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Behind the Ride: Big Thunder Mountain Railroad

Never mine for gold on an ancient Indian ground. It’s Horror Movie 101. Somehow, the employees of Big Thunder Mining Company never got the memo, probably because the company’s owner, Barnabas T. Bullion, is pig-headed and entitled. His stubbornness causes an entire town to pay the price. Let’s go behind the ride to figure out where everything went wrong for the unfortunate souls who once lived at Big Thunder Mountain Railroad.

The experience: twin man-made mountains thousands of miles apart

The trick: picking an anti-pirate ride and building a mountain for it

Image: DisneyIn some alterative timeline, you’d never ride Big Thunder Mountain Railroad. Instead, you’d take a journey on Western River Expedition, which Imagineers projected as the Magic Kingdom response to Pirates of the Caribbean. Remember that the original plans for Walt Disney World oddly didn’t feature the globally-renowned attraction. Once guests clamored for it, Disney adapted.

During this chaotic time that lasted several years, legendary Disney employee Tony Baxter developed a different ride concept. He pitched a mine train ride that could solve two issues at once. At Disneyland, an attraction called Mine Train Through Nature's Wonderland had collapsed in popularity to the point that park planners downgraded it from E ticket to D ticket. Disney could repurpose this land for a mine train attraction.

At Magic Kingdom, the park had an open space in desperate need of an attraction. They’d intentionally not filled in the area around Frontierland in anticipation of later development. A man-made mountain would ably fill this void. The early designs for Big Thunder Mountain Railroad could satisfy pressing needs at Disney’s only two theme parks at the time.

Image: DisneySince Disneyland had a head start, the ride was fast-tracked and eventually opened there first. This park already had developed the space whereas Magic Kingdom started from scratch. Baxter took inspiration from several locations, most notably Bryce Canyon, Utah. He wanted to create a western-themed attraction that had a nice mix of mountainous terrain and landscaping style.

Baxter and his team built a masterful man-made mountain at Magic Kingdom. They didn’t use rock formations exclusively, either. When you look at the façade, you’re seeing 6,500 tons of steel, 4,000 gallons of paint, and 4,675 tons of a special mud Disney crafted just for this. There are also 90,000 gallons of water circulating throughout the area. It’s an impressive structure that soars 104 feet in the air.

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