Monday, March 27, 2023

Big Thunder Views, 1979

Here's another selection of scans, graciously contributed to us by the Mysterious Benefactor. All of these images were taken from the Mark Twain (or maybe the Columbia), gliding past Big Thunder Mountain Railroad. These photos are from 1979, which is the year that the venerable roller coaster debuted, though it was not open just yet.

Three fellows take in the beauty of the Rivers of America, I hope they spent a little bit of time admiring Big Thunder's theming and load area. 

I swear, this isn't the same photo as the previous one. I wouldn't do that to you.

I can't help it if the river craft are slow, Walt ignored my suggestion of "Smoke-Belchin' Noisy Speedboats". We could have told the public that Davy Crockett used speedboats just like them, and they'd have believed it too.

Why, we must have moved another five feet at least. In the 1890's, people would have been hanging on for dear life.

Notice the sign to the right, informing the public that a new rootin' tootin' roller coaster was coming. 

I made an animated gif to prove that there was actual movement between each photo.

Many thanks to the Mysterious Benefactor!


Nanook said...

It's so interesting that the angle of the first image.... uh, okay - the five images is seemingly very unique. There must be others out there taken from this same location, but I certainly don't remember any of them. Definitely a great vantage point.

Thanks to the M B.

JB said...

Thank you for the animated GIF "proof", Major. As much as I like GIFs, I like 3D images even better. So I made a side-by-side 3D photo out of a pair of these images. It worked great!

I have a sub-folder within my Disney Stuff folder dedicated to 3D Disney images. I created the 3D pairs by extracting the individual images from the "WiggleVision" GIFs you used to post. Now there's one more!

Thanks to Major and the Mysterious B.


I love these photos ….. or “this” photo . It it the exact period of time I became ENTHRALLED will Disneyland ! I had been excited for Big Thunder since I was 5 …. And the Florida Thunder Mesa models were on display at Disneyland Showcase. At home I withdraw draw pictures of Big Thunder , make clay models and play “big thunder mountain” using outdoor patio lanterns , garden tools ( mining equipment) and my wagon …. Any bit of news and descriptions of Big Thunder was very little …. Some newspaper articles and Disney News updates. When I first saw the construction walls go up and the Clem Hall WED concept rendering on display I remember going wild and finally gettin an image of what was actually being built at Disneyland. The “coming soon” poster seen here is actually the second version created for the Bob Thunder construction walls … it was created by imagineer Richard Cala …. It was his first graphic project at WED that he was the director off. The poster exists with several variations of opening dates screen over obsolete ones. And then it was used again in Florida. Prior to the poster in these shots was a simplified poster/ sign that used a obsolete name for the attraction “Big Thunder Runnaway Mine Railroad”

I loved Mine Train Thru Natures Wonderland too but by excitement for the coming Big Thunder overcame any sadness at the time . It was then also I became aware that attractions we liked or lived were always at risk of removal or replacement.

Thanks Major and MBF!!!

TokyoMagic! said...

Thanks for making the GIF, Major. I like how we can see the Skyway buckets moving off in the distance. Also, the GIF makes it look like Captain Hook's Galley is actually sailing along, to a location behind the trees. And behold....the backside of the Fantasyland Theater canopy!

Thank you, Major and Mysterious Benefactor!

Chuck said...

An object lesson in what you can accomplish photographically when you have a motor drive and an unlimited quantity of film.

Interesting to see how empty that area is. Inconceivable today, but at that time it was still a dead-end cul-de-sac and the attraction wasn’t attracting anyone yet other than the Mike Cozarts, Ken Marinezes, and TM!s of the world.

Is it just me, or does the guy on the far left bear a striking resemblance to Tony Baxter?

TokyoMagic! said...

Chuck, ha, ha! You are right! I have pics that I took of that "coming soon" sign, as well as the earlier one that Mike mentioned. I was obsessed with any potential "future attractions" for Disneyland. Little did I know at that time, that after riding Big Thunder just once, I would forever wish that they hadn't taken out the Mine Train Thru Nature's Wonderland. I have always found Big Thunder to be terribly underwhelming. For me, it was the beginning of the end. The beginning of "They ruin everything!"

Bu said...

I was waiting for someone to weigh in on the Tony Baxter doppelgänger...also Bob Ross and random guy...I don't remember the dead end being a dead end...I think we were all too excited to just get back in line again. I first saw this ride in a preview prior to opening, and on a low attendance day. It was an E-ticket, but we had pre-passport, passports so rode everything several times over. If I recall it was prone to a few 101 situations throughout the day, but we just went on with our day. A year later, I'd be working over at "Popcorn 8" from time to time, which was not a busy wagon normally, but better than Bear Country. This is the wagon where I was sent to rescue a poor vendor who just couldn't "take it" as she was sobbing uncontrollably while hanging on to the corner pole while very confused guests were staring at here thinking "uh...can I buy popcorn?" They were happy that I and another relief showed up as the line was snakeing to ginormous lengths, and we got through it fairly quickly. I see long lines these days, but little efficiency and way too many choices. Just my .02. I couldn't look at the GIF for very long as I got kind of sea-sick, but I can appreciate the tech. That slurry is so shiny and new, all ready for the hoardes. Just thought of another popcorn story...we were closing the park, and all of those wagons get "tarped" at night. As with all things Disneyland Operations there is always an SOP of how things are done, and how things are tarped, etc. To tarp a wagon, you throw the tarp on top of the wagon. When it's up there, you unfold the sides, and miraculously, it's a very tight tidy fit. All in go away green tarp color. Sometimes, in exuberance, when you throw the tarp on the can go a bit further...."oops"...we threw that tarp into the river! Where it sat, and floundered...for at least a year....waving back and forth with the wake from the Mark Twain. Well...the tarp never made it out, and we never told anyone...and Popcorn 8 went without a tarp during that time, without a word...have no idea how that story ended, but for a long time, I'd look over the railing there...and see that tarp down there...all gooey...this is the same spot that one of the vendors jumped in...I think his name was Gil and he had absolutely no shame, and no fears. That wagon was kind of protected from view by trees and such, so it was a relatively safe jump...after park hours of course: he shucked his costume and jumped in on a dare. It never took much for him. Watch out for the leeches! "oops". Thanks MB for the memory-jogger!

K. Martinez said...

Great semi-aerial photos of the Big Thunder Mountain queue area and load building. It's the Skyway cabins that I noticed in different positions. I always loved the well themed queue of Big Thunder Mountain. Great atmosphere.

Thanks, MB and Major.

Major Pepperidge said...

Nanook, there were more than five images in this grouping, but I figured you guys didn’t need to see every incremental move!

JB, look at you, doing the extra work! I’m far too lazy to look for two images that will make a decent 3D pair, but I’m glad that somebody is doing it. I stopped doing the WiggleVision thing because I decided that it was more annoying than edifying.

Mike Cozart, gosh, I think I was pretty enthralled with Disneyland from long before Big Thunder came along. That being said, I never built clay models. Part of me wanted to build a model of the whole park! But I lacked research photos… and talent. Thanks for the info about the “Coming Soon” poster, I know we’ve seen closeup views of it somewhere. I’m like you, I was excited for our new ‘coaster, but looking back, I did not really think of the amazing ride that we’d lost.

TokyoMagic!, yes, it’s fun to see those Skyway buckets moving along like little bugs. Maybe Captain Hook’s Galley was sprinkled with pixie dust?

Chuck, I can almost hear the camera’s motor drive. It’s like in Duran Duran’s “Girls On Film”! I know that’s what you were thinking too. I agree with you, it was weird when that area was a dead end. Seems like bad planning. I can’t tell if that’s Tony B., but it’s interesting to think that those might be three young Imagineers!

TokyoMagic!, I do enjoy Big Thunder, there’s lots of good things to say about it (in my opinion), but we will never get a grand, beautiful ride like Nature’s Wonderland again.

Bu, I don’t remember Tony B’s hair ever being quite that long (or dark), but photos can lie, and of course hair lengths can change. Most people might be surprise to see my long golden curls (think “Little Lord Fauntleroy”). Thanks to the Lightning Lane (or Lightening Lane), the line for Big Thunder takes ordinary guests an extra 30 minutes. So frustrating to watch hundreds of people get to “cut” in line while you stand there not moving. As I said once before, at some point it just feels abusive. “Popcorn 8”, isn’t that an Elizabeth Taylor movie? I’m still not sure why you had to rescue that vendor, did she have some sort of a breakdown? Poor thing. I think Elizabeth Taylor starred in “Shiny Slurry” too. I wonder if a car painted “go away green” is less likely to get speeding tickets? Mr. X was very upset to see how dirty the popcorn carts were the last time he went, he used to work at one of the busier carts when he was young and said that cleanliness was a big deal. I think he said that they don’t even tarp the carts at night anymore. No idea if that’s true or not.

K. Martinez, it really does seem like the photographer used a motor drive on his camera, when I’d think that just individual photos every few seconds would be sufficient. But hey, he was a professional! Glad you enjoyed these.

Anonymous said...

1979 was half way thru my time spent working at the park. I was one of the many cast members that got the opportunity to ride Big Thunder before it opened to the public. I thought it was pretty neat & it incorporated elements of the previous attraction, but I still missed the MTTNW.

Thanks MB & Major!



Well , I mean I was 5 when I became obsessed with that THUNDER MESA model ….and I really liked Disneyland … but when Big Thunder was announced and when construction started …. I was only 7 years old …so before Big Thunder was about to open I was old enough to understand something new was coming and I was now becoming “enthralled” with Disneyland and its history and future.

That is definitely NOT Tony Baxter ….


That Big Thunder “dead end” didn’t last much longer once big thunder opened …. There are 1979 photos of the ZORRO character guests encountered along the Big Thunder Trail leading to old Fantasyland. He would make appearances around the old natures wonderland desert rockwork that was saved and were recently demolished for GALAXYS EDGE construction. One of the real reasons Big Thunder was added to Disneyland at all was to get access for guest to Discovery Bay which was to start construction right after “Thunder” but it was determined to do the fantasyland improvements firsts…. To get better access into discovery bay … .
Budgets got strained by then as Epcot and Tokyo DL progressed …. This also scared management from proceeding right away with the big budget 2 phase project of Discovery Bay …and they were more receptive to a cheaper Fantasyland improvement instead.

Anonymous said...

Back in 1979 a kid could politely pester WED execs with letters asking for advice to be on Big Thunder opening day, and they kindly obliged in making that dream come true….first in line, no formal affair, just finally open.

(Seems that kind of fun obsession has these days become an entire industry of press access, hype and hysteria. Now with weeks of tiered paid previews for openings. I was just taking Bob Cummings comments seriously, that to be at the opening of Disneyland -attraction- was a truly fabulous thing. Others agree!!)

Thanks for the exceptionally clear and encompassing photos, and extra effort to show them well.

Cheers, indeed

Major Pepperidge said...

DW, yes, I will always miss the Mine Train Through Nature’s Wonderland, and wish I’d had the chance to ride it more than I did. I was at an age where “more roller coasters” was the greatest thing ever, so I was thrilled for Big Thunder.

Mike Cozart, I wish I’d seen the Thunder Mesa model! The concept for it was definitely “blue sky”, and I wish they’d been able to build it. Just think! Even today it would be considered an incredible achievement.

Mike Cozart, Interesting, I had no idea that Zorro made appearances anywhere in the park after the 1950s (or maybe the early 1960s thanks to syndication). I like that they brought him out for Big Thunder. Discovery Bay seemed so reliant on “Island At the Top of the World” being a hit, which it was not; I think Tony B. just loved that airship so much that he wanted it in the park. From what I’ve seen, Thunder Mesa seemed like a much more amazing design, but of course that was not for Anaheim.

MS, whoa, pretty amazing that all you had to do is ask! Very cool that you got to be there on the ride’s opening day. First in line! That would never happen today, there would be too many VIPs and celebrities.

"Lou and Sue" said...

I love the animated gif! Thank you Mysterious Benefactor and Major.

Major Pepperidge said...


JG said...

This has to be one of GDB’s most unusual post, and had to come on one of my travel days.

Sorry to be late, but I’m really enjoying each and every one of these markedly similar images.

I’m like you, Major, I was pleased to see BTRR but then later realized what we gave up to get it.


Anonymous said...

I keep wondering exactly where the photographer took these pictures provided that the location was open for public access. Loss of the Mine Train was just another of those improvements that came along with the times. It took up lots of real estate and was low capacity. As the crowds grew through the years, it was only logical to find ways to accommodate them. I remember all the promises about Discovery Bay which seemed so exciting. But only now I wonder if that would have taken the place of the Mine Train. So there you go. A highly remembered attraction of a bygone era of which I was so lucky to operate. It was such a great break from everything else and not many got the assignment. KS

Anonymous said...

KS, I am studying these again. Major says these came from the MB, who had a special dispensation, so the vantage didn't have to be publicly accessible.

At first I thought, taken from the top roof of the MT Wheelhouse, but, I think this is so high up that the camera vantage might have been in the rigging of the Columbia. Was that even possible?

Anyway, remarkable views. I think my favorite is the last one (not the animated one) since there are two Skyway buckets.

Thank you again, Major.