Big Thunder Mountain Railroad

Big Thunder Mountain Railroad opened at the Magic Kingdom in 1980, and has proven to be an enduring favorite. For many young visitors to the park, it will be their first experience of riding a large-scale roller coaster, albeit one that is relatively mild in terms of thrills. Originally conceived as part of a major expansion to the Magic Kingdom's Frontierland that would also have included a boat ride and other attractions, Big Thunder Mountain was actually built at Disneyland first (opening in 1979). The larger version at the Magic Kingdom followed a year later, as a standalone ride rather than as part of the originally-planned Western River Expedition area. The storyline revolves around Big Thunder Mountain itself, where miners discovered gold back in the late 1800s. This caused the town of Tumbleweed to boom, with mine trains being installed to transport the ore. Superstitious locals claim that the mine is protective of the gold it holds within, and that anyone attempting to mine its riches will fail. And indeed, the mine has been plagued by natural disasters. Yet the Big Thunder Mining Co. continues to operate - but runaway trains are a major hazard. The next time you take "the wildest ride in the wilderness", look out for these 20 hidden secrets!

20. The fire chief

Ray Colburn

Image via Firehouse.com

In front of Big Thunder Mountain Railroad sits a drinking fountain. A crate sat next to this is marked to be shipped to Fire Chief W. Ray Colburn. Colburn was the actual fire chief of the Reedy Creek Fire Department, which serves Walt Disney World.

19. Not just rock


Despite its appearance, Big Thunder Mountain is not made entirely of rock. It was created using 6,500 tons of steel, 4,675 tons of specially-formulated "mud", 90,000 gallons of water and 4,000 gallonsof paint.

18. A sprawling mountain


The attraction sits on a 2.5 acre site, and reaches a height of around 104 feet. It is not the tallest structure in the Magic Kingdom, though - it is shorter than Cinderella Castle.

17. Antiques


Look out for some real antique mining equipment strewn around the Big Thunder Mountain site. This includes an old ball mill used to extract gold from ore, an ore-hauling wagon and an ore crusher.

16. The ride that never was

Western River ExpeditionThe Magic Kingdom originally opened in 1971, with a large space being left next to Frontierland for future expansion. This was to be occupied by the Western River Expedition, designed by Imagineering legend Marc Davis. This was designed to occupy a new sub-land in Frontierland, Thunder Mesa, along with a mine train-themed roller coaster (sound familiar?). The attraction would have been hosted in an enormous Thunder Mesa show building, with guests entering a nighttime scene in a giant canyon. They would then board Pirates of the Caribbean-style boats before going on a cruise around recreated scenes of the Wild West. The Western River Expedition was due to be added to the Magic Kingdom as its first expansion project. However, when the park opened, guests demanded a version of Disneyland's Pirates of the Caribbean. This was built instead, although Big Thunder Mountain Railroad did eventually emerge as the mine train roller coaster featured in the Thunder Mesa plans. Look for tributes to the Western River Expedition in the queue line. Crates of explosives, for example, are labeled as "Western River Explosives".

15. The boss

Barnabus T. Bullion
Image © Disney

Look out for a portrait of Barnabas T. Bullion, founder and president of the Big Thunder Mining Company. This is actually an image of Imagineer Tony Baxter, the driving force behing the creation of Big Thunder Mountain. Big Thunder Mountain Portrait

Image © Disney

Look out for an impressive portrait of Big Thunder Mountain, too, as you pass through the queue line

14. The paymaster

Take a look at the payscale posted in the Mining Office. Notice that it was posted by the foreman, G. Willikers.

13. A mirror image

Big Thunder Mountain Railroad (7)

Image: Sam Howzit

The track layout of Big Thunder Mountain Railroad at the Magic Kingdom is virtually a mirror image of the Disneyland original. However, the Magic Kingdom's mountain is actually 25 percent larger than Disneyland's.

12. The Mining Office

As you pass through the Mining Office, taking a look at the miners' schedules.

11. High explosives


Image © Disney

The queue passes through the Explosives Magazine Room. Follow the instructions for the cranks and plungers to trigger some explosions on the mountain itself.


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