8 Amazing Details Behind Big Thunder Mountain Railroad At Walt Disney World

Credit: Disney

8. Big Thunder Mountain Railroad is visually based on Monument Valley in Utah. (Seen in Stagecoach film) because the ride’s designer was inspired by a photo series in National Geographic.

7. You don’t see much of this ride from outside the mountain. Imagineers needed to make it look like the mountain was there way before the train was. They worked very hard to make it look like the rock formations have always been here and the miners came in and laid track on top of it. The ride is not like Splash Mountain that shows itself from many different points of view. One of the best viewpoints of BTMR is from the Liberty Belle River Boat that passes by it on the Rivers of America.

6. The queue brings more of the story of the Gold Rush out west, a tale of the American frontier, appropriately found in Frontierland. The lights flicker at night, like candles. As you enter the queue you see boxes of explosives used to open tunnels into the mine. Music you hear are old tunes such as “O My Darling Clementine”, “Red River Valley”, and “Home on the Range” to name just a few. There is a variety of interactive entertainment in the queue, but you rarely have time to enjoy them all and usually only half of the queue is ever open.  Look for the boxes with the company name: “Lytum & Hyde Explosives Company”. There are old tymie wind up “videos” to the right side of the queue. Look for a non-moving canary as you exit on the right side of unload. Try the blasting cranks or plungers on the left side.

5. Tony Baxter, the Disney Imagineer behind Big Thunder Mountain, created a story of a mountain near another town that struck it rich, but this mountain was thought by the locals to be guarded by something supernatural and it was cursed so it is best to stay away from it. It is believed that this was an ancient Indian burial ground. Anyone who entered the mountain for personal gain was usually cursed. The farther miners went inside the mountain, the more of them disappeared. They suffered from tunnels collapsing during sudden earthquakes and their town experienced a flash flood.

4. Soon the mine trains started running by themselves, without any human engineers on board. It brought visitors along the train tracks set in hope that the miners would have carloads of gold to transport out, but now it is bringing unsuspecting visitors into the cursed mountain. No gold was ever found. It becomes another ghost town dotting western America. Tony introduced the idea that the mine train would tell the story of the attraction. Walt Disney World would not only receive its first thrill ride through Big Thunder Mountain, but also a unique twist on telling the story of the attraction with the ride itself.

3. BTMR was put on hold due to the high interest in the country over Space travel. US astronauts had just landed on the moon and Disney wanted to capitalize on the energy created by this event. Space Mountain took over the building focus and marketing campaigns. Disneyland was in need of a thrill ride and wanted BTMR to be built there. After reducing the size of the attraction it was fit into an area in Disneyland formerly used as a train ride through nature.

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2. The town is Tumbleweed. It existed in the late 1800’s as a gold mining town. The atmosphere is supported by props such as kerosene lanterns, unpainted old buildings that lean against each other, cactus, buckets, barrels, cogs, and signs. Disney Imagineers visited ghost towns and antique stores, flea markets, wherever this old west stuff existed in the ‘70’s. They spent $300,000.00 on these props to help tell the story.

1. The ride takes you on a rollicking run-away train through bat caves, caverns, sulphur pools, a 30-foot geyser, under waterfalls, through a small town, under a Dinosaur skeleton’s rib cage, through caverns, keeping it true to its description of “the wildest ride in the wilderness!” Guests, like you and me, still visit Big Thunder Mountain to ride its haunted train even today.  The signs in Tumbleweed are pretty amusing, but hard to catch them when racing by on the train.  “D. Hydrate” and “U. Wither” run the dry goods shop nearby the “Gold Dust Saloon”. Ironically, the man in the bathtub seems to not notice any of the calamities occurring around him.

Attraction Details:

·       Ride is almost 3 ½ minutes long

·       40 inch height restriction

·       Up to 35mph in speed

·       Family ride

·       Names on the vehicles: U.R. Bold, U.R. Courageous, I.M. Brave, U.R. Daring, I.M. Fearless, I. B. Hearty

·       Sharp turns, runs fast, sudden drops and dips

·       630 tons of steel

·       4675 tons of “mud”

·       9,000 gallons of paint

·       900,000 gallons of water

·       $17 Million price tag (equals the cost of building Disneyland in 1955)

·       The buttes on the two-acre attraction measures up to 197-feet tall, making it the tallest “mountain” in Florida at the time it was built.

·       20 audio-animatronic figures: donkeys, Professor Cumulus Isobar (Rain maker), opossums, chickens and goats

Attraction Timeline:

·       18 months for construction

·       15 years in the planning stage

·       September 23, 1980-attraction soft opens in WDW

·       November  15, 1980 – official opening day

TIP: ride this later in the day after the track heats up the grease and it goes faster. Riding in the back is the most fun on this ride. The lighting at night makes it even more enjoyable and you can see the party going on upstairs in the saloon. Note: when boarding the person on the left side will likely slide into the person on the right side so seat accordingly to not squish the person riding with you.

About Cassie

Cassie L. I am a lifelong Disney fan. I attended Walt Disney World in 1971, and was there during the opening week of EPCOT, and have visited the Disney Parks for than 30 times. I have had the privilege of visiting Disneyland as a child, and then again with my children. My family recently moved from the northeastern United States to the Walt Disney World area. I now have cast members in my family and enjoy hearing the magical stories at the end of a shift. I love visiting all of the parks and getting to try more Disney food and being able to share it with you to help you plan your own magical day at Disney.