After creating his own ‘runaway mine train’ attraction, Tony Baxter was approached by Disneyland Management to head the design team of the Big Thunder Railway attraction in Disneyland, as it desperately needed a ‘thrill’ attraction, as Magic Kingdom was getting Space Mountain.
The story of Big Thunder Mountain Railroad was loosely inspired by the real life legend of the allegedly cursed Superstition Mountain, in Eastern Phoenix, and the Lost Dutchman Mine that is home to an untold fortune of gold. According to the Apaches, the mine is protected by the Thunder God, who brings doom to any who attempt to pillage the gold.
Tony created the story mixing the two:
Gold was discovered in Big Thunder country in the 1850s, shortly after the Gold Rush began near John A. Sutter’s Mill in California, leading to the formation of the BTM Mining Company. But the locals believed Big Thunder Mountain and the land around it to be sacred, and a protective supernatural force dwelt deep within the mountain to protect it from anyone who might deface it in the pursuit of profit. At first, the mining operation went along without incident, but as the miners began using explosives to blast deeper and deeper into he unforgiving rock, and laying tracks for the mine train they’d use to retrieve its golden bounty, the mountains ancient fury was unleashed. Strange noises emanated from a newly opened mineshaft. The spirits of the long-dead miners could be heard tapping on the boarded walls of abandoned tunnels. Cave-ins became common occurrences. And then the narrow-gauge engines began rolling out of the station with no human hands at the controls. Entire trains, most times packed with unsuspecting passengers, would race driverless, at breakneck speed, along the spiraling steel and perhaps the locals were right all along. Maybe the mountain—and their mine—was cursed. They abandoned their posts, the BTM Mining Company went bust, and soon Big Thunder became just another ghost town dotting the Old West.
After being approached by Disneyland Management, he had to ‘flip’ the footprint of the attraction, as the attraction in Disneyland is on the opposite end of Rivers of America, than in the Magic Kingdom (where he originally planned for the attraction to go). Also moving the attraction to Disneyland meant that he had to make a more ‘fantasy-like’ mountain structure as the attraction was located in Frontierland, but was also within 25-feet of Fantasyland. While researching for locations to replicate, he came across pictures of Bryce Canyon in Utah. He fount it fitting that one of the pictures was captioned, “So beautiful, you’d think Walt Disney made it.” Tony immediately knew what he was going to do.
Once in Disneyland, the attraction was to be replacing the existing attraction Mine Train Through Nature’s Wonderland.
Replacing Mine Train Through Natures Wonderland, Big Thunder Mountain began running in a soft open on September 2, 1979, and officially opening two weeks later on September 15, 1979.
As with most attractions that replace others, this attraction features a few tributes to the past attraction. 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 Mine Train through Nature's Wonderland. Many of the animal animatronics throughout the attraction are animatronic animals from 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.
Onto the various Pics and Pins of Big Thunder Mountain of Disneyland!
As you can see, one of the most portrayed scenes in the attraction is the Goat eating the dynamite. Why do you think that scene is so popular? Let us know why. Or if you have another favorite portion of the attraction let us know.