(In honor of the frigid New England winter I figured I would re-feature this story of the guys who set records going down the mountain in the most insane way possible. Speed is a drug and these guys who build a slow, plodding railroad up the mountain in the 1800s wanted it bad. They found it with “vehicles” of their own creation that quickly turned into competition equipment. Here’s the story of the “Devil’s Shingle”)
New Hampshire’s Mt. Washington is a bad ass hill. Standing nearly 6,300ft tall, it is the highest point in the Northeastern United States, has some of the worst weather (at the top) of any point on Earth and is home to a cog railroad that climbs grades as high as 37% in some places. Oh yeah, it was also home to a group of lunatic workers back in the 1800s that raced homebuilt sleds down the tracks that could reportedly touch 100mph!
In the late 1800s when the famous (and still running) cog railway was being constructed up Mount Washington, workers needed a quick way to get down the mountain at the end of the day. Not wanting to hike down from their posts, some at the top of the mountain, workers began to construct small carts to slide down the tracks on.
These carts all had about the same dimensions of 10″ wide and roughly 36″ long. They also had the common theme of a storage compartment positioned between the rider’s legs that was used to hold tools, their lunch pail, or maybe the bottle of brandy they belted down before getting on this death trap. Although the “shingles” had the same size, no two were alike because the men all built their own.
These were very basic little sleds. They had a hand operated friction brake and a couple of guide pins to keep itself riding on the iron cogged center of the track. Under the fanny of the rider were a couple of thick iron plates. that allowed the shingle to slide.
Miraculously it took years for someone to finally off themselves on top of a “shingle”. In 1906 their official use was ended and workers had to take more mundane means to the bottom of the hill. That didn’t stop people totally and there are sources claiming the shingles were used by some until 1920.
So here’s the BangShifty part of this deal. when the “shingles” started running in the 1800s, it would take the average guy 15 minutes to slide the three miles of track from top to bottom. People being who they are, guys started keeping track of times and at the peak of the insanity, a guy made it from top to bottom in a shade less than two and a half minutes! That’s on a board with iron straps under it dropping down grades of nearly 40% in some places! That also means the dude AVERAGED more than 60 mph. He may have touched 100mph somewhere in the trip!
The “shingles” were done for good when the cog section of the track was redesigned and even the guys who were still messing with them couldn’t make them work any longer.
Scroll down to see photos of unintentional extreme athletes!
Thanks to Bob Jepson for the tip!