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The historical past and tragedy of the primary mountain railroad via the eyes of previous staff | Information, Historical past, Options from the Northeast Kingdom of Vermont

The historical past and tragedy of the primary mountain railroad via the eyes of previous staff | Information, Historical past, Options from the Northeast Kingdom of Vermont

2023-05-06 17:11:54

Tim Lewis’ “Mt. Washignton Cog Railway Roster,” profiles hundreds of historic “Coggers.” …

The Mt. Washington Cog Railway, the primary of solely two mountain railroads within the U.S., had an exemplary security document for its first 98 years, contemplating that it was constructed to claw its approach up steep slopes and straddle deep ravines to the highest of the tallest peak within the northeastern United States. Then got here 1967.

Over the course of some months, misfortune and tragedy beset the mountain railroad and its homeowners. In early June, harm to a summit resort brought about monetary hardship for proprietor Col. Arthur Teague. Quickly after, “The Colonel,” as he was referred to, suffered a coronary heart assault. On Aug. 4, following a gathering along with his lawyer and accountant, he took his personal life. Possession handed to his spouse, Ellen. Two weeks later, whereas on path to a horse present in Keene, N.H., a automotive crash took the lifetime of the Teagues’ 14-year-old daughter, Lucy. On Sept. 17, a misaligned change within the cog monitor brought about a derailment that killed eight passengers, together with three youngsters.

MtnGraphic002 with cloning.jpg

An illustration displaying the geographic places and landmarks alongside the 3-mile path to the summit of Mt. Washington.

The rack and pinion mechanics of the Cog had been designed and constructed within the nineteenth century by the Cog’s first proprietor, Sylvester Marsh. In between the 2 rails, a toothed rack rail accepts the cog wheels fitted to the locomotive and passenger automotive. The locomotive pushes the passenger automotive up the mountain and descends the mountain by entering into reverse. Throughout descent, velocity is managed by air compression within the engine’s cylinders and brakes. It takes about an hour to make the practically 3-mile climb, and an hour to descend.

From the Cog’s first passenger journey in 1868, via 1967, there wasn’t a single loss of life to a paying buyer, although a number of Cog staff weren’t so fortunate. Many of those deaths had been the results of slide boards, which had been used from the 1870s via the early a part of the twentieth century for fast descents by particular person staff down the monitor. They got here to be generally known as the “Satan’s Shingle.”

Perception into the sequence of occasions main as much as 1967 has been supplied by two Danville residents, Norman “Jitney” Lewis and his son Tim, who knew the Teagues intimately and labored for them on the Cog. Tim is a professor of digital journalism at Northern Vermont College – Lyndon

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Norm “Jitney” Lewis and his son, Tim, in 1958.


Danville’s Tim Lewis holds up the signal for the Mt. Washington engine.

Collectively, they produced a three-volume treatise on the Cog that extends to hundreds of pages and offers a highly-technical operations guide, as nicely an inside perspective on the historical past of the mountain railway and its staff, some with native ties.

Jitney’s household spent 18 summers in Bretton Woods, N.H., the place he labored as a “Cogger,” as staff of the railroad are identified. In 1950, Jitney was attending Lyndon Trainer’s school, the establishment that might turn into Lyndon State Faculty and now Northern Vermont College – Lyndon. His roommate, George Trask, gave him his nickname for his jitter-bugging capability on the native dance corridor. Trask additionally launched him to The Colonel, who quickly employed him. By way of 1967, Jitney was answerable for taking passengers safely to the mountain’s 6,288-foot summit and down once more. He spent his summers on the Marshfield Base Station – alone at first and later along with his household.

Jitney’s final summer season on the Cog was 1967, when he signed a 12-month contract to be assistant superintendent at a college in Chester, Vt. He left previous to the 1967 crash, however beforehand, in line with Tim, his father walked and inspected the complete monitor. Jitney’s closing report mentioned, “the one attainable trigger for an accident on the road sooner or later could be human error because the monitor, the locomotive, and automotive mechanisms, in addition to working procedures, had been sound if maintained and adopted.”

The Crash

On Sept. 17, 1967, the No. 3 Base Station engine and an aluminum passenger automotive The Chumley, left the summit with greater than 80 passengers round 5:10 p.m. The locomotive was in entrance of the passenger automotive backing down the monitor. On board had been an engineer, an engineer in coaching, a fireman and a brakeman. On the descent, the Base Station met an ascending prepare at Skyline Swap, one among three switches designed to permit trains to go one another.

1967.09.19 NH State PD photos.tiff

1967.09.19 NH State PD photos.tiff

The pictures above had been taken by George Hester, of the New Hampshire State Police Felony & Photographic Laboratory, on Sept. 19, 1967  following the 1967 crash that killed eight individuals.

Because the prepare reached Skyline, it slowed down however didn’t cease. The crew assumed the change had been left within the appropriate place. Nevertheless it wasn’t. When the engine hit, each the entrance and rear cogs had been compelled out of the rack. The engine left the tracks and tumbled to the rocks beneath, leaving the passenger automotive in an runaway slide down the tracks like a seven-ton sled. Roughly 500 ft later, at 35 miles per hour, the automotive left the monitor and smashed onto its aspect.

New Hampshire Public Utilities Fee Director Winslow E. Melvin investigated the scene and revealed a report on Sept. 22. He confirmed the change was misaligned and brought about the accident.

“It’s our conclusion that the first reason behind the accident was human error,” Melvin wrote, “and never as a consequence of any structural or mechanical deficiency of the railroad.”

Within the days following, media and politicians throughout the area debated the protection of the railway and out of state corporations had been employed to conduct extra investigations into the crash.

Ellen Teague established a brand new coverage that required all engines to come back to an entire cease in any respect switches and a visible inspection made. Finally, the change system was changed altogether.

On Oct. 2, the Rutland Herald despatched reporter Howard Coffin, now a well known Vermont historian, to cowl the restoration of the Base Station engine. The efforts had been led by Pliney Granger Jr. (see sidebar) to place the wrecked engine again on the rails and produce it down the mountain for repairs. Coffin recalled that story for Vermont Public Radio on the fiftieth anniversary of the accident. “Rutland Herald editor Kendall Wild assigned me to the story. And with a 35-millimeter digital camera and pocket book, I reached the railway’s base station round eight the subsequent day on a heat cloudless morning. Railway officers advised a crowd of reporters that no entry to the wreck web site was allowed. Sure, an engine and flatcar had been going as much as deliver the wrecked engine down. However the injured and lifeless had already been evacuated. In order the work prepare started to chug towards the mountain I leaped onto the flatcar. I used to be the one reporter who did, and by then the prepare was going so quick the engineer and crew needed to tolerate me. Fortuitously, I’d introduced my parka. It took 4 hours for the crew to get the engine again on monitor – whereas it took simply minutes for the sunny morning to show to 80 mile an hour winds and driving snow. On the journey down, as we crossed the famed Jacob’s Ladder trestle, the wrecked locomotive began to experience up over the flatcar. And for one terrifying second, it appeared we would have to leap 60 ft to the rocks beneath or be crushed by the engine. However the males bought the wrecked locomotive underneath management. On approaching the bottom, I jumped from the prepare earlier than it stopped, and bought away with my notes and digital camera. Subsequent morning the Herald had the primary footage taken on the wreck web site, throughout web page one. Such was what Ken Wild’s Rutland Herald anticipated of its reporters. I vividly recall seeing the battered engine on the jagged rocks because the gales and pushed snow of essentially the most sudden winter in reminiscence roared in – and a girl describing how she’d survived within the wreck for 3 hours, trapped beneath the physique of somebody who had not.”

The Swap Thriller

A thriller nonetheless endures: what occurred to the change on the Skyline Swap that brought about the 1967 derailment?

Throwing a change was not a straightforward operation in these days. Based on Melvin’s report, there have been 9 separate steps that needed to be adopted.

On Sept. 17, because the Base Station ascended the mountain, it met the descending No. 2 Ammonoosuc at Skyline Swap. After the 2 trains handed, two brakemen for the Ammonoosuc left the prepare and aligned the change for the Base Station’s return. It took the Base Station a bit over an hour to succeed in the summit and return to Skyline Swap, the place unbeknownst to them, the change was not aligned appropriately.

What occurred in these 75 minutes? Did somebody come alongside and alter the change? Nobody is aware of.

Satan’s Shingle

Slide boards had been invented to supply quick transportation from the summit to the bottom station. The three-foot-long boards had been grooved to relaxation on the middle rail. Pace was managed by a braking system that included handles on both aspect of the board that when pulled, the board would grip the flange of the rail tightly. Skilled riders had been mentioned to have the ability to make the journey in round three minutes, at a velocity approaching 60 miles an hour over excessive, steep picket trestles. Slide boards had been additionally used at evening and throughout the winter.

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The “Satan’s Shingle” was an improvised methodology of descending the mountain rapidly and dangerously. They had been banned repeatedly within the early twentieth century, however studies differ on once they really stopped getting used.

In 1876, the Washington (DC) Night Star reported, “Within the eight years that the street has been run there was no accident ensuing within the lack of life, although two or three of the railroad workmen have been killed in trying to slip down the rails on boards fitted with impolite iron runners to the center-rail, and controlled by a brake of like easy building. However the hazard of a descent on this approach it appears to have an important fascination for some, and in our ascent we met a number of individuals coming down on these sleds. As we approached they stopped their odd autos and indifferent them from the monitor; resuming their downward flight once we had handed. They’re all proper “whereas the breaching holds,” however when that provides out it’s the final of earth for the unlucky sledder.”


Norm “Jitney” Lewis spent 18 years taking individuals to the summit of Mt. Washington.

Jitney’s Life Work

Whereas Jitney Lewis was engineering and serving as operations supervisor for the Cog within the 50s and 60s, his son Tim was publishing “Cog Clatter,” a weekly newspaper chronicling the lives of Cog staff, which in these days, numbered as many as 180 per season.

On the prompting of his boss, Jitney produced “Brake – Fireplace – Run,” and “Cog From a Protected Level of View,” two works that had been handed out to staff. Col. Teague wished to make sure prepare crews all obtained the identical fundamental info. Jitney additionally started engaged on a highly-technical operations guide, however did not end it earlier than departing the Cog. Based on Tim, his father was a severe scholar of Mount Washington Railway steam prepare operations and labored on the Cog to complement his G.I. Invoice profit and underwrite his schooling. Other than his summers on the Cog, Jitney was a instructor, primarily within the Vermont cities of Chester, Springfield, Newport, and Derby. He retired to Danville when he discovered a property with ample storage for his huge assortment of historic gadgets, memorabilia and Cog artifacts.

Finally, on the urging of his son, Jitney completed his operations guide the age of 86, two years earlier than his loss of life in 2017. The guide, “Brake – Fireplace – Run,” and “Cog From a Protected Level of View,” turned chapters within the 928-page “Mt. Washington Cog Railway; 1950-1967: The Jitney Years.”

As a part of the deal for ending his guide, Jitney recommended Tim increase on the work he started with “Cog Clatter.” Tim agreed and enlisted the assistance of previous staff for extra info. The end result was the 241-page “Mt. Washington Cog Railway Roster: The Jitney Years Plus.” This crowd-sourced roster of staff and their tales is continually increasing as Tim continues his analysis. Finally depend, he has over 2,000 names and is working to deliver a complete database to the web.

The third e-book is the 548-page “Mt. Washington Cog Railway Aggregated Timeline.”

Tim has been touring across the area selling these works. His subsequent displays are scheduled for March 31 on the Danville Historic Society at 1 p.m., and April 18 in St. Johnsbury as a part of the Osher Lifelong Studying Institute collection at Catamount Arts in St. Johnsbury at 1 p.m.

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