Saturday, December 01, 2007

Evel Knievel 1938-2007

Motorcycle daredevil Knievel dies at 69

For those of us who are 40-ish and can remember the 70s, the image of Evel Knievel on his motorcycle flying through the air is indelibly imprinted in our minds. From the near-tragedy of the attempted leap over the fountains at Caesar's Palace to the triumph of flying over 13 buses, I can remember the exploits of this larger-than-life man very well.

Other than watching him on TV, I remember how so many of us kids tried our own daredevil stunts, though on a smaller scale. That was in the days before the "experts" told us that kids imitate things they see on TV - though it is perfectly true.

I remember visiting my cousin Frank one Saturday afternoon. He and his friends were trying to see how many garbage cans they could jump over on their bicycles. They started with two and eventually worked their way up to five. On more than one occasion my uncle, Frank Sr., yelled out of the screen door at Cousin Frank telling him to stop that foolishness before he was seriously injured.

You see, the three or four kids who were jumping the garbage cans with my cousin had well-maintained bikes; but, Frank's bike was missing a very important part - the seat. On his last attempt, Frank peddled as fast as he could. He was at top speed and hit the ramp perfectly. He made a perfect landing on his wheels. Then, the force of the landing forced his butt down right on top of the metal pole to which his seat would have been attached. That pole went right up his behind an inch or so causing him great pain and injury.

In my mind I can still clearly see and hear my Uncle Frank hollering at his son, "If you weren't already hurting down there I'd pound on your a$$!" Cousin Frank was OK in the end, but his recovery was quite painful.

The Evel Knievel toys were great. I had the set with the toy motorcycle which came with ramps and a launcher which one cranked and then stopped to send the motorcycle with the plastic action figure riding along off to daredevil glory.

My friend, Barry, next door had the same setup, but he also had the toy version of the rocket cycle which Knievel used in his attempt to jump the Snake River Canyon. The toy version, though, was rather slow and klunky, being a bit too heavy to jump things if it was only set off from the cranked launcher.

Barry had a better idea: take one of the ramps and anchor it on the edge of the roof and then launch the toy rocket from the peak of the roof and see how far it would fly. Ah, yes. A bit of foolishness for the preteen. I think he merely slipped the ramp under a shingle at the edge of the roof. He then climbed to the peak and got ready for the launch. Now, where we lived in Michgan the roofs are pitched at a little more than 90 degrees so they can withstand the weight of snow, so Barry had quite a good run-up to the ramp.

At the peak of the roof, he set up the rocket in the launcher and started cranking. I watched from the safety of my front yard as he let the rocket go. It flew down the roof at an unimaginable speed (at least from my young perspective), hit the ramp and took to the air. I don't think I'm exaggerating that it flew at least 25 feet across his front yard and landed on its bottom. When it hit the paved walkway which lead from the sidewalk to the porch, it exploded in a shower of plastic and metal. It was a glorious sight! We found the twisted action figure, not too far away in a position of certain death had it been a real person. Our only regret was: we could only do it once.

Eventually Evel Knievel retired. These days, I watch his son Robbie with my kids and reminice about those days when the name "Knievel" was a household name which meant "daredevil."

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