Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Fort Lauderdale's four "railroads" in 1967: Can you name them? Think tourists.


By Jane Feehan

Fort Lauderdale frequently made the pages of Sunday newspaper travel sections in the north after airlines began nonstop service here in the 1950s. Ads for and tips on what to see and do in the seaside town have peppered travel pages from January until April each year since.

With tongue in cheek, a reporter from The New York Times claimed in January 1967 that Fort Lauderdale was becoming a major railroad center. Why? There were four miniature “railroads” in the city that ran in circles for tourists. The little trains hardly made for a rail center but the premise did catch the attention of those heading south for a winter vacation. Some long time residents may have also availed themselves of the four sightseeing venues:   

"Magellan Railcar" by Alexf
at en.wikipedia. Licensed under CC BY 3.0 via Commons 
The Gold Coast Railroad Museum ran eight cars on tracks near U.S. Highway 1 (near today’s Snyder Park) and into Port Everglades so visitors could view cruise ships and freighters. The museum, originally based in Miami, was first known as the Miami Railroad Historical Society. The group had asked for and received from the federal government in 1959 the presidential Pullman car 
used by Roosevelt, Truman and Eisenhower. They moved the vehicle, known as Ferdinand Magellan and later as U.S. No. 1 Presidential Car, to Fort Lauderdale in 1967 and housed it along with other railroad cars in their new site near the port. (The museum has since moved back to Miami and the U.S. No. 1 was placed on the National Register of Historical Places in 1985. See www.GCRM.org for more information. This deserves an entire post.)

Hugh Taylor Birch State Park featured a small diesel-powered train that ran on a three-mile narrow gauge track.  Visitors rode the train along the Intracoastal, atop a trestle and over a fresh water lagoon in the 180-acre park. This was also a great source of amusement to some locals who wore masks and pretended to be raiders swooping down on unsuspecting visitors who rode the rails at little over 10 mph. I only heard laughter on these jaunts and never saw a fearful face. The popular ride ceased to operate in 1985.

Pioneer City operated a train 15 miles west of Fort Lauderdale in Davie. The train, known as the Jenny Lynn, was a replica of a steam locomotive used in 1890. It transported “dudes” to a sternwheeler headed for a mock-up of a 19th-century cow town featuring a saloon, shops, shoot outs and staged bank robberies. Visitors could take the train past an artificial mountain and a real buffalo grazing on a prairie sprinkled with whitened steer skulls. Pioneer City opened in 1966. It was closed and up for sale by 1968 due to poor ticket sales. The buffalo was also included in the property sale.

Not really a train, but a string of cars pulled by a rubber-tired vehicle, the Voyager Sightseeing Train took visitors on a 30-minute tour of the city landmarks. Based at 600 Seabreeze Blvd. and launched in 1962, the Voyager became a landmark itself. We knew tourist season had arrived when the cars were filled to capacity and the Voyager became a traffic nuisance. It no longer operates. 
Copyright © 2015. All rights reserved. Jane Feehan.

Sources:
Miami News, June 6, 1966
The New York Times, Jan. 8, 1967
Lakeland Ledger, Apr. 16, 1978
Evening Independent, Mar. 19, 1968
www.GCRM.org



Tags: Fort Lauderdale tourism, Pioneer City, Hugh Taylor Birch Park, Gold Coast Railroad Museum, Voyager Sightseeing Train

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