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Yee Haw! - 40 years of 'Big Thunder Mountain Railroad'!

Figments Friend

Well-Known Member
Original Poster
Today, September 2nd, is the 40th Anniversary of Disneyland's 'Big Thunder Mountain Railroad'.

My what a wild ride it's been...!

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Here is a fun thread to share photos and memories of this fabulous Attractions humble beginnings, and long history.


Starting things off with a look at what started it all -
The very first concept sketch by Tony Baxter of what was to become ' Big Thunder Mountain Railroad'
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That young, freshly appointed Model Shop Imagineer suggested turning a rather mundane 'mine train moving causally through some rolling hills' for the then planned Western River Expedition expansion concept into a thrill ride.
His ideas impressed the top brass at the Company, and that humble model maker was suddenly now a Attraction Designer.
History would prove he went on to create some of the most famous E-Ticket Attractions for Disney Theme Parks.

Here's a photo of that young fellow working on a early model for 'Big Thunder ' in the early 1970s -

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Another image of Tony working with his mentor Claude Coats and another gent on the large model for the planned Disneyland Attraction -

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Next up, here is a rare shot of the large sign placed in front of the former 'Mine Train Through Natures Wonderland' Attraction at Disneyland Park before construction began -

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Up next -
Cool construction photos and more gold nuggets!
So hang on to your hats.....
Yee haw!


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Figments Friend

Well-Known Member
Original Poster
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Before I share the construction photos, it seems fitting to share more images of the creation process involved prior to the build.
So here are a few images related to that.

First up, this drawing done by Tony Baxter in the mid 1970s of a early view of the Attraction -

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Next, another concept piece by Tony, this time showing how the planned Attraction could look in the 'wilderness' setting of Disneyland's Frontierland.


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Fun Fact - Disneyland's 'Big Thunder' opened first, but was the second version designed.
Walt Disney World's version, that opened a year later in 1980, was Tony's original intent.
Disneyland Managment was so keen on the idea of a themed roller coaster at the time that development was moved forward at a brisk pace to open the Attraction in Anaheim first.
:)
There was a need felt at the time to compete with Knott's and other recently opened local 'coasters'.



After working things out on paper, it's time to move onto models....and 'Big Thunder Mountain Railroad" had some beautifully made ones.

Here are a pair of images from a Disney publication showing the main large scale model being worked on -

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A replica of this model is on display in the lobby of the 'Frontierland' building of the Disneyland Hotel in a massive glass case.
Stop by and check it it sometime the next time you are in the area!
Amazing model -

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TINKWINGS

Well-Known Member
Thanks FigmentsFriend for that very in depth accounting of BTMRR origins. Well done! I have that second drawing by Tony hanging in my family room! BTMRR is my favorite ride ever at WDW and I simply must admit its number one on my bucket list when I finally get to visit DLR. Love the immersive theming.......recently was down in a actual mine tour and my son mentioned he thought I might like that because it reminded me of BTM. Started humming "ol Betsy" right off..... :happy::angelic: Noted replica model at DL Hotel added to bucket list,
 

D.Silentu

Well-Known Member
Happy Birthday to my favorite of the Disneyland range! The ride is a top three at Disneyland for me, thanks to its phenomenal theming and well designed track that really sells all of the twists and dips. There is a great sense of pacing too, with the ride being neatly separated into acts. It's the kind of thing that only Imagineers used to be able to do. It feels like a journey that takes you away into the frontier, thanks to great control of sightlines. We lost a bit of that with Galaxy's Edge and I can't wait for those surrounding trees to grow up.

Over the years most changes to the ride have been for the best. I don't miss the bright yellow color of the boxcars and love their newer more realistic shade. Altering the cave in to the dynamiting sequence is perhaps the best attraction enhancement I've ever seen. Even the ADA additions have been well done. Still, I wouldn't mind seeing the glowing eyes in the cave return. Even so, Big Thunder is one of the best Disney has ever done and it's not showing its age a bit. So let's keep our eyes on the goat for the next forty.
 
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TP2000

Well-Known Member
Thank you @Figments Friend for not letting this anniversary pass by unnoticed. Big Thunder Mountain is truly one of Disneyland's great E Tickets, and was the capstone of a three-year coaster craze at Disneyland that ushered in a new era. (Space Mountain '77, Matterhorn Upgrades '78, Big Thunder '79)

What I've always found interesting is that the ride opened on Labor Day weekend, at the end of summer. Particularly back then, fall was a very slow time of year for Disneyland and they were closed on Mondays/Tuesdays from September thru November. When Disneyland opened new rides back then, they always opened in May or June to kick off the busy summer.

I've always wondered what happened to the construction timeline to cause the unusual September opening.

And I can only imagine the drama that would have surrounded that odd September opening if the Internet had been around in 1979. 🤣
 
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TP2000

Well-Known Member
Here's a cool TV ad from 1979.

Big Thunder Mountain's ad campaign included the late 1970's tagline "It could only happen at Disneyland!", which they had used in their marketing for several years by that point.

Note the "Open Wed. Thru Sun." line at the end, as the park was only open five days a week back then. :eek:

 

Figments Friend

Well-Known Member
Original Poster
Here are some more gold nuggets I dug up from my photo collection...including some very cool construction photos, as promised -

Construction at Disneyland -

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The peaks reach their zenith, while the little shack that runaway trains will soon race through gets its wooden frames in place -

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A view of the train station under construction -


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The 'topping off' of the largest peak of 'Tony's Mountain' ( aka 'Big Thunder Mountain Railroad ), which was a major event for it's designer.
Tony has talked in the past about this day, and how his Dad was there to see it happen.
It was then and there his father finally understood the scope of his sons' creative work.


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Another view during construction -


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Figments Friend

Well-Known Member
Original Poster
More gems -

The designer himself, Tony Baxter, peeking out of the explosives shack located on the second lift hill during it's construction.
Over the years I have referred to this building as 'Tony's Shack' due to this humourous photo -

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As a point of reference as to where this shack is, here is how it appears in relation to other elements to give you a sense of its location.
I really do miss that tree line view.......

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One month after the Attraction opened, WED and MAPO Cast were invited to attend a special 'Big Thunder Night' at Disneyland Park.
Here is a look at a promotional flyer for that event held on October 2nd, 1979 -

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Disneyland Guide Map promoting the Attraction, from 1979 -

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Really cool promotional button -

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Figments Friend

Well-Known Member
Original Poster
Still more golden treasures dug forth -
( can you tell this is one of my favorite Attractions...?)



One the very first families to ride 'Big Thunder Mountain' in 1979 shortly before opening to the public

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" Two trains, two tracks....Yee haw!"


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Photo below -

A man and his mountain.
So much more then just 'a train ride"....this Attraction was a defining moment in Tony's personal journey.

This photo, from the back page of the Imagineering focused book 'Disney's Mountains', means a lot to me.
I remember the day I first saw this image, and took a good look and said to myself 'someday, I am going to meet that man and maybe ride 'Big Thunder' with him'.
And that happened, some years later.

Dreams really do come true at Disneyland...for REAL!

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A stunning portrait of this themed masterpiece under ambient lighting -


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