New Haven, Connecticut, to Mount Washington, New Hampshire Great American Railroad Journeys


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New Haven, Connecticut, to Mount Washington, New Hampshire

Michael Portillo's rail voyage goes river deep and mountain high as he heads north through the scenic New England states.


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LineFromTo

I have crossed the Atlantic to ride the railroads of North America

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with my faithful Appleton's guide.

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Published in the late 19th century, it will lead me to all that is

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magnificent, charming...

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..confusing, invigorating,

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and wholesome in the United States and Canada.

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As I journey through this vast continent,

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I'll encounter revolutionaries

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and feminists, pilgrims and witches,

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and ride some of the oldest and most breathtaking railroads in the world.

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TRAIN WHISTLE BLOWS

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My rail journey continues in Connecticut.

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And then I'll move into Vermont, named after its green mountains.

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Its republic joined the 13 former British colonies

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in forming the United States.

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Then on to New Hampshire,

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with its uncompromising state slogan - "Live Free or Die".

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In fact, it suffered little during the Revolutionary War,

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and freely established the first state government independent of the

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British Crown in January 1776.

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TRAIN HORN BLARES

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My journey began in the coastal

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towns of the early European settlers.

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I'm now heading north through

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New England to visit the mountain

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region around Lake Placid.

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Crossing the border into Canada,

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I'll visit the French-Canadian city

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of Montreal before making my way

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down the Saint Lawrence River valley -

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with its Thousand Islands -

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to end in Toronto.

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Today, I explore collegiate life in New Haven,

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before travelling up through the New England states,

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stopping in the pastoral surrounds

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of Vermont and ending up in

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New Hampshire at the summit of Mount Washington.

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Along the way, I'll try to master one of America's oldest sports...

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Whoops! I got that went very wrong!

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LAUGHTER

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..discover the perils of New England's

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most-exposed mountaintop...

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We recorded a wind gust of 231mph.

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For almost 60 years, that was our claim to fame,

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is the highest wind ever known by mankind.

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..and hold on tight

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on one of the steepest railroads in the world.

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We have roared into action.

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And the track stretches ahead of me like a giant roller-coaster.

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This is going to be a fun ride.

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My next stop is New Haven, which the guidebook tells me

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"is the largest in Connecticut, and home to Yale College,

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"one of the oldest and most important educational institutions

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"in America.

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"Founded in 1700, established in New Haven 1717."

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Along with Harvard, that predates it, and other elite colleges,

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it forms the Ivy League of universities.

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A phrase that implies antiquity, excellence, and rivalry.

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Established by Puritan settlers in 1638,

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New Haven sits on the northern shore of Long Island Sound.

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It's a prosperous city in one of America's wealthiest states, Connecticut.

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There we go.

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-Thank you very much.

-It's a pleasure. Bye-bye. Have a good day.

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-Thank you. You too.

-Thank you.

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I'm alighting at the main train station,

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mercifully rescued from the threat of demolition in the 1970s,

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and now a beautifully-restored piece of 1920s beaux-arts architecture.

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Union Station, New Haven

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is by no means the largest the United States,

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but just look at it, how grand it is.

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This tells you about the wealth of the railroads

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and the glamour of train travel.

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I'm on my way to New Haven's most famous institution, Yale University.

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Annually, it educates over 5,000 undergraduates,

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and it's world-famous for its high standards of academic teaching.

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But Yale and other American universities have a separate stream

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of activity -

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the hugely lucrative enterprise of intercollegiate sport,

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for which some colleges have budgets of between 30-60 million.

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All that began here with Yale's first collegiate sport, rowing.

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And I'm meeting former Yale oarsman, Tom Vile,

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who's researched the history.

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Welcome, Michael, to Yale's Gilder Boathouse.

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It's wonderful to have you here.

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And what a spectacular view.

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Thank you very much.

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That's the Housatonic River and this is our trophy room.

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Thank you, sir.

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Tom, your trophy room is absolutely stuffed with trophies.

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You've had a good year, I think?

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We have had a good year.

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The varsity was undefeated and won the national championship.

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It doesn't get much better than that.

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Before we talk about rowing,

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give me an idea of college sports in the United States.

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I mean, for example, Yale's football stadium.

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The Yale Bowl was an architectural marvel

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when it was built around 1915.

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It seated about 75,000 people, which was the largest collegiate football

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stadium, for sure, in the country.

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Today, there are college stadiums that seat over 100,000,

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reflecting how big a sport it's become at many schools.

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How did rowing start at Yale?

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In 1843, seven Yale students purchased a Whitehall gig

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for 26.50 and brought it to

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New Haven because they thought it would be fun to have a boat club.

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How does the famous Yale-Harvard boat race get started?

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In 1852, James Whiton,

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who was a member of one of the Yale boat clubs,

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was going home to his family's home in New Hampshire.

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And he was ridding on a railroad, the Boston, Concord and Montreal,

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of which his father was a director.

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So he was in a good position to talk to one of the railroad's agents who

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was riding with him. And as they passed by Lake Winnipesaukee,

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Whiton looked out and said to the agent, Elkins,

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"Wouldn't it be wonderful to have a race on that lake?"

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Well, Elkins was very interested because the railroad was interested

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in developing tourist traffic and selling tickets to events and such.

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So he said, "If you will get the boys together, I will pay their costs."

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So in August of 1852, they got together on Lake Winnipesaukee.

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Harvard brought one boat, Yale brought three.

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Undaunted by numbers, Harvard won the race.

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And that was the beginning of intercollegiate sport in the United States.

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As these races grew in popularity, spectators flocked to them by train.

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Special observation carriages with grandstand seating allowed fans to

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cheer their teams,

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keeping pace with the speeding boats along the four-mile course.

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So you and Harvard have been battling it out on the water

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for more than a century now. What's the score?

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Well, we were pretty neck-and-neck for about a century,

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but in the 1950s, Harvard started on a run

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that gave them about 40 victories to our ten or so.

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But we've evened that up a lot in the last three years.

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What's happened in the last three years?

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Well, we would say we'd won three races.

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They would say that we've won two because their boat sank in one of

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them and they refused to concede the victory.

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We would say we won three out of three.

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It's probably not a good omen to be talking about sinking crews,

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but I've been offered the chance to learn some tips from the top.

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Ease my way in there.

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David Fogel is a former Yale rowing coach.

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Just run that out all the way into the oarlock,

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to where the button is, all the way in.

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-There we go.

-To there.

-All right, so...

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..we'll start out with the arms, in the water and then pull.

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Good enough.

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Rather than spend all the energy with your arms,

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try to use your back more.

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Like you're using a pry bar to pry something heavy.

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You want to get some weight into it, right?

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There we go. Now we can start to use a little bit of the legs.

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So we push with the legs and then draw.

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I find it quite hard to co-ordinate between the legs, the back,

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-and the arms.

-Well, there's too much going on for that, really.

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There's a lot going on.

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Whoops, I got that one very wrong!

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DAVE LAUGHS

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Dave, you are an excellent teacher.

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I am a poor pupil, I'm afraid.

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But in these few moments, I've understood the joy of rowing.

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Mucking about in boats.

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As I leave Connecticut, I'm continuing north through New England

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to one of the most beautiful of its six states...

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..Vermont.

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TRAIN HORN BLARES

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I'm travelling to a town which played a key role in creating and

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maintaining this idyllic pastoral scenery.

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Appleton's tells me that

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"Windsor, Vermont used to be served by the Central Vermont Railroad,

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"a pretty highland village surrounded by attractive scenery."

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I hope to discover in this beautiful landscape that not all the

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immigrants that hoofed it from the British Isles were two-legged.

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With only around 600,000 inhabitants,

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Vermont is one of the least populated of the United States.

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And its picturesque mountain villages and gently sloping pastures

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are symbols of rural America.

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Vermont is synonymous with dairy farming, which accounts for 70% of

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the state's agricultural sales.

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I'm led to believe that this important industry began at around

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the time of my Appleton's at this farm, which was set up by Frederick Billings.

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Christine Scales is an expert on his work.

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Christine, as I would expect of Vermont, it looks very green.

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The agriculture seems to be thriving.

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But it wasn't always so, I believe?

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No, so before Frederick Billings moved here and bought this farm,

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you wouldn't believe how differently it looked.

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There was a lot of deforestation going on and also there was a rise

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in commercial farming. Sheep were a huge industry in Vermont at this time.

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They were very hard on the land, so they caused a lot of erosion.

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So, not only were there no trees but there weren't any roots from the

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grass, so it was very barren.

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What was Billings' innovation then?

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Billings believed in conservation.

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He began reforesting the land.

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He purchased this farm as a way to show sustainable and modern

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practices in the hopes that other farmers would do the same.

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Billings grew up in Vermont and qualified as a lawyer.

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But after gold was discovered in California, he joined the rush west

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in 1849 to make his fortune.

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He became one of the richest men in that state, before selling up and

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returning to Vermont in 1865.

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In business, he made his mark leading the completion of the

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Northern Pacific Railroad across the continent,

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while at home, he pioneered progressive ideas and techniques

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on his 270-acre farm.

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So this is Brianna, one of our Jersey cows.

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Hello, Brianna.

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-Very attractive breeds.

-She is.

-What makes them good milking cows?

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So Jersey cows have a higher butterfat content than other dairy cows.

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Did Frederick Billings import Jersey cows from the island of Jersey?

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He did, yeah. In 1871, he brought over the first Jersey cows for this

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farm because he wanted to make butter as his cash crop.

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And how well did the Jerseys do here?

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They do great here. The climate is very similar to the isle of Jersey.

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They don't really like to be too hot,

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so Vermont is perfect for them.

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Our Jersey cows are known all over the country

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and all over the world. We have really good genetic stock.

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Billings was passionate about responsible and sustainable techniques,

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and wanted to spread his ideas among fellow Vermont farmers.

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He built this model dairy farm,

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incorporating the very latest technologies into its creamery.

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How does the process begin?

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So, you would bring in the big milk pails

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and you put them first into the Cooley Creamer.

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And it could be lowered and raised by these gears over here.

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And they would sit in the creamer for about a day, overnight or so.

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And that would allow the milk to separate into skim milk and cream.

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You could see that happening here because there are little windows

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that show you where the milk would be, the skim milk,

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and where the cream would be at the top.

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Once that had all separated,

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they would take the gutters and move them around.

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So the cream went into here, which is the tempering vat.

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The water would run down through the water jacket and get heated up

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by the fire in here, and then back up through these tubes

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here and then down into the tempering vat.

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So you could adjust how much hot water or how much cold water.

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-That's the height of modernity at the time?

-Yeah, absolutely.

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A lot of places didn't even have running water.

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And what is this cradle?

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So, once the cream had reached the proper acidity,

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they'd put it into the swing churn.

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In order to make butter,

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you have to take cream and you have agitate it.

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So that's what this does.

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It actually rocks back and forth as it's suspended from the ceiling.

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That's absolutely marvellous. How inventive!

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Billings really was quite a character, wasn't he?

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He was, yeah. He wanted all the latest technology.

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And they wanted people to be able to come here and see it in action,

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and hopefully put it into practice on their own farms.

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At its peak, Billings Farm produced 5,000 pounds of butter annually,

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and sent it by rail to customers in Boston and New York.

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With his pioneering techniques,

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Frederick Billings laid the foundations for Vermont's modern dairy industry.

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I'm leaving Vermont for an excursion into the White Mountains of

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New Hampshire.

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I'm in search of a very special railway...

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..the first of its kind in the world...

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..and one that I've long wanted to ride.

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"The Mount Washington Railroad,

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"begun in 1866, opened 1869.

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"The grade is enormous, being 3,596 feet in three miles.

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"In places, one foot in three."

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This was actually the world's first-ever mountain climbing cog railway.

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And Appleton's feels obliged to describe the technology.

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"The track is of three rails.

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"The centre rail is like a wrought iron ladder

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"into which fits a cogwheel

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"which fairly pulls the train up the mountain."

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Oh, and did I mention...

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..that they're running steam?

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TRAIN WHISTLE BLOWS

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For railway enthusiasts like me,

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this is one to tick off the bucket list.

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-Good morning, what a lovely day.

-Indeed it is.

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What do you think it will be like at the top?

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It's going to be warmer than it normally is.

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Should be in for some good views today.

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-I'm in luck. Thank you so much.

-Indeed. Welcome aboard.

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TRAIN WHISTLE BLOWS

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The steam locomotive is designed specifically to work on the steep

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gradient and to power from the rear,

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pushing the passenger carriage up the mountain.

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We've roared into action.

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We must be doing, oh, I don't know, 3mph at the moment.

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And the track stretches ahead of me like a giant roller-coaster.

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This is going to be a fun ride.

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TRAIN WHISTLE BLOWS

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Hello. So you seem to be on the sun deck.

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Well, how come you're out here, what are you doing?

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Well, we're watching the tracks on the way up.

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Got to make sure nothing's in our way and everything is all set to continue moving forward.

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OK, you've got me nervous now.

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-What could be the problem with the track?

-Debris.

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There are a couple of points where hikers hike right over the tracks.

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You never know.

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I have never been on a railroad like this before.

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It looks like something out of a cowboy movie.

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It's kind of rough-and-ready with all these timbers, isn't it?

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-Yeah, it's old-school.

-It's old-school.

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Also, I noticed we're not actually touching the ground.

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You know, in normal railroads, the tyres are right in the ground,

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but, in our case, it's up on these trestles. You know,

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that was the way they built it back then.

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It's a lot easier to maintain that way.

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Are you telling me that our whole journey, right up to the summit,

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-we're going to be on trestles?

-The whole way.

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-Over three miles.

-Do me a favour, will you?

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Keep your eye on the track.

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The railroad was designed and built by wealthy New Hampshire engineer

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Sylvester Marsh, who, following a bout of illness, sought fresh air.

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He hiked up Mount Washington but got lost near the summit.

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He decided to make the mountain more accessible and created this

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masterpiece, known at the time as Marsh's Railroad to the Moon.

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This is a breathtaking journey.

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We've reached gradients of one in three,

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meaning that the rear of the train is left far below us.

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TRAIN WHISTLE BLOWS

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In fact, at the steepest part of the journey, a section called Jacob's Ladder,

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passengers at the front of the train are 14 feet higher than those at the

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back. The whole line is built on trestles and if you look at down at

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them, I mean, they look like matchsticks to me.

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It all looks so flimsy.

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And every now and again, the trestle rises up to 30 feet in the air and

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you just think, "What is holding us in place?"

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As a national historic engineering landmark,

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this railway is one of the great tourist attractions of New England.

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Hello, sir.

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Tell me, have you ever been on Mount Washington before?

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Yes, I have, many times.

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Many times, what, on the train?

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No, this is my first time on the train.

0:21:110:21:13

So, how are you coming here before?

0:21:130:21:15

We walked up.

0:21:150:21:16

It's quite a tough climb, I suppose?

0:21:170:21:19

-Yes, it is.

-And what are you making of the full train ride,

0:21:190:21:22

-now you're experiencing?

-Oh, it's wonderful.

0:21:220:21:25

-A lot of fun.

-I think it's fantastic.

0:21:250:21:27

TRAIN WHISTLE BLOWS

0:21:270:21:33

And with one last shudder, we reach the top of the mountain.

0:21:430:21:50

We made it. Well done, everybody. We made it.

0:21:540:21:57

We made it.

0:21:570:21:58

-I wasn't sure we would but we made it.

-My hero.

0:21:580:22:01

-What's the word for it?

-Awesome.

0:22:050:22:07

-Wow.

-Awesome is right.

-Awesome.

0:22:070:22:11

This railroad is impressive not just because it overcomes the steep

0:22:140:22:18

gradient, but also because it functions in the face of another

0:22:180:22:22

major challenge...

0:22:220:22:24

..Mount Washington's exceptional weather.

0:22:240:22:27

Despite being just over 6,000 feet high,

0:22:310:22:34

this mountain experiences extremes

0:22:340:22:37

of wind and cold which can come on in an instant,

0:22:370:22:42

and have contributed to the loss of well over 100 lives since records

0:22:420:22:47

began in 1849.

0:22:470:22:49

Appleton's says,

0:22:510:22:53

"Visitors to Washington should always go well-clad.

0:22:530:22:56

"The range of the thermometer even in midsummer

0:22:560:22:59

"is from 30 to 45 degrees."

0:22:590:23:01

And, of course, that is Fahrenheit.

0:23:010:23:03

"Here is the US Signal Service Observatory, which is occupied in winter

0:23:030:23:09

"and which has recorded a temperature of 58 degrees below zero,

0:23:090:23:14

"while the wind blew with a velocity of 190mph."

0:23:140:23:19

This must be one of the most extraordinary weather stations on the planet.

0:23:190:23:22

This intriguing facility dates back to 1870,

0:23:240:23:28

when a group of determined scientists embarked on an expedition

0:23:280:23:32

to observe the mountain's winter weather.

0:23:320:23:34

It was the first of its kind in the world,

0:23:370:23:40

and today, I'm meeting meteorologist, Mike Carman.

0:23:400:23:43

Mike, I've been up many mountains, many much higher than this one,

0:23:460:23:50

which don't seem to have quite as extreme weather as Mount Washington.

0:23:500:23:53

-Why is that?

-Yeah,

0:23:530:23:55

there's a few reasons why Mount Washington sees the extreme

0:23:550:23:58

weather that it does, even though we're only a 6,300 foot mountain.

0:23:580:24:01

And our topographic map here sort of nicely demonstrates why that is.

0:24:010:24:05

And just to orient you, this is Boston down here,

0:24:050:24:08

here is Portland, Maine.

0:24:080:24:10

And these are the White Mountains right in here.

0:24:100:24:12

And then here we are right on top of the summit of Mount Washington right

0:24:120:24:15

now. We're the highest peak north of North Carolina

0:24:150:24:19

and east of the Black Hills of South Dakota.

0:24:190:24:21

So you have to go back thousands of miles to the west

0:24:210:24:24

before you hit an elevation higher than Mount Washington.

0:24:240:24:27

And then, in addition to that, we have

0:24:270:24:28

a lot of storms constantly passing through New England.

0:24:280:24:31

Our storm track map very nicely demonstrates the amount of low

0:24:310:24:36

pressure systems that are constantly coming through

0:24:360:24:39

the North-eastern United States here,

0:24:390:24:41

and you could see almost any storm that originates out west

0:24:410:24:44

eventually will make its way up into the North-east,

0:24:440:24:46

passing very close to or sometimes directly over the summit

0:24:460:24:49

of our mountain here.

0:24:490:24:51

As these storm tracks arrive at Mount Washington

0:24:510:24:54

and intersect with local weather systems,

0:24:540:24:57

the conditions can be terrifying.

0:24:570:25:00

It's the duty of the staff to record the data.

0:25:010:25:04

They're used to chart climate trends and to provide forecasts and weather

0:25:040:25:09

warnings, crucial to protecting property and lives.

0:25:090:25:13

This is our weather wall.

0:25:160:25:17

This is where all of our weather instrumentation is located that's

0:25:170:25:20

representing everything that is going on outside

0:25:200:25:23

as we speak right now.

0:25:230:25:24

My 19th-century guidebook talks

0:25:240:25:26

about a wind that was recorded here of 190mph. Is that plausible?

0:25:260:25:31

Yeah, actually, we've exceeded even that mark is well.

0:25:310:25:34

Back in April of 1934, which was less than two years

0:25:340:25:36

after we started up here, we recorded a wind gust of 231mph.

0:25:360:25:42

And at the time, that was a world-record wind speed.

0:25:420:25:45

That record has since been broken.

0:25:450:25:47

But for almost 60 years, that was our claim to fame,

0:25:470:25:50

is the highest wind ever known by mankind.

0:25:500:25:53

Mercifully, it's not blowing anything like that today,

0:25:530:25:57

as I'm keen to see the instruments

0:25:570:25:59

which record such extreme wind speeds.

0:25:590:26:01

They're located atop the station's tower.

0:26:010:26:05

Wow, we're on top of the world.

0:26:090:26:11

-Seems that way.

-And so these are your famous instruments, are they?

0:26:110:26:14

Yeah, these are all of our wind instruments that we're maintaining

0:26:140:26:17

year-round, and you can see they're all vane-ing into the wind and

0:26:170:26:20

functioning very nicely right now.

0:26:200:26:22

The weather is amazingly changeable, isn't it?

0:26:220:26:24

One moment, you can see for miles, and then suddenly visibility is,

0:26:240:26:27

what, 50 yards?

0:26:270:26:29

In the winter, how bad can it be up here? What do you have to do?

0:26:290:26:31

We're coming up the ladders like we just did here.

0:26:310:26:34

Icy ladders at times.

0:26:340:26:36

And we're coming up into heavy blowing snow, thick rime ice,

0:26:360:26:39

those sorts of things. And we're taking a crowbar and manually

0:26:390:26:42

knocking the ice off of all these instruments.

0:26:420:26:44

Sometimes fighting the strength of 100mph winds to do it.

0:26:440:26:48

And what makes someone want to do that?

0:26:480:26:50

As a meteorologist, you kind of learn about Mount Washington from a

0:26:500:26:53

young age as a place of extremes and I know, for me, this is the place to

0:26:530:26:57

experience things I'll probably

0:26:570:26:59

never experience anywhere else in my life.

0:26:590:27:01

It was English Puritan Pilgrims that landed in Massachusetts,

0:27:160:27:21

and yet that colony led the revolution.

0:27:210:27:23

So is it paradoxical that so many things still have a British flavour?

0:27:230:27:29

The familiar place names like Cambridge and Plymouth.

0:27:290:27:33

In Boston, the brick-terraced houses, the gentleman's clubs.

0:27:330:27:37

At Yale, the rivalry with Harvard,

0:27:370:27:40

played out on the Thames River in New London.

0:27:400:27:44

In Vermont, the Jersey cows.

0:27:440:27:47

I think it is ironic, but, then again, this is New England.

0:27:470:27:52

Next time, on my travels,

0:27:550:27:57

I'll discover how the other half do rural retreats...

0:27:570:28:01

My goodness, Lawrence, I think this

0:28:010:28:03

is one of the biggest rooms I've ever seen.

0:28:030:28:05

..learn of the territory lost in a humiliating military blunder...

0:28:050:28:10

The border between the United States and Canada would be much further

0:28:100:28:14

south than it is now?

0:28:140:28:15

Much further south.

0:28:150:28:18

..and seek thrills of Olympic proportions.

0:28:180:28:21

Every part of me has been shaken to bits!

0:28:230:28:26

And I've been turned almost upside down.

0:28:260:28:29

HE LAUGHS

0:28:290:28:30

Armed with his Appleton's guide, Michael Portillo's rail voyage goes river deep and mountain high as he continues his journey through Connecticut and heads north through the scenic New England states. In New Haven, a crash course in rowing takes place on a stretch of water where college teams from Yale and Harvard have battled for victory since 1852.

Making tracks north to Vermont, Michael experiences 19th-century rural farm life, when its green pastures were grazed by imported dairy herds from the Isle of Jersey and made it the butter capital of the world. Journey's end is in New Hampshire, where Michael ascends the steep slopes of Mount Washington aboard the world's first mountain climbing cog railway, at whose summit an extraordinary weather station has been recording the mountain's famously extreme weather since 1870.