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Big Thunder Mountain Railroad
Big Thunder Mountain Railroad

Opened

November 15, 1980

Land

Frontierland

Designer

WED Enterprises

Manufacturer

Vekoma

Vehicle capacity

45

Ride length

3:26

Length

2,780 ft. (847.3 m)

Maximum speed

30 mph (48.3 km/h)

Height requirement

40" (102 cm)

Big Thunder Mountain Railroad (or for short Big Thunder Mountain or just Big Thunder) is an indoor/outdoor mine train roller coaster located in Frontierland at the Magic Kingdom at Walt Disney World. Big Thunder Mountain Railroad is also the name of the fictional rail line the roller coaster depicts.

Theme[]

Some time in the late 1800s, gold was discovered on Big Thunder Mountain in the American southwest. Overnight, the small mining town of Tumbleweed became a thriving mining town. Mining was prosperous, and an extensive line of mine trains was set up to transport the ore. Unknown to the settlers, the mountain was a sacred spot to local Native Americans and was cursed.

Before long, the settlers' desecration of the mountain caused a flash flood to befall 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.

Keeping in time with the theme, the station buildings are designed to look as though they are the abandoned offices of a mining company from the mid to late 19th century. The mountain itself is themed to the red rock formations of the American Southwest. The rock work designs are based on the rising buttes that are located in Utah and Arizona's Monument Valley.

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, unlike a number of earlier mine rides, which were built the other way around (by sculpting the rocks around the tracks). The action of the ride takes place completely in the sagging, rotting tunnels of the mountain. In contrast to most steel roller coasters, where the thrills come from the perception of flying through open air, 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 operation are piped into the surrounding scenery to add realism to guests viewing the ride from observation platforms, including the steam whistle sounding, even though there is no whistle displayed on the locomotives.

History[]

Big Thunder Mountain Railroad was designed by Imagineer Tony Baxter and ride design engineer Bill Watkins. The concept came from Baxter's work on fellow Imagineer Marc Davis's concept for the Western River Expedition, a western-themed pavilion at the Magic Kingdom, designed to look like an enormous plateau and contain many rides, including a runaway mine train roller coaster. However, because the pavilion as a whole was deemed too expensive in light of the 1973 construction and opening of Pirates of the Caribbean, Baxter proposed severing the mine train and building it as a separate attraction.

The Big Thunder Mountain Railroad project was put on hold again in 1974 as resources and personnel were being diverted to work on constructing Space Mountain over in Tomorrowland, but this delay may have ultimately produced a smoother ride as the use of computers in attraction design was just beginning when the project was resumed. Big Thunder Mountain Railroad was one of the first Disney rides to utilize computer-aided design.

Attraction Description[]

Upon entering the queue, guests make their way up the hillside past old mining equipment to the station building. Once inside, the queue snakes through the upper level of the two-level station where guests can view a panorama of the ride. The queue then travels down a gradual ramp, switches back, and reaches the loading station. After a wait, guests enter the 30-45 passenger trains. On the signal of a flashing green lantern at the head end of the platform, the train is clear to leave the station.

Leaving the station, the trains immediately enter a dark tunnel and make a tight left hand turn. After a short straightaway during which the sounds of bats can be heard, the trains make a slight right hand turn and climb the first lift hill. A series of caverns can be seen on the right hand side of the lift hill track. At the top, once again, it slows down and riders make a drop away to the left, before making a right hand turn and going over two hops while passing under the second lift hill and second lift hill drop. It is typical to make a flyby with another train during this section.

After going under the second lift hill drop (which is a point where it may be possible to see the riders on another train), the trains make a tight downwind spiral to the right into a short tunnel. Emerging from the tunnel, riders find themselves in the abandoned town of Tumbleweed. The Walt Disney World Railroad's track can be seen to the right of the guests. While passing through Tumbleweed, the track goes through several bunny hops, and the train seems to sway from side to side. The swaying is achieved by banking the track slightly. On the left, riders see the wagon of Professor Cumulus Isobar, whose rainmaking machine works too well, and a party being held on the second floor of the flooded saloon. On the right, one sees a remaining resident spinning around in a floating bathtub. In the early years of the ride, the floodwaters in Tumbleweed were much more torrential than they are today.

After Tumbleweed, the trains pass through a short tunnel called Dave V Jones Mine, make a left hand turn, and climb the second lift hill. At the top, the train slows down and the riders drop away to the left and cross back under the lift hill as the trains rise up into a 540 degree downhill helix to the left, before going over another airtime hill before dropping back down. The trains make a right hand turn into a tunnel, and climb the third lift hill. An earthquake is in progress and the rocks seem ready to crush and bury the train. In the early years of the ride, the tunnel exit seemed to collapse with falling rocks. Cresting the lift hill, the trains slow down and exit out into the daylight, and drop away to the left heading for the Rivers of America, before they make a left hand turn through a short tunnel, crossing back over the drop, and then drop away to the right through the boneyard and geysers before hitting the final brake run and returning to the station.

Sources & External Links[]

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