We've got lots of Big Thunder Mountain Railroad love for everyone. This marvelous 1/4" = 1' scale model can be seen in the lobby of the "Frontierland Tower" at the Disneyland Hotel. It's the wildest model in the wilderness!
Big Thunder Mountain Railroad Origins
Young Imagineer Tony Baxter had recently worked on the install of some Magic Kingdom Fantasyland attractions prior to Walt Disney World opening. He landing work in the model shop and was working with Marc Davis on plans for Thunder Mesa and Western River Expedition. The area would have included a train ride and a very elaborate boat ride sometimes explained as “Cowboys of the Caribbean” or “Pirates of the Caribbean with Cowboys and Indians”.
Rising 1970s gas prices, lower-than-desired park attendance, and guests expecting a pirate ride ultimately led to the management-promoted idea of axing Marc Davis’ Western River Expedition and the entire Thunder Mesa complex in favor of Pirates of the Caribbean at a fraction of the cost.
Baxter himself was not very happy with the current state of his mine train ride concept. “It has no story, no theme. It’s just a train rolling across a hillside, nothing more.” The train wasn’t very thrilling until later in the ride. Baxter pitched to executives his ideas of a bat-infested cave, an earthquake, and a more thrilling experience starting from the beginning of the ride. Card Walker told Baxter to start work on a stand-alone E-Ticket runaway train thriller, independent of Marc Davis’ project.
Meanwhile the concept of Space Mountain was becoming more and more attractive to Magic Kingdom management. America had recently landed on the moon, people were more interested in space flight than the Old West, and the park needed its first “thrill”. Space Mountain became top priority amongst Imagineers at W.E.D. Space Mountain opened in January 1975 at Walt Disney World. Shortly after construction started on an entire Space Mountain complex at Disneyland which opened in May of 1977.
Everyone in both parks had thrill fever– guests and management alike. Disneyland management had grown tired of Frontierland’s great Mine Train Thru Nature’s Wonderland and it’s high maintenance costs. They wanted yet another thrill. Tony Baxter’s mine train now had new potential. Would his Florida concept fit in MTTNW’s location? Plans were “flipped” and the more-fitting rock style of Utah’s Bryce Canyon National Park was selected. The style was to allow for a nice transition between this part of Frontierland and the very nearby Fantasyland.
Disneyland’s Big Thunder Mountain Railroad opened September 1979. The name “Big Thunder” came from a large waterfall in Mine Train Thru Nature’s Wonderland. Magic Kingdom wanted a thrill for its west side and debuted their Big Thunder Mountain Railroad in November of 1980.
I, for one, love the Big Thunders. They are very well crafted, have great layouts, a touch of thrill without being obnoxious, and are super immersive. As nice as it would be to ride Mine Train Thru Nature's Wonderland (it was like three time larger in footprint than its replacement) Big Thunder Mountion wonderful. It lacks a lot of the "nature" of Nature's Wonderland and it's difficult to watch any animal for more than a few seconds (many of which were originally in Nature's Wonderland!). It lacks that charming ride narration and the ride ends much much sooner than the original but really it's a gem.