mount washington cog railway

“Let him build a railroad to the moon!” a member of the New Hampshire Legislature suggested sarcastically, and everyone burst into hysterical laughter.

The demonstration was about a wind-up model of Sylvester Marsh’s invention—a locomotive powered by a central cogwheel gripping a center notched rail.  Four outer wheels have neither power or braking ability, but only support and guide the engine.  The light engine is geared down to attain the power needed.  And for safety, multiple braking systems are included.

Although this episode heralded several years of public disbelief and ridicule for Sylvester Marsh, the state eventually gave him a five-year Charter to build railways on Mount Washington and Mount Lafayette to “fool away his own money.” The year was 1858.

How the Idea Came About:

railway marshfield station

Two years earlier, in 1856, Sylvester Marsh, a very successful businessman from Boston, and a friend hiked up Crawford Path.  Above the tree line they were suddenly overtaken by storm-hurricane winds, freezing rain and premature darkness.  Staggering, sometimes crawling, they lost their way until they finally stumbled to the top, exhausted.   Marsh had found his mission: to provide “easier and safer method of ascension.”

We were there!

marshfield station

157 years later, people are still hiking up Mount Washington. But not us! Why should one not make use of Mr. Marsh’s handwork and ingenuity? It was on a cold September morning that Masood and I drove up to Marshfield Station at the base of Mount Washington in New Hampshire.

It had rained the previous night. By the time we reached Marshfield Station the sun shone timidly behind the clouds, but the air was very cold. Masood was all wrapped-up in a jacket we borrowed from a friend, because it did not make sense to buy a new one that will never be used in the U.A.E.

mount washington train ride

I, on the other hand, had layers of clothes on, plus the hijab and all the excitement, so that I did not feel too cold. But I had to stuff my hands into the pockets of my pretty, light-weight, white jacket (that I did not get the chance to wear again, sigh) every now and then to keep them warm enough to not shake when taking photographs.

We missed the 10:30 am train, having arrived just a few minutes before its scheduled departure.

How Much Does it Cost?

tickets cog railway

Those tickets cost $64 each per adult ($35 in November and December) for a round-trip plus entrance to the museum at the top of the mountain. The round trip takes approximately three hours, generally including a one hour stop at the summit.

Now, some people think spending that much money on a brief train ride is crazy, finding the journey too slow and boring. When we bought those tickets, however, we were looking forward to experience Mr. Marsh’s genius invention, a part of America’s history.

About the Coaches:

cog railway

I’m assuming each car can easily accommodate 40 passengers, but I observed a few trains and noticed that they were never really filled up to maximum capacity. Most of the passengers were families, with small children. One of the women had a small infant in her arms. Next to us sat a beautiful French couple.

Currently, the Cog has six coaches in its fleet of cars, most of them running on biodiesel than steam. The Cog workers built the brightly-painted, wood, Victorian-styled coaches. The front and back have walls of glass, and the side windows open for air and photography when the weather permits.

The Mount Washington Cog Railway is the world’s first mountain-climbing cog railway (rack-and-pinion railway). It is the second steepest rack railway in the world.

The windows do not open, much to my dismay. But, the good thing is that you can walk around the coach at any point during the journey and take pictures!

Now that is a dilemma: I seem uncertain whether to look out the window at the magnificent view of the mountainside or wonder at the Victorian-era technology that’s propelling us into the thick clouds above.

The 100-year-old Waumbek Tank:

railway mount washington

Lovely, clear weather when we started our journey up Mount Washington, the highest peak in the Northeastern United States.

Now, besides taking this train or hiking, there’s another way to get to the summit of Mount Washington—in your own car! They say the drive up is fun and spectacular and all, but the drive down is pretty nasty on the poor brakes.

But if you are a first-timer like us, I believe taking the cog railway is the best option, considering the history that comes with it.

The brakemen, who are well-trained on the mechanics of the train’s braking system, are all very knowledgeable and funny. They will tell you the history all the way up, then fun facts all the way down. Some will even tell you a little bit about themselves and their family.

While taking a picture of Masood next to a train, a brakeman gave his black hat to Masood to put on.

Waumbek Tank mount washington

Waumbek Tank
Elevation: 3,800 feet

This is the 100+ year-old water tank that is used by multiple engines several times every single day. It’s pretty impressive, actually.

But more astonishing than that is the change in flora and topography from the base to the summit.

Old Man of the Mountain:

Old Man of the Mountain

Old Man of the Mountain, formed by a retreating glacier during the last ice age.

I totally missed seeing the Old Man on the way up. The brakeman was pointing at it, but I just couldn’t see the outline of a face. On the way down, it was pretty clear so I was able to not only see the face but also take a blurry photograph of it through the coach’s window for you.

The Old Man actually was made of five slabs of Conway granite balanced atop one another. More details on this face here.

mount washington

It started to get windy and foggy.

When we told our colleagues that we were planning on going to Mount Washington’s summit, they all suggested the same thing—bring warm clothes. The weather up there is crazy and unpredictable.

The lowest recorded temperature at the summit was -49 degrees Fahrenheit; the highest was +74 degrees. The temperature on the summit falls below zero more than 65 days a year.

Jacob’s Ladder, a Fascinating Experience:

jacob's ladder

Jacob’s Ladder is a pretty cool point on the journey up or down Mount Washington!

Jacob’s Ladder is listed in Guinness Book of World Records as the most treacherous section of train track in the world. As the train climbs a 37.4 degree slope it also makes a 30 degree left-hand turn while 30 feet in the air. As it climbs the ladder, the front of the passenger coach is 14 feet higher than the rear of the coach!

While the passengers were busy either marveling  at the beauty surrounding us or taking pictures, the brakeman suddenly puts down his microphone, stands up, opens up the front door, and begins to fall backwards, as if trying to drop himself on an imaginary bed with fluffy cushions. All of us gasped at practically the same time! One little mistake and he’s out there on the tracks.

Turned out, he’s never going to fall on his back. Not at Jacob’s Ladder. “Try it and see for yourself,” he cheerfully suggested, our jaws still hanging open from his stunt.

Masood was the first to try. It was pretty amazing how he could balance himself and not fall. I joined him a couple of minutes later. Then the French couple joined us. It was so much fun! It was something like this.

Deeper into the Clouds:

cog railway

The winds blew stronger, felt colder. It started to get dark and it wasn’t even noon yet. I looked out the glass window and saw the leaves and tall grasses sway brutally with the wind. I also wondered about how the hikers were doing out there.

Occasionally, we saw rocks that are marked. It’s for the hikers, the brakeman told us. It keeps them from getting lost.

We’re told the view from here is spectacular on a clear day. There’s a deep cliff to your left, he told us. We looked out and saw nothing but thick clouds.

At the Top!

summit mount washington

This was how blurry, foggy, misty, and obscure it was at the summit.

And I’ll tell you all about that in the next post!

In the meantime, we will continue to enjoy some nice, sunny weather…

mount washington

cog railway mount washington

What’s your memorable train experience like?

Posted in Mount Washington | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 18 Comments


Peppersass, originally named Hero, was built in 1866.

Peppersass was the first mountain climbing cog railway engine in the world. It was used to build the railway and later haul passengers for about twelve years before being retired.

The original name Hero did not last long because a comment was made that it resembled a peppersauce bottle. From that point on it was called Peppersass.

The engine is displayed at the Base Station of Mount Washington in New Hampshire, along with a couple of other colorful engines.

cog railway at mount washington


It was a sunny day in July 1929. The temperature was warm and there was little wind. Peppersaas was scheduled to make its final climb up Mount Washington.

The Boston and Maine Railroad, who owned the Mount Washington Cog Railway at the time, decided to host this last run up the mountain. A gala celebration was planned to mark the return of Old Peppersass. Elaborate plans were made to run Old Peppersass up Mount Washington one more time before permanent retirement.

The stage was set for the most spectacular run Peppersass ever made—governors from six different states, photographers and newsmen, speeches, whistles, and a lot of cheering from spectators.

cog railway engine

Six train loads of passengers headed up the mountain in front of the Peppersass, the last train towing a flatcar for photographers and newsmen. Old Peppersass climbed the route so familiar to her. All went well, and the 63 year old engine performed as before.

Delighted with this good performance by the engine, Peppersass climbed all the way up the summit, against the original plan of just climbing midway up Mount Washington. By 5 pm later that afternoon, Peppersass began its decent.

All was well for about a half mile of the descent. Then there was a loud crack from the front of the engine. A tooth had broken from one of the gears and caused the engine to raise up and out of the cog rack. When the engine came back down it did so on the right side of the rack and the cog was not engaged. This caused the old engine to immediately gain speed. The brakes were of no use because the cog was out of the rack. As gravity took over, the engine gained speed and was now completely out of control with no chance of ever stopping. It raced down Long Trestle towards Jacob’s Ladder, its speed unchecked.

Old Peppersass continued its wild plunge down the track, ripping pieces out as it went. Having covered almost 2100 feet in her final plunge down the mountain, Peppersass finally left the track and was wrecked. Despite the presence of many photographers and newsmen, the actual wreck of the Peppersass was never recorded on film. One photographer was killed in this tragic journey.

The boiler did not explode and was recovered. Pieces were scattered all over the area and it was decided to gather them up and rebuild Peppersass for display at the Base.


Peppersass on display at the Base Station, watching the trains depart and arrive.

As you can see, Peppersass is a pretty engine. As I stood at the base looking at Peppersass and taking pictures, I began thinking about that tragic final journey of this engine. But I also thought about her earlier days, about how proud the engineers were with their invention. I mean, this was the nineteenth century and Peppersaas was designed specifically to climb extremely steep gradients.

So, to the remarkable invention of the cog railway and to the fifteen years of her service, we are celebrating Peppersass with this colorful and healthy pasta dish.

smoked salmon farfelle

Farfalle al salmone e piselli

(Bow-tie pasta with smoked salmon and peas)


This recipe is so easy you do not even need exact measurements! Or I may not have actually measured any of the ingredients while cooking this. But you now what, you can add as many green peas and bell peppers as you want, or sprinkle grated cheese as plenty as your conscience allows.

  • Extra virgin olive oil
  • Finely-chopped onions
  • Minced garlic
  • Bell pepper, chopped
  • Green peas
  • Bow-tie pasta
  • Smoked-salmon
  • Dill leaves
  • Low-fat milk
  • Salt and pepper
  • Optional: grated cheese of your choice, red chili flakes for heat, and mushrooms.


  1. Bring a large pot of lightly salted water to a boil. Add pasta and cook for 8 to 10 minutes or until al dente; drain and keep aside.
  2. Add a tablespoon or two of extra virgin olive oil in a pan.
  3. Over medium heat, saute finely-chopped onion and minced garlic (until the onions are translucent and the garlic fragrant).
  4. Add the chopped bell peppers.
  5. Gradually stir in about ½ cup low-fat milk. Heat to just below boiling point and, if you want, gradually stir in some grated cheese until the sauce is smooth. I skipped the cheese in this recipe.
  6. Stir in peas and cook over low heat for 4 minutes. You can also add mushrooms.
  7. Season with salt and black pepper.
  8. Toss in smoked salmon, and cook for 2 more minutes.
  9. Sprinkle dill on the sauce.
  10. Serve over pasta.


Posted in Mount Washington | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 10 Comments

sunrise in new jersey

Sunrise at Mt. Laurel

Masood and I spent a week in New Jersey, to work at our client site, one of the largest health care system in the state. It was quite an experience.

new jersey

The woods behind the offices.

ducks in new jersey

A picture I had to take. It’s not something we see often in the U.A.E.

Because of work, we sadly did not find time to explore New Jersey or the neighboring Philadelphia. We did try — leaving work by 5:30 pm and then driving around town. But that meant rush hour and traffic. And being distracted by Walmart, Target, Anthropologie (please open up a branch here in Dubai!) and Macy’s.

Oh, and have you heard about the “Jersey left”? That means that if you want to take a left turn on the road, you have to take a right turn first. It was so crazy the first time we discovered it. It was around 8 pm, we just landed from Boston, and we were on the far left lane thinking on taking the next left turn at the signal to reach our hotel.

When the light turned green and we eventually reached the junction, turned out we can’t take a left. So we drove straight ahead and took forever before finding a U-turn because we did not know we had to take a right turn first.

It was not fun.

What was fun was having a dinner date at IndeBlue Restaurant in Collingswood.


Picture from IndeBlue FB page.


Established in 2009, IndeBlue is run by a Mumbai-trained chef named Rakesh Ramola and his wife.

Here’s their promise: “Indeblue offers a fresh, modern take on Indian cuisine as well as traditional Indian favorites. We showcase fresh meats, local produce and house-made cheese and breads. We take pride in offering a variety of vegan, vegetarian and gluten-free menu items that are both creative and full of flavor.”

Picture from IndeBlue FB page.

Picture from IndeBlue FB page.


We found this restaurant by accident. We were driving around town looking for halal or vegetarian restaurants. By 9 pm, we somehow drove into this shady-looking neighborhood with dark alleys and barking dogs. My imagination went overdrive and I thought I even saw shadows lurking between old apartment buildings.

A little scared and very much disappointed, we decided to head back to the hotel (which turned out to be an hour drive away, that’s how far away we traveled in search of halal food). It was on our way back that we took a wrong turn and saw IndeBlue restaurant.

Not a halal restaurant, but it’s a place that serves very good Indian food.

Corn Soup

Corn Soup ($6)

The food was delicious. The soup has this nice consistency that I really liked – it wasn’t too thick or thin, not too rich, and the texture wasn’t too smooth in a good way that pleased the taste buds.

Vegetarian Thali

Vegetarian Thali – Mix vegetable curry, dal makhani, paneer curry, papadam, raita,
onion fritters, naan, saffron rice, green chutney & tamarind chutney ($18)

Everything in Masood’s vegetarian thali was perfect. IndeBlue makes their own fresh cottage cheese every single morning. Love the dal makhani!

Shrimp Moilee

Shrimp Moilee - Saucy shrimp cooked with curry leaf flavored coconut gravy served with saffron basmati rice ($18)

I ordered seafood. During our entire stay in the US, I ordered seafood 90% of the time. I went crazy over grilled salmon and shrimps. I was in seventh heaven.

This shrimp moilee is interesting. This curry is a traditional shrimp or fish preparation in Kerala. The whole spices play an important role in the aromatic nature of the curry rather than imparting actual heat.

Naturally sweet coconut milk and the fragrant whole spices make this mild curry very delicious and rich. Plus, I think the chef gave this dish a different twist by tempering it with mustard seeds.

Although I finished all the shrimps from the curry, I was only able to eat half of the sauce because it was too rich and creamy.

indeblue indian restaurant


Service was really good. I feel bad for forgetting that gentleman’s name, but he was very helpful with our orders and, even though it was their closing time, he made sure Masood and I were enjoying our meal and had everything we wanted.

I haven’t visited their Philadelphia branch, but Collingswood has outdoor sitting option as well as ample parking spaces.

For more information, directions, and menu list, visit IndeBlue Restaurant’s website and Facebook page.

Posted in Collingswood | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , | 12 Comments