The first official passenger trip to the summit took place on July 3, 1869. In the early years, passengers arrived at the base depot by stagecoach from the local hotels, the Crawford House and the White Mountain House. That first season the roundtrip rail fare from the depot to the summit was three dollars. The roundtrip stagecoach ride from the Crawford House or White Mountain House to the base was another three dollars.
The trip to the base became significantly easier on July 4, 1876, with the inaugural run on the BC&M branchline from the Fabyan House to the Cog. With the completion of this line, the Cog Railway started to pay dividends. Up to this time, either due to reinvesting or due to lack of income, the railway had not paid dividends to its shareholders. The first year of the branchline, the Cog paid a nine percent dividend. With the completion of the branchline, the Cog Railway began to fulfill the 1866 financial vision of the railroad men who had invested in the project. By 1885, it had returned eighty-eight percent .
The Cog Railway’s founder and president, Sylvester Marsh, was pushed aside by Lyon who gained control of a majority of the stock. Marsh continued as a figurehead president, until his death, but with little real authority. This was evident as early as 1870 when the Hitchcock/Huntington party requested of Marsh the use of the Cog Railway’s summit facilities for their stay in the winter of 1870-1. Marsh stated “he had not the authority to speak for the company.” Professor Hitchcock “went to Boston” to see Lyon for the necessary approval and Lyon immediately transmitted his approval.
In the late nineteenth century, the Cog changed hands several times as the railroads of New England consolidated. The Boston and Lowell, the Boston and Concord, the Concord and Montreal, and finally, in 1895, the Boston and Maine (B&M) came to own the Cog. In 1930, the B&M was still operating the old branchline to the base and the Cog (along with most of New England’s railroads). But by this time there was more to the Cog than just the railway. The Summit House on the top of Mount Washington was owned by the B&M. and leased to, and operated by, the Barron, Merrill, and Barron Company, as it had been since before 1900. Additionally, in 1925, the Barron company built a small cabin colony (the Kro-Flite Kamps) adjacent to the Cog base station on land leased from the B&M. In early 1931 the B&M ended their relationship with the Barron company. They turned over operations to experienced (but bankrupt) hotelier Henry Nelson Teague (1875-1951). For the first time, the same management would operate all three properties: the Cog, Summit House, and Kro-Flite Kamps. Teague purchased the three properties from the B&M in 1939.
While the B&M was an excellent steward of the Cog, Henry Teague significantly updated the operation. In the last year of the B&M management (1930), the Cog was still running on a timetable used during the stagecoach days; two roundtrip trains a day. In the depths of the Depression, with most passengers arriving by automobile, Teague added more trains to the schedule. In 1932 there were five trains departing the base between 8am and 4pm. In 1933, there were seven departures between 9:30am and 5:50pm, and by 1939 there were nine trains a day between 6am to 6:30pm. For those without automobiles, Teague arranged for buses or limousines to pick up passengers at the local hotels.
Business grew sufficiently so that, by the mid-1930s, Teague toyed with the idea of double-tracking the mountain to get more trains to the summit each day. The 1937 opening of the Cannon Mountain Aerial Tramway put that idea to rest. The tramway enabled visitors to quickly ascend to the summit of Cannon Mountain, a mountain with fine views and that was not clouded over as often as Mt. Washington. Despite the competition, business remained good at the Cog. Arthur Teague (no known relation to Henry Teague) worked with the B&M Engineering Department—the Cog and the B&M had a long beneficial relationship during Henry Teague’s tenure on the mountain—to design switches compatible with the complicated running gear of the Cog locomotives. Switches would enable trains to pass each other for the first time on the mountain. The first switch on the Cog was installed at the base in 1941 (just west of the present-day electrically powered, hydraulically controlled switch). After its success (with nine parts thrown by hand), two more manual switches were installed, one just above the Waumbek water tank (now gone) and one at Skyline (extant in 2011). Prior to the installation of these switches, each train ran on a separate section of the three miles of track: the bottom, or first, train ran from the base to Waumbek tank; the middle, or second, train ran from Waumbek tank to Skyline; and the top, or third, train from Skyline to the summit. Passengers changed trains three times on their way to the summit.
When Henry Teague died in 1951, he bequeathed the railway, (then valued at $167,000), to his alma mater, Dartmouth College, the source of the 1939 loan he used to purchase the railway. The college kept Teague’s general manager, Arthur Teague (c.1910-1967) on in that post. The college left Teague to run the base, railway, and the Summit House, and the college leased and sold land on the summit. In 1961 Dartmouth sold the Cog to Arthur Teague (except for part of the summit). After Teague’s suicide in 1967, his wife, Ellen (1913-1999), inherited and ran the property.
One of the best things she did to ensure the long-term viability of the railway was to hire Edward M. Clark (1924-2009) as general manager at the close of the 1973 season. Clark went immediately to work, making the winter of 1973-4 the first time work was performed at the base station in that season. This was necessary as Clark had been informed by the State of New Hampshire’s steam boiler inspector that the boilers of three locomotives would not pass inspection and therefore the railroad could not operate the next season. Clark and Val Sanders spent that first winter at the Cog installing new staybolts. These bolts attach the firebox to the boiler and create the gaps that allow water to encircle the firebox. The three boilers passed the state inspection and the Cog could operate in 1974. Prior to this year, any winter work required on the locomotives or other equipment was accomplished at the B&M’s yards in Lyndonville, Vt.
Clark and Sanders introduced two other Cog “firsts.” During their tenure, the “speeder” was developed to quickly move workers up the track (one is still in use as of 2010) and the “Spirit of ’76,” a diesel-powered locomotive for work crews was constructed. Unfortunately, this forward-looking locomotive was not credited as the labor- and time-saving device it would later become. In part due to this, Mrs. Teague fired Clark at the conclusion of the 1976 season. Clark’s diesel locomotive, paid for almost completely out of his own funds, was cut up and sold before it could be made to operate successfully on the railway. It would be over 30 years before diesels were brought back.
Ellen Teague sold the railway in 1983. A group of Littleton, NH, businesspeople purchased it for a reported $1,200,000. This group still owns the Cog and has continued to upgrade the system and equipment. They replaced the wooden trestle known as Jacob’s Ladder, the highest trestle on the line, with steel in the late 1980s. Two of the three manual switches installed in the 1940s were removed and replaced with hydraulic switches. These effectively eliminate the risk of human error in setting the switches (the only passenger fatality, in 1967, was attributed to a switch not correctly set). An eighteen-hundred-foot “passing loop” was created with the Waumbek tank its lower terminus. This saves the trains from having to “take the switch” to wait for passing trains. The first hydraulic switch was installed at the base station in 2002 and the passing loop switches were installed in 2003 (lower) and 2004 (upper).
The most notable change at the Cog Railway since its inception has been the introduction of diesel-powered hydraulic locomotives into regular passenger service. The first one ran in 2008. Two more diesel locomotives followed in 2009, and an additional one in 2010. Built in the Cog shops, these locomotives are powered by 600-horse-power John Deere diesel engines driving hydraulics. Burning about eighteen gallons of B20 bio-diesel fuel each trip and carrying just one crewmember, the engineer (the fireman is no longer needed to shovel coal) the diesels are cost-effective, faster, use less fuel, create less pollution, and promise the benefit of less maintenance than their coal-fired forebears.