by: guide4wdw – Collin
The most iconic Disney parks have always featured and likely will always feature steam locomotives. They’re a piece of Walt’s many passions and one that guests get the chance to experience each and every day. However, one particular Walt Disney World railroad didn’t withstand the test of time, Fort Wilderness Railroad.
(Photo: Labeled for Reuse)
Yes, you did in fact read that correctly. At one point, Disney’s Fort Wilderness Campground featured a railroad of its very own that was actually quite impressive in size and in scale. The attraction, which was the first of it’s kind outside of a theme park destination, shuttled guests around the large compound that is and was Fort Wilderness. Guests of all ages could board this simple locomotive and ride the rails to their desired location on a series of track much longer that the Magic Kingdom route. Perhaps the most iconic of it’s destinations was the River Country waterpark (link for an article all about that). While the steam engines were slightly smaller when compared to their Magic Kingdom counterparts, the trains functioned fairly well for a brief period of time transporting over 90 guests per train around the campground. All in all, the railroad utilized four different trains and carried a vast number of guests during it’s short operational span.
(Photo: Me – The Walt Disney World Railroad)
Sadly, as the trains continued their operation, a vast series of problems involving the track itself arose time after time. In the projects original build phase, the locomotives were designed by Imagineering (known as WED at the time) at one location and the tracks for the trains to operate on were designed by an entirely different group. When the project was completed, a few issues arose that weren’t all that major until the track began to sink as a result of inexperienced builders dealing with the unique Florida climate.
So, unfortunately in 1977, the Fort Wilderness Railroad official closed after what was anticipated to be a brief closure of just a few weeks to fix some issues and begin train refurbishment. Sadly, it never returned to operation at that particular location. Much of the problem later centered around the cost to rebuild the faulty aspects of the experience. The experience was free to resort guests, but off property visitors had to pay $1 to take a ride and enjoy the incredible scenery.
The locomotives were eventually sold off to various collectors and different organizations, but perhaps the most interesting part of the story is that John Lasseter (best known for his legendary work at Pixar) achieved possession of one of these steam engines. Lasseter is truly a kid at heart and runs his own railroad on property he and his family own known as Lasseter Family Winery out in Sonoma, California. While all vehicles which have left Disney operation are not allowed to return to operation via contract, Lasseter operates the engine he purchased from Jim Zordich and another (non Fort Wilderness engine) he purchased from Ollie Johnston who was a legendary animator. Perhaps some of the very best video of the railway was recently debuted on an episode of Jay Leno’s Garage if you would like to get a closer look at the set up.
Today, a few incredibly subtle remnants of the Fort Wilderness railroad can be found at the campground, but a majority of the project has long since been forgotten and covered over. The project itself faced trouble from the very beginning, but pleased thousands of guests in the short 6 year operational phase. Despite the classic nature of this attraction, it is often overlooked in Disney history by a majority of different avenues. (Photo: Disney)
Very few guests remember riding the rails at Fort Wilderness but those who do rave about the overall experience. It was supposedly quite picturesque and while it was a slow ride it had character in a way that often goes unnoticed in much of our modern society.
Do you remember the railroad? If so, be sure to share your photos and memories with us in the comments! We’d love to find some authentic images to feature here in the article if you’d like to share them.
As always, thatks for reading and have an outstanding rest of the day!
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