Big Thunder Mountain Railroad is set in the American Southwest and follows the same general runaway train experience, though with varying back-stories and geological structure.
During the Gold Rush in the late 1800's, gold was discovered in Big Thunder Mountain and boomtowns sprung up nearby accordingly such as Rainbow Ridge (Disneyland), Tumbleweed and Dry Gulch (Magic Kingdom) and Thunder Mesa (Disneyland Paris). A Mine Train system was established to transport the ore, but what the settlers didn't count on was that Big Thunder was sacred ground for local Indian tribes. The spirit of Big Thunder was not pleased with the gold being removed from the mountain and the towns and mining company suffered accidents from flooding (Magic Kingdom) and earthquakes (Disneyland, Disneyland Paris). The trains themselves began operating on their own, possessed by mischievous spirits. Though the towns promptly became abandoned when adventurous visitors still arrived to ride the haunted trains.
When the scrapped Discovery Bay project was being developed by Tony Baxter, a storyline was developed for Big Thunder Mountain that was never heard until a D23 conference.
The highly imaginative tale includes the legend of a young inventor, named Jason Chandler, who lived in a town called International Village during the peak gold rush years in the Big Thunder region-circa 1849. According to the chronicles, “…the young inventor devised a drilling machine with the capability of boring into the very heart of Big Thunder Mountain. There, the veins of gold ran so deep, it was rumored they could produce a mother lode that would bring a man enough wealth to last a hundred lifetimes and more.
But a cave-in occurred on Big Thunder, burying 26 miners alive. They would have drawn their last breath then and there, had it not been for the inven¬tor and his laughable drilling machine. He burrowed down into the Earth’s core, rescuing the miners from certain death. It should have been a moment of joy and celebra¬tion, but as the men scrambled to the arms of safety, a massive earthquake shook the ground and a cavernous maw opened up, swallowing the inventor and his machine whole. “The miners, as well as the citizens of the village, struggled day and night against the mountain, trying to dig the young man from his living tomb. But they never saw him, or another nugget of gold, again. Big Thunder had taken its vengeance not only on the miners, but on their wealth as well. The mountain had gone bust, and it became just a matter of time before only ghosts resided there.
Another story popped up in a book known as "The Miner Details of Big Thunder Mountain." In it was a story on how a clumsy miner named Sam experienced the haunted train ride by accidentally falling in one of it's cargo crates.
Things got mighty busted up and rusted down inside Big Thunder, so Sam told me while sluggin’ from a dusty bottle of Old Imagineer. He was the last prospector inside that mine. Fact is, poor old Sam took a spill and done landed belly up in one of them ore cars. Next thing he knows, the car takes off like a skinny coyote after a plump hen! Off he went, a headin’ fer the mine. Seems like that old ghost mine came to life for Sam. He swears the rusted winch engine was a pumpin’ and a wheezin’ and just when he was thinkin’ he must have bats in his belfry, there was bats! Then he sat up to see what he could see in the dark, and there was pools of rainbow water and waterfalls, and plenty of them rocks the schoolmarm calls “stalactites and stalagmites.”
The walls of the canyon kept comin’ in closer and closer at old Sam and he yelled until he couldn’t yell no more. All of a sudden, the car thunders into a pitch dark tunnel, with Sam holdin’ on fer dear life. Comin’ back out the other side, he spots a couple a danged skunks foolin’ with blastin’ powder, like to blow the top off a whole derned mountain! Little ways away, danged if’n there ain’t a Billy goat chawin’ on a stick of the stuff! But Sam didn’t have no time to worry about that, ‘cuz next thing he knows he’s whip-pin’ down Spiral Butte and headin’ right back down into Big Thunder Mine. Sam figgered he was goin’ in and never comin’ out this time, with all that rumblin’ and shakin’ and rocks comin’ down all around him. He closed his eyes tight but the next thing ya know he was outside and high-ballin’ down on the track again, right over the Bear River Trestle Bridge. That ore car finally squealed to a stop right smack dab in the middle of Big Thunder Town. Sam just sat up, brushed off the dust and said, “I ain’t had this much of a whoop and a holler since the Grub Gang hit town. I just barely got out with my hide!”
Professor Cumulus Isobar
In both Disneyland's and Walt Disney World's Big Thunder Mountain, a machine can be seen floating in the water titled "rainmaker," with Cumulus's name on it, providing that Cumulus Isobar is an inventor responsible for the town's flooded state.
Streak through a haunted gold mining town aboard a rollicking runaway mine train.
Dash in and out of desert caverns and rumble through a haunted mine aboard a speeding train.
Amid rugged bedrock and desert cactus, venture inside a nearly 200-foot mountain to the Big Thunder Mining Company, established in the early days of America’s Gold Rush. Traipse down into an abandoned mine shaft and discover a mysterious 5-car locomotive waiting to take you on a journey inside an abandoned shaft.
Hurl forward into the darkness of the tunnel as the train’s wheels chug back and forth across a rickety track. Swoop around sharp turns and dip and drop into canyons and caves, darting through the ghost town of Tumbleweed.
Peel under a booming waterfall, past rock formations, and dodge a rumbling boulder from an inexplicable landslide. Along your adventure, glimpse the remnants of a flash flood and behold a bevy of local critters—including bats, opossum and a goat—before hastily making your way back to the safety of the railroad station.
Legend has it that a supernatural force dwells within the mountain. When gold was first discovered in the 1850's, a mining company was established. But soon, eerie things began to occur. Miners heard ghostly sounds, cave-ins became frequent and equipment mysteriously failed. Trains would take off and race through the mine and around the mountain driverless! Word got out that the mine was haunted and Big Thunder became another ghost town.
Years later, when eyewitness accounts had faded into folklore, new prospectors resurrected the Mining Company and began blasting into the spooky mountain once again. But as the new settlers became aware, some legends turn out to be true.
The first version of the attraction opened in 1979 in Disneyland after Mine Train Through Nature's Wonderland closed. It is widely believed the roller coaster trains were reused from Nature's Wonderland. It is also well known that the Western Town at the end of the ride and the animal Audio-Animatronics were recycled from Nature's Wonderland.
The second version opened in Walt Disney World in 1980. The WDW version is based around Red Rock Canyon and provides a less tame experience. This time, it centers around a haunted mine in Big Thunder Mountain.
Both the Euro Disneyland and Tokyo Disneyland versions use the same Bryce Canyon setting as Disneyland but have different track layouts.
Tributes to Mine Train Through Nature's Wonderland
At Disneyland, a scaled-down western town sits adjacent to the queuing lines and tracks returning to the station. A Western saloon, a hotel, the assayer's office and mercantile appear among the buildings. This is the village of Rainbow Ridge, which used to overlook the loading platform of the sedate Mine Train Through Nature's Wonderland. Disneyland's version of Big Thunder Mountain Railroad was built on the land the Mine Train used to occupy. Many of the Animal Audio-Animatronics throughout the attraction are the Animal Audio-Animatronics from the previous attraction. Other allusions to the Mine Train Through Nature's Wonderland include:
The Rainbow Caverns - Glowing pools of water by the first lift hill.
Precariously balanced rocks on the third lift hill.
The Name of the ride itself - Big Thunder was originally the name of an enormous waterfall the train passed on the tour. Little Thunder was located nearby.
At the Magic Kingdom and at Disneyland, the ride is known by its full name of Big Thunder Mountain Railroad. The Tokyo and Paris versions would drop the word "Railroad"in favor of the name Big Thunder Mountain. Tokyo Disneyland's Big Thunder, which is almost identical to Magic Kingdom's, opened in 1987, five years after the park opening. Also at Magic Kingdom and at Disneyland, the name of the ride is sometimes shortened to Big Thunder Mountain, Thunder Mountain Railroad, or even just Big Thunder or Thunder Mountain.
Imagineers rethought the attraction for Disneyland Paris, creating a layout mostly based on Florida's version but with several significant changes to both the layout and the accompanying structure.
The revised European ride takes the form of a large island similar to Tom Sawyer Island in the center of the Rivers of the Far West, accessed from its riverside station by tunnels underneath the water. Just like Star Tours, Disneyland Paris is also the only Big Thunder Mountain to open together with the park.
Leaving the outdoor station, trains enter a bat-infested tunnel, make a right hand turn, then a left hand turn before climbing the first lift hill, which takes trains through a cavern full of stalactites. Leaving the lift hill, the train drops away to the right, then levels out and makes a left hand turn. The track then crosses under the second lift hill drop before making a right hand turn. The sounds of coyotes can be heard as the train descends into a long, dark tunnel. At the end of the tunnel, the train hits a trim brake, exits the tunnel, and climbs the second lift hill. At the top of the lift, an animatronic goat bleats at passing guests as the train drops away to the right, crosses under the lift hill, and rises up into a downward spiraling clockwise helix. Leaving the helix, the train shoots through a small canyon, then drops down into a mining camp, where it hits another trim brake. The train then makes a left hand turn, enters another tunnel in which blasting is underway, and climbs the third lift hill. As the train climbs the lift, the tunnel is dynamited, and artificial smoke is blasted in guests' faces as the train crests the lift and exits the tunnel. The train then drops to the right, towards the river, then makes a right hand turn and passes through a short tunnel. After crossing over the drop, the trains make a left hand turn as they pass through the ribcage of a T-rex skeleton, hit a trim brake, then make a right hand turn into the final brakes. The train then travels by the buildings of Rainbow Ridge as it returns to the station.
California's version of the ride is the only version of the ride to feature an outdoor station. All of the other versions feature an indoor station.
Walt Disney World version
For the most part, Florida's version of the ride is a mirror image of the Disneyland version.
Riders board the trains in an enclosed loading station on a hillside. Leaving the station, trains make a left hand turn into a bat-infested tunnel, make a slight right turn, and climb the first lift hill. At the top of the lift hill, trains pass under a waterfall and drop to the left. This is followed by a right hand turn, after which the track crosses under the second lift hill and drop. After crossing under the second lift hill drop, the track goes through a 270 degree clockwise spiral and passes through a short tunnel. Trains emerge from the tunnel and pass through the flooded town of Tumbleweed. The train passes over a decaying trestle (where the track is slightly banked from side to side), before entering Davy Jones Mine, where it hits a trim brake. Trains then make a left hand turn and climb the second lift hill.
At the top of the second lift hill, trains drop to the left and cross under the lift hill, before rising into a 540 degree downhill counterclockwise helix, passing over a broken trestle. Leaving the helix, trains shoot up across a small hill, make a slight right turn, then drop through another tunnel and hit a trim brake. The trains then make a right hand turn into a tunnel and climb the third lift hill. As the train climbs the lift, an earthquake hits and makes the train cars sway from side to side (the effect achieved by slightly banking the track). Leaving the lift, trains emerge from the tunnel, crest a small rise, and drop to the left towards the Rivers of America. After traveling along a short section of straight track, the ride then makes a left hand turn through a short tunnel and crosses a short bridge. The train then makes a right hand turn, and passes through the ribcage of a T-Rex skeleton as it hits the final trim brake, makes a left hand turn, and rises into the final brakes. The train then coasts back to the station.
Tokyo Disneyland version
The Tokyo Disneyland version is similar to the Florida ride, but there are some differences in the ride layout. After going under the second lift drop, the Florida version does a 270 degree clockwise drop, then passes through the town of Tumbleweed, a short mine, and makes a left turn onto the second lift hill. On the Tokyo version, the track mirrors the California version of the ride, going around a left hand turn and descending into an underground cave, mirroring the California version of the ride. More significantly, the final segment of the ride is different. Instead of crossing back over the drop from the third lift hill, the track makes a 180 degree turn to the right before dropping out of a tunnel, through the Boneyard/geyser scene, into a short tunnel. The track then makes a right hand turn into the final brakes. The trains pass in front of the station building, and then turn back into the loading area.
Disneyland Paris version
While primarily based on the Florida version, Paris's version is unique as it is situated on an island in the middle of the Rivers of the Far West, where Tom Sawyer's Island would normally sit. It is also the only version of the ride to be an opening day attraction.
Guests board the trains at a station on the mainland. Immediately upon leaving the station, trains dive into a tunnel that transports them under the Rivers of the Far West to the island where the ride is located. The train makes a right hand turn, and makes a quick steep rise before starting up the first lift hill. As trains climb out of the darkness of the underwater tunnel, stalactites and stalagmites can be seen growing next to the track. The sounds of bats swooping up above can also be heard. At the top, a waterfall parting around the tracks suggests that the tunnel is flooding. Trains pop out of the tunnel, leave the lift hill, and drop around a left hand turn, pass through a small cave, then make a swooping right turn. If the trains are being dispatched timely, when the train goes through this curve, it will appear to make a near miss with a train in the 540 degree helix.
After this turn, the trains pass under the second lift hill and its drop, making a slight hop, before making a left hand turn onto a trestle. The train runs along the Rivers of the Far West, across the water fromPhantom Manor, then makes a slight right hand turn and suddenly falls through a washed out section of the trestle. The trestle drop also contains an on-ride camera. After dropping down to the water, (with water jets on the sides of the track simulating a splashdown), the trains go around a left turn on an unstable portion of trestle, enter an area populated with buildings, and hit the base of the second lift hills.
As trains start up the lift hill, two tied down donkeys can be seen to the right side of the track, braying at passing trains, with an empty watering pail in front of them. A goat can be seen pulling on a piece of clothing hanging on a clothesline to the riders' left, as the trains pass a miners' dwellings, a parked steamroller and mine elevator, and travel under a water tower.
At the top of the lift, it is possible for guests to catch a glimpse of The Twilight Zone Tower of Terror at Walt Disney Studios Paris on the horizon before the trains drop around a left turn and cross back under the lift hill. The prerecorded sound of screeching wheel flanges can be heard as trains go around the curve. As the train comes out of the drop and goes over another rise, it passes a sign warning of a broken trestle that is mounted to the water tower post (this warning sign can also be seen by sitting in the very last row of the train and looking backwards while going up the lift hill). Cresting the hill, trains cross over the broken trestle and spiral downhill through a 540-degree counter-clockwise helix.
Exiting the helix, the trains pass through a short cave and go over a quick airtime hill as they shoot down a canyon. As the trains drop through the tunnel and pass over a trim brake, a loud gust of wind is heard. Trains then make a right hand turn on another trestle that seems to creak under the weight of the train as they enter a tunnel with signs warning of blasting over the portal, and climb the third lift hill.
As the train starts up the hill, an unseen miner's voice can be heard yelling "Fire in the hole!" Midway up the lift, the tunnel is dynamited, and artificial smoke is blasted in guests' faces as the train crests the lift and exits the tunnel. The train crests a small hill, then drops to the left onto a straightaway alongside the river, speeding up as it enters the return tunnel. The train encounters a swarm of bats in the tunnel as it makes another sharp counter-clockwise turnaround and goes down a steep drop to cross under the water. The trains continue to accelerate through the dark until it pops out of the exit portal on the mainland. The train then coasts past the station, through the loading dock, and then turns around to reenter the station.
The Disneyland version of Big Thunder Mountain Railroad replaced Mine Train Through Nature's Wonderland, a sedate train ride through different animal habitats.
The Florida version took 15 years to plan, tons of steel and concrete, hundreds of rock makers, 4,000 gallons of paint, and 900,000 gallons of water to create the realistic, red-rock buttes and mine buildings inspired by Arizona's Monument Valley.
On September 5, 2003, a 22-year-old man from Gardena, California was killed after suffering severe blunt trauma and extensive eternal bleeding in a derailment that also injured 10 other guests. It was determined that the cause of the accident was improper maintenance. Fasteners on the left side up-stop/guide wheel on the floating axle of the locomotive were not tightened and safetied in accordance with specifications. As the train entered a tunnel the axle came loose and jammed against a brake section, causing the locomotive to become airborne and hit the ceiling of the tunnel. The locomotive then fell on top of the first passenger car, crushing the victim. The name of the train was I.M. Brave which retired after the accident. This accident prompted the removal of the floating axles from all versions of the ride.
Disneyland Park (Paris)
On April 25, 2011 at around 2:50pm, a fiberglass rock and some wood on the third lift hill fell on the train, injuring 5 people out of 25 who were in the train. One of them was a 38-year-old man who was severely hit on the head and was transported to the Beaujon Hospital at Clichy Sur Seine, France. The other four returned to the park on the same day. The men left the hospital a few days later. The ride was closed for investigations to determine the accident. Once the attraction reopened, the falling rock scene was removed from the attraction. The earthquake scene was thus disabled, and in 2016 was replaced by a blasting scene during the refurbishment.