Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Fort Wilderness Railroad

Welcome to those of you joining me from Unknown Magic Within Walt Disney World and those of you just hopping aboard.  I am the Final stop on our Magical Blogorail.

Our topic for this month is "if you could bring back one former WDW attraction, which one would it be and why?"  I thought, and thought, and thought some more about it.  Went through the list of "lost" attractions, as I like to call them because they are only physically gone but remain in our hearts and memory:  Mr. Toad's Wild Ride, 20,000 League Under the Sea, Horizons, World of Motion, etc.  And while these are all good candidates, I can't say I would want to bring back any of these former attractions in their original incarnation.  Their demise was due to a variety of reasons...cost, sponsorship, maintenance, and simply age.  Their presence in the park today, in their original form, wouldn't make too much sense.  So, I'm focusing in on the "bring back one former WDW attraction" part of the question, and that requires a trip outside the parks and into the resorts.  Fort Wilderness to be exact.  

Do you know there used to be a railroad on Fort Wilderness property?  Yes, there was!  Four 4/5th scale steam locomotives and twenty coaches were used from 1973 to about 1977, after which they were used intermittently until the early 80's when the railroad was closed permanently.  The railroad was meant to be used as an internal source of transportation around the campground and the track operated over three and a half miles.  Several reasons are cited for the termination of the Fort Wilderness Railroad -- noise, pedestrian safety, track maintenance, cost, inexperience staff, and limited water and fuel capacity often causing the train to stranded on the tracks when it ran out of "gas".

The design for the Fort Wilderness Railroad was based on narrow-gauge plantation locomotives that were used in Hawaii to haul sugarcane and pineapples from the fields to the docks. 

The Railroad naturally fit into the theming of Fort Wilderness.   Along the rail, riders traversed diverse forest scenery including magnificent pines and cypress trees.  Riders traveled over canals and through the meadows.  You didn't need a destination, the scenery was worth the ride alone.  It seems to me that a railroad truly belongs in Fort Wilderness with it's rustic theme and frontier genre.  Thirty years later, any of the former obstacles to its operation could easily be overcome by technology.  A Railway between Fort Wilderness and Wilderness lodge would be a beautiful transition between the two resorts, allowing guests to enjoy the amenities of the combined locations.  

You can see artwork like this in the Cabins today

Walt Disney had a great love for railroads which is why you see so much of that reflected in his parks.  At Wilderness Lodge you will find the Carolwood Pacific Room that honors Disney's legacy for model trains.  Bringing that love back to Fort Wilderness would be my vote for "bringing back one former WDW attraction".

Fort Wilderness map showing train route

Thank you for joining Magical Blogorail Black this month. We will be back November 8th with an all new theme. Keep checking in with our blogs in between loops to keep up to date with our Disney info, photos and stories. If you are looking for more Disney magic, you can make your way over to The Magical Blogorail website to see all our members and their blogs, as well as all our previous loops.

Here is the map of our Magical Blogorail should you happen to have to make a stop along the way and want to reboard:


  1. What a great post! I never made the trip to Disney early enough to have experienced the railroad, but I'm sure I would have liked it too. And, like you said, with technology what it is today, they could surely resurrect this attraction without much effort!

  2. I never knew there used to be a railroad there! I always get a thrill when I learn something new about Disney's history so this made my day. :)

  3. Wow this was so cool to read, I had no idea that Fort Wilderness had a train, way cool!

  4. I only heard about this a few months ago on a Wedway radio podcast.. Seems like a great attraction! Sad i missed it.. and so many other extinct attractions.

  5. I never knew that! What a cool trivia bit to have! :-)

  6. It's great to see such an interest in the Fort Wilderness Railroad. I too have a great interest in the railroad, so much so that I recently released a two-volume book set on it.

    I started with the research in 2007 and spent the time since then digging into the story. I thought it was going to be a matter of gathering the facts from various spots, especially Disney, and create a story/photo compilation. Oh boy, I got an education. A lot of the information on the web is pretty shaky. I was lucky enough to be able to work with the Disney Imagineers who built the trains, opened the railroad, and worked out the kinks. In addition, I was able to work with a number of former cast members who worked the railroad.

    I found that a lot of the "facts" floating around were just that...ideas floating around. I was able dispel a lot of these. For instance, the railroad operated from 1973 to February, 1980. It was closed with the primary reason being poorly installed track in the beginning. The other reasons appearing on the web weren't really big factors...it was the track. The trains ran until about 9:30pm from May, 1976 to the Summer of 1977. This was during the River Country period. Otherwise the trains shutdown in the 4:30 - 5:00 pm timeframe, so reports that the trains kept campers awake aren't really accurate. Reports that the trains were 4/5ths scale came from a cast member of the Fort in a 1977 revision of the Disney Maintenance Manual. According to the Imagineers who built the trains, they are full scale, not 4/5ths. With the size of the tank, the trains did fill on every loop. But, cast members were clear that they could easily make two loops on one tank...as long as you watched your steam! The fuel was never an issue. Trains would come on and off the line to care for cleaning and fueling.

    Thanks for the article and keeping the news of the railroad alive. It brought (and still does) a lot of enjoyment to a lot of folks.

    David Leaphart

  7. David - thank you so much for the clarification of some of the "facts" about the railroad that have been floating around!! I appreciate it and plan to post an updated article with the information you provided.

  8. Hi! Thanks for your kind words. Seeing that you visited WDW starting in 1971 and remember the railroad, do you happen to have any photos of the train? I'm working on the second edition of the book and would like to add additional photos. Anything used would be fully credited to you.