Big Thunder Mountain Railroad
||This article may contain original research. (January 2013)|
||This article needs additional citations for verification. (January 2013)|
|Big Thunder Mountain Railroad|
Big Thunder Mountain Railroad at Disneyland
|Opening date||September 2, 1979|
|Replaced||Mine Train through Nature's Wonderland|
|Type||Steel – Mine Train|
|Designer||Walt Disney Imagineering|
|Lift/launch system||Chain lift hill|
|Manufacturer||Arrow Dynamics (Anaheim)
Vekoma (Florida, Tokyo, Paris)
Disney's Fastpass available at all parks.
Must transfer from wheelchair
Big Thunder Mountain Railroad (often shortened to Big Thunder Mountain) is an indoor/outdoor mine train roller coaster located in Frontierland at several Disneyland-style Disney Parks worldwide. The ride exists at Disneyland Park (California) and the Magic Kingdom at Walt Disney World as Big Thunder Mountain Railroad, and at Tokyo Disneyland and Disneyland Park (Paris) as Big Thunder Mountain. Big Thunder Mountain Railroad is also the name of the fictional rail line the roller coaster depicts.
Although the details of the backstory vary from park to park, all follow the same general story arcs. Some time in the late 1800s, gold was discovered on Big Thunder Mountain in the American Southwest. Overnight, the small mining town of Rainbow Ridge (at Disneyland), Tumbleweed (at the Magic Kingdom), or Thunder Mesa (at Disneyland Paris) became a thriving mining town. Mining was prosperous, and an extensive line of mine trains was set up to transport the ore. Unknown to the settlers, the Mountain was a sacred spot to local Native Americans and was cursed.
Before long, the settlers' desecration of the mountain caused a great tragedy, which, depending on the park, is usually depicted to be an earthquake (Disneyland Paris, Disneyland), a tsunami (Tokyo Disneyland), or a flash flood (Magic Kingdom), which befell the mines and town, and the town was abandoned. Some time later, the locomotives were found to be racing around the mountain on their own, without engineers or a crew. The Big Thunder Mountain Railroad was founded in the old mining camp to allow tourists to take rides on the possessed trains.
In keeping with the theme, the station buildings on all four versions of the ride are designed to look as though they are the abandoned offices of a mining company from the mid to late 19th century. The mountains themselves are themed to the red rock formations of the American Southwest. The rock work designs on Disneyland's Big Thunder Mountain Railroad are based on the hoodoos of Bryce Canyon National Park in Utah.
In the Magic Kingdom version of Big Thunder Mountain Railroad and in the Tokyo and Paris versions, the rockwork designs are based on the rising buttes that are located in Utah and Arizona's Monument Valley. Special care was taken by the Imagineers to make it appear that the rocks were there originally, and the track was built around the rocks, unlike a number of earlier mine rides, which were built the other way around (by sculpting the rocks around the tracks). The action of the ride takes place completely in the sagging, rotting tunnels of the mountain. In contrast to most steel roller coasters, where the thrills come from the perception of flying through open air, the thrills on Big Thunder Mountain Railroad are meant to come from the perceived instability of the mine and its threats of collapse. Sound effects of a typical locomotive operation are piped into the surrounding scenery to add realism to guests viewing the ride from observation platforms, including the steam whistle sounding, even though there is no whistle displayed on the locomotives.
Big Thunder Mountain Railroad was designed by Imagineer Tony Baxter and ride design engineer Bill Watkins. The concept came from Baxter's work on fellow Imagineer Marc Davis's concept for the Western River Expedition, a western-themed pavilion at the Magic Kingdom, designed to look like an enormous plateau and contain many rides, including a runaway mine train roller coaster. However, because the pavilion as a whole, was deemed too expensive in light of the 1973 construction and opening of Pirates of the Caribbean, Baxter proposed severing the mine train and building it as a separate attraction.
The Big Thunder Mountain Railroad project was put on hold again in 1974 as resources and personnel were being diverted to work on constructing Space Mountain over in Tomorrowland, but this delay may have ultimately produced a smoother ride as the use of computers in attraction design was just beginning when the project was resumed. Big Thunder Mountain Railroad was one of the first Disney rides to utilize computer-aided design. The attraction first opened at Disneyland in 1979, with the Magic Kingdom's larger version in Florida opening in 1980. Tokyo Disneyland added its own version in 1987 and in 1992, Euro Disneyland (now named Disneyland Paris) opened with Big Thunder Mountain as an opening day attraction.
Tributes to Mine Train through Nature's Wonderland 
At Disneyland, a scaled-down western town sits adjacent to the queuing lines and tracks returning to station. A Western saloon, hotel, assayer's office and mercantile appear among the buildings. This is the village of Rainbow Ridge, which used to overlook the loading platform of the sedate Mine Train through Nature's Wonderland. Disneyland's version of Big Thunder Mountain Railroad was built on the land the Mine Train used to occupy. Many of the animal animatronics throughout the attraction are animatronic animals from the previous attraction. Other allusions to the Mine Train through Nature's Wonderland include:
- the Rainbow Caverns (glowing pools of water by the first lift hill)
- precariously balanced rocks in the third lift hill
- The name of the ride itself, "Big Thunder", was originally the name of an enormous waterfall the train passed on the tour. "Little Thunder" was located nearby.
At the Magic Kingdom and at Disneyland, the ride is known by its full name of "Big Thunder Mountain Railroad". The Tokyo and Paris versions would drop the word "Railroad" in favor of the name "Big Thunder Mountain". Tokyo Disneyland's Big Thunder, which is almost identical to the Magic Kingdom's, opened in 1987, five years after the park opened. At Magic Kingdom and Disneyland, the name of the ride is sometimes shortened to "Big Thunder Mountain", "Thunder Mountain Railroad", or even just "Thunder Mountain".
Imagineers rethought the attraction for Disneyland Paris, creating a layout mostly based on the Disneyland's Big Thunder Mountain Railroad but with several significant changes to both the layout and accompanying structure.
The revised European ride takes the form of a large island in the center of the Rivers of the Far West, accessed from its riverside station by tunnels underneath the water. The attraction in Disneyland Paris is the only Big Thunder Mountain to have been an opening day attraction at the park. Hong Kong Disneyland does not have a Big Thunder Mountain Railroad attraction (or a western-themed Frontierland, for that matter). However, Grizzly Gulch has a theme similar to Frontierland. The main attraction, Big Grizzly Mountain Runaway Mine Cars, carries a similar theme to Big Thunder Mountain Railroad.
Ride experience 
Disneyland version 
While the design of the Walt Disney World version of this roller coaster was done first, Disneyland's version of Big Thunder Mountain Railroad was the first one built. The track layout was mirrored, placing the attraction to the right of Rivers of America, if viewed from the central hub. (In Walt Disney World, the attraction is located to the left of Rivers of America.) To better fit with the adjacent Fantasyland areas of the theme park, the original Walt Disney World design had to be replaced with something more appropriate for Disneyland. The original design featured sharp-edged mountains and vibrant colors of Monument Valley, Arizona. Instead, Disneyland's version was developed with more rounded features and muted colors resembling the Bryce Canyon hoodoos in Utah.
Upon entering the attraction, the queue winds through a narrow rock wall and passing under the tracks. The surrounding walls were originally created from 100 tons of gold ore from Rosamond. Within this half of the queue, a series of Wild West themed features including buildings alongside the track representing Rainbow Ridge and a water cranking machine. The town is the original location of the boarding area of the Mine Train Through Nature's Wonderland. The queue goes up some stairs in a wooden shack and reaches the area where the riders board the trains. Leaving the outdoor loading station, riders enter a dark tunnel. The sounds of bats can be heard as the trains make a right hand turn and then a left hand turn before climbing the first lift hill. To the left of the trains, guests can view a series of rainbow colored caverns. These are also placed as a tribute to the Mine Train Through Nature's Wonderland. At the top, the trains exit into the daylight and stayed slow at the drop before making a 180-degree turn drop to the right before leveling out into the left-hand turn, before making a small drop and climb, and then making another right-hand turn (passing under a tree with several opossums hanging from it). The trains then drop down into a cave (where two coyotes are howling on top of), rise up, hit a block brake, make a right-hand turn, exit the tunnel, and climb the second lift hill.
Warnings of blasting up ahead on the track can be seen by guests as the trains crest the second lift hill. Three desert tortoises and two rattlesnakes can also be seen alongside the lift hill. As the trains go slow and start to drop away to the right, an animatronic goat with a stick of dynamite in its mouth bleats at the passing guests and 2 skunks attempt to spray the passing guests. After descending this drop, the trains rise up into a 540-degree downhill helix to the right before passing over another hill, making a left-hand turn into a tunnel, and climbing the third lift hill. While climbing the third lift hill, the lighting lanterns swing, rocks start shaking, rocks about to fall down on the open track on the top of the basement, simulating an earthquake, and appearing ready to crush the riders.
At the top, the trains exit the lift hill, slow down, and drop away to the right into a short straightaway, making another right-hand turn into a short tunnel onto a trim brake bridge. After this bridge, riders drop away to the left, passing a T-Rex skeleton and splashing through Dinosaur Gap and geysers, as they rise up to the right into the final brake run. The trains pass by the buildings of Rainbow Ridge before returning to the station.
This is the only version of the ride to have an outdoor station. All other versions of the ride have elaborate depots.
In January 2013, ABC (owned by Disney) ordered a pilot for Big Thunder, a drama set in the mining town of Big Thunder, upon which the ride is based.
Magic Kingdom version 
At the Magic Kingdom, the track layout of Big Thunder Mountain Railroad is almost a mirror image of the Disneyland version. The only differences are an enclosed loading station on a hillside, the replacement of Big Thunder with Tumbleweed, and an altered section of layout before the second lift hill. However, the Walt Disney World Version was allocated more space in the park, and so the Monument Valley-inspired mountain assumes 2.5 acres, 25% larger than the Disneyland version.
In this version, upon entering the queue, guests make their way up the hillside past old mining equipment to the station building. Once inside, the queue snakes through the upper level of the two level station where guests can view a panorama of the ride. The queue then travels down a gradual ramp, switches back, and reaches the loading station. After a wait, guests enter the 30-45 passenger trains. On the signal of a flashing green lantern at the head end of the platform, the train is clear to leave the station.
Leaving the station, the trains immediately enter a dark tunnel and make a tight left hand turn. After a short straightaway during which the sounds of bats can be heard, the trains make a slight right hand turn and climb the first lift hill. A series of caverns can be seen on the right hand side of the lift hill track. At the top, once again, it slows down and riders make a drop away to the left, before making a right hand turn and going over two hops while passing under the second lift hill and second lift hill drop. It is typical to make a flyby with another train during this section.
After going under the second lift hill drop (which is a point where it may be possible to see the riders on another train), the trains make a tight downwind spiral to the right into a short tunnel. Emerging from the tunnel, riders find themselves in the abandoned town of Tumbleweed. The Walt Disney World Railroad's track can be seen to the right of the guests. While passing through Tumbleweed, the track goes through several bunny hops, and the train seems to sway from side to side. The swaying is achieved by banking the track slightly. On the left, riders see the wagon of Professor Cumulus Isobar, whose rainmaking machine works too well, and a party being held on the second floor of the flooded saloon. On the right, one sees a remaining resident spinning around in a floating bathtub. In the early years of the ride, the floodwaters in Tumbleweed were much more torrential than they are today.
After Tumbleweed, the trains pass through a short tunnel called Dave V Jones Mine, make a left hand turn, and climb the second lift hill. At the top, the train slows down and the riders drop away to the left and cross back under the lift hill as the trains rise up into a 540 degree downhill helix to the left, before going over another airtime hill before dropping back down. The trains make a right hand turn into a tunnel, and climb the third lift hill. An earthquake is in progress and the rocks seem ready to crush and bury the train. In the early years of the ride, the tunnel exit seemed to collapse with falling rocks. Cresting the lift hill, the trains slow down and exit out into the daylight, and drop away to the left heading for the Rivers of America, before they make a left hand turn through a short tunnel, crossing back over the drop, and then drop away to the right through the boneyard and geysers before hitting the final brake run and returning to the station.
Big Thunder Mountain was closed in January 2012 for repairs and renovations and reopened in June 2012. The queue was reconfigured, the town of Tumbleweed was fixed up, and the rock projection was somehow set to project rocks floating up and down at the same time.
Tokyo Disneyland version 
At Tokyo Disneyland, Big Thunder Mountain is mostly identical to the Florida ride, with three exceptions:
- Tumbleweed is replaced by a long cave before the second lift hill, just like the Disneyland version.
- The station sits on columns rather than on a hillside.
- The ending is altered. Instead of crossing back over the drop from the third lift hill, the track makes a U-turn before dropping through the sound of bats inside the tunnel and then out through the Boneyard/geyser scene, passing through a short tunnel, and making a right hand turn into the final brakes. The trains pass in front of the station, and then turn back into the boarding area.
Disneyland Park (Paris) version 
At Disneyland Park (Paris), Big Thunder Mountain sits on an island in the middle of the Rivers of the Far West, where Tom Sawyer's Island would normally sit. Unlike all of the other versions of the ride, this version has an elaborate backstory concerning the town of Thunder Mesa, founded by Henry Ravenswood to support the mining in the mountain. This backstory influences not just Big Thunder Mountain but also Frontierland's other major attraction, Phantom Manor, Disneyland Paris's equivalent of the Haunted Mansion.
Although the ride itself is located on an island, guests board the trains at a depot on the mainland. The overall layout of the ride is influenced primarily by the Florida version, but significantly altered with a lengthy extension, with twin underwater tunnels to allow trains to travel under the river to the station on the mainland.
Big Thunder Mountain at Disneyland Paris is more heavily themed than the other versions of the ride. Among some of the noticeable differences are the trains, which are painted to appear rusty and old rather than in mint condition like the American versions.
Leaving the station on the mainland, the trains immediately dive into the outbound underwater tunnel crossing over to the island, before making a right hand turn, and make a quick steep rise. Suddenly, the loud rattling of anti-rollback dogs can be heard as the train starts up the first lift hill. All three lift hills are fitted with two chains - one on the flat straight leg of track prior to the climb that serves to slow the train down, and a second one for the climb, to relieve tension on the chain. As trains climb out of the darkness of the underwater tunnel, stalactites and stalagmites can be seen growing next to the track. The sounds of bats swooping up above can also be heard. At the top, a waterfall parting around the tracks suggests that the tunnel is flooding. Trains pop out of the tunnel, leave the lift hill, slow as the rest of the train crests the rise, and drop around a left hand turn, pass through a small cave, then make a swooping right turn. If the trains are being dispatched timely, when the train goes through this curve, a dueling illusion can be made between the guests' train and a train in the 540 degree helix.
After this turn, the trains pass under the second lift hill and its drop, making a slight hop, before making a left hand turn onto a bridge. A vista of the main ride and Phantom Manor can be seen as the trains travel along the river, make a slight right hand turn, and suddenly fall through a washed out section of trestle, where the on-ride camera is located. After splashing down in the water, the trains go around a turn on an unstable portion of trestle, enter one of the Big Thunder Mining Company's camps, and start their climb up the second lift hill. Anti-rollback dogs are installed on the turn to give off a noise that makes it seem like the trestle is creaking under the weight of the train.
As trains start up the lift hill, two tied down donkeys can be seen to the right of the track, braying at passing guests, with an empty watering pail in front of them. A goat can be seen pulling on a piece of clothing hanging on a clothesline to the riders' left, as the trains pass a parked steamroller and mine elevator, and travel under a water tower. Guests are also treated to views of Frontierland and Phantom Manor as the trains climb the lift hill.
At the top of the lift, it is possible to make out The Twilight Zone Tower of Terror at Walt Disney Studios Paris on the horizon before trains drop around a left turn and cross back under the lift hill. The prerecorded sound of screeching wheel flanges can be heard as trains go around the curve. As guests come out of the drop and go over another rise, they pass a sign warning of a broken trestle that is mounted to the water tower post (this warning sign can also be seen by sitting in the very back of the train and looking backwards while going up the lift hill). Cresting the rise, trains cross over the broken trestle and spiral down through a 540-degree counter-clockwise helix.
Exiting the helix, the trains pass through a short cave and go over a quick rise and drop as they shoot down a canyon. As the trains drop through the tunnel and pass over a trim brake, a loud gust of wind is heard. Trains then make a right hand turn on a trestle that seems to creak under the weight (again achieved through the use of anti-rollback dogs) into a tunnel with a sign reading "DANGER! T.N.T." over the portal, and climb the third lift hill.
As the train starts up the hill, an unseen miner's voice can be heard yelling "Fire in the hole!" After that, it becomes evident that the miners are dynamiting the cave the riders are going through, and the lights of blasting can be seen on both sides of the train. Midway up the lift hill, an earthquake hits. The tunnel seems in danger of collapsing. A lantern on the left hand side of the train starts swinging back and forth, while a lantern on the right hand side goes out. Animatronic rocks in the ceiling start shaking back and forth, struggling to break loose. The train is seemingly rocked back and forth by the shockwave, an effect achieved by slightly banking the track partway up the hill (noticeable by sitting in the back row and looking backwards). A vein of gold can be seen rushing out of the ceiling before the trains crest the lift hill, and pop out of the tunnel. Riders get a view out over Frontierland, as well as Space Mountain in Discoveryland off in the far distance, then crest a small rise, and drop onto a straightaway on the side of the water, speeding up as they head towards a tunnel portal. Trains pass into the tunnel and enter the return tunnel. Guests encounter a swarm of bats in the tunnel as trains make another sharp counter-clockwise turnaround and drop underwater. The trains continue to accelerate through the dark until suddenly making a rise and popping out of the exit portal on the mainland. Because of braking, the last few cars do not fully make it over the climb, so it is necessary to have a chain that propels the train to travel speed. The trains coast past the station, through the loading dock, and then turn around to reenter either station track.
Big Thunder Mountain in Paris can be considered to have four lift hills if one counts the chain that prevents trains from rolling back into the return underwater tunnel as a lift hill.
See also 
- Incidents at Disney parks
- List of current Disneyland attractions
- Magic Kingdom attraction and entertainment history
- Tokyo Disneyland attraction and entertainment history
- Big Grizzly Mountain Runaway Mine Cars
- Birnbaum's Disneyland Resort Official Guide 2003, pg. 65, (c) 2003 Disney Editions
- Interview with Imagineer Tony Baxter from 1995 http://www.pizarro.net/didier/_private/interviu/baxter.html
- Surrell, Jason. The Disney Mountains Imagineering at Its Peak, Disney Editions, New York, 2007. pp. 60-75.
- Surrell, Jason. The Disney Mountains Imagineering at Its Peak, Disney Editions, New York, 2007. pp. 67-69.
- Jim Fanning (2009). Disneyland Challenge. Disney Editions. p. 23. ISBN 978-1-4231-0675-3.
- "DISNEYLAND: Last chance for Big Thunder Mountain Railroad : Theme Parks". Blog.pe.com. 2013-01-04. Retrieved 2013-03-09.
- "Big Thunder Mountain Railroad | Frontierland Attractions | Disneyland Park". Disneyland.disney.go.com. 2013-01-07. Retrieved 2013-03-09.
- Surrell, Jason. The Disney Mountains Imagineering at Its Peak, Disney Editions, New York, 2007. p. 72.
|Wikimedia Commons has media related to: Big Thunder Mountain Railroad|
- Disneyland - Attraction Profile
- Magic Kingdom - Attraction Profile
- Tokyo Disneyland - Attraction Profile
- Disneyland Resort Paris - Attraction Profile
- Video footage from riders' POV