"Hang onto your hats and glasses, folks, cause this here's the wildest ride in the wilderness!"
Although Big Thunder Mountain Railroad opened in September 23, 1980; it's Grand Opening took place on this day in history, November 15, 1980.
I was just 11 when I first experienced Big Thunder Mountain Railroad in the summer of '81 and it definitely made an impression on me. I adored the ride and still do today. While it's not considered by most to be a high intensity roller coaster, it suits me just fine.
Located in at the far end of Frontierland, past Splash Mountain, Big Thunder Mountain Railroad is a wonderfully themed coaster. Guests board ore cars in the headquarters of the Big Thunder Mining Company for a 3 1/2 minute journey through scenery reminiscent of Arizona's Monument Valley. Throughout the attraction you will see caves, a waterfall, big horned sheep, dinosaur bones, an abandoned mining town, and sulfur pools. Speeds can read 24-30 miles per hour and if you are sitting in your mine car by yourself, the centrifugal force as you round the turns will pull you from one side to the other. As an added bonus, if you ride in the late afternoon the ride is supposedly faster because the grease on the track has heated up allowing less friction between the wheels and the rails. While I can't attest to the speed, I can say the back cars do experience a great deal more whipping action around the turns. In addition, Big Thunder Mountain Railroad is beautiful at night. Be sure to ride after dark if you have the chance.
Like most Disney attractions, there is a backstory. The backstories fascinate me and adds an additional layer of theming to the visual and auditory experience. The story goes that some time in the late 1800s, gold was discovered on Big Thunder Mountain in the American southwest. Overnight, the small town of Tumbleweed became a booming mining town. Mining was prosperous, and an line of mine trains was set up to transport the ore. Unknown to the settlers, the Mountain was sacred to local Native Americans and was cursed. Before long, the settlers' desecration of the mountain caused a great flash flood, which destroyed 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.
I amazed how realistic the rock structure appears. 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. The action of the ride takes place completely in and around the tunnels of the mountain. 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 are piped into the surrounding scenery to add realism to guests, including the steam whistle sounding, even though there is no whistle on the locomotives.
Throughout the attraction you can hear old west songs like Big Rock Candy Mountain, Blue Tail Fly, Red River Valley, Oh My Darling Clementine, among others.
- The names of the six trains are: U.B. Bold, U.R. Daring, U.R. Courageous, I.M. Brave, I.B. Hearty and I.M. Fearless.
- During construction, workers used 6,500 tons of steel beams, rods and mesh, 4,675 tons of concrete, 90,000 gallons of water and 4,000 gallons of desert paint
- There are 20 Audio-animatronics throughout the attraction including chickens, donkeys, possums, a goat, a resident in his long-johns spinning through the flood in a bathtub, and a rainmaker named Professor Cumulus Isobar.
- Three rusty gears laying on the grass as you enter the station form a Hidden Mickey.
- The main butte is 197.6 feet above sea level and 100 feet above ground.
|Big Thunder Mountain Railroad, circa early '80s|