Seven Fun Facts about Big Thunder Mountain Railroad
When you think about classic Disney roller coasters, your mind likely goes to Space Mountain first.
For Disneyland fans, Matterhorn Bobsleds should pop in your head as well.
However, my pick for the best roller coaster from the early days of Disney theme parks takes place in the Wild West, not outer space or the Swiss Alps.
Here are seven fun facts about Big Thunder Mountain Railroad, the wildest ride in the wilderness!
Each Theme Park’s Backstory Is Different
On virtually all Disney attractions around the world, the backstory is the same.
The rides themselves may vary to give each park a unique version. In fact, as we’ll discuss, that’s true of Big Thunder Mountain Railroad as well.
However, few attractions come with unique stories depending on the park. When they do, these rides usually include different names like Phantom Manor.
With Big Thunder Mountain Railroad, Disney adopted a different approach.
The general premise remains the same. A small town discovers gold, only for tragedy to befall it, leaving an abandoned mining facility.
The rest varies by park. At Magic Kingdom, a flash flood has wiped out a place called Tumbleweed.
The Disneyland city is named Rainbow Ridge, which collapses after a massive earthquake. And Tokyo Disneyland’s version experiences a tsunami.
These variations on the same premise introduce a bit of mystery as each natural disaster has emptied out a formerly thriving mining community.
One of the Artificial Magic Kingdom Mountains
When Magic Kingdom opened in 1971, it hosted a total of zero artificial mountains. All four of them came later.
Space Mountain debuted in 1975, followed by Big Thunder Mountain Railroad in 1980 and finally Splash Mountain in 1992.
The most recent addition is Seven Dwarfs Mine Train, which some people don’t even include.
The artificial mountains at Magic Kingdom dominate the landscape, providing the type of visual splendor that Walt Disney coveted.
Among them, Space Mountain is undoubtedly the most memorable, but Big Thunder Mountain Railroad’s charm stems from its rustic style.
You’ll understand the general premise of the ride just from looking at the artificial mountain. Speaking of which…
You Can Blow Up the Joint!
When Imagineers renovated the line queue for Big Thunder Mountain Railroad, they came up with a hilarious idea.
When you think of old west comedies, you think about explosions, right? I mean, several western heists involved comically large sticks of dynamite.
Well, Disney paid homage to this concept by introducing a new amenity in the line queue.
Several of the cranks, switches, and buttons are interactive! If you deduce the correct combination, you can pull off a magic trick while standing in line!
Once you activate the system, you can push down on a plunger in the line queue.
To the stunned silence of surrounding guests, you can cause an explosion on the ride set!
Disney designed a clever smoke effect that will make it look like you’ve just exploded a stick of dynamite on a dusty part of the mountain!
Seriously, anytime you pull off this trick among unsuspecting strangers, they’ll look at you with awe.
Be prepared to answer plenty of questions about how you did it. I’ve watched people walk back in line to try it themselves.
They’ll willingly spend 10 minutes longer in the line queue in exchange for blowing up a small part of Big Thunder Mountain Railroad.
One of the First Computerized Rides
Space Mountain rightfully gets all the credit as Disney’s first computerized theme park ride.
The plans for that roller coaster existed during Walt Disney’s lifetime, but the ride wouldn’t debut until 1975.
The delay stemmed from a lack of readily available computing power. Space Mountain demanded more processing than anyone could provide in the 1960s.
Oddly, Big Thunder Mountain Railroad benefited from this process. As Disney finished Space Mountain, its Imagineers mastered computer technology.
These planners recognized the value of computer sensors placed around the coaster tracks of other rides.
Big Thunder Mountain Railroad represents the first planned roller coaster design involving readily available computer technology.
When you ride Space Mountain and it consecutively, you’ll never recognize the similarities between the two.
However, Big Thunder Mountain Railroad is legitimately a child of Space Mountain’s technology.
Disneyland Version Is Better
Okay, I’m not looking to start a fight here. Analytically, this statement is true because the rides are otherwise similar.
In one crucial way, Disneyland has improved while Magic Kingdom’s version has remained the same.
During a 2014 refurbishment, Disney spent at least $4 million while adding a newfound element of excitement to the coaster’s third lift.
Imagineers tossed out the old cave-in premise to introduce something more dangerous and thematic.
Dynamite triggers a series of explosions that include smoking and lighting effects.
Magic Kingdom had planned to refurbish Big Thunder Mountain to bring it up to Disneyland’s level.
Alas, the pandemic delayed those plans. Some recently filed paperwork suggests that the renovations will still occur, just not as fast as hoped.
Until then, Disneyland claims superiority.
Has a Weird Indiana Jones Tie-In
This one’s utterly ridiculous, but it ties together two things that I love very much.
Imagineers got the sound effects right for Big Thunder Mountain Railroad. In fact, they did so well that people in the movie industry noticed.
During the filming of Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom, Steven Spielberg and George Lucas sought the perfect sound for one of the scenes.
In the movie, Indiana Jones found himself in an unlikely chase sequence on a…mine train.
Yup, that sound effect that you hear during the movie comes from Big Thunder Mountain Railroad.
The filmmakers liked it so much they realized they couldn’t do any better. So, they used Disney’s instead.
By the way, this happened 28 years before Disney bought Lucasfilm and the Indiana Jones license.
Can Help You with a Kidney Stone
You may have heard this as a rumor, but you didn’t believe it could possibly be true, right?
Scientists didn’t, either. Over time, word spread that people passed kidney stones at an alarming rate on Big Thunder Mountain Railroad.
The catch was that this weird medical condition only occurred at one version of the ride. I’m not joking. Here’s Max, aka MrCheezyPop, testing the theory:
Oops! He tried at Disneyland, where it wouldn’t work. So, he gave it another shot at Magic Kingdom…and bam!
I know this sounds ridiculous, but the Journal of the American Osteopathic Association posted a scientific paper confirming it’s true.
Think about the positive here. When you’re suffering from a kidney stone, you have a medically proven excuse to visit Magic Kingdom!