Ft. Wilderness Railroad - Book Review
David Leaphart, author of the definitive history of the Fort Wilderness Railroad, has recently updated his books in a second edition. I wrote about the first editon on MiceAge, which can be found here: Into the Wilderness - MiceAge.com
A welcome change is that the two main volumes (what I will call the “blue book” and the “yellow book”) are now in hardcover. There are slight changes to the cover design of both.
The blue book is comprised of text and photos, and covers in great detail the story of the design, building, operation and demise of the Fort Wilderness line. For people like me interested in the nitty-gritty, nuts-and-bolts story of the physical equipment, this book can’t be beat. The quality of the technical drawings is well worth the price of admission. There are intricate renderings of every major system on both the engines and cars, from minutely-detailed cutaways of the engine interior, to the water injection and feedwater pump systems, to a fascinating series of drawings that show the virtual “construction” of the engine from the frame up, with callouts to help people understand what the various parts are. Really neat stuff.
There are also color renderings that show Bob McDonald’s intricate paint and pin-striping schemes on both locomotive and cars. There are even drawings of track details and line side equipment, like crossing signals and the water tower. A modeler could have a field day with the plethora of drawings and dimensions, but even if you don’t plan on modeling the railroad, one could spend hours studying their fine detail.
The blue book isn’t significantly different from the First Edition, but the hard cover will allow it to handle a little more abuse.
The really big improvement in the second edition of the books shows up in the “yellow” book: Also now in hard cover, the volume is sub-titled “pictures, then and now.” In the intervening years since the first edition was published, David has been given access to the photographic collections of several more guests and cast members, allowing the book to gain about 100 additional pages of vintage photographs of the railroad. The majority of the new photos come from a former FWRR CM named Sue Ward. Her photos give us a very personal glimpse of the day-to-day operation of the railroad, from candid photos of the crew chatting among themselves between stops, oiling ‘round, or posing on the engines. Many of the shots are taken at the roundhouse, and show things like pre-dawn steam up of the engines.
Something that becomes crystal clear, and was sort of an eye-opener, is that it seems like probably half of the engine crews were female. It appears that even some of the roundhouse crew were women, making the Fort Wilderness railroad a trailblazer in the realm of the Disney railroads. The Disneyland Railroad didn’t hire its first female fireman until the 1990s.
There are quite a few “then and now” comparison photos. I find these especially fascinating, as they show how the railroad changed (and disappeared altogether) over the years. In some cases, the right-of-way was converted to a walking path, but in some places there is no trace remaining to show that a railroad once snaked its way through the property.
The photographs presented are of varying quality, being the personal images of non-professional photographers. This does not detract from their value, however, and the candidness and intimacy of them more than make up for any blur or color shift due to age. It cannot be understated how valuable the collection is. You will not find a larger collection of photographs of the railroad anywhere. Looking through them is like looking through the shoebox of photos from your grandmother’s closet. They show a time that seems at once both strange and familiar, of people you don’t know, and they seem tinged by the glow of nostalgia. You never know what you’re going to discover along the way.
David rounds out his story of the Fort Wilderness Railroad with a thin soft-cover volume digitally-manipulated images made to appear as oil or watercolor paintings or chalk or pencil drawings. Images such as these were originally in the first edition yellow book, but here are presented as if in wooden frames on a wood-paneled wall. There are also 3-D images that can be viewed without the aid of special glasses with a little practice.
I highly recommend David’s books. They represent the preservation of one of Disney’s most fondly-remembered railroads in both words and pictures. David clearly has a deep affection for his subject, and I look forward to his upcoming works on the other railroad aspects of Walt Disney World.
The books can be purchased at www.steelwheelonsteelrail.com