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Orange Bird Photo Hunt



Entries in Scale Models (21)


Big Thunder Mountain Model

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.


Related posts:

The Wonders of Nature's Wonderland [ PART 1 ]
The Wonders of Nature's Wonderland [ PART 2 ]
Buena Vista Street Model
Swiss Family Treehouse Model
Disneyland 1955 Model Close-ups
Mars and Beyond Robot


Mechanizing a Miniature Main Street Electrical Parade

We are excited to bring to you this stunning example of "Backyard Imagineering". Alex George, a reader of our blog, engineered a way to bring these miniature Main Street Electrical Parade floats to life. He also takes us on a behind-the-scenes look at his innovative two-year process.


Alex shares:

It was the fall of 2009 when I decided to mechanize a miniature Main Street Electrical Parade. I was collecting the Olszewski Main Street miniatures, including the Electrical Parade floats, when I thought how neat it would be to see the floats traveling down Main Street. I soon realized though, that simply moving the floats wouldn't be enough. There should be a sense of “show”, and so the parade would need to enter and exit Main Street to its musical score, then remain queued off stage until the next performance.

Thus began a two-year trek of attraction design and construction of miniature proportion. I'm an artist, not an engineer – so there was a lot of research needed to design the mechanics. I considered a number of ways to transport the floats using preexisting toy tracks and even motorized curtain rails, but ultimately I settled on a chain and sprocket system of my own design. Adding to the complexity was an electrical contact system to light the floats, and new computer-controlled LEDs that make the floats twinkle and cycle through designated colors.

The completed production resides in a low-sitting table which hides the mechanics as well as the parade when it's between shows. It's a lot of fun putting on the parade for guests, and even those who aren't dedicated Disneyland fans seem genuinely charmed by the show. In my own small way, I think I might know the pleasure felt by the creators of the actual parade when they saw their work enjoyed by audiences at Disneyland.

So take a glimpse at the Main Street Electrical Parade in Miniature, and check out the making-of short for highlights of how it came together.


The chain system

Adding building supports

Several mock ups of the road, made from painstaking measurements, ensured that the slot defining the parade path would be perfectly aligned with the chain below.

Partial landscaping

After months of testing, the wiring that powers the floats began to break from flexing. The chain has been pulled here, and completely refitted with a far more flexible wire specifically designed for robotics and animatronics. There are four wires: two for power and two for network communication to the LEDs.

A backstage view as the floats make their way up to Main Street.

More on the artist at: By George, I Think You've Got It.


A huge thanks to Alex George for contacting us with his spectacular achievement. This is the kind of thing that excites us to no end. Tell your friends!


Related posts:

Swiss Family Treehouse Model
Disneyland Skyway in Your Backyard?
Buena Vista Street Model
The Wonders of Nature's Wonderland [ PART 2 ]
Mars and Beyond Robot
Disneyland 1955 Model Close-ups
A Look at the Progress City Model- Then and Now



Mars and Beyond Robot

Take a look at my latest little side project. I set out to make a maquette of one of my favorite martians from Disney's 1957 "Mars and Beyond". 

Years ago my pal Hoot Gibson gave me this DVD set and ever since I've been hooked. From that first viewing of "Mars and Beyond" I fantasized about a Tomorrowland ride based on this Ward Kimball treasure. The DVD also shares other films with a style that would lend to a wonderful Tomorrowland makeover. Speaking of Hoot Gibson... you may know that he is a master sculptor. His stuff makes me cry of jealousy.

Our great Twitter followers have been watching some of the step-by-step process over the last couple weeks. Here are some more process photos.

Behind the Scenes

Some Sculpey and Super Sculpey plus wire framing.

Form, bake, sand.


Paint and clean.


Related posts:

Our Friend the Atom
Little Box of Treasures
Magic Highway U.S.A... It doesn't get much better than this.
A Look at the Progress City Model- Then and Now
Swiss Family Treehouse Model
Recreating the Pirates Jail Scene in Miniature
THEN AND NOW: MK Tomorrowland [Part 1] 
The Fantasy of Space Colony Living

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