Big Thunder Mountain Railroad Turns 40 Today!


Happy Birthday to the “wildest ride in the wilderness!

Big Thunder Mountain Railroad opened on September 2, 1979 and is celebrating 40 years today!

In celebration the Disney Parks Blog offered a really neat “behind the scenes” look at the making of this classic attraction.  I know it’s one of my favorites!

Set in Frontierland it was originally the spot for the Rainbow Caverns Mine Train, a train tour through the Old West.  This attraction ran from 1956-1959.

After that it became the Mine Train Through Nature’s Wonderland, from 1960-1977.

(Photo Credit: Disney)

“Although Walt did not conceive the high-speed attraction we know of today, his love for the American Southwest is what helped Disney Imagineers create the pioneering vision towards Big Thunder Mountain Railroad. To pay homage to Walt’s original Old West vision, some of the set pieces from the original western mining town of Rainbow Ridge were retained for Big Thunder Mountain Railroad!”

Keeping Walt in mind, Disney Legend Imagineer, Tony Baxter, was behind the look of Big Thunder Mountain Railroad.  He took inspiration from the scenery at the Bryce Canyon National Park in Utah.

Like the other “mountains” at Disney parks, Big Thunder Mountain is a manufactured mountain–made with cement and paint.

(Photo Credit: Disney)

Here we can take a look at the construction of the original attraction:


All of it was created to tell the story:

“Legend has it that after gold was discovered in the 1860s, mysterious happenings started to occur once the large “boom” of gold rush miners turned to greed, including trains that operate on their own! Many say these ghostly tales went a long way in keeping the area uninhabited for such a long time.”

The Walt Disney World version would open in 1980.

The Disney Parks Blog also posted some fun facts about this 40 year old attraction:

  • Buildings in the reduced-scale western town are an example of forced perspective that Walt has utilized in other locations of the park, including Sleeping Beauty Castle.
  • The window of the Marshall’s office in the town used to read Willard P. Bounds, U.S. Marshall. This was Lillian Disney’s father, who was once a U.S. Marshall on the Nez Perce Indian reservation in Idaho. Now, there is a notice at the attraction’s entrance signed by Willard P. Bounds as another homage to her father.
  • Big Thunder Mountain Railroad took five years of planning work. Once it was conceived, it took two years to build. The attraction is the third of four “mountains” to make up the Disneyland range, joining Matterhorn Bobsleds, Space Mountain and, later, Splash Mountain.
  • Walt Disney World Resort, Tokyo Disney Resort and Disneyland Paris have a unique version of this attraction that include rockwork and elements based on Monument Valley, Sedona Arizona, and Yellowstone National Park, respectively.
  • If you take a look at the Big Thunder Mountain Railroad trains, you will see that their names are U.B. Bold, U.R. Courageous, I.M. Loco, I.B. Hearty and U.R. Daring.
  • A one-quarter scale model of the original model used in the design of Big Thunder Mountain Railroad can be seen in the Disneyland Hotel’s Frontier Tower lobby. Imagineers use scale models such as this as a tool to define and refine designs for projects.

Big Thunder Mountain has always been a family favorite. We LOVE it!  I remember being in line to ride it when I was little. It’s actually one of my earliest Walt Disney World memories.

What do you think? Comment and let us know!

Source: Disney Parks Blog

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