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The Fort Wilderness Railroad

by Rod Wheaton on May 8, 2013


The Walt Disney Company has had a long love affair with trains going all the way back to Walt himself.  The ones that encircle the Magic Kingdoms on both coasts are well known and loved. Most Disney fans have heard of the Carolwood Pacific train Walt had built in his back yard, much to his wife’s dismay.

But from 1973 to 1980, there was another far less known Disney train that brings back a lot of fond memories for those who remember it.  The Fort Wilderness Train was a steam train that wound it’s way for 3 1/2 miles around Fort Wilderness Campground.  It transported guests and campers alike through beautiful stretches of Spanish moss laden pine trees, over trestles and past pristine waters on their way to their various campground loops, the camp stores, or just an  enjoyable ride.  Before the Disney buses came on the scene, this was the way to travel Fort Wilderness.FWRR2

The train was a popular activity at the campground, and even today there are websites and youtube videos that show their devotion now, over 35 years after it’s close. Even those staying across the waters at The Contemporary Hotel and the Polynesian Village would often come and take the train’s scenic route through the Florida countryside.  At twice the length of the Magic Kingdom‘s train tracks, it was a nice way to relax in the cool of the evening.  If you know where to look, you can still  find remnants of where the old rails passed through the countryside.

So why did it close?  There are several reasons that have been cited.  One had to do with the Florida soil.  It has been said that the tracks were never suitably laid in he sandy soil and that shifting and sinking caused operational problems.  Another setback had to do with the length of track and the size of the train.  There just weren’t enough water and fuel stations along the track to consistently keep the train going under all conditions.  Still another issue was guest comfort and safety.  Some guests complained of the noise from the train.  It ran daily from 7 AM to 11 PM, and some started to “lose appreciation” for the train whistle around those times.  Also, since the train went right through the campground, there was concern a child could walk out onto the tracks. (A much more colorful, grin-inducing explanation/legend will be told in a later post.  Watch for “Kambak’s Raiders)

At Walt Disney World, though, good ideas never completely die.  After the railroad closed, it sat in disrepair for a while.  Then, two of the coaches were pulled out and renovated to be ticket booths at Pleasure Island.  One engine is reported to have gone to a Florida museum.  At least one engine and car were adopted by the Carolwood Pacific Historical Society and restored.

Today you can walk down past the Meadows trading Post, look out past the trestle bridge, and if you close your eyes and use a little imagination, you can still hear the old steam whistle blow.


From → Disney Camping

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