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How did Disneyland Cast Members learn about the Big Thunder Mountain Railroad project back in 1979?

How did Disneyland Cast Members learn about the Big Thunder Mountain Railroad project back in 1979?

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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 recorders.

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.


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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.


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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.


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All rights reserved

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.


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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.


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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 film.

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 Bay.


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"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 now stands.

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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.

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