7:06 am
Fri November 22, 2013

Daredevils Woo Twin Falls To Recreate Evel Knievel Canyon Jump

A passel of daredevils aim to succeed where the king of stunt performers once famously failed. They want to attempt Evel Knievel's jump over the Snake River Canyon. But first, one of the modern stuntmen has to secure the rights to both a launch and a landing spot on opposite sides of the canyon near Twin Falls. That has the potential for another wreck in the making... a bureaucratic one.

Snake River Canyon. Evel Knievel’s 1974 launch ramp is the hump on the rim, top right.
Snake River Canyon. Evel Knievel’s 1974 launch ramp is the hump on the rim, top right.
Credit Tom Banse

Our story begins with an epic failure in the 1970's. Evel Knievel had proposed his most dramatic stunt yet. He would jump the Grand Canyon. But the National Park Service would have none of it. So Knievel searched for the next best thing... and settled on the Snake River Canyon by Twin Falls. This is Sept. 8, 1974. Knievel launched astride his “Skycycle,” a steam powered rocket. But the stunt instantly went awry when a parachute prematurely released. Evel Knievel emerged from a crash into the canyon bottom with only minor injuries. But the rowdy crowds, motorcycle gangs and unpaid bills left a lasting, sour taste in Twin Falls, says current mayor Greg Lanting.

Lanting: “We just didn’t have enough officers and security and things in place to protect like restaurants and grocery stores and things in that line.”

Over the years, other daredevils - including Knievel's son - asked for permission to try the jump again. But the answer always ended up as no. That is until this past year, when the state of Idaho and now the city and counties showed interest.

Lanting: “They just never came back with enough of a plan like all these groups did to make it happen. I think the anniversary galvanized a lot of their ability.”

Next year is the fortieth anniversary of Knievel’s failed jump. Seven different entities have now emerged with proposals to jump the three quarter-mile wide canyon. At a special meeting of the Twin Falls City Council Thursday, five presented their plans in hopes of winning an official blessing.

Englehart: “The brand we are most interested in promoting is the one that is called Twin Falls.”

Beckley: I’ve been all over the United States doing this stuff. Definitely this has been my dream.”

Kuhlman: “We’re all in our 40’s, 50’s and 60’s. We’ve all been doing this a very long time. We’ve all been able to be safe.”

That was Chicago PR man Hud Englehart, Texas stuntman Big Ed Beckley and TV producer Brad Kuhlman. A couple teams plan to use one-person rocket planes that resemble a modernized version of Evel Knievel’s Skycycle. Two other teams propose souped-up motorcycles with rocket boosters and parachute wings to land with. One group that stands out is Beckley’s. He’s already forked over nearly a million dollars to the State of Idaho to secure an exclusive lease to public land on the north canyon rim. But the City of Twin Falls says it doesn't have to follow suit. On top of that, the landing area is in a different county from the launch ramp and now those Jerome County commissioners want a say too. The Federal Aviation Administration may also get involved. Another jump team warns of a “bureaucratic nightmare.” On Thursday night, local aspirants Scott Truax and Scott Record dramatically withdrew their application to use the original Evel Knievel launch ramp in Twin Falls.

Record: “We didn’t know it was going to be that complicated. But we’re not going to be dissuaded or have our plans soured by this process that is happening. So we decided to get our own piece of land – jump from private land to private land and leave the City of Twin Falls and State of Idaho behind.”

Record’s company, Omega Point Productions specifies in a written proposal that its historical reenactment would take place roughly eight miles upriver of Knievel’s spot. The canyon dimensions are similar in that rural area. Twin Falls’ mayor promises to move expeditiously on the other applications. All of the aspiring daredevils warn that time is of the essence. The 40th anniversary of Evel Knievel's failed jump comes at the beginning of September, 2014. After so many years, sentiment in town seems to have evolved. Emails and testimony from the public is running mostly in favor of staging the jump.

Copyright 2013 Northwest News