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 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 Disneyland's Big Thunder Mountain Railroad 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.
The Disneyland version of Big Thunder Mountain Railroad replaced Mine Train Through Nature's Wonderland, a sedate train ride through different animal habitats.
Magic Kingdoms Big Thunder Mountain Railway 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 of the Big Thunder Mountain Railroad that also injured 10 other guests. It was determined that the cause of the accident was improper maintenance. Fasteners on the left side upstop/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.
Disneyland Park (Paris)
On April 25, 2011 at around 2:50pm, a fiberglass rock and some wood on Lift C 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.