Johnny-on-the-Spot … by John Foster
Over the years, I’ve been involved in some “stunts” that some might say were “risky”.
A couple of them were “accidental” while others were planned or staged.
But don’t think I was anything like Robert Craig Knievel.
Known by most as “Evel Knievel”, the American stunt performer and entertainer, was born in Butte, Montana.
He eventually attempted more than 75 ramp-to-ramp motorcycle jumps in his life.
“Evel” got his nickname while spending a night in jail on a 1956 wreckless driving charge.
The high school dropout had a job at a copper mine, driving one of those huige earth-moving tractors.
He was fired after he did a “wheelie” of sorts on the heavy-duty piece of machinery and took out the main power line to the town of Butte for e several hours.
Over the years, “Evel” held a number of jobs.
Reports say he was a pretty good insurance salesman.
If “Evel” were alive today, he’d be a great face for the All-State Insurance company as the “Mayhem guy”, played by actor Dean Winters.
But “Evel’s” claim to fame was a series of motorcycle jumps he attempted in the 60’s and 70’s.
His Caesar’s Palace in Las Vegas “water fountain jump” was his longest and resulted in near-fatal injuries.
He always wanted to do a Grand Canyon jump but the U.S. Government blocked him.
He did make a jump of the Snake River Canyon on his Skycycle X-2 but a drogue chute malfunction caused him to come up just short in his attempt.
“Evel” also thought he’d like to jump the Mississippi River and even try a skyscraper-to-skyscraper jump somewhere in New York City.
Probably one of his most successful jumps was when he rode his motorcycle airborne over 14 Greyhound busses at Kings Island in Mason, Ohio in 1975.
Knievel “stunts” were often seen on ABC’s “Wide World of Sports”.
He was the consummate self-promoter and showman who survived numerous crashes that would have left most of us invalids.
“Evel” is in the Guinness Book of World Records for 433 bone fractures.
However, his son Robbie said the actual number was closer to 50.
For all of his motorcycle madness, he did earn a place in the Motorcycle Hall of Fame in 1969.
Guys like “Evel” represented an American attitude that seems somewhat lacking in today’s world.
I performed an “Evel” stunt in the early 60’s when a bicycle malfunction sent me
over my handlebars several miles from home.
I sort of caught myself with my hands and knees on the gravel road and avoided a complete “header”.
But I was forced to carry my bike home while sporting bloodied knees , hands and elbows on the roughly 2 mile trek.
A little soapy water followed by a spritz of “Bactine” had me road-worthy the next day, albeit a bit sore.
A few years later, a rain-slickened wooden dock in Huron Harbor made me accidentally perform a backwards flop into the muddy water where out boat was tied.
My hands dug into the slimy bottom and for a moment, I thought I was going to drown until I got to my feet and stood up.
The water was barely 4 feet deep.
What was more amazing was how I fell into the triangular space that was barely 5 feet wide between the bow of the boat and the dock without knocking my head or limbs.
I remember a wild ride in reverse with 3 other high school buddies of mine in a large convertible at speeds probably exceeding 80 miles per hour.
There were times when I signed so many “accident waivers” for radio station stunts that i could probably have papered the wall of our bedroom.
I still carry the “catch” in my right should after being pinned by “Viktor the Wrasslin’ Bear” at a Richland Mall in Ontario, OH event.
Viktor’s muzzled snout sounded like a jet engine at take-off as he snorted into my left ear during our match in an actual ring.
Early on in the nation’s bungee-jumping craze, I took a plunge during a live radio broadcast from a Monroeville, OH motorcycle dealership.
Today, events like these are done with big, inflated pads beneath the jump site.
Mine was a thin piece of green indoor-outdoor carpeting that I assumed I would be rolled up and tossed away in if things didn’t go as planned.
I took part in an elephant race and sat on the neck of a large pachyderm with my legs behind the ears, holding on to a piece of blue nylon rope.
It was like riding on a large, “rolling” bag of potatoes.
Took a quarter-mile ride in a two-seated stock car at a northern Ohio drag strip and I learned, first-hand that 1,345 feet is pretty short at that high rate of speed.
I can’t lay claim to the daredevil standards of “Evel” but I’ve probably stretched the safety limits more than once in my life.