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Celebrating 40 years of the 'wildest ride in the wilderness'

September 2, 2019, 4:30 PM · Disney's Big Thunder Mountain Railroad is celebrating its 40th birthday today. The original Disneyland installation of this roller coaster ride opened September 2, 1979. Today, you also can find "the wildest ride in the wilderness" at Walt Disney World's Magic Kingdom, Tokyo Disneyland, and Disneyland Paris.

I spent a couple of summers on the mining crew at Disney World's Thunder, which opened a year after Disneyland's. The ride was the setting for a couple of my favorite stories that I later included in the book Stories from a Theme Park Insider.

Designed by Disney Legend Tony Baxter, Big Thunder Mountain replaced Disneyland's Mine Train Through Nature's Wonderland, which offered a slow-speed ride through the American Southwest. Some of the Rainbow Ridge set pieces from that attraction remain on Thunder today.

But the coaster itself originally was envisioned as part of the Western River Expedition pavilion at the Magic Kingdom — a project that Disney abandoned in favor of an east coast installation of Disneyland's wildly popular Pirates of the Caribbean ride. In addition to Thunder Mountain, another part of the Western River Expedition concept eventually made its way on stage as part of Disneyland Paris' Phantom Manor Ride.

In 2012, Disney enshrined Baxter into Thunder's retconned backstory by installing a portrait of him as "Barnabas T. Bullion" into the Magic Kingdom ride. Eventually, Mr. Bullion was written into the Society of Explorers and Adventurers story arc that unifies Disney theme park attractions around the world.

Happy birthday, Big Thunder!

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Replies (7)

September 2, 2019 at 5:40 PM

The best part of the "Disney Mountains" book is a detailing of how Western River Expedition let to Big Thunder and all the turns and such. Great read and love the line of "Disney World (whose misguided omission of Pirates started this whole thing) needed a Big Thunder as well."

Still love it all these years later.

September 2, 2019 at 8:55 PM

Big Thunder is awesome. One of the rides that is extra special when enjoyed at night. I got to finally ride Big Grizzly Mountain at Hong Kong Disneyland last month and it is a blast and a wonderful evolution of the original Big Thunder. Here's to another 40 years!

September 3, 2019 at 12:18 PM

The Dynamic Attractions re-tracking added so much to the Disneyland version. The layout is virtually identical to MK's (though mirrored), but the DL version is so much smoother and feels faster, particularly during the middle sequence as you swirl down the big helix. There are rumors that MK will be adding the big explosion finale on the third lift for the 50th, but as much as I know they won't, I'd love them to get Dynamic to come back and do the same in Orlando.

As an aside, Dynamic Attractions should build more roller coasters! Their Space Mountain re-track is even better than BTMR.

September 3, 2019 at 3:05 PM

Times have changed, waiting to open an E Ticket as soon as summer ended.

September 3, 2019 at 4:06 PM

This is my favorite Disney "mountain"! (Space is a close second, but Big Thunder takes the cake for me)

September 3, 2019 at 4:06 PM

This is my favorite Disney "mountain"! (Space is a close second, but Big Thunder takes the cake for me)

September 4, 2019 at 7:41 PM

Still one of my favorite rides... I still wish they hadn't changed the speech. It used to be. "This here's the wildest ride in the wilderness!". Now it's "This here's the wild ride in the willlddernessss". Notice the missing exclamation and the extended wilderness.

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