How can you not love a runaway train designed by the Stache? (In case you were wondering, the Stache is none other than Tony Baxter, creator of incalculable Disney memories and bearer of a world-class mustache – hence the moniker coined by yours truly.) The Big Thunder Mountain Railroad which opened September 2, 1979, is in my opinion one of the Stache’s greatest designs as well as a must for any cowboy or girl moseying their way through Frontierland.
As a child, certain family members had convinced me I was terrified of roller coasters even though I had never actually ridden one. I can’t judge them too harshly though, for I fear I was an easily swayed, “whatever you say” kind of kid. (Evidence of this is my former collection of Elvis memorabilia and an affinity for country music. I don’t remember ever saying I actually liked Elvis and country music gives me a headache, but for years, my life was one big country song filled with all versions of Elvis – both skinny and not-so-skinny.)
Throughout my formative years, roller coasters were the brussels sprouts to my theme parks. So in the fall of 1990 I decided it was time to swallow the sprout and take on a Disney coaster. I had always loved other Disneyland trains – Casey Jr., the Monorail, and of course the official Disneyland railroad – so I figured the BTMR couldn’t really be that big of a risk. How fast could a train, especially a Disneyland train, really go?
To this day, hearing the phrase “Hold onto your hats and glasses” induces a little nostalgic shudder of fear, fun and the feat I experienced that first ride on the BTMR. For me, that first train ride lived up to its reputation as the “Wildest Ride in the Wilderness.” It had just the right amount of twists and turns to morph a coaster rookie (and I mean rookie – not chicken) into a confident coaster conqueror.
That first ride on the BTMR was a rite of passage for me. I.M. Brave, I.M. Fearless and I.B. Hearty were no longer just names of the engines, but had become my new roller coaster identity! 20 years ago, my age-of-not-believing-self held her head high as she walked down Main Street, knowing that there was no Disney train that couldn’t be conquered. (Train pride is just another good reason to for me to stay away from WDW…sorry Expedition Everest, I can’t have you making a mockery out of me.)
While the thrill of the BTMR has diminished over the years, the love I have for that train hasn’t wavered. As I’ve matured as a Disney fan, the BTMR has taken on a new sense of nostalgia for me. While I sadly never experienced the Rainbow Cavern Mine Train (1956-1959) or the Mine Train through Nature’s Wonderland (1960-1977) the BTMR still holds a few of its treasures. A tribute to Rainbow Caverns and the original town of Rainbow Ridge provides the bookends with an extra bonus at the exit where the tunnel and pond remain from what once was Beaver Valley. Even the skunks, tortoises and rattlesnakes harkens back to the days of early audio animatronics when Walt still roamed Main Street and park-goers donned their Sunday best to visit the magical new land of Disney.
As a kid, I was certain I could win the job of piano player that was advertised on a store window in Rainbow Ridge. While that dream has died (clearly, I’m too tall now to live in those wee little houses) the Big Thunder Mountain Railroad will always be my Disneyland rollercoaster of choice. Whether or not you agree with its claim to be the wildest ride in the wilderness, its sense of Mousetalgia can’t be denied.