NPR Story
8:37 am
Thu February 20, 2014

One Anniversary, Two Teams Trying To Recreate Evel Knievel Canyon Jump

Originally published on Thu February 20, 2014 10:21 am

Two teams want to re-enact Evel Knievel's famous jump over the Snake River Canyon in Idaho.

Only this time, the daredevils want to get all the way across. Their plans are tied to the 40th anniversary of the failed stunt coming up this September. 

But various government agencies and neighbors have misgivings and are raising hurdles. That was evident again Wednesday night at a public meeting hosted by Jerome County, Idaho. 

Stunt organizers Scott Record and Scott Truax are on a mission to "cure" history, as they put it.

Forty years ago, Truax’s father designed the rocket that Evel Knievel used in an attempt to jump the Snake River Canyon. Knievel was lucky to escape with only minor injuries when he crashed after a parachute prematurely released.

"Everything that Evel Knievel did, he (set) the benchmark," Truax said. "This is the one thing that he didn’t complete."

Truax and Record are partners in Omega Point Productions, one of two independent teams planning to re-enact – and this time complete – the jump across the canyon.

The other team is led by Texas stuntman "Big Ed" Beckley.

More about him in a moment. But first the rocket.

In a warehouse on the south side of Twin Falls, Truax and several hired hands are fabricating a replica of the one-person, steam-powered Skycycle X-2 that Evel Knievel used in 1974.

The new version has a few safety enhancements.

"It essentially blasts off in a ballistic trajectory, crosses the canyon," Truax said. "The parachute will fit right in the back here. Parachute deploys out the rear. It lands on its nose on a big shock absorber and just kind of noses over."

Truax said the new rocket about 60 percent done and will be ready for initial testing next month. When it is time for the historical reenactment, a Hollywood stunt man will be at the controls for a quick, one-half mile ride.

Truax’s team has leased private land on opposite sides of the canyon about ten miles east of Twin Falls. They have an event permit from Jerome County.

That puts them ahead of "Big Ed" Beckley’s team.

Beckley wanted to use Knievel’s original takeoff ramp in the city of Twin Falls. But a majority of the city council got cold feet and recently voted against holding any jump there for at least a year.

The 63-year-old Beckley is undeterred.

"I was a boxer," he said. "I wasn’t a pro. I was an amateur, so we went three rounds. You know, we’ve only gone one round. I still got two good rounds in me. I was always a good finisher."

He has a landing site. Last year, Beckley forked over nearly $1 million to the State of Idaho to secure an exclusive lease to public land on the north canyon rim, the intended historic touchdown site.

In the coming weeks, Beckley said he expects to announce two important details: a new takeoff location for his rocket-powered motorcycle and a television contract with "a major network."

The logistics of staging a stunt worthy of live, national broadcast are daunting.

That’s clear from the range of audience questions peppering event promoter Scott Record at the open house convened by Jerome County. It’s not rocket science on the minds of local people, but rather worries about crowd control, traffic gridlock, concert noise, wildfire risk and the possible environmental damage.

Farmer Rob Rogerson remembered a side of the original Knievel stunt that you didn’t see on TV, like the ne’er-do-wells who slept in his bean field.

"That wasn’t a great experience," Rogerson said. "We had a lot of undesirable people running around here, trespassing on us."

Police and sheriffs’ departments in southern Idaho fear they’ll be stretched to the limit if the predicted 25,000 spectators show up.

Jerome County Chief Deputy Sheriff Jack Johnson said he’s never dealt with an event that big in almost 30 years of service.

"Collectively, it’s probably a big question mark if we have enough people to handle this or not," he said. "That’s part of the process we’re working through now."

Unresolved permit issues mean it’s unclear if there will be one, two or no jump attempts this September.

Record, the Omega Point Productions CEO, is trying to stay optimistic. “I think we have answers to all the questions. Generally, by and large, this County of Jerome has bent over backwards to be accommodating for our festival and for our event,” said Record.

The heads of the respective stunt teams claim they’re not rivals and wish each other the best. But when pressed, each doubts the other will pull off their jump.

Click here to see what the original Knievel jump that went awry looked like on TV.

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