Big Thunder Mountain No. 4 opened on April 12, 1992 along with the rest of Euro Disneyland, as it was then called. It was an immediate success and to this day attracts long lines of guests (frequently the longest in the park!) eager to plunge into the cavernous mines of Big Thunder.
Due to its popularity, a few changes have been made to the attraction since opening… In fact, the legacy of the original Imagineers was hard to follow up to: while the original props found in the attraction were all real artifacts (give or take a little tampering to make them work in the show), a 2001 addition to the ride’s perimeter broke with this tradition.
When it was decided to add the FastPass system to the attraction in order to provide an alternative to the long lines, the Imagineers in Paris tried to keep these new structures at the same level of theming. They designed a provisions tent to house the FastPass machines which would be furnished with old-time barrels, flasks, pots and pans… However, not having the time nor the budget to go hunt for actual antiques, they bought items manufactured by Amish communities — very much in the traditional style and make of antique American kitchenware, only brandnew.
A few years later, new safety gates were installed in the station, separating overly eager guests from approaching or departing trains. In order to make them fit with the props collected by Pat Burke and his team, fake rust was carefully applied to the metal bars on these brand-new gates.
Even the attraction’s Cast Members got into the act, replacing common Disney lingo with authentic mining terms. Instead of the “greeters,” “dispatchers” and “unloaders” found in other attractions, you will hear job descriptions such as “prospectors,” “mill handlers” and “engineers.”
This latest incarnation of the family thrill ride is widely considered the best one yet; the most thrilling and the most detailed; in fact, the pinnacle of an evolution which started over forty years ago with a missing attraction at Walt Disney World.
Many thanks go to John Patrick Burke and Jeff Burke for generously sharing their insights and stories from the making of the attraction; also to Shawn and Anthony for permitting the use of their images.