Adventures in Photography: The Mount Washington Cog Railroad

by Greg Lessard

The Mount Washington Cog Railway is one of New England’s most unique and interesting highlights. Designated a National Historic Engineering Landmark in 1976, the Cog thrills and delights thousands of visitors every year. Invented by New Hampshire native Sylvester Marsh, the locomotive “Old Peppersass” made the first ascent of Mount Washington in 1869.
Riding the Cog is one of the easiest ways to ascend and descend the 6288 foot tall Mount Washington. However, it isn’t for the faint of heart. The Cog seemingly climbs straight up for mile after mile. At its steepest point, the railroad ascends a 37% grade! According to Cog officials, during that portion of the trip, the passengers in the front of the car will be thirteen feet higher than those in the back. That’s steep!
While descending from the top of Mount Washington, I couldn’t help but pray that the brakes would hold. Soon after we left the summit, I couldn’t help but enjoy the trip. On a clear day, the view from the summit of Mount Washington can extend all the way from the Atlantic Ocean into New York State. The view from the passenger car was equally enchanting.
At five miles per hour, the Cog will not win many races. This slow pace seems just right to enjoy the scenery from the side of the grandest mountain in New England. All too soon we were back at Marshfield Station at the foot of the mountain.

Fascinated by the number 9 steam engine, the Waumbek, I lingered for more than an hour making many images of this beautiful coal fired engine. During that time I interviewed Ray Dest, one of the engineers. This amiable fellow had a lot to say and his love for the railway was apparent. Ray has been working on the Cog for the past thirteen years. He started as a brakeman, worked his way to being a fireman and finally an engineer. “I originally wanted to work as a groundskeeper, but the only job available was as a brakeman. I love it!” he stated.
When asked what his favorite part of the job was, Ray said, “Working with the steam and being up on the mountain in all kinds of weather. One time we were going up Jacob’s Ladder (the steepest section) and this sudden storm blew in from nowhere. A big, dark, black cloud came along and soaked us. We could still see the sun on either side of the cloud. It was amazing. You see beautiful things up there that you won’t see anywhere else.”

The Mount Washington Cog Railway was the highlight of my latest adventure in photography. Open until November 28, the Cog could be your next adventure too! To find out more, visit or call 1 800 922 8825.
This month’s tip: Talk with the people who are the subjects of your photography. These people are often experts on the places you visit. Knowing the stories behind the photos makes photography much more enjoyable. Ray knew a lot about the Cog. The stories he told, made my experience unforgettable!