Amid all the talk of how to modernize New Hampshire’s transportation infrastructure, don’t forget the state’s most well-known transit unit.
The Cannon Mountain Aerial Tramway is getting long in the tooth. It was installed in 1980, replacing another tram that also lasted around four decades. Now the state has started to figure out whether to fix it a bit, upgrade it a lot, or replace it with a larger version.
Whatever happens, the newly retired Cannon Mountain Ski Area Maintenance Supervisor has only one hope: the documentation will be in English.
The current system was built by Nuova Aguidio, a well-respected company in Italy that knows all about aerial trams but apparently less about other languages.
“All of the footprints are written in Italian,” said Bob Daniels, a New Hampshire native and longtime Cannon skier who just retired after seven years as a lift maintenance supervisor to be replaced by her son, Mike. (Bob Daniels will always be there: he’s part of the ski patrol.) âBefore, we used a dictionaryâ¦ These phone translation apps make it easy.
As for speaking to the company, âMost of them speak English, but it’s broken English. We are trying to use email.
The tram has been a centerpiece of tourism in the north of the country for nearly a century. It was built in 1938, first bringing a type of mountain transport common in Europe to North America. Powered by a 600 horsepower electric motor at the base, it carries 80 people (70 in the winter because of all that ski gear) and an uphill driver 2.3 miles from near Echo Lake to the top of Cannon Mountain, unless the cross winds are high enough that the cabins could bump into any of the three towers. Winds blowing directly up and down the mountain are less of a safety concern.
â(The streetcar) has become an iconic experience for New Hampshire,â said Sarah Stewart, commissioner for the Department of Cultural and Natural Resources, according to AP. “If you Google ‘New Hampshire’ you will probably see a photo of the streetcar.”
While the streetcar’s image is of skiers avoiding the cold chairlifts on the often windy Cannon, its real drive takes place during the warmer months. Each year, the 7-minute trip gives tens of thousands of people an unprecedented look at Franconia Notch and, on a clear day, a 360-degree view that includes four states and chunks of Quebec.
âThe streetcar makes money in the summer, when we go back and forth every 15 minutes,â Daniels said. âThere are a lot of people who come to Cannonâ¦ they like to take the tram. The views are spectacular on a beautiful day.
The 1980 replacement cost around $ 5 million, but the complete replacement of the Cannon Mountain streetcar would cost at least $ 24 million and up to $ 32 million, according to an estimate by general manager John DeVivo. This could involve expanding the streetcar, as a pair of 100-person cars could fit in the existing base station, Daniels said.
At their core, aerial trams are straightforward. A long cable known as the crawler cable runs from the bottom up, although in Cannon’s case it is two flat metal cables, supported by the three towers. Trolleys with 32 wheels can roll along the top of the track cables, and a cable car hangs from each on a huge aluminum arm. One is yellow and the other is red, so they’re known, perhaps inevitably in this condiment country, as Mustard and Ketchup.
The wagons are pulled by a huge looped cable known as the transport cable – Cannon has two, one upper and one lower. As one car goes up, the other goes down – up and down, all day. It is more or less that.
Except that’s not it, of course. Safety is always a concern when carrying people 50 feet in the air.
âEvery day that we go to run the tram, one of the elevator mechanics goes up to the top, checks every lap, examines every wheel of the two laps. They also watch the wind – which can change in an hour, âDaniels said.
State inspections happen like their own inspections. âWe take a car apart every year. â¦ We go in and look at all the pins, all the bolts, whatever is holding everything together, of course. There are a lot of moving parts.
The tram stalled a few times due to engine failure, forcing people to be lowered to the ground, but never had a serious accident. Keeping that record intact will be one of the main concerns as the state moves forward.
(David Brooks can be reached at (603) 369-3313 or [email protected] or on Twitter @GraniteGeek.)