D-Tales #14 – Hidden Disney History at Big Thunder Mountain Railroad

in D-Tales, Magic Kingdom, Walt Disney World

The “wildest ride in the wilderness” has long been a fan favorite for its immersive sets, family-friendly thrills, and intricate details. A refurbishment a few years ago of the queue area at Magic Kingdom added entire new layers of such details, many of which pay tribute to Disney’s own theme park history.

Shortly after the queue begins, look up to find a painting of a mountain range. Look closer, and you’ll see it’s actually the Big Thunder mountain range. More specifically, there are peaks here that recall Big Thunder in Orlando and others that look like the slightly different version in Anaheim. And on the far right side, watch for an arch, meant to capture a similar feature at Big Thunder in Disneyland Paris.

Big Thunder Mountain Railroad

 

High in the rafters is a portrait of Barnabas T. Bullion, the gold magnate ostensibly behind this mining operation. But look again. This is actually a portrait of Imagineer Tony Baxter, who dreamed up the original idea for Big Thunder back in the 70s. This is actually the second location for the portrait; it was originally down at ground level, but it was defaced rather quickly and had to be redone and moved out of reach.

Big Thunder Mountain Railroad

There are some fun and games snuck into the queue too, such as this sign. Most of it is meant to be serious theming, but it’s attributed at the bottom to G. Willikers (say it out loud to get the joke).

Big Thunder Mountain Railroad

Another Tony Baxter reference can be found on this patent–his name is at the top. Interestingly, the patent number is real and actually for a train brake (amazing what you can find on the Internet these days), though T. Baxter is not associated with the real patent.

Big Thunder Mountain Railroad

There are a ton of insider references on this “fusing cage,” among them such familiar Imagineer names as Blaine Gibson, Steve Burke, Fred Joerger, and Marc Davis.

Big Thunder Mountain Railroad

“Western River Expedition” was actually going to be the equivalent to Pirates of the Caribbean for Magic Kingdom, which opened without a pirate ride since the real Caribbean is so close. But people wanted it, since they’d seen it at Disneyland, and a pirate ride was eventually built. The Western River ride was a similar boat ride past animatronic scenes, at least in the planning stages.

Big Thunder Mountain Railroad

Ol’ Faithful is, of course, a geyser, but it has some special resonance with Big Thunder. At Disneyland, Big Thunder replaced Mine Train Through Nature’s Wonderland, which featured Ol’ Faithful in the attraction. So even though Orlando’s Big Thunder never had an Ol’ Faithful, Disneyland’s did.

Big Thunder Mountain Railroad

More puns: “boom, boom, boom”:

Big Thunder Mountain Railroad

“Light ’em and hide!”

Big Thunder Mountain Railroad

In one of the stranger Easter eggs, look for the stars of the Apple Dumpling Gang, Don Knotts, and Tim Conway, on this sign. Apparently, the Imagineer who re-did the queue thought the Apple Dumpling Gang was, after all, a good enough movie to warrant the mention!

Big Thunder Mountain Railroad

On one map of the Big Thunder tunnels, you’ll find mention of Rainbow Caverns. There’s something like that in Orlando’s attraction on the lift hill, as there is at Disneyland’s too. At Disneyland, the term Rainbow Caverns had a specific meaning, as it was the finale of that former ride in Big Thunder’s location, Mine Train Through Nature’s Wonderland (it’s no coincidence that slow-moving train ride was originally named Rainbow Caverns Mine Train!)

Big Thunder Mountain Railroad

At last, the macaws at the Tiki Room can rest easy. We finally know what happened to Rosita. She became a mine bird to warn miners of danger!

Big Thunder Mountain Railroad

Another mention of the Apple Dumpling Gang on this sign:

Big Thunder Mountain Railroad

The Mile Long Bar was a counter-service restaurant with mirrors on both ends (giving the impression of lasting a mile long) next to Pecos Bill, roughly where the exit hallway to Country Bears is now.

Big Thunder Mountain Railroad

And finally, this crate on a dock facing Tom Sawyer Island (technically visible only when on the steamboat) is one of the strangest insider jokes of all time. Hiram Abiff is the (fictional) person at the center of a story associated with Freemasonry, as are those tool symbols on the side of the crate. I haven’t yet figured out why the secretive Freemasons are honored at the Magic Kingdom, but one assumes some Imagineer at one point had a connection.

Big Thunder Mountain Railroad

 


About Kevin Yee

If you like D-Tales, you’ll love Kevin Yee’s book Walt Disney World Hidden History (second edition, 2014). This softcover book tracks Disney “hidden history” — remnants of former attractions and tributes to Imagineers as well as other Disney officials — hiding in plain sight in the parks. There are over 300 entries in the book! Whether tribute or remnant, each item discussed starts with something visible in today’s parks; the idea is that this is something you could visit and see with your own eyes, and then appreciate the historical thinking behind it. Since most visitors aren’t local, the book includes a photo of every item discussed so you’ll know what to look for. The softcover book has a digital counterpart with the Kindle version. (You can also read a Kindle book on PC or Mac even without a Kindle device – the software itself is free.)

Kevin is also the author of the recently-published book The Unofficial Walt Disney World ‘Earbook 2014, an annual publication ($12.99) that tracks all the additions and removals from the WDW parks, providing full-color photo-rich retrospectives of everything.

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