copyright Dick and Jackie Frampton

 

    To this happy place of the Fort Wilderness® Railroad, Welcome!
 
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Click here to read Steve DeGaetano's (author of "Welcome Aboard the Disneyland Railroad") interesting review.

Last Update: November 1, 2014
Please send any comments/questions/suggestions/contributions to dleaphart@steelwheelonsteelrail.com.  Thanks!
Comments on Fort Wilderness Railroad "facts" on the Internet:

The railroad operated from 1973 to 1977...

The railroad began trial operations in late spring of 1973. The official opening of the railroad was January 1, 1974. The railroad ceased operations in February of 1980. Through its life, the railroad had six "lives:" Trial Period, Pre-Opening Period, Transportation Period, Attraction Period, River Country Transport Period, and River Country Attraction Period.

The locomotives (and train) were 4/5 scale and had reduced traction on the rails...

The locomotives and train were full scale, not 4/5 scale. Their design was inspired by the "Olomana", locomotive #4 belonging to the Waimanalo Sugar Plantation in Hawaii. The closest "peer" to the locomotives was the Baldwin "Masuola" locomotive. The tractive force of the Fort Wilderness Railroad locomotives was equivalent to the Masuola, so the tractive force of the Fort Wilderness Railroad locomotives was in line with their Baldwin peer. This is not to be confused with gauge (or track gauge). The track gauge was 30 inches running full scale locomotives and trains.

The locomotives were scaled down versions of a Forney 2-4-2...

The locomotives were full scale, with the Baldwin Masuola as a peer with an added front pony truck by Disney.

A little girl was hurt when her bicycle collided with the train, which was a factor in the railroad's shutdown...

This is un-true. No evidence by other historians or cast members uncovered injuries due to the trains. This was not a factor in the railroad's closing. As a comment, the worst accident during this time was a serious head injury to a young boy when he jumped from a tram.

The track length was 3 1/2 miles, and the water tank was too small. There were a lot of strandings when the crew let the tank get too low on water...

The operating track length was 2.66 miles during the River Country days, not 3 1/2 miles. The water tank was the same size as its Baldwin peer, the Masuola. So to say it was "too small" is an exaggeration. In the beginning there were strandings as the crews learned the locomotives. By early 1974, these were essentially eliminated. A low water alarm system was installed in the locomotives; this also helped with water management. This same system is used today in the Magic Kingdom.

The trains did not really shutdown; Disney let them "shrivel up."

The trains shutdown in February of 1980. They never ran after that and the steam train infrastructure was dis-mantled. The trains were being refurbished at this time and a study was being done to cost a complete track overhaul. Once the price tag was received to overhaul the track, Disney decided the investment was too high and stopped operations.

The cars were later sold at a private auction and one of the railroad's locomotives was donated to a local Central Florida museum...

This is un-true. The disposition of the cars varied from donations by Disney to selling them to the buyers of the locomotives. All four locomotives were bought by private individuals in California. All four locomotives are still in California in private ownership.

 Following is a composite map which covers many aspects of the railroad over the 1974 to 1976 timeframe. I hope it helps orient you with the layout of the railroad.

   

For the memory of Bob Harpur... 
 
Bob Harpur passed the last week of November in 2012. He was a truly great guy and so talented. I got to know Bob through the research on these books. We had become friends, and he will certainly be missed.
 
Bob has a unique distinction in the halls of Disney railroading. He is the only person who worked on every Disney railroad in all of the Disney parks. How neat is that! If you really want to experience his talent, take a trip to Disneyland Paris. That railroad is his baby!
 
Below is a picture from the summer of 2012. The insert is Bob working to get the Fort Wilderness Railroad up and going in 1973. (That photo is from his collection.)
 
 

  "...the book should appeal to both the rail fan and Disney fan...

In the Summer of 2007 I made the plunge to create a book on Walt Disney World Railroads. I, like others, have had a huge interest in Disney and railroads since I was a kid back in the 50's. I've had an interest to combine my Disney, rail, and art interests into a book for some time. What sparked the fire was attending the National Garden Railway Convention in 2007. The discussions and coverage of Disney railroading at that convention were particularly inspiring.... The book should appeal to both the railfan and Disney fan. I touch on Walt Disney's railroading inspiration for the reader's benefit. Most importantly, I have been able to spend a lot of time with former Fort Wilderness Railroad cast members. The most influential former Fort Wilderness Railroad cast members are Vern Conner, Ron Fink, and Dave Martin. Their first-hand knowledge of the railroad is tremendous and has really pushed the detail and accuracy of the story. They were very patient with my constant questions! I had the privilege of talking with Roger Broggie, Jr, who was the shop foreman and project manager for the construction of the locomotives and cars in California. Roger was able to clarify a number of construction items on the trains and has been a great mentor. Another wonderful person is Bob Harpur. Bob is the former Disney Imagineer who has contributed to every railroad in all of the Disney parks around the world. He held the enviable position of technical foreman for the Fort Wilderness Railroad from 1973 to 1977. His knowledge and stories were invaluable in the creation of this story. A key person who filled in the gaps on the story and corrected many misconceptions about the railroad is Jimmy Graves. Jimmy was intimately involved with everything steam at Walt Disney World since its inception and was the roundhouse foreman for the Fort Wilderness Railroad, from beginning to end. Another important contributor to the book has been someone who we all know through his website on the Fort Wilderness Railroad. He is David Rose, webmaster of www.fwrr.info. His help with the railroad's engineering information was critical! A tireless historian and rail fan has been invaluable with his help and knowledge of the old line. Best of all, he is on the Walt Disney World property most every day. His name is Johnny Chaffin, and he is a cast member (engineer and fireman) on the Walt Disney World Railroad in the Magic Kingdom. I conversed with and interviewed over 40 fans, guests, and former cast members of the railroad. Each has made first-hand contributions, and you will meet them all as you read the book.

"conversed with and interviewed over 40 fans, guests, and former cast members of the railroad....."

My overall goal for the book is to keep the Walt Disney rail legacy strong. While Disneyland California has had a wealth of coverage, I felt Walt Disney World's coverage was lagging. Over 3000 hours of effort were expended on the book, which includes research, many trips to Fort Wilderness and the Magic Kingdom, and graphics production. I want this book to be the definitive source of information on this railroad, much like the wonderful Disneyland Railroad books by Steve DeGaetano. Steve has been a great source of help and guidance. Please visit the end of this web site for links to Steve's great books. And, much to everyone's interest, Steve is now working on a second edition of his Disneyland Railroad book.

"Over 3000 hours of effort have been expended on the book.."

To spark your interest, some of the graphic works are included here for you. Below is a composite of the Fort Wilderness locomotive and rolling stock. To create this composite required over 200 hours of research and computer work. There were no references for all of the details, especially the art work. Key photographs, taken by Fort Wilderness fan Dick Frampton, and engineering help by Michael Campbell have allowed me to create a historically accurate rendition of the train.

Click on the following consist drawing to reveal a scale drawing. 

 

"...over 200 hours of research and computer work..."

The design and construction of the locomotive by Disney was quite an engineering undertaking, especially the construction of a steam locomotive in the 1970's! With the aid of engineering information from David Rose, Roger Broggie, Jr., and Bob Harpur, I was able to create a construction composite. In the book, I walk you through the construction of the locomotive, from the ground up!

 

An important part of the book's coverage is the right-of-way for the railroad. Vern Conner, Johnny Chaffin, and I have walked all of the old roadbed. Vern has been a terrific guide since he has traveled these ways many, many times. Current aerial photos of the Fort are included with overlays of the track, crossings, grounding straps, insulators, and GPS coordinates. With the coverage in the book, anyone interested in finding and walking the old roadbed will have all they need to make the trek. The photos below are from our roadbed tracking adventures as well as the aerial overlay for the Gateway Depot area. The remaining overlays are in the book.

David Leaphart, Vern Conner, and Johnny Chaffin take a few minutes to pose for a photo at the Gateway Depot area at Fort Wilderness....

Vern and Johnny are plotting the old roadbed that ran along this current sidewalk...

Vern is showing the height of the water tank crew platform at the current Gateway Depot...

"...overlays of the track, crossings, grounding straps, insulators, and
GPS coordinates..."

The history of the railroad is made colorful by presenting "Then n Now" coverage. Photos of the railroad are presented along with a current photo taken from the same spot as the original photographer. Below are samples of these "Then n Now" creations. The "Then n Now" coverage is included in the Photo Galleries book. 

"Forever Friends" is a special "Then n Now" showing Vern and Dave Martin today and 1975. Vern and Dave have been friends since early school days in Florida. Dave started at Fort Wilderness in 1973, joined by Vern in 1975. They both had left Disney by 1977, but are now once again reunited friends in the Orlando area.

The cab photo is copyright David Martin.

A lot of effort was expended to locate unpublished photos of the railroad. I had the best time meeting various folks who enjoyed the railroad over the years. They were most kind with their contributions to this great story. I think you will enjoy seeing the railroad like you have never seen it before!       

 

Fireman Dave Martin

copyright David Martin   

Working the injectors and checking the site glass...

 copyright Ron Fink   

Number 2 arriving Gateway Depot!

copyright Ron Fink   

Posing with Number 3 at Gateway Depot

copyright Jon W Paul   

"..This is a story of people, not just the railroad..."

This is story of people: fans, guests, and cast members. The experience and journey to create this story were about those folks, their fun, enjoyment, hard work, and inspiration. To get to know them and establish wonderful friendships pushed this experience way beyond writing the book. In this vein, we held a combination birthday party for the railroad and an event honoring the most enduring hero of the railroad, Jimmy Graves. With the "official" opening of the railroad being January 1, 1974, the year 2014 marks the the railroad's 40th birthday...........

Happy 40th Birthday, Fort Wilderness Railroad!

Our combination event was held at Fort Wilderness in the Trails End restaurant on July 24, 2009. Our "Cast Member Reunion and Birthday Party" was attended by Johnny Chaffin, Vern Conner, Dave Dietzel, Pat Szuhay, Josephine Hilliard, Helen Graves, Jimmy Graves, and David Leaphart. Dave and Pat were until recently cast members working at Fort Wilderness. Both are now retired. Josephine works in the Trails End restaurant and told stories of riding the train to work at the restaurant after parking at the Gateway parking lot. She said "that train always got me to work on time!" The party, complete with a "Fort Wilderness RR cake", was to have been an "hour luncheon" from 11am to noon.  Well, pardners, the luncheon ended at about 4:45 in the afternoon! We had the best time and best conversations. Stories of the old railroad, of adventures by the cast members since the railroad, and of getting re-acquainted were bountiful. An example is Vern and Jimmy; they had not seen each other in about 30 years. It was an honor to be a catalyst and part of this event. 

As mentioned, Jimmy Graves was our guest of honor. Jimmy was recruited by Bob Harpur to help restore and rebuild the locomotives for the Magic Kingdom. Jimmy joined the Disney staff when the locomotives were delivered to Orlando. He worked in the roundhouse behind the Kingdom for about two years. During those two years, he worked on everything steam. This included the Magic Kingdom locomotives, ferry boats, riverboat, and Bay Lake launches. One of Jimmy's favorite stories is taking Roy O. Disney for a ride around Bay Lake on a steam powered launch in early 1971! (These steam powered launches still run today on Bay Lake but have since been converted to gasoline engines.) Once the Fort Wilderness Railroad was underway, Jimmy moved from the Kingdom to the Fort reporting to Bob Harpur. Jimmy nurtured the railroad for its entire lifetime at the Fort and Disney. He retired from Disney in 2000. A special framed print was presented to Jimmy in honor of his efforts and dedication to the Fort Wilderness Railroad. The print is a one-of-kind, produced from the graphic efforts for the book. A photo of Jimmy with his gift is below.

"Jimmy nurtured the railroad for its entire lifetime..."

© 2012, 2013, 2014 David Leaphart. Copyright-noted photos used with permission.  Please email if you have any questions or comments.

Walt Disney World®,  Disneyland®, Disneyland® Railroad, Fort Wilderness® Railroad, Main Street, U.S.A®, Magic Kingdom®, and Walt Disney World® Railroad are registered trademarks of the Walt Disney Company. 

I do not claim or imply any relationship with the Walt Disney Company. The Walt Disney Company does not sponsor or endorse the use of these trademarks. However,  the trademarks refer to physical places and objects.

My literary works of history and commentary cannot readily refer to these physical places and objects without using the trademarks.