When he was growing up in Gorham, New Hampshire, Tobey Reichert would wait impatiently after school for his dad to come home. James Reichert worked the maintenance crew of the Mount Washington Auto Road, a celebrated 7.6-mile drive that climbs to the top of the Northeast’s highest peak. Washouts, unexpected weather, and unprepared drivers were […]
By Ian Aldrich
Aug 29 2022
Built by hand from 1854 to 1861, using shovels and black powder to clear rocks, the Mount Washington Auto Road (now fully paved) ascends over 4,000 feet of elevation from Pinkham Notch to the summit.Photo Credit : Chris Bennett
When he was growing up in Gorham, New Hampshire, Tobey Reichert would wait impatiently after school for his dad to come home. James Reichert worked the maintenance crew of the Mount Washington Auto Road, a celebrated 7.6-mile drive that climbs to the top of the Northeast’s highest peak. Washouts, unexpected weather, and unprepared drivers were as constant as the road’s majestic beauty, and it was rare that the elder Reichert didn’t have a story from the day to share with his boy.
On special occasions Reichert would tag along with his father to work, and from the tall perch of his dad’s big dump truck he’d watch the road emerge like a movie as they journeyed up the mountain. “I’d peer over the edge of the road and just look down, a little scared,” says Reichert with a chuckle. “We might pull over to some place that had some history, and my dad would tell me about it—talk about the family connection, show me some pictures. He felt it was important that those stories and that knowledge were passed on to the next generation.”
Today, Reichert is doing the same. His family didn’t build the auto road, but since 1906 they have owned and operated it, and over the past two and a half years Reichert has served as general manager of the family’s Mount Washington Summit Road Co., making him the sixth family member to helm what is touted as the oldest man-made tourist attraction in North America
With that lineage, Reichert understands that the Mount Washington Auto Road is more than just a road. How else to explain the next-level antics and daredevil-ism that it sparks? There are car, bike, and foot races on the road, but also more idiosyncratic climbs: the man who pushed a wheelbarrow full of sugar to the top, the girls who Irish step-danced the entire distance, the roller skiers, camel riders, and pogo stickers. And, of course, there are the “This Car Climbed Mount Washington” bumper stickers that tell the world this is no ordinary drive.
“One of our guys backed an entire kayak trailer up the road,” says Reichert, shaking his head. “That takes some serious skill. Some of these other things, I don’t have that kind of imagination, but it’s cool to see.”
Like the road itself, Reichert’s path to his position wasn’t a straight line. After graduating from high school in 1996, he had a short stint as an auto mechanic and then a longer one in law enforcement, where he rose to corporal in the Coos County Sheriff’s Department. But in 2016, he began thinking about what might be next. As it happened, the leadership team at his family’s company was doing the same thing.
Over the previous three decades, Howie Wemyss, the first non-family member to manage the road, had overseen a substantial expansion of the business. But he was looking to retire, and the family wanted one of their own to succeed him. In Reichert, with his background in mechanics and working with the public, they had their candidate. In May 2020, after four years of working for Wemyss, Reichert was named general manager.
Reichert says he inherited a “well-oiled machine,” and, as with most outdoor attractions in the past few years, business has boomed at the auto road: On a prime summer day, as many as 1,000 cars will journey to the peak. Looking to the future, the question for Reichert isn’t whether he can keep the growth going, but how to manage it.
Still, even after all these years, Reichert understands and appreciates what draws so many to his family’s attraction. It’s why on certain days he takes his 9-year-old son to work and brings to life the same things his dad did for him. “I would love for him to follow in my footsteps,” he says. “How many places can you drive up a mountain like this? I take a lot of pride in what we do and what we can offer people, and I hope I can pass that on to my son.”