35 years ago today, Disneyland's Big
Thunder Mountain Railroad officially opened the public. And the very first
Guests were then able to climb aboard the I.M. Brave & U.R. Daring for the
"Wildest Ride in the Wilderness." Zooming along 2,780 feet of track
at speeds that sometime reached 35 miles per hour!
Mind you, back in 1979, there was no Internet or Cast Portals. So when it came
time to educate the thousands of Cast Members who worked in Anaheim
about what a Big Thunder Mountain Railroad project actually entailed, the
Imagineers were forced to use carousel slide projectors and reel-to-reel tape
So what was it like to sit in on one of these
Cast-Member-Only informational session? What follows is the script that Disney
Legend Jack Wagner read back in the late Fall of 1978 for the Big Thunder
Mountain Railroad presentation. Please note that -- due to unforeseen construction delays -- this
Frontierland attraction's opening date got pushed from Late Spring of 1979 to
Late Summer of that same year.
Copyright Disney Enterprises, Inc. All rights reserved
Big Thunder is scheduled to open late this Spring after
nearly two years of construction which began in 1977. Although the concept for
the attraction originated back in 1972. Originally, the Big Thunder site was
the location of an earlier attraction known as Nature' Wonderland. Part of
which will be kept to become the Big Thunder Trail, a scenic walkway which will
enable our Guests to visit our newest and largest area of expansion.
This aerial view shows the Big Thunder site in relation to New
Orleans Square. Which -- with its Pirates of the Caribbean
-- is a high capacity audience generating area. Big Thunder was put in this
particular spot to provide a balance to the other side of the Park. Which has Space
Mountain and the Matterhorn,
also popular Guest areas. And to provide our Guests with an alternative way to
move out of the area other than through the Adventureland / Frontierland Hub entrances.
When Walt Disney World was designed, we had a concept called
Thunder Mesa. Which was a composite of five or six Frontierland attractions.
This is the very first drawing of what eventually became the Thunder Mesa
project in Florida. From this crude
drawing, a structural steel and track layout model was constructed.
Because it is a gravity ride, it's very important to know
what the curve and elevation of the track is in order to make sure that the
trains arrive back at crucial points with enough forward motion to get through
the attraction. Carefully laying out this track model told us exactly what we
needed to know about the ride from a computer and energy standpoint.
Now we needed a look for the area. In Florida,
where everything is green, we felt very good about a Monument
Valley motif and dry Western
scenery was a very exciting concept for the Florida
park. But here at Disneyland, we found Bryce
Canyon ideally suited for the
inspirational qualities that we were looking for. And so a scale model was
built. From this model, we went into texturing panels for the actual exterior
rockwork. Big Thunder has the most elaborate rock texture and shape formation
that has ever been attempted.
These forms were all constructed in the backlot at Disneyland.
A gridwork of half inch squares was drawn over the model and it was cut into
one inch slices. This grid was then duplicated in full scale here at the Park,
providing exact placement for each piece of rock. Iron was then bent into the
proper form and put together in formation. This was then filled in with bent
& folded rebar, giving us control over what our shapes are going to look
like. The next step in the rock-making process was to cover the steel forms
with wire mesh called lath from which the different forms of rockwork were
constructed. Finally a concrete substance similar to that used in
swimming pools was poured over the rockwork to give it its rough texture.
Copyright Disney Enterprises, Inc.All rights reserved
At the same time, the Disney Design & Development teams
were developing the Big Thunder Train. This will be the first time that
anything other than a roller coaster car has been run over a roller coaster
track. A lot of engineering problems had to be worked out in taking a heavy
piece of equipment like this on a rip-roaring ride. And so a test track was
built at WED, the design arm of Walt Disney Productions. Enabling them to check
such things as stress factors and brakes.
This is a typical brake section. And here is one of the
greatest devices that the engineers have come up with. It's called a linear
motor and works on a magnetic flux system. It forms the basis of our
PeopleMover drive in Florida.
This will be the first time it will be employed on a roller coaster attraction.
And it's not only capable of braking the train and adjusting its speed but is
also able to reverse it. And there are no moving parts that can wear out. The
train is actually pulled from one magnet to the next by a series of these
units. Here we have the control panel, which works on a fail-safe system. This
automatically monitors all of the ride vehicles and takes appropriate action
ranging from closing a door to stopping all cars if any problem occurs.
These are dynamite experts and they are trying out our
blasting apparatus for the technicians. They form one of our show scenes at the
top of our one-and-only outside lift. This fellow is enjoying a luncheon of
dynamite sticks while the other critters are sampling the blasting equipment in
our blasting shaft.
Meanwhile, our Magic crew has been hard at work dreaming up
some dazzling effects. Like our new generation phosphorescence pools. Some of
you may remember this effect in the original mine train. This time, we'll be
dropping water out of the ceiling in a splashing type motif down into the pool.
And as this happens, we'll get a radiation multi-color dissolve from one color
to the next. At the top of the lift, we're inundated by a waterfall that
completely evolves the train.
But the climax of the attraction is a thundering earthquake.
This is probably the most exciting lift sequence that anyone's ever tried on a
roller coaster show.
Last summer, we gained a new peak at Disneyland
which was been growing since that time. Here is the full-sized version of the
model that we started out with. This structure is a winch tower which carries
the car up to the top of the exterior lift. This is the abandoned mine entrance
to the avalanche earthquake effect. As the scaffolding begins coming down, we
patch our holes and paint them and move down one more layer.
We found a way to relocate the little town left over from
the original attraction. And about 13 or 14 of the original cast will be back
for an encore performance. These are being decorated today with new graphics.
In order to age the buildings, we have a secret formula that we spray on the
building. It turns a brand-new structure into something that looks like it's
been at Disneyland for more than 25 years.
From the Studio, a cast of extras was borrowed. This little
engine appeared in "Hot Blood Cold Feet
," a feature that was out last
summer and will now be used to dress up our queue line show. We scoured the
whole West collecting authentic mine carts, stamping mills, hydraulic engines
and various other equipment to give the attraction its finished look.
In designing Big Thunder, we wanted to create a feeling for
a brand-new land concept in the northern portion of the Park. Hopefully this
sign will come down in late Spring this year and Big Thunder Mountain Railroad
will open to the public.
In keeping with our long-standing policy of continued
development, Disneyland's 10 year master plan calls for the production of two
brand-new areas: First the Dumbo Circus area, which will fill in the area
between Small World and the Big Thunder construction site.
The highlight of this area will be a Dumbo Circus show on
the scale of Pirates of the Caribbean casting all of our
Disney characters in circus roles. We'll pass through the side show, the clown
tents and then on to the Big Top for a big finale in conjunction with the Pink
Elephant sequence from the Dumbo
Another attraction that might go into the Dumbo Circus would
have a Pinocchio
theme and be a little larger than the scale of our current
Snow White and Peter Pan attractions. This is an overview of the Dumbo Circus
area. On the left you see the entrance to the Dumbo attraction as a
centerpiece, Pinocchio on the right and straight ahead we have a balloon flight
which will link us to the other themed area, Discovery
"What's a Discovery
Bay?," you ask. Come back tomorrow
and I'll share news about an event that promises to give you an in-depth look
at this never-built land that was supposed have been constructed along the
north corner of Disneyland's Rivers of America Discovery
Bay where the Indian Village
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People often think Disneyland's Petrified tree is the oldest item at Disneyland, but in doing Big Thunder I selected over 100 tons of mine tailings from a real gold and silver mine to be used at Big Thunder. The layed up stone walls were made up of it in the Q line, and I believe are the oldest treasures at Disneyland.
I worked at the Park in 1979, and after work from the Tahitian Terrace, CM were invited (used?) as guinea pigs for BTMR...bit it sure was fast back then, they defiantly toned down the speed.