Tuesday, September 2, 2014

#Disneyland60....Today in Disneyland History.......September 2, 1979

The Big Thunder Mountain Railroad Opens
September 2, 1979

On September 2, 1979, The Big Thunder Mountain Railroad attraction opened in Disneyland's Frontierland. The "wildest ride in the wilderness" takes guests careening through dark caverns and abandoned mines. Imagineer Tony Baxter modeled the attraction after the scenery of Bryce Canyon National Park in Utah. The exciting Big Thunder Mountain replaced the more sedate Mine Train Through Nature's Wonderland.  Big Thunder Mountain Railroad was designed by Imagineer Tony Baxter and ride design engineer Bill Watkins. The concept came from Baxter's work on fellow Imagineer Marc Davis's concept for the Western River Expedition, a western-themed pavilion at the Magic Kingdom, designed to look like an enormous plateau and contain many rides, including a runaway mine train roller coaster. However, because the pavilion as a whole, was deemed too expensive in light of the 1973 construction and opening of Pirates of the Caribbean, Baxter proposed severing the mine train and building it as a separate attraction. The Big Thunder Mountain Railroad project was put on hold again in 1974 as resources and personnel were being diverted to work on constructing Space Mountain over in Tomorrowland, but this delay may have ultimately produced a smoother ride as the use of computers in attraction design was just beginning when the project was resumed.

Big Thunder Mountain Railroad was one of the first Disney rides to utilize computer-aided design.  Several tributes to the Mine Train Through Natures Wonderland are present at the Disneyland version. A scaled-down western town sits adjacent to the queuing lines and tracks returning to station. A Western saloon, hotel, 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 animatronics throughout the attraction are animatronic animals 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 in 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.

On January 7, 2013, Disneyland closed the ride for an extensive refurbishment that included a new track, trains, scenery, and new ending featuring special effects such as projection mapping and smoke effects. The attraction reopened on March 17, 2014. The new track was fabricated by Dynamic Structures, the company that had previously revalued the coaster track in Space Mountain.  Today, the only question that remains is “Are you ready for the wildest, ride in the wilderness?”   And that’s what happened today in Disneyland history. 

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