will admit that at least once I was sure the entire thing was going to slide backward down the mountain, as we climbed what was more of a cliff than a steep slope. I think everyone was relieved when track finally leveled off in the dense fog at the top. Few experiences impact so many senses at once.
I am so glad I was able to catch one of the last coal fired steam rides. It was an experience, an adventure that will not be easily duplicated. The modern hydraulic drive system, is cleaner, quieter, smoother - safer and more reliable. I would like to go back and ride again, I expect that this time I will experience the incredible landscape more, and the physical experience of the train less.