Jump to content


Your donations help support development and improvements to the site. Thank you for your support!

Camping World - Geared Up For Springshow?id=InjuJMZQhis&bids=201668.10000360




The 6 Lives of the Fort Wilderness Railroad

An update from David as of 9/23/14...

Hi Folks,

I hope all of you are doing well!

A quick note on the Fort Wilderness Railroad book: it's now available on Amazon and Barnes and Noble! I re-visited the book and revampedsome of the formatting, spelling, grammar, and credits. The biggest event was going to a new printer. I was using LuLu Press. The qualitywas "ok" but the price was quite high. I was able to work with CreateSpace, the printing arm of Amazon. They are now printing thebook. The quality is much better and the price is about half that of Lulu.

The book has continued to sell since 2010 with many copies sold overseas. There seems to be an appetite for the book and its contents in Germany, Russia, and China. Who would have thought that!

Thanks again to all of you for your help and encouragement. Without you, the book would have been much smaller and less detailed, or maybe would not have even happened.

Take care,


Not quite like a cat…but the railroad did have six lives!

by David Leaphart, author of Walt Disney World Railroads Part 1 Fort Wilderness Railroad and Fort Wilderness Railroad Gallery Companion as posted on Fort Fiends .net

visit David's website at www.steelwheelonsteelrail.com


Unlike the WDW Railroad in the Magic Kingdom, the Fort Wilderness Railroad (FTW RR) had six lives. The WDW Railroad layout, engineering, and operation are pretty much the same as the opening day in 1971. The FTW RR began operations in the late spring of 1973 and ended operations in February of 1980. But during that roughly 7 years of operation, the railroad passed through 6 different lives.

I’ve named the 6 lives as:

  1. Trial Period – Late Spring 1973 to Mid-Summer 1973.
  2. Pre-Opening – Mid-Summer 1973 to January 1974.
  3. Transportation – January 1974 to Spring 1975.
  4. Attraction – Spring 1975 to January 1976.
    not operational – January 1976 to May 1976.
  5. River Country Transport – May 1976 to Summer 1977.
  6. River Country Attraction – Summer 1977 to February 1980.

Each of these lives has its own story, but the one most folks seem to remember is Life #5. This was the highlight of the railroad’s operation in terms of the number of cast members, number of trains running at a time, and guests riding the railroa

Just prior to the railroad taking on this life, the track was re-built. Oh, did it need it! It was getting pretty ugly. The poor job of laying the track in the first place was finally taking its toll. So George Britton from the Magic Kingdom headed a crew that pulled the rail, re-laid it with tie plates, and did rail bending for

the curves. Unfortunately, the money was not available to completely re-do the track. This would be the railroad’s downfall come February 1980. That’s a whole story by itself!

So, in May 1976, the railroad opened ready to work with the buses and trams to get guests from the front parking area at the Gateway Depot (now Outpost Bus Depot) to the newly opened River Country. The biggest noticeable change was the relocation of the Settlement Depot closer to the Tri-Circle-D Ranch. This eliminated the need for guests to navigate the Fort Wilderness Trail-Big Pine Road intersection while also cutting down on the walking distance to River Country.


In the other lives, usually one maybe two trains ran concurrently. During River Country Transport, usually three trains ran at the same time and the fourth was added during busy times. This really added to the excitement at the Fort for the railroad. Lots of guests riding the train, lots of cast member wearing striped overalls, and lots of whistle sounding across the countryside.

During this time, a lot of guests were transported. Fully loaded the train would hold 90 guests, while the trams held 150. So Disney experimented at one time by adding an extra car to the train to get more

capacity. What a mess! The train was too long to fit into the depots, and guests had to squeeze into and out of the fifth car. Easy to say this didn’t last too long. But an interesting note here for the railfans…the locomotives were so well designed that adding a sixth car full of people was no big deal. The locomotives pulled all six cars without any noticeable change by the engineer. Pretty neat!

In the summer of 1977, the cast members were starting to realize that Disney management felt the logistics of transporting people to River Country was not really working with the train as part of the picture. So, the trams and buses were left to this job, and the train moved into its sixth and final life as simply an “attraction.” Usually one train ran from 9:30 am to 5:00 pm. Admission was free with a River Country ticket, otherwise it was 50 cents.

Hope you enjoyed some of the tidbits about the railroad during this fun time over its six lives! This is a poster you might find interesting about this Life #5 – River Country Transport.


User Feedback

Recommended Comments

Awesome. I plan on using this map to try and find the old tracks this year when I visit :)

Hi Cbyerley, Have fun finding the old track. The map above should give you a good run at it. As you walk along the sidewalks, look for the old track rock ballast on either side. That's a good giveaway! David

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Wow, thanks, David, this map is great. We have been coming to the Fort since 2001 and thought there was a railroad at some point. I knew the high spots in some of the roadway were there for a reason. Then when we found the rock bed behind the 700 loop, we had our proof. Heading out today to look for some of the old path.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

We just got back from 2 weeks at Fort Wilderness and one of the new things we tried, was to use David's map and trace out the railroad.  So much of of the RR is still visible if you know where to look.  From the high ground that runs through the dog run area and beyond that by the canal you can still see the bridge enbuttment on both sides.  There are also RR ties that are right up against the main road by the 1500 loop.  There were several other places that we saw RR ties.  The only thing missing were the rails.  I saw some pictures dated 2009 that still showed rails somewhere.  That will be our next adventure on our next trip in August.


We also found an old cabin off of the Wilderness Swamp Trail and we were told it was an old nature center for the campground.  Does anyone know anything about the history of the cabin

Link to comment
Share on other sites

They used to offer night time canoe trips from the Bike Barn along the canals to the old cabin where a CM would lead the group in campfire songs and stories.  They used big canoes that held two people on a seat with several rows of seats.  I thought it was more fun that the hayrides they still do through the campground.  People still search the old railroad bed and retrieve the iron spikes that held the track in place.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

As DinDavie said, the cabin was part of the Marshmallow Marsh Excursion.  They had 2 or 3 big war canoes that launched from behind the Meadow Trading Post.  If you got some good guides, they had you race against the other canoes out to the edge of Bay Lake.  When you got there, they had a big bonfire going.  You toasted marshmallows, sang songs, and got to ask the Disney experts all sorts of questions. 


DinDavie, I thought there was a dock behind the store that you left from?  Maybe my memory isn't as good as it used to be.


The railroad was one of the best things they had at the Fort.  50 cents to ride all day.  You could get on and off as much as you liked.  It was a great ride, you could loop without a golf cart or bikes.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

This book is great, I got a copy and have been writing back and forth with Dave. If you love the Fort, there are so many pix from the RR's heyday and so much information! You can geek out for days! I, too, plan to use the map and my son and I are going to hunt for ties and spikes. I recommend this book to anyone who loves the Fort and loves to see its history.

PS - I am writing a continuing series about the Fort over on MousePlanet.com if anyone wants to check it out, or suggest some Fort related topics you'd like to read about!

Rod W

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Join the conversation

You can post now and register later. If you have an account, sign in now to post with your account.

Add a comment...

×   Pasted as rich text.   Paste as plain text instead

  Only 75 emoji are allowed.

×   Your link has been automatically embedded.   Display as a link instead

×   Your previous content has been restored.   Clear editor

×   You cannot paste images directly. Upload or insert images from URL.


  • Create New...