I’ve always been somewhat fascinated with the thought of Walt’s 1/8-scale, steam powered train known as the Carolwood Pacific Railroad. I can’t fully grasp how completely neat it would be to have such an attraction in my own backyard. Now, consider the images that appear in the mind of the conductor as he steams ahead through the detailed, backyard scenery. What stories were being conjured up for his own amusement? Or perhaps what stories would he tell his daughters and grandchildren later? Remember, above all, Walt was a master storyteller.
So, instead of providing a review of the Walt Disney World Railroad – which may be all too reminiscent of any other review you may find on the web, complete with details of the steam engine, facts about the track length, and a recounting of how this was intended to serve as a “Coming Attractions” for the park-as-movie scenario – I would like to use this as a journey into the youthful, storytelling mind of Walt himself.
Let’s not forget that Walt had a penchant for nostalgia. His positive outlook shed a fond light on memories and interpretations of his childhood home, boyhood hero, family, and even trains. This is obvious as we stroll down Main Street USA, view Carousel of Progress or Hall of Presidents, explore Tom Sawyer Island, and even as we take passage on the Walt Disney World Railroad. I believe this sense of nostalgia continued to permeate the Disney culture decades after Walt’s passing. This sense of nostalgia, coupled with the same adventurous spirit which lead Walt himself to join the Red Cross, move to California, and travel extensively through his life, are not only present, but tangible as we travel on the railway. In fact, I argue that the Walt Disney Railroad is the epitome of Disney Magic – because it may be the one thing in WDW that allows us to connect directly to Walt; and perhaps travel through his mind as he formulated stories while journeying on the Carolwood Pacific.
Through the thickness of the trees, from reality into fantasy; you’ll steam ahead from present to past. You’ll make your way past the Gold Dust Saloon. The Dry Goods store a recent victim of flash floods from one nearby mountain, and nearly missed by runaway mine cars from another.
Deeper still into the wilderness, a gentle calm as a settler looks out at the float from the end of his fishing pole, slowly bob up and down in the easy river. The lazy drag on his pipe, almost as long as the afternoon. Could this be an elder Tom Sawyer gazing just across the water to a memory of his boyhood adventures?
Perhaps thinking fondly on his old friend Huck Finn and their run-in with Injun Joe. And what of Injun Joe and his heritage? Moving into lands little before explored, we find Native American settlements. Peaceful and prosperous.
Suddenly, time and age speeds along. We find ourselves at a station where we can disembark to explore the fancy of a circus – we hear it features a flying elephant, and the Great Goofini. Is this a sign of the future?
A place where vehicles rush along a speedway, or a world where space flight is common? Perhaps. A glimpse into this future lasts only a moment before the thick braches suggest that it is alas time to move from fantasy back to reality. And we pull into a glorious station overlooking a simple, bustling all-American street; but just over the horizon from fantasy.
So, next time you enter the gates of the Magic Kingdom, don’t be in such a hurry to get to the high profile attractions like Space Mountain that you fail to experience a real magical moment. Instead, take a 1.5 mile journey through the stories and imagine its genesis on the rails of the Carolwood Pacific.