Nº 5 — Americana in Paris
Pat Burke spent over three years scouting 14 states for authentic accessories to use in Big Thunder Mountain and the rest of Frontierland. “I tried to make the queue line very educational like a real mine or museum would do.” In fact, more than once Pat would have to be fast in order to stay ahead of museums or private collectors who were interested in the very same artifacts.
This was even the case with one not-quite-so-authentic item that Pat put together: “You also got the steam-powered cement mixer that a museum in England wanted to purchase for their mechanical marvels wing. I could not sell it to them and was not able to tell them I constructed it with things I found from many states. It just went together so well.” Today you can admire this marvel near the FastPass entrance of Big Thunder.
Detail view of Pat's unique cement mixer.
To locate many of the items, Pat would often have to trust his instincts and his lucky star… or follow even the unlikeliest leads. The steam-powered air compressor to be installed near the ride’s exit was one such case. “It was pushed off a cliff by the Forestry Service during World War I, rolled over rocks and was buried over by time and poison oak. I only found it because of the large twisted spoke flywheel sticking one third out of the ground and brush, after I had hiked in four miles to look around.”
Alongside the compressor the Imagineers unearthed a slightly damaged boiler, which would find its place on the dock nearby. “It had a very bad tear in the front from the Forestry Service tractor shovel blade. So I cut and sectioned it to remove the damaged area.”
Steam-powered set-up at the exit of Big Thunder.
Sometimes the inaccessibility of an antique item would prove to be an advantage, as was the case with an old boiler that would be coupled with the air compressor. “The great boiler was found inside a huge old steam-powered shovel that broke down in a creek maybe eighty years ago. Over that time and many winters later it had been vandalized and was in great disrepair from sitting in the creek.” Wartime salvagers, collecting unused metal of all kinds, simply hadn’t been able to extract it due to its size. “I figured a way to get it out and bring it to Thunder Mesa.”
One major prop Pat supplied was the “Minneapolis” traction engine, a huge 1889 steam-powered tractor in full working order, currently located across from the ride’s main entrance. “This engine was saved in 1909 from a WW1 metal scrap drive where over one hundred engines were broken up and destroyed.
“The movie McCabe and Mrs Miller was a major influence for me on Paris’ Big Thunder Mountain. I loved the old steam powered Case traction engine in the movie that hauled all the supplies and women to the small town. So we have the Minneapolis Traction Engine in Thunder Mesa, that I actually got to drive several times under steam.”
The Minneapolis tractor.
The engine was prepared — complete with themed graphics — in Florida before being shipped to Europe and driven to its current location. “When we started the tractor up to drive it off the low boy trailer in Florida, steam train engineer Bob Harper had fun driving it around before its drive to the company warehouse for some TLC. Someone had to stay with it that night until the last embers died out in the firebox as they didn't want to burn down the warehouse. That's dedication!”