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Mount Washington Auto Road and Racing Images 1899 to 1955

Today we will take a look at automobiles that made the 4,289-foot climb up the Mount Washington Auto Road between the years of 1899 t0 1955. The lead image shows photographer Winston Pote atop his 1940 Chevrolet sedan on the Auto Road.

It all began after the Summit house was built at the top of the Mountain in 1852 which was followed by construction of the Mount Washington Carriage Road. After eight or nine years of construction and delays, the road was finally finished and opened to the public in 1861.

The first car to make the climb to the summit in 1899 was a Locomobile steam car driven by F.O. Stanley. He and his brother F.E. Stanley designed and built the first Stanley steam-powered car in 1897. After constructing and selling over one-hundred of them between 1898 and 1899, the brothers sold the company, and the car was renamed the Locomobile.

Several more steamers are reported to have made the climb in the next few years. Finally, in 1903, a Pope-Toledo became the first gasoline-powered car to make the climb to the top of the mountain.

The first “Climb To The Clouds” auto race to the summit was held in 1904. The second image (below) by F.W. Spooner, courtesy of the Roadsters Club of Massachusetts shows Harry Harkness, about to finish his 1904 run in a 60 h.p. Mercedes. All the other photos are courtesy of the Mount Washington Auto Road.

An earlier post titled Ralph Mulford Smashes Records covers how “Smiling Ralph”smashed the stock car record in the 1923 Auto Road “Climb To The Clouds” behind the wheel of a stock Chandler Touring Car.

1899 Mount Washington climb in a Locomobile Steam Car

  • F.O. Stanley and his Wife Flora making a 1899 climb in a Locomobile Steam Car.

Harry Harkness in a 60 h.p. Mercedes on Mount Washington

  • Harry Harkness in his a 60 h.p. Mercedes finishing his climb in the 1904 auto race.

1906 Pope Toledo Touring car descending Mount Washington

  • A circa 1905 to ’06 Pope Toledo Touring car descending the mountain.

Pierce-Arrow Auto Stage cars on Mount Washington

  • A fleet of eight Pierce-Arrow Auto Stage cars at the mountain.

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  • Charles Libby one of the owners of the Auto Road to the left of one of the Pierce-Arrow Stages on June 23, 1926.

An Allard climbs Mount Washington in the 1950s

  • Stuart Rutherford a competitor in the “Climb to the Clouds” driving an Allard in the 1950s.

Carroll Shelby in his Ferrari climbs Mount Washington

  • Carroll Shelby in his Ferrari at the Craigway turn during the 1956 “Climb to the Clouds.” 

1955 Ford Station Wagon on Mountain Washington

  • Stage driver Earl Libby waits for passengers to take down from the summit in a 1955 Ford Wagon.

25 responses to “Mount Washington Auto Road and Racing Images 1899 to 1955

  1. Carroll Shelby’s Ferrari is a type 375 (4.5 litre) serial number 0388 that was highly modified for the ’52 Indy 500. Shelby used it in at least 2 hill climbs. At the Breakneck National Hill Climb, Cumberland, MD on 5 Aug 1956 he took FTD nearly 4 seconds faster than Paul O’Shea in a 300SL and exactly 6 seconds faster than the well know Corvette pilot Dick Thompson in, what else, a Corvette.

    The configuration shown and #91 are as used in a failed attempt to qualify (not by Carroll Shelby) the 375 for the ’54 Indy race.. Ascari qualified this car without the Super Squalo style side tank(s) for the ’52 Indy 500, but a wheel failure put him out after only 40 laps.

  2. I have to believe that in the early days, the scarier part would not have been the route up, but rather the return to earth with period brakes / wishful thinking.

    • I have to agree. The way down is a problem. In the late 80s I did the climb in a 74 MG Midget. Yes, I was in gear, blew the front calipers out any way.

  3. David,

    Thanks for posting the photo of Harry Harkness on board his 60 h.p. Mercedes.

    Having an interest is early motoring and aviation, Harkness fits neatly in both camps. I find his aviation exploits – flying, buying, and financing aircraft construction intriguing. Not only did he own three Antoinette monoplanes he commissioned Charles Walsh to build a biplane – a modified copy of the Curtis biplane powered by a Macomber seven cylinder rotary engine which you featured on 30 Mar 2015. Not pleased with the fragility of the Macamber Harkness ordered one of the first Hall-Scott aero engines to power his second Walsh biplane.

    Harry died in January 1919 one of millions who died during the flu pandemic of 1918 -1919.

    • My grandfather worked for Harry Harkness as his chauffeur and driver of the Delage race cars Harkness campaigned in 1916-1917 including the 1916 Indianapolis race. He also drove a Zust for Harkness in several hillclimb races during the era.

    • The flu epidemic of that time did not discriminate. And now there are people who actually question the need for immunizations.

  4. I made the trip in 1956 driving a new Fairlane hardtop, ( my father’s ) up and down and the trip down was the worst , because of those Guy’s driving the so called stage’s. They would blow horns and eventually force their way pass you at risk of all. I can still get mad thinking about it…

  5. Earl Libby is already at the summit and is waiting to take his passengers down.

    The Tip Top House in the back ground and the Stage house are still at the summit today.

  6. That picture of the Ferrari is unusual. I don’t think I have ever seen a car from that era being driven in anger in competition on a Dirt/Gravel road.

  7. In photo 6 of 8 on the right I see a likely 1949 Nash Airflyte 600 or ’50 Statesman Airflyte…and to the left, a split-window VW, a ’50 or ’51 Studebaker Starlight Coupe and a ’49-’51 Ford Fordor

    In the distance, possibly a two-tone ’50-’53 Rambler station wagon on the left

  8. On the afternoon of April 12, 1934, the Mount Washington Observatory recorded a windspeed of 231 miles per hour (372 km/h) at the summit, the world record from 1934 until 1996. However, Mt. Washington still holds the record for highest measured wind speed not associated with a tornado or tropical cyclone. On Monday, of this past week they clocked a speed of 171 mph.

    People who are not from your New England neck of the woods wouldn’t know this.

  9. The 1st photo and 1st snow photo bring back some horrible memories for me and that place. I had a 74 Super Beetle which I believe had less than 50 HP. I drove up the mountain and I think it was at the spot of the 1st snow photo the engine died. Complete white out in cloud fog. I put the thing in neutral and slowly coasted backward s to a spot just under fog of the cloud that looks like the 1st photo. If I remember correctly it felt like a 1/4 mile. Then the engine started. I believe the emission controls on that car had starved it for air. I don’t think there were any guard rails and I was scared Bleep-Less another vehicle would either come up or down the road and there’d be an accident. Sunny at the bottom and sunny where the car restarted.

    Needless to say, I didn’t try again. At the bottom of the mountain they give out a “This car climbed Mt. Washington” Sticker when you pay your money. I got close, but didn’t make it to the top so I never stuck it on the car.

    All the other times I’ve been there, I’ve taken the train. I read a book maybe 25 years ago that chronicled hiking deaths in every month of the year. Nasty place.

    • I’ve climbed Mt. Washington on the trails every year from 1996 to 2015 except 2013. There are many unforgettable moments from climbing/descending that mountain. Climb it once and you will climb it again. Unfortunately, age slowed me down. The last two climbs were 6 hours up and 4.5 hours down resulting in racing the sunset. Sad to quit but I have many memories and photos.

  10. Harkness was 24 years-old in 1904 when the snapshot was taken of him in his car on Mt. Washington. He was the winner of that first “race to the clouds.” When he was six-months old, my father was stricken by the flu of 1918. Unlike Harry Harkness, my dad survived his illness; he passed away this past November at the age of 101 and 5 months, exactly.

  11. Several years ago I took a trip in my 46 Plymouth to attend a car show with a friend in Massachusetts. Not wanting to travel on interstates, I went through Troy NY and picked up route 2 known as the Mohawk Trail . It traverses the same mountains that Mt Washington call home. While not as steep as the Mt Washington road, following the trail does have its moments. With it’s gobs of torque, the Plymouth made the uphill grades with ease, barely needing more than 3/4 throttle, and with the heat gauge comfortaby in the 180 to 190 range. Reaching the summit then facing the decent down to Williamstown in the valley was the hairy part. I snuggled up to the rear bumper of a 700 series BMW knowing his brakes would be sufficient for both of us if mine failed… They did fade and get spongy and I needed to get into second gear for a couple of stretches, but never did need to lean on that bumper. Don’t know who was more nervous, me or the stranger with his mirror full of 70 year old stainless steel grill. If you have a yearning for steep grades and sharp turns in your car or on your motorcycle, the Mohawk Trail will likely satisfy if you are in the area.

    • The Mohawk Trail in a 1970 109 Land Rover is fairly entertaining. Not much power going up, and
      drive like a trucker going down – use low gear.

  12. I have a “This car climbed Mount Washington” on the wall of my garage. We (wife, three children, mother-in-law, and me) went up and back on Labor Day, 1970 or close to that. Which means I was driving our 1968 VW Van. I do not recall being intimidated at all by the road but perhaps it is one of those memories better repressed. I do remember it was pretty darn cold at the top! Five years later we moved to the mountains of SW Colorado and regularly drove roads far more scarier for the next 15 years

  13. Regarding the guy on the platform car roof (Something he no doubt made – I once did the same). I did this with an Isuzu Trooper in the early 90’s. I’m a photographer first, and a car enthusiast second…maybe? The Trooper was not much of a vehicle for driving, or HAVING… My primary purpose for buying it was to have the long (the longest I could find) elevated platform plane. I wanted to build such a platform for my photography. It worked. I even used/built some secondary anchor mounts so I could lock in a 12 foot ladder- It gave me a total of a little more than 16 feet. It was a rig you had to make sure you were always on a flat plane for set up. There were no outriggers. A ladder salesmen once cussed me for the set up- another example of me using a tool as not intended. Point was, you don’t want to leverage yourself over. You would get more than hurt doing so.

    Surprisingly, I later saw that Ansel Adams had done the same set up as above. I always thought I was a first with this trick… But I don’t think Adams had the lock down ladder. I would go up there with a Hasselblad and some really nice film and shoot landscapes, via the mobile bird’s eye view. The results were something other than average or expected. Like Adams, I always wanted to take a large format camera up there. I never did. But I now have a long bed F150, which was then (years back), my second choice of New England, winter, sacrificial vehicle.
    I would loose about three feet with just a truck bed, but I can easily tie the damn thing down to the eye rings. Still to be done with that vehicle.

    David, maybe when I eventually make that trip to your shop this might make a nice image- exterior, birds eye view of the shop and pastoral landscape of Vermont. (?).

    • Now that many digital cameras have live preview, remote tripping and can download to a laptop via wired or wireless connection, I’ve seen people achieve much the same result with a camera mounted atop a long pole while the cameraman remains safely earthbound.

      • -And many motors are rebuilt without properly using a deck plate. They probably will run, for a while. “That’s good enough”….

        I read this site to possibly learn the more intricate details of old motors- the points that I have not yet discovered. Maybe, possibly to also be inspired. In most aspects of life, I always seek knowledge of the extended scientific details of choice. For me, it’s all in what you know to want- knowing CHOICES, and what’s best in those situations. Peace.

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