Lee and Evel – Chapter 3, Dangerous Flying


This is Evel's Beechcraft Duke. Evel loved to fly. He almost always went up with an 'instructor' because he did not have a license of his own.

This is Evel’s Beechcraft Duke. Evel loved to fly. He almost always went up with an ‘instructor’ because he did not have a license of his own.

East Saint Louis, Illinois (June 24-25, 1972) wasn’t the most memorable stop for Lee but it did illustrate the wisdom of travelling the country with multiple motorcycles rather than just one. During Lee’s employment Evel always hauled at least three motorcycles (all Harleys) from show to show. One bike was dedicated to wheelies only and Lee maintained the unit accordingly. Two other Harley 750’s that were specially geared were reserved for jumps. In the days before the jump in Saint Louis Evel practiced as he usually did. Unfortunately a piston broke in one of the jump bikes. The required repair was not something Lee could accomplish with his mobile repair and maintenance equipment so he brought the bike to a local Harley Davidson shop. They were able to make the repair but it would not be completed until after the show dates were history. Luckily they had the spare jump bike and the performance went on without a hitch. By this time Evel was up to 10-car jumps since he was feeling better with each passing week. The best part about Saint Louis, according to Lee, was Six Flags Amusement Park. Lee’s mom made a visit to the Evel Knievel camp and she and Linda took Lee and Evel’s children to Six Flags.


Besides being prepared for jumps by carting around backup equipment Evel usually made sure there was time for practice runs. He did not like to make a jump cold. Practice is just what he was up to on July 16 in 1972. The show was camped out in Coon Rapids, Minnesota on the Minnesota Dragways.  All the ramps were erected and ready for the session to begin. The big rig that carried the gear and served as Evel’s office and dressing room was parked along the track at the dragstrip starting line, its rear end facing down track. Evel was standing in the door to his dressing room when he noticed his pilot coming in to make a landing on the strip. It was not an easy approach since the pilot, John Lancaster, first had to clear some power lines that were at the end of the straight portion of the dragstrip. This gave him a severely shortened approach to put down Evel’s favorite airplane, the Beechcraft Duke. Evel could see that there was a problem and he yelled to everyone to get out of the way because a crash was imminent. John landed short and braked hard, blowing out his brake lines and spinning the airplane just enough to make his left engine hit the door on the right side of the trailer. Luckily Evel had vacated that position just in time. John got out of the Beechcraft unhurt and Evel immediately barked at him “Shut off all the electrical on the plane!”

John responded that they were off but Evel fired back “They are not! The beacons are flashing like a lighthouse.”

The damage report, besides a badly messed up aircraft engine, was a destroyed door and a can of oil which, when hit by the protruding airplane engine, spurt oil all over the interior of the trailer. A padlock that was hanging on the door was propelled off its perch so soundly that it was never found.

Evel walked around the wrecked Beechcraft and surveyed the damage.

“Lee, get the motorcycles started” he said, “There is no use standing around crying about a million dollars worth of junk.”

Unfortunately the incident was not saved on film. There was a camera crew from the local TV station that was present during the accident; but, the cameraman dropped the camera before the Beechcraft Duke hit the truck. Sometimes it is wise to just run away as fast as possible.

Another example of unexpected maintenance needs arose a few shows later in Castle Rock, Colorado. Castle Rock has an elevation of 6,184 feet. At over a mile high the oxygen is rather lean and that would produce an unacceptably rich air/fuel mixture in a carburetor.  Lee had never experienced this situation before. The very rich fuel mixture did not produce sufficient power for smooth running, never mind jumps. Lee immediately called the local Harley dealer and ordered sets of smaller jets to go in the two one-barrel carburetors on each bike. Unfortunately, Evel began his practice session before the new jets had arrived. After experiencing the poor performance he asked Lee “What’s the matter with this bike?” Lee explained and then Evel asked Lee “Why didn’t you tell me? I could have called Reiman.” Roger Reiman had a shop in Kewanee, Illinois and Evel regularly got his supplies from him. Lee explained that he had to act fast and get the parts right away so he didn’t bother consulting with Evel. The parts arrived in time and Lee got the bikes set up properly for the show. Lee says that “Evel was happy.” Results spoke loudly for Evel.

Evel always had a tendency to do things his way, often ignoring the advice of others. It’s not that he didn’t seek the opinions of those around him. He did. It’s just that if he had a choice between an expert’s opinion and his own gut feeling, he sometimes went with his gut. He also liked to give the impression that he was in charge of every aspect of a jump including the mechanics of the motorcycle. Although Evel was a great stunt jumper he had very little knowledge of how motorcycles worked. Often before making a jump Evel would pull on the chain and poke at the carburetor. George Hamilton did the same when he accurately portrayed Evel in the 1971 movie Evel Knievel. This was all for show. He would also make several full speed passes past the ramp before making the jump.

The kids at Six Flags (left to right): Kelly Knievel, Linda (Evel’s wife), Tracy Knievel, Robbie Knievel, Nancy Ratliff.

He would then drive over to Lee and ask him how he was doing. Lee could tell from long experience whether or not Evel was developing sufficient speed to clear the vehicles and land on the touchdown ramp. Lee would advise him on how to modify his speed if he thought it was necessary. Usually Evel would act on Lee’s advice. Sometimes it was just impossible for him to attain the necessary speed in which case he would go through with the jump anyways, sometimes with disastrous results. The most effective technique that Lee used to insure a successful jump was to adjust the motorcycle before the jump. The main sprocket that comes off the engine is the countershaft sprocket. It attaches to a larger sprocket on the rear wheel. If Lee wanted to give Evel more speed he would replace the front sprocket gear which might have 15 teeth with one that had 18 teeth. This usually worked fine so long as Evel did not choose to override Lee and insist that he gear the bike differently.

The September, 1972 Monroe, Washington venue probably best illustrates Evel’s stubborn persistence in doing everything, with or without an audience, his own way.

Evel loved to fly his own airplane. He almost always did so with a pilot on board since it was the only way he could legally operate an airplane without a license. The pilot was his ‘trainer’ and Evel was the student. Evel was a mostly competent pilot but he had absolutely no ground school training. That would have required that he stayed in one place long enough to attend classes and take exams. According to Lee “The only flying lessons Evel took were in the air.” Lee tells me that most pilots did not last long in Evel’s employ. The pilot-student relationship usually came to a turning point when Evel would demand that the pilot do something that was clearly illegal and/or unsafe. If the pilot refused to meet Evel’s demands he was fired.

In the time leading up to the Monroe, Washington show Evel decided that he wanted to buy a new airplane. The logical place to make his purchase was in Lee’s home town, Wichita, Kansas. At the time it was the home of Beechcraft, Cessna, and Stearman Aircraft. Evel, Lee, and Mike went shopping at the Beechcraft plant. The people there treated Evel well. One of their pilots took the daredevil trio up for a test ride in a Beechcraft King Air twin-engine turboprop that belonged to the company CEO, Olive Ann Beech. With Evel at the wheel they headed for Butte, Montana. Upon their return to Wichita Evel promptly purchased his very own King Air. The man who ferried them to Butte and back was a temporary pilot and Evel sent him on his way. Evel’s previous pilot had been recently fired. This left Evel with a new airplane that he could not legally fly unless he found a pilot. Unfortunately he was not able to hire anyone. Evel was itching to fly the plane back to Butte so he could have his name and show advertising painted on it. He trusted the painters in his hometown. While still at the airport Evel explained his predicament to Lee: “Heck, I can fly this thing! I just don’t know how to get there.” He did have in his possession air maps, though. Evel continued “I don’t know the tower frequencies and such.” He was beginning to understand the value of ground school. At this point Lee noticed a highway patrolman who was sitting at the airport while waiting for the ground school to open. Lee suggested to Evel that he talk to the cop. The idea sounded good to Evel so he walked over to the officer with a notebook in hand and asked for a little assistance. Evel drew circles connected by lines in his notebook. The circles were the airports and the lines represented the path he had to take. He asked the patrolman to write in the proper tower radio frequencies in each circle and to indicate compass headings along the route. The officer was happy to comply with Evel’s requests. After thanking the man Evel and Lee walked over to the new King Air and Evel commented “If that cop knew what kind of airplane I was getting into he would shit.” Evel was obviously a novice but his airplane was not what you would expect a newbie to be piloting.

Evel took off for Butte, Montana in the brand new King Air all alone. He made it all the way to the Butte airport. That is when his troubles began. When he arrived there was a strong crosswind. Evel had never landed in a crosswind before and so he was reluctant about putting down. He radioed the tower and asked them to call all nearby airports to determine if there was another field that was not experiencing crosswinds. If there was he would head their way. Unfortunately all of the terminals within range were experiencing the same conditions. Evel circled the runway as long as he could while hoping that conditions would change. When his fuel was almost exhausted he decided to land the airplane. The landing was successful but he nearly crashed. Nobody at the airport bothered him about the small detail of his not having a pilot’s license; everyone there knew him. Evel got the fuselage lettering down by his favorite sign painters and then got back aboard the Beechcraft for the return flight to Monroe, Washington.

You would think that Evel had experienced enough flying difficulties by now but you would be wrong if you thought all his troubles were behind him. He told Lee “I looked down at those mountains and they didn’t look like the Rocky Mountains.” His premonition was confirmed when heard someone hailing him on the radio. It was air traffic control in Canada and they had an urgent message for Evel. They informed him that he was in “restricted airspace” and he needed to turn around immediately! This is one time Evel did exactly as someone told him to. Lee doesn’t know whether or not Evel requested new headings for Seattle from the Canadians but in any event he did make it back to the USA. Lee believes that he landed in Seattle.

All this happened before Evel put on the show at the Evergreen State Fair near Monroe. It was a big event that featured some great fireworks. Lee got real close to the people who set them off and he was amazed by the precision they displayed. An old man moved rapidly from launch tube to launch tube while dropping huge charges in each. Following inches behind him was a young boy who lit each fuse with a torch. Lee remembers them as “the prettiest fireworks I ever saw”.

But it wasn’t all fun and games. Lee had work to do. He had to get Evel’s bike ready for the jump. Lee began to change out the bike’s countershaft sprocket to one that he believed would provide Evel with the speed necessary to clear the lengthy obstacle of 22 cars. Lee had an 18 -tooth sprocket in his hand when Evel walked over and intervened. “Put this sprocket on there. Use the 16-tooth.” Lee thought to himself “that’s not going to make it” but he complied with Evel’s wishes. He knew that once Evel made his mind up on something there was no sense in arguing. Evel then surveyed the jump and commented to Lee “That’s a long way, isn’t it?” Lee responded with his usual brevity “Yes, it is”.

“Well,” said Evel, “If we don’t make it we’ll just come back and try again next year.”

When it came time for the jump Evel made a few passes while Lee and the crowd watched.

Evel pulled up next to Lee as he always did just before the final approach.

“Evel, you’re not going fast enough” Lee told him. “You’re going to be short but don’t worry about it. I have enough safety ramp to catch you.”

And then Lee added wryly “We can just come back again next year and try again.”

Evel chuckled.

It was time to jump. Evel never made any changes to the bike after he completed his practice approaches. He had no choice other than to give it his best. He cleared 21 of those 22 cars and his bike came down on the safety ramp that covered car number 22. He bounced off the safety ramp and brought the bike down without losing control on the landing ramp. Of course there was just one other little hitch. Evel had promised his sponsor, Olympia Beer, that when he landed he would deploy a parachute that had Olympia Beer advertising printed all over it. Now there really wasn’t any need for a chute. It was just a prop that added drama to the jump. It worked well if you hit the landing ramp at full speed. That night was different. Because Evel first came down on the safety ramp he had to attempt to regain control during the impending impact with the landing ramp. And so he put the brakes on. That helped him control the bike. It also slowed the bike. Evel released the chute at the last possible moment (he had no choice in the matter, a promise is a promise). Since the bike was now going rather slow after two bumps and nearly locked brakes the chute flew back into the bike and became entangled in the rear wheel. It was a mess. It took Lee quite a while to get that parachute out of the bike.

Evel at one of his favorite places (other than a golf course), the Butte, MT airport.

Evel at one of his favorite places (other than a golf course), the Butte, MT airport.

Lee and Evel is presented as a series of six chapters. If you want to be notified at the time of additional postings you may subscribe to this blog and thus receive an email when they appear. The “Subscribe” button is at the bottom of the column to the right of this article. Your email will not be disclosed to anyone! Lee and Evel is the property of the author and other than short quotes no person is authorized to distribute, copy, or otherwise publish the content.

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Lee and Evel – Chapter 4, Fun On The Road

Lee relaxing in his hotel room in Las Vegas, Nevada. Life on the road was tough!

Lee relaxing in his hotel room in Las Vegas, Nevada. Life on the road was tough!

Late 1972 found the tour on the road again, their next destination being Las Vegas, Nevada. As usual the drama was not confined to the performance only. Something interesting always seemed to happen on the road. Mike and Lee were in need of fuel so they pulled into a gas station that advertised “We Take All Approved Credit Cards”. They filled the two tanks with a total of 70 gallons of diesel fuel. Then Lee pulled the rig over to the separate gasoline pumps so he could fill the tank on their generator. While Lee was doing this Mike went into the station office to pay the bill. Mike had Evel’s Mobil credit card. Soon Mike exited the office and approached Lee. “The clerk says they don’t accept the Mobil credit card” said Mike. Lee was standing practically under the big sign that attracted him to this station in the first place. Now he read the sign for a second time. It said “We take all approved credit cards.” That seemed to cover it. What could the problem be? At this point Lee got into a discussion with the clerk. The clerk just kept repeating “We don’t take Mobil”.  Lee asked him “Can’t you just charge it to this card? We already pumped the fuel.” The clerk once again responded with a firm “No”. At this point Lee told him “You need to take the card or drain it!”

The clerk didn’t like that comment and his return was “I’m paid to pump gas, not drain it.”

Lee demanded that the clerk call his boss, which he did. The boss’s order was “Drain it.”

The truly pissed off clerk proceeded to cut the end off of a long garden hose, grabbed several 5-gallon gas cans and approached the rig.

Before he could begin the transfer Lee had one more question for him, “How much was that fuel anyway?” The clerk told him the total cost.

“I’ll pay cash” said Lee. The truly angry clerk picked up his hose and cans and stomped into the office. I think one of the writers for the film Cool Hand Luke must have been watching this scene unfold when they came up with the line What we’ve got here is failure to communicate”.

They finally reached Las Vegas in January of 1973. The standard routine was to drum up interest in the jump so as to boost ticket sales. Evel was always coming up with new ways to promote himself. This time it was something he called the Jet Bike.  You will recall that Evel bought the Jet Bike from a man named E. J. Potter. It was a used vehicle that had a history of speed runs on dragstrips. Potter had built the bike himself from a Fairchild J-44 jet engine[1]. The three-wheel bike ran on gasoline. It had no cooling system. It depended upon fast moving air to keep it cool. Evel drove the bike up and down the streets of Las Vegas at a very slow pace so everyone would notice. He even had a police escort so as to attract more attention. The bike was meant to go fast, not far. There was a small gas tank up front which had to be refilled rather frequently as in every three or four blocks. To this end Lee and Mike raced ahead of Evel to their rendezvous points, gas stations. Evel would pull into the station and the guys would gas him up and off he would go while they moved on ahead to the next filling station. By the time Evel entered the final service station the Jet Bike engine was extremely hot because it there was no fast moving airstream to whisk away the heat. Evel turned off the bike and as usual the engine purged itself of any remaining fuel by dumping it on the ground. The dumped fuel usually wasn’t a problem but this time the extreme heat of the engine caused the gasoline to ignite and a blaze erupted underneath the Jet Bike. Mike instinctively backed off and threw down the pump handle. The situation worsened as the boys noticed smoke coming out of the gas station pump. At this point Evel got in the patrol car with the police officer who took him back to his hotel. Back at the gas station the boys were feverishly looking for a fire extinguisher. They rushed into the station office looking for help. When they asked the attendant on duty where the extinguisher was he calmly responded “It’s over there on the wall somewhere”. They found the fire extinguisher and put out the pump fire. It seems that an accumulation of old papers had gotten stuck down inside the pump and they were causing all the smoke. It could have been much worse! After all the excitement Lee approached the owner of the station and asked “What do we owe you for the damages?” His surprising answer was “You don’t owe me anything. Everybody in town will be over here to see the station that Evel Knievel set on fire.”

It was finally show time at the Las Vegas Convention Center and Evel was offering more than jumps. An unadvertised member of the show was quick draw artist Mark Reed. Evel and Mark were ready to have a little fun with the crowd. Evel was about to make his jump when he suddenly retrieved his helmet bag and emptied it out on the approach ramp. “There’s $50,000.00 there and I challenge anyone to out jump me!” he announced. It wasn’t really $50,000.00. It was mostly cut up phone books but Evel knew there would be no takers. At this point Mark approached the ramp in full cowboy regalia. Strapped to his waist was a holster that cradled two six-shooters. Mark indicated that while he was not there to out jump Evel he could easily out shoot Evel or anyone else. He promptly pulled his gun and fired off two incredibly fast shots. “You shot that guy twice” said Evel. “Yup”, said Mark.

Mark drew once more and with lightning speed he pulled off three shots in rapid succession.

Evel was impressed but he had a challenge for Reed: “What if one guy was in front of you and another one came up behind you?”

Mark Reed drew again and this time he simultaneously drew both guns firing to the front with the right and to the back with his left.

“You shot that front guy twice” said Evel.

“No, I shot him three times” said Mark. He was so fast that Evel could not even keep track of the shots he heard. Mark had a long career as trainer to Hollywood western stars and he even performed on the Ed Sullivan stage.

Maybe this says something about why Evel was so successful. There were plenty of people who did motorcycle jumps; but, Evel stood out and became world famous. His fame had a lot to do with his showmanship, publicity stunts, and the skillful people he surrounded himself with.

Dallas, Texas is a big place and something is always going on there. Back in January of 1973 the Ice Capades were performing at the Fair Park Coliseum. They would be sharing the venue with Evel Knievel whose show was set up in an adjacent section of the building. Evel did five jumps in Dallas. As a bonus a number of the skaters approached Evel and his men and invited them to watch their show. The only thing that impressed Lee about the skaters was how dirty their costumes were.

When the jumps were all over Evel asked Lee to accompany Linda to the bank with the proceeds of the Dallas performance. After Linda had completed her transactions Lee went up to the bank president to ask him for a favor. Now keep in mind that the bank president knows that Lee works for the famous millionaire performer Evel Knievel. Lee asked the president to cash the $1,000.00 payroll check he had just received from Evel. The banker was only too happy to comply. Lee knew the check would bounce and he figured that the bank would not bother waiting for it to clear since it was signed by the famous Evel Knievel.

About six months later Evel asked Lee “Do you remember that check you cashed in Dallas?”

Lee quickly responded with a knowing “Yes.”

“Well”, said Evel, “I just made good on it.”

Los Angeles was another venue that brings up for Lee more memories of events that the public are very unlikely to have been aware of. Evel spent a lot of his time at a Sunset Boulevard bar called Filthy McNasty’s. There he hobnobbed with the rich and famous while the boys did preparation work at the Memorial Coliseum. Evel wanted to make sure the upcoming show was advertised as much as possible and for very little cost while he lounged at McNasty’s or on the local golf courses. To this end he instructed Lee to park the truck, all 60 plus feet of it, outside their motel on Sunset Boulevard. This Lee did. He placed it right up against the curb that was festooned with parking meters. Lee, Mike, and other crew members used the show cars for daily transport to and from the Coliseum which was just outside of town. Each day when the crew returned they would find the truck covered with parking tickets. Lee dutifully brought these to Evel when he and the other guys joined Evel at McNasty’s. Evel’s response to the mounting pile of tickets? “That’s alright” he said. Evel was more than willing to pay the parking fines since they were less than the cost of conventional advertising like billboards. This went on for a while until one day when Lee found a note on the big Kenworth. The note was a warning that the police department was going to tow the truck away on the following day if it was not moved. Lee informed Evel that “They’re going to tow that truck if we don’t move it.”

The ever-confident Evel responded with “Oh hell, they don’t make a wrecker big enough to tow that truck. Just leave it where it is.”

The next day Lee and Mike were returning to the city from the Coliseum. As they drove along the 6-lane freeway they saw Evel’s truck going in the opposite direction.

“I wonder where Evel’s going with that truck” Lee said to Mike.

Then they noticed that rather than moving under its own power it was being towed. They immediately took the nearest exit and got back on heading in the same direction as the truck. They caught up with the wrecker and followed it to what looked like a large salvage yard. It was then they noticed that the front bumper was missing. The tow operator had removed it so as to prevent damage to the truck.

Lee entered the yard office and inquired as to how he could get the truck back. Next he called Evel and apprised him of the situation, “Remember when you said they don’t have a wrecker big enough to tow that truck? Well, they found one.” Evel wasn’t too happy about that call, especially since he had to be called away from a round of golf he was playing at the time.

“Well pay them and get it out of there” was Evel’s annoyed directive.

Lee paid the fine and drove the truck back to the motel on Sunset Boulevard. This time he parked it on a side street out back. The LA cops did not bother it again after that.

Contrary to what Evel believed, they did make a tow truck was big enough to pull this rig. That's Lee standing next to over 60 feet of truck.

Contrary to what Evel believed, they did make a tow truck was big enough to pull this rig. That’s Lee standing next to over 60 feet of truck.

That wasn’t all that was going on before Evel made his jump. A camera crew showed up to tape a preshow while he was practicing. Lee was there of course and so was J. C. Agajanian, one of Evel’s promoters for the Los Angeles show. It had been raining recently and everything was wet, including the launch ramp that went up to the top of the grandstands. Evel decided to do a practice jump. He began by driving up the ramp. He made it about one third of the way before he started to slip back. The bike fell over and Evel was tossed into the seats where he tumbled backwards. Mr. Agajanian was a bit concerned and he yelled out to Evel “Are you OK?”

Evel’s response was “Yes, I just broke one finger” and with that he held up to the camera a crooked finger. Later that night Evel was interviewed on the Johnny Carson show where he again showed off the broken finger which Johnny described as being “… bent like a corkscrew”.

Lee knew better though. For all the time that Lee had known Evel that finger was bent over just as it was in LA. Nothing had changed. Evel was just taking another opportunity for publicity.

The above is a link to a video on YouTube. It shows an interview that Evel Knievel made on the Johnny Carson show in 1973. My friend Lee Ratliff  appears at about the 14 minute (14:18) position in the clip.

The night before the first performance found everyone hanging out at Filthy McNasty’s again. At one point Evel asked Lee “What are you guys going to do tomorrow?”

Lee quickly answered “Me and Mike are going to lift the SkyCycle off the cradle and get it welded up if we can find someone to help us.”

Evel told Lee “You can do it yourself.”

This riled Lee a bit so he shot back with “Well we probably could but I’m not going to” The table went silent. Lee continued “I just had back surgery that I had to pay for with my own money because you don’t give me medical. I’m not going to screw that up.”

Evel responded just as quickly with “Well then, you’re fired!”

Lee came back with “Well, in that case I have a couple of things to tell you.” He was on a roll!

“The lack of medical insurance was number one. For two Mike tells me that you claim that those tools of mine were bought with your money. Well I had those tools before I even knew you existed!”

Evel knew when he was wrong and the next words out of his mouth were “You know, the only time we have any trouble is when we’ve been out drinking.”

Evel shook Lee’s hand and that was the end of it. Lee was fired a total of about three times, this being the second as best Lee can remember.

Evel’s jump was usually the high point of any show but it was not the only performance his men put on. They also shared the arena with other local acts. The night before Evel’s jump in the Los Angeles Coliseum there was a celebrity demolition derby. All of the cars were driven by people who were famous Indy drivers. Evel’s entry, piloted by Bobby Unser, was a Rolls Royce. When Evel appeared on the Johnny Carson show just a few nights before he bragged about how all of the cars in the derby were brand new luxury cars. Johnny found this a bit perplexing because the small amount of prize money was less than the value of any one car. Eve’s response was that “When the derby is over none of those cars will be worth anything!”

Lee remembers that Evel’s claims were a bit exaggerated. Although the Rolls looked nice, it was not new and it even had a slipping transmission. Lee advised Bobby Unser “You’ll be the first one out.” He was. Lee recalls that Bobby was very friendly, a real nice guy. His brother Al was not.

The demolition derby night was followed by a party at J. C. Agajanian’s home, a huge mansion high up on a hill overlooking Sunset Boulevard.  Everyone was there including the Unser brothers, Mario Andretti, and Tom Sneva. In order to get on the property Lee had to pass through a large gate that lit up at night. The home was surrounded by a spacious veranda that hung precariously over a cliff. Inside the home was decorated with a mosaic tile floor that depicted Indy race car number 98. All the cars that Agajanian sponsored had the number 98 on them. There was also a five-car garage and an indoor pool. Evel was at the top of his game and his entourage was proof of it.

There was one more bit of drama leading up to the jump night. As you recall the launch ramp went far up into the grandstands and was quite steep. It took a lot of speed just to get up it without sliding back as Evel did during practice. He wanted to make sure that once he got to the top there was no mishap such as sliding back down or difficulty turning around. Evel called over his current pilot, Denny Davis and gave him instructions:

“Denny, I want you at the top of that ramp to turn me around” Evel said to Denny.

Denny was having none of it. “Bob, I’m not going to do that. I could be hurt and crippled. I don’t have any insurance.”

You could hear a pin drop in the cabin of the big rig where they were standing. Everyone knew what was coming next.

“Denny,” Evel began, “I want you to call a cab, go back to the motel, get your stuff and leave town. Don’t take one of my cars. I don’t want to see you again.”

Denny complied. That’s how Evel treated a person that everyone considered a good friend of his. Many of his employees went around walking on eggs and hoping that they would not be the next in line to endure Evel’s wrath. Did these guys really have a legitimate beef with their boss? At the time Evel had yachts, diamonds, fancy cars, and airplanes. He had all the money he could spend and did spend it, on himself. You be the judge.

By the way, all the jumps that weekend were successful and they were televised by ABC Wide World of Sports. But then the real story was what happened behind the scenes.

Evel Knievel’s travelling roadshow next appeared in Cleveland, Ohio at the Cleveland Convention Center. This is where Butch Wilhelm, introduced earlier in this story, joined the show. He had performed with Evel years before when he was part of the Evel Knievel Daredevils. He was a midget who was very comfortable with himself and the people he worked with. Lee remembers Butch as one of the most likeable persons who ever worked for Evel. Butch took a lot of ribbing from the guys, including Lee, and he handled it all with a wonderful smile and good natured friendliness. Lee remembers the times when Butch would sit up front with Lee when he was driving the big rig between shows. Lee would wait for Butch to fall asleep and then play with the electric window on Butch’s side. Butch would wake up and Lee would accuse him of playing with the button. Butch would look for the window button (there was none on that side of the front seat) and then Lee would operate the window again when Butch wasn’t looking. One time Lee even messed with the height switch on the seat Butch was in. Lee was hidden behind the cap ‘sleeping’. This sort of friendly teasing went on all the time and Butch was the man who could handle it easily.

One of the first things Lee did when Butch became part of the show was to make a ramp for him. Butch needed the ramp for his jumps over a lineup of Tonka©Trucks. Butch would mount his dirt bike, all ready to go, and then check to be sure that Lee was standing by to coach him.

He absolutely refused to jump if Lee was not standing there. You can bet that Lee was always there.

Evel’s jump at the Cleveland Convention Center was most likely over a row of 13 cars. Evel made the jump but the landing was less than perfect. The back wheel of his motorcycle hit the safety ramp rather than the landing ramp. That meant that technically he failed to make it over all 13 cars. If the safety ramp was not in place he would have landed on car number 13. Evel was aware of this although not everyone in the crowd was.

Evel approached the microphone and gave an unprepared speech:

“You people came here to watch me make this jump. I didn’t quite make it. So, I’m going to do it again.”

Evel jumped a second time and cleared all the vehicles and landed properly on the landing ramp. The crowd went wild with cheers!

Lee says that that was the only time he saw Evel make two jumps at one show. It wasn’t often that Evel apologized for anything. Cleveland saw a rare side of the master stunt man.

As March of ’73 rolled along the Evel Knievel roadshow was in Uniondale, New York. They were scheduled as one of many simultaneous events occurring at the Nassau Coliseum. Once again the real story was not the jump so much as it was the events leading up to it. The Coliseum was a busy and confusing place. Different events were taking place at the same time in adjacent halls and the management clearly was not up to the task of making everything run smoothly.

The hockey rink was covered over with wood ramps to accommodate the female roller derby teams. The Knievel gang enjoyed the interaction with their neighbors. Two of the roller queens tried to make a Manwich© out of Butch (he loved it). All was good noisy fun until it came time for Lee to set up the ramps. The ramps went up but the bleachers did not. The Nassau Coliseum was supposed to provide bleachers for Evel’s fans to observe the jump. The management informed Lee that no bleachers were available. That means that the people who paid dearly for tickets would have to observe from the floor. The view down in front would be OK but otherwise nobody would see much. Then of course there were the safety concerns of having spectators sharing their turf with a man jumping cars with a 60 mph motorcycle.

Evel was not happy so he decided to stir the pot. He got on the podium and addressed the itchy crowd who had already been kept waiting while Evel tried unsuccessfully to work something out with the Coliseum staff.

He started with “I always get paid before a show. They haven’t paid me. So, I’m not going to jump!”

Evel left the stage and gave the order “Lee, put the bikes back in the truck. I’m not going to jump until I get my money.”

Evel then left. The crowd was getting real agitated now. Lee was nervous too. “I thought a riot was about to happen” says Lee.

The standoff lasted about an hour and Evel finally returned. He addressed the crowd again and told them that he got his money and so the jump would go on. Evel did his jump but most of the people there never saw it. Recall that there were no bleachers so it was impossible for most spectators to see what was happening. That is when the rioting began right there inside the Nassau Coliseum. It was a dangerous place to be and all Lee could think about was getting the bikes and ramps back in the trailers and moving on out of there. Lee directed the crew to pack up as fast as possible. That’s when he noticed a “little girl”, as he described her, snapping pictures of him. She was probably in her early 20’s. “Why are you taking pictures of me?” he said. “Evel’s the star, not me.”

Then Lee detected the smell of mace. That could only mean that things were escalating. Some folks in the crowd were ready for a fight. Concerned for her safety, Lee told the girl to get in the trailer. He followed her in after locking it up. Later that night after things had calmed down Lee would take her out to dinner. Mike had other thoughts. He decided to exit the trailer with the mace gun in hand. There was always a large mace gun handy in the trailer and Mike liked to show it off to folks. Now he was headed for trouble, gun in hand. Evel was long gone at this point. Lee decided it was time to exit the scene and he did so on foot with the girl in tow. Lee later learned that the police eventually turned up and calmed things down. Mike took it upon himself to give the police a guided tour of the inside of the front truck which included Evel’s dressing room. The police were not so easy to impress. They soon confiscated Evel’s sword cane that Mike claims ‘fell off the wall’. The sword cane was a hollow cane that contained an illegal sword inside. According to Lee that cane never once fell off the wall of the truck in thousands of miles of travel all over the USA. He suspects that Mike was really showing it off to the cops, unaware that they would respond so negatively. They also did not like it when people used mace so they arrested Mike on the charge of having in his possession a ‘noxious gas’, the mace. Needless to say Mike did not make it to the next show (it’s hard to believe there was a next show after the debacle of the first one). Evel was highly annoyed.

The bleachers materialized at the second show. There was also a snow fence erected between the bleachers and the performers. What could go wrong this time?

Evel is what went wrong. He delivered another impromptu speech during which he singled out a person in the stands who looked like a Hell’s Angels member.

“Look at that guy” Evel said while pointing at the leather-clad biker. Evel proceeded to rain a series of insults on the man. The Angel responded by flipping Evel the bird.

To the crowd Evel yelled “Did you see that? Are you going to let your kids witness an obscene gesture?”

Lee thinks Evel wanted to incite another riot and thereby pay back the Coliseum folks who had treated him so badly. It didn’t work this time. The show went on without further incident.

Mike got out of jail. Evel did not get his cane back. Apparently the cops told Mike that he could let Evel know that they would return the cane if he came down to pick it up personally. Evel never went after the cane. He suspected that he would be arrested the moment he entered the police station.

All that was left to do was for Lee and crew to pack everything up and get out of town. It wouldn’t be that easy, though. Lee began the task of dismantling the ramps using his own tools. Suddenly someone from the Coliseum staff yelled to him “Hey, you can’t do that!”

“Why can’t I?” was Lee’s response.

The union worker responded “Because we gotta do it. We’re union.”

Lee tells me that he has a bit of a stubborn nature and doesn’t enjoy being pushed around and that probably explains his next move. Lee packed up his tools, put them in the truck and sat down. This did not set well with the union workers.

“Hey, leave your tools there” the union crew chief said.

“Heck no! Those are my tools” was Lee’s rapid response.

It took quite a while for the union guys to find some tools and then begin the disassembly. All the while they taunted Lee by goofing off and making the job last as long as possible. They exited as their shift ended without completing the job. It was left up to Lee and Mike to use a forklift to load everything into the trailer.

The boys were eager to get out of town as quickly as possible. They roared off with little thought as to the best route to take and they soon found themselves entering the Lincoln Tunnel. At the toll booth the toll operator expressed his opinion about taking such a long truck into the tunnel.

“I don’t think you can make that turnoff at the end of the tunnel” he opined. “How long is that rig?”

Lee quickly shot back with “Fifty-five feet”. (It was actually 64 feet.)

“Sixty-five?” said the toll operator.

“No, fifty-five” said Lee.

“Well, I still don’t think you can make that turn at the end of the tunnel” he said again.

For one last time Lee assured him “I’m sure I can make it” and off they went. Lee was very nervous at this point because he had no idea what it looked like at the end of the tunnel since he had never been over this route before.

Lee and Mike never noticed that turn that the man in the toll booth was talking about. They just kept on going straight after exiting the tunnel. This brought them into what is called the garment district, a narrow lane defined by legions of box trucks parked on both sides. It was no place to be traversing with a huge double trailer that was both wide and long. Mike and Lee worked together to monitor how close their mirrors were to the trucks on each side. They had inches, not feet, between them and the other truckers. All along the gauntlet delivery people were letting them know what they thought of the two guys dumb enough to try to fit their oversize freighter through the narrow passage.

They made it through without a scrape. The duo finally made it out of there and onto the Jersey Turnpike where they were promptly pulled over by the police. The ticket was for being overweight, overlength, and for driving without an overage permit.

Lee and Evel is presented as a series of six chapters. If you want to be notified at the time of additional postings you may subscribe to this blog and thus receive an email when they appear. The “Subscribe” button is at the bottom of the column to the right of this article. Your email will not be disclosed to anyone! Lee and Evel is the property of the author and other than short quotes no person is authorized to distribute, copy, or otherwise publish the content.

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[1] Mac’s Motor City Garage post of 4/30/2013

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Lee and Evel – Chapter 5 – Celebrities and Road Rage


Atlanta was supposed to be a welcome relief from the chaos of New York. It did present a bit of a logistical problem with the trucks though. Lee needed to get the big double trailer rig inside the Exhibit Hall of the Lakewood Fairgrounds.  Unfortunately the only possible entrance was closely surrounded on the sides by iron hand rails. The street was narrow and populated with large buildings that were spaced right next to one another. It was impossible to get the rig inside with a direct approach. Lee noticed that a similar building directly across from the Exhibit Hall entrance did not have the hand railing along its drive. Lee asked the fair officials if they would open up the entrance to the other building. They agreed. Lee drove directly into the opposite facing building and then went straight backwards across the street and finally into the restrictive Exhibit Hall entrance, narrowly avoiding the railings. When it was time to leave Atlanta the whole truck movement had to take place in reverse. Lee, always the consummate ball buster, challenged Mike by saying to him “I got it in. Now you get it out.”

Mike was always up for a good challenge and was not the kind of person to back down easily. He took Lee up on his offer and attempted to get the trailers out of the hall. After several unsuccessful tries he handed the wheel back over to Lee who handily extricated the rig. Lee relished the role of the ‘old man’ busting on the ‘young kid’ and good natured Mike handled it well.

Lee doesn’t recall much about the five successful jumps that Evel made in Atlanta. But he does recollect the drama that surrounded Butch.

Butch always made his jump before Evel’s. This time his lineup of Tonka© Trucks included a road grader in the last position. Butch took to the air and cleared all but the grader at the end. It broke right in half.

“Well, Butch, you hit the last truck” said the announcer over the P.A.

“Yeah, and that was my favorite one” responded Butch in his most serious tone.

Redd Foxx early in his career. Photo in public domain per Wikipedia.

Redd Foxx early in his career. Photo in public domain per Wikipedia.

The crew usually went out to party after the last jump and Atlanta was no exception. Evel took everyone out to a Redd Foxx show. Redd Foxx was a popular comedian best known for his popular TV series, the Redd Foxx Show. That night he was doing his stand up routine in Atlanta and he somehow got on the topic of midgets.

“I can’t stand those midgets” he began. “They always got their nose in your business. Have you ever been on an elevator with a midget? They got their nose in everybody’s business.”

Evel, ever the trouble causer, goaded Butch, “Are you going to take that? Get on up there!”

Butch did just that. He went right up on the stage to confront Redd Foxx.

The stagehand looked at Foxx and inquired “Is he with you?”

Foxx replied “Hell no! I don’t know who he is.”

Butch now got into the conversation by addressing Redd “I know what you mean about putting your business in my nose. Just keep your business out of my nose!”

He had deftly turned the insult around with his own brand of humor without for a moment losing his cool. The small man had risen to the occasion and given no offense. Butch had class.

The Evel Knievel troupe was always meeting interesting people. The Redd Foxx incident described above is just one of many such fun occasions. Lee says that an even earlier brush with stardom that he recalls occurred back in January of 1972 when they were appearing at the Speedway in Tucson, Arizona. They had some time to kill after the show because Evel finally decided to allow his broken hand (he broke it the previous October in Portland) to heal properly. Lee and Evel were visiting a local Harley shop. One of the workers there asked “Have you boys met Charo?”

He meant Charo, the famous comedian who was married to Xavier Cugat. So, they were introduced to this vivacious lady and she promptly invited them to attend her show.

Lee and Evel had front row seats right next to the stage so they didn’t miss a second of the performance.

During the performance Charo recalled a visit her husband Xavier (many years her senior) made to his doctor before going through with their wedding.

Regarding his upcoming wedding the doctor advised him that “This could be fatal.”

Cugat responded “If she dies, she dies”.

Evel and his staff were of the old school sort when it came to the right way to party and the wrong way. A bit of carousing on the town and partaking of quality alcoholic beverages at local establishments was an accepted way of life. Unusually Evel had just one drink and all that followed were ginger ale. The boys pretty much stayed out of trouble and avoided unnecessary confrontations. They drew the line, though, when it came to using drugs. They didn’t use them and they didn’t want to associate with those who did. This point of contention was neatly driven home during their Chicago performance in March of 1973. Evel’s jumps were to be made at the Chicago International Amphitheater. This rather old (erected in 1934) exhibition venue was right next to the Stockyards Hotel which is where Lee and the crew stayed. Lee remembers that the hotel displayed a huge wood carving with a clock built into it. It was a classy place. The activity inside the amphitheater was not as classy. It was made up of several performance / exhibition areas that flowed right into one another. There was very little separation between two adjacent shows. It so happens that when the Evel Knievel show arrived they ended up sharing floor space with neighbors called Sly and the Family Stone. While Evel’s crew was getting the equipment ready for a show Sly was playing to a crowd next door. This particular crowd was very much into smoking pot. It was obvious by the cloud that hung over the stands. In short order everyone on the Knievel side of the floor could smell the pungent odor that had snaked its way towards and then infiltrated the Knievel dominion. Roger Reiman and Lee decided that they needed to respond in kind.

<B>Roger Reiman on the bike with Mert Lowell to his immediate left.</B>

Roger Reiman on the bike with Mert Lowell to his immediate left.

It was normal procedure for the guys to warm up all the motorcycles before the show. This time they lined up all the bikes (straight pipes on each) right on the border between their floor space and the area allotted to Sly. All of the bikes were oriented with their exhausts pointing towards the stoned Stone crowd and the engines were revved at full blast. What a racket! What a stench! They totally drowned out the next door concert to the point that the MC finally announced “We will start up again as soon as those bike freaks get through over there!” The bikes didn’t move and that was the end of the musical performance. The next day the hall management intervened and forced Lee to park all the bikes at the end of the floor that was far removed from their Sly neighbors. That was OK. The boys had already had their fun.

Evel made five jumps in Chicago, all of them successful. Each successive jump was longer than the previous one, a staple technique that Evel used to keep up the momentum from one performance to the next. Lee generally knew when Evel had jumped as far as he possibly could under a particular set of circumstances. He was able to judge this by watching the streamers that they had hung from the lower beams of the ceiling. If the bike was hitting the streamers during the jump there was no way that a speed increase would propel Evel over any additional cars. Caution prevailed in Chicago and there were no mishaps.

By March of 1973 the show was in Detroit again. Evel and his crew worked a demanding schedule. They gave five shows on each weekend. There was one Friday night, two on Saturday (noon and night) and two on Sunday. They were still in Detroit when April rolled around. April first was a Saturday, showtime. It seemed like a good time to mix things up a little bit so Lee made a suggestion. “This is April Fools’ Day. You should pull a joke on the crowd” he told Evel. “That’s a good idea!” was Evel’s response. Evel took to the field and made a number of wheelies on one of his standard bikes. Finally he mounted the Harley-Davidson XR-750 jump bike and made several passes up the ramp, pausing each time at the top without jumping the lineup of some 13 cars. Finally he drove over to Lee and gave him the bike. Then he took the microphone and walked to the top of the landing ramp. At this point the crowd had no idea what was happening. Evel, the consummate showman, had them all in his pocket. He began his speech: “You know, I always knew there would come a day when I wouldn’t want to do what I said I was going to do.” Evel paused and savored the attention directed his way by the expectant fans. Finally he continued with “but this is not the day”. The stands erupted with roars and applause. The jump went smoothly and everybody went home happy, including Evel.

Evel could sometimes be impulsive and unreasonable. The events leading up to the St. Paul, Minnesota show in April of ’73 illustrates this beautifully.

 Evel doing a little bit of wheelie practice. Preparation time was important to him.

Evel doing a little bit of wheelie practice. Preparation time was important to him.

Lee drove alone (he is not sure where Mike was) to St. Paul where Evel was scheduled to appear at the Civic Center.  Lee made the customary reservations at the local Holiday Inn and got ready to settle in for a relaxing work week without Evel’s somewhat overbearing supervision. Evel wasn’t due in town for a while since he was enjoying some well deserved vacation time on the golf courses of Atlanta. Then the phone rang. It was Evel and he needed Lee to spring to action.

“Lee, I need you to go to the airport immediately. Take a taxi and book a first class flight for to Los Angeles.”

Evel continued “I want you to pick up my Maserati convertible and drive it to Atlanta. You need to be here by Sunday. I’ve already got the car sold.”

This was on a Friday. Lee had a little more than two days to fly from Minnesota to California, pick up a car, and then deliver it to Evel in Atlanta, Georgia.

Lee boarded the next available flight and arrived in LA at 2:00 AM on Saturday morning. He collected the car and headed out for Georgia.

Lee filled both tanks of the Maserati, being careful to fill them equally so he would have a balanced load. His average speed on major highways was about 100 mph. He soon found out, at the insistence of a flashing dash light, that the tanks emptied one at a time and when one did run out the other one did not automatically kick in. You have to flip a little switch to activate a pump from the second tank. So much for drawing equally from each tank!

The gas mileage was poor and the car shook a bit at high speeds. Lee was most wary of underpasses, favorite hiding spots for traffic cops. He would have to hold the rearview mirror to stop it from shaking when he needed to look back to see if he was being chased by the highway patrol.

Lee finally arrived at a hotel in Atlanta by 2:00 AM on Monday morning. He missed the Sunday deadline by a mere two hours. He credits his tardy performance to one motel stop he made along the way. It was just not possible to stay awake straight through from Los Angeles to Atlanta!

Lee spent a week in Atlanta while Evel completed his collector car transaction. Evel already had a Ferrari coupe and that was his daily driver. After selling the Maserati that Lee had delivered Evel was able to purchase a second Ferrari. This one was a convertible. Why had Evel decided to ditch the Maserati? Lee thinks it may have had something to do with Evel’s dad’s opinion of the Maserati. He had once remarked to Evel “Why do you have that Maserati? The Ferrari is a much better car!” Evel may have just been acting on his father’s advice.

Lee has a different opinion of the merits of the two makes: “The Maserati had much better seats and was way more comfortable. It had an automatic transmission too. It was just a more relaxing car to drive.”

The day arrived when it was time for Lee and Evel to head out for St. Paul. The vacation was over and it was time to work. The two men took to the highway, Lee driving the hardtop coupe Ferrari and Evel driving the convertible Ferrari. Somewhere around Indiana Evel decided that he wanted to see which car was the faster of the two. Evel was out in front and he signaled for Lee to come abreast of him. The two cars zoomed along, side by side while doing between 90-100 mph. Through a series of hand signals Evel let Lee know that it was time for a race. Off they went. Lee remembers looking at his speedometer and noting that it was registering 165 mph and he was still pulling away from Evel. The Ferrari had an impressive V-12 engine. Finally Evel motioned to Lee to slow down. Lee reluctantly complied; he knew he could get more speed out of the car because it was still accelerating.

Lee fell back a ways and was once again following at some distance behind Evel. They passed through an area of road construction and as a result Lee fell back a bit more with two cars between him and Evel.  Eventually Evel motioned for Lee to pull over into the gravel parking lot of a roadside burger joint. Evel got out of his car and inspected the front end of his vehicle. Lee did not see him do this and only learned of it much later. Unknown to Lee, Evel had skinned the nose of the Ferrari on the back end of a car he was following rather closely. It seems that Evel spent a lot of time turning around trying to locate Lee. This became increasingly difficult since the separation between them had increased greatly. One time Evel turned around for just a little longer than he should have and the result was the unfortunate bruise to has newly acquired Ferrari convertible. Evel was in a bad mood.

“Damn it, Lee, don’t fall so far behind!” were the first words Evel spit out at Lee. He continued “Stay up with me. Drive this damn thing!”

Sometimes Lee can take offense rather easily. This time was one of them. When they left that lot Lee’s front bumper was within ten inches of Evel’s rear. For a number of miles thereafter Lee continued to stick tightly to Evel, always staying no farther than one car length behind him even though they were averaging 90 mph. Lee “was fuming” with anger since he had no idea why Evel was angry with him. I suspect he would have gladly given Evel a bit more slack if he had known what happened. Nobody is happy after scratching up their new car.

Eventually the boys pulled over at a restaurant to have something to eat. By this time Evel had calmed down a bit and he casually remarked to Lee “You know, you don’t have to follow me so close.” All was well.

Nighttime found the pair doing 100 mph in the fog on a two lane highway. Lee remembers that he “thought that if a poor old farmer pulls out I’m going to cream him.” The pair finally arrived in Wisconsin by daylight. They were again on a major four lane highway and plowing along at over 100 mph. So far they had luckily evaded any criminal penalty for their reckless driving. Their luck was about to run out.

Evel was up front and there were two trucks in front of him. He passed the two trucks. Now it was Lee’s turn. Before Lee could make his move the second truck began to pass the first and Lee had to drop back. That’s when Lee noticed the red and blue cop car bubble coming up from behind. Evel was out of sight, hidden by the two trucks. Lee was exposed and caught. He had to pull over. The local cop wrote him up for doing 95 on a highway that had a posted maximum of 70 mph.

“Now follow me up to the courthouse” the policeman told Lee. “And by the way, why were you going so fast?”

“I’m with Evel Knievel. This car belongs to him and we are late to a press conference.” Lee figured he could talk this town cop out of a ticket. The ‘press conference’ bit was a total fabrication.

The cop was having none of it. In an effort to make things move along as quickly as possible Lee made a request, “Can we go to a bank first? I don’t think your court will accept a check to cover the fine.”

“Just follow me to the courthouse” was his answer.

While this unfortunate situation was playing out Evel, having realized that something was going on took an exit and doubled back to where he remembered last seeing Lee. Looking down from an overpass Evel saw Lee being escorted away. That was his signal to cut his losses and take off for the hotel which was only a few miles away.

The policeman was good to his word. When he and Lee appeared before the judge he explained that Lee had offered to pay the fine with a personal check. He reassured the judge “He won’t bail out on us. He’s with the Evel Knievel show.”

The judge took the check and Lee was allowed to continue on his way. Evel later reimbursed him with cash.

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Lee and Evel – Chapter 6 – The Final Act


Evel in his office

Evel in his travelling office, busy as usual. (from one of many original Polaroids taken by Lee Ratliff)

When asked to recall some details of Evel’s appearance at the Great Lakes Dragaway in the town of Parish, Wisconsin Lee right away said that it had to be outside. That was because the event took place in the summer, June 22-24 of 1973. Lee recalls that indoor venues were generally limited to the colder months. The Great lakes Dragaway near Union Grove, Wisconsin was no different. Evel’s truck and the equipment it carried almost didn’t make it to Dragaway. Everyone has seen those signs on the freeways that say “Weigh Station, Right Lane; All Trucks Must Enter”. They usually have another sign tacked on to them that says “CLOSED”. Lee wasn’t so lucky this time when he entered Wisconsin. They were just closing in on their motel exit when the weigh station sign appeared with a big “OPEN” sign attached. There was no choice other than to pull in with the obviously overlength 62 foot rig. It was daytime and this time Lee was not able to trick the state troopers who were doing the inspection. Lee was ordered to unhook his trailer because the total length was too long. That left him with just the cab and the permanently attached front flatbed that served as Evel’s dressing room. All the ramps and other equipment would have to be left behind if Lee continued to the motel. He wasn’t prepared to do that so he approached another trucker who had a cab only with no trailer. Lee offered to pay him to tow the Evel Knievel trailer as far as the motel. The trucker was awe-struck that someone was asking him to tow Evel Knievel’s rig. He agreed to help out but he refused to accept any payment. All he wanted was for Lee to take a photograph of him towing Evel’s trailer. How else would his friends be expected to believe the story he was going to tell them? Lee was happy to take the photo and the trailer was promptly delivered to the motel where it was reunited with the Kenworth.

It was party time and Evel took the guys out to a Mexican restaurant. He bought everyone sombreros. From left to right: Jack Stroh, a painter (possibly also called Jack), and Lee.

It was party time and Evel took the guys out to a Mexican restaurant. He bought everyone sombreros. From left to right: Jack Stroh, a painter (possibly also called Jack), and Lee.

There was some pre-jump partying in Wisconsin. Lee distinctly remembers visiting the home of the promoter; although, he does not recall his name. Lee was impressed upon entering what looked like a very long house, possibly a sort of ranch. The promoter invited Evel and his men to his trophy room. Everywhere you looked there were heads on the walls. Every big game animal imaginable was represented. Lee had never seen anything like it before. It had the air of a museum but it was in someone’s home. It was a lot to take in for a young man from Kansas. Work, otherwise known as jump time, did eventually come around. Evel was not successful with that first jump over 13 cars. He came down at too steep an angle which caused him to slip off the back end of the bike. Evel “landed on his tail and slid on his butt”. The motorcycle flipped and landed on its handlebars upside down. Evel later explained that the grip pulled out thus causing him to slide backward and then off the bike. Lee examined the grip after the event and he found that it was broken just as one would expect if the handlebars had slammed into the ramp when the bike upturned. That would indicate that the grips never did loosen and pull off as Evel had explained. It is Lee’s opinion that Evel just lost his grip and did not want to admit it; so, he came up with an excuse.  It is interesting to note that in present day such a situation is very unlikely to occur. Riders, knowing that the front wheel must hit first, have a special technique for lifting and slowing the rear wheel. They squeeze the clutch which stops the rear wheel from spinning. At the same time they apply the brakes while still midair and this causes the front wheel to descend for a controlled landing. Evel and other jump artists of his era were not aware of this technique. The modern rider has greater knowledge of the physics of jumping and they have much lighter motorcycles. This is why many of Evel’s record jumps have been bested in recent years.

Knew What We Were Doing

Evel’s inscription to Lee is reflected in the faces of both Lee and Evel. A ‘sure thing’ is not part of a daredevil’s daily life. There was a fair amount of guess work and lots of guts.

Providence, Rhode Island was one of the last shows that Lee worked. Eventually Lee would end up living in the Providence area.  It was the end of July in 1973. At that time of year it is usually extremely humid on the East Coast. It’s beer drinking time. That’s just fine for most of us but some folks take it a bit too far and I suspect that’s what happened to some of the people who crowded the stands at Lincoln Downs Race Track that day in July.

Evel was making his pre-jump approaches down on the field that usually hosted horse races. The dirt on the track was loose and so Evel was driving on a plywood runway that Lee had erected. Lee was crouched alongside the ramp and watching closely as Evel made his practice runs. Suddenly Lee was aware of a commotion behind him. A fight had broken out among some patrons in the stands. Fortunately there was a chain link fence separating the stands from the track and this prevented the commotion from overflowing onto the performance area. Lee stayed focused on Evel and mostly ignored what was going on with the fans.

Apparently one biker noticed another biker who had a chain draped over his shoulder. This somehow offended him so he pulled it off and began whipping its owner with his own chain. If that wasn’t enough of a sideshow a female spectator promptly joined the fight and just as quickly lost her blouse. Unfortunately for her, though maybe not the crowd, she was not wearing a bra (a common apparel decision in the 1970’s). This only served to heighten the excitement of the crowd. The young lady seemingly enjoyed here sudden fame so she trotted on up to the highest level of the grandstands where she put on her own show. (I’m not sure if anyone other than Lee was watching Evel at this point). The security officers were obliged to give her a personal escort off the field.

The Lincoln Downs show was actually a great venue. There was Evel Knievel, the girl in the stands and the fight between bikers. The company next moved on to Stafford Springs, Connecticut. George Chitwood was there with his Joie Chitwood Thrill Show. Chitwood was an accomplished stunt person who often worked in various Hollywood movies. 1973 was the year that he did stunt work and acting in the James Bond thriller Live and Let Die. Lee knew it was going to be a good show so he made a point of inviting Gary Selby, an old friend and coworker, to attend the performance. Lee used to work with Gary at Kaman Aircraft in Connecticut. Gary was now living in Rhode Island so Lee connected up with him and gave him enough tickets to accommodate his entire family. Gary brought along his mom, wife, and two daughters. He did not bring his sister, Joyce. Why is that important? Joyce eventually became Lee’s wife; but, that’s another story.

After the show Lee took Gary and his family to meet Evel. Gary’s mom was a huge fan of Evel. She was very quick to remove her two white gloves (remember when women wore those?) and ask Evel to sign them. Of course Evel was happy to sign the gloves and today Lee has one of them since it was left to his wife, Joyce. So how big a fan was Gary’s mom? She loved the guy but she liked Lee even better and always referred to Lee as her “adopted son”. Evel left soon after the show but the Selby family stayed for the grand tour. Mike kindly drove Gary’s car while Lee packed the whole family into the big rig and drove it to the motel where they were staying. It’s not everyone who gets a ride in Evel Knievel’s travelling dressing room!

So where did Evel go after the Connecticut show? He immediately flew down to Georgia to play golf. Lee naturally assumed that things would be calm for a while since the boss was off relaxing and not constantly looking over his shoulder. That assumption was soon proven wrong when Lee received a telephone call from Georgia.

“Lee, get my nine iron and put it on a plane for Georgia” was Evel’s directive.

Why in the world would Evel suddenly need a nine iron? It seems he had destroyed his regular club while raising a bit of a commotion on the links.

Evel was enjoying a round with a foursome. Only one of the guys was a friend who knew Evel well. The other two were just happy to be playing golf with the world’s greatest motorcycle daredevil. As Evel walked along he sported the cane that Lee had given him. You may recall that this special cane had a hollow area that concealed several vials. Evel usually filled the first vial with whiskey. The others would contain just colored water. Evel was drinking from the vials throughout the game. As they moved from hole to hole Evel got “drunker and drunker”; at least that is how he acted.

The pivotal moment arrived when Evel was making a nine iron chip to the green. He stubbed the chip shot and then slammed his nine iron on the ground, thus bending it.

One of the golfers, Evel’s partner, laughed at the bad shot that Evel made.

Evel promptly pulled out a .38 Special handgun and shot the guy who had dared to laugh.

He then turned to one of the invited players and while pointing the gun at him said “You laughed too!”

At this point the laughing man ran off as fast as he possibly could.

Of course Evel was shooting blanks and his buddy (the dead guy) was in on the prank.

Evel just loved practical jokes. I’m not sure all of his victims did.

It wasn’t always easy for Evel to get the bookings he wanted. He once sent Lee to the Seven Springs Mountain Resort in Seven Springs, PA. Lee’s mission was to interest the management in an Evel Knievel Daredevil show to be held on their spacious ski resort grounds. Lee stayed for a week and tried to sell the enterprise on the idea. It was a no go. The only interesting, and unfortunate, event was when Lee went for a ride with one of the employees. They ended up hitting a deer. Chalk that one off.

That wasn’t the only accident associated with the trip to Pennsylvania. Lee left the resort and attempted to get on the freeway. Unfortunately he ran over a curb near a toll booth. This was enough to cause the booth operator to single Lee out for an inspection. The operator was suspicious about the length of the rig (a familiar story to Lee). Lee was ordered to pull up to the white stop line on the ground. He knew that if he did as requested the rear end of the truck would shoot some five feet beyond legal length as marked by a second stop line at the other end of the truck.

Lee was already pulled up beyond the front stop line so he proceeded to back up and as he came to a halt he released the 5th wheel so that the rear trailer would override it and push forward against the back of the first trailer. He then pulled forward slowly and overshot the front line once more. At this point the booth operators became frustrated with Lee and one of them questioned “What is that guy doing?” They waved him through just to get rid of him.

One item that Lee has to remember Evel by is this ring. If you look closely you will be able to make out the motorcycle design. Evel gave these diamond-encrusted rings to close friends.

One item that Lee has to remember Evel by is this ring. If you look closely you will be able to make out the motorcycle design. Evel gave these diamond-encrusted rings to close friends.

The next prospective show site suggested by Evel was the Indianapolis Speedway. Lee parked the rig in front of the Speedway as negotiations were going on. Evel was not able to make the deal but he and his crew stuck around to watch the races.

Lee hooked up with his brother Jim, a Harley employee, who was running flat track at that time. They waited for two days for the rain-delayed race to start. Eventually his brother had to leave. The races began the next day! Evel spent most of the time hobnobbing with the likes of A. J. Foyt and J. C. Agajanian. Lee, meanwhile, was able to chase down A. J. Foyt and get a book signed by him. He also went to a local gas station bought a case of Indy promotional glasses (he still has some of them to this day). Even when things didn’t work out as planned Lee and Evel knew how to have a good time.

The final act of Lee’s employment by Evel and the good times associated with their venture arrived in December of 1973. Evel and Lee would frequently have disagreements on things such as how to assemble ramps, the gearing of his motorcycles, and impulsive requests for late night meetings. Lee was fired on several occasions when he refused to back down in the face of ridiculous demands by Evel. Evel, on the other hand, recognized that his rash decisions were often just plain wrong and he had no problem recanting what was obviously a poor decision and he would immediately rehire Lee. The confrontation of December of 1973 was a bit more serious.  Evel was having a house built near the 16th fairway of a golf course in Butte, Montana. Lee and Mike had just finished a whole day of building a fence around the property. They were beat and it was time for dinner.  Lee and Mike got cleaned up and were getting ready to go out to a restaurant. Just as they were about to go out Evel called from the mobile home he was staying in and instructed the boys to meet him at his new house where they would begin to clean up the inside. This irritated Lee and showed in his attitude when he got to the house.

Evel confronted Lee when he arrived and asked “Well are you going to work?”

Lee said “I guess.”

Evel said “You guess? Linda make Lee a reservation to fly to Wichita. “Evel continued with “I just brought you guys up here to give you a little extra money for Christmas.”

Now it was Mike’s turn and he responded with “I really don’t need the money that bad. “

Evel yelled “Linda, make that two reservations.”

Lee and Mike flew back to Wichita with Lee making a detour to pick up his toolbox and tools.

After the holidays Evel called Lee and said “I would like for you to go back to work for me.  I am going to cut your wages to $200 a week, but when we start making the movie you will be playing your own part and you will be getting actors’ fees and have your own car.  You will have it made!”

Lee said “I think I’ll pass.”

Evel ended the conversation on a friendly note with “Well if you are ever where I am, look me up and if I am where you are I’ll look you up.”

Lee looks back on the years he worked for Evel Knievel as a great experience that he was privileged to enjoy. He is proud of his role in assisting Evel by providing expert motorcycle maintenance and modifications, precision jump setups, safe and timely transportation, and logistical support. Fellow workers, performers, and famous personalities that he met all contributed to an exciting three years that Lee will never forget. Above all, Lee will always remember his friend and fellow adventurer, Evel Knievel.

 "To my pal, Lee" pretty much sums up how Lee and Evel felt about each other. From left to right: Fagundo-Campoy, Jack Lancaster, Evel, and Lee

“To my pal, Lee” pretty much sums up how Lee and Evel felt about each other.
From left to right: Fagundo Campoy, Jack Lancaster, Evel, and Lee

Posted in Lee and Evel, Occasional Commentary | Tagged , , , , | 1 Comment

Workshop Comfort

I’ve always had a little shop in the house. It’s the spot where I can repair whatever needs repairing. My shop, more formally my workshop, has always been within reaching distance of the oil burner. That means that there is a little extra warmth in the winter. It also means that it is often difficult to hear a radio when the burner fires up.

The workshop at our first home had a door, storage racks, an oil tank, a window, and two walls that I covered with 1 x 3 furring. After finishing the walls I put in electric outlets and an overhead light.  I even built a set of bookcases and of course my workbench. I made that from a set of plans circulated by Stanley Bostitch. That basement workshop was also my ham radio shack. The basement is a great place for a short ground wire.

We have been at our new home for six years. About the only thing that I brought from my old shop was the workbench. The ham radio station is on the second floor now. It is not very good for a short ground wire but great for quiet operating. My new shop is of course in the basement, once again a short distance from the oil burner. It has about twice as much room as my last shop but the only window is one of those little deals that sit in a semicircular well next to the foundation. I am completely underground now!

I promptly erected storage shelves and they covered up the window. It wasn’t of much value anyways. Only a skinny 10-year old could crawl through it. Little or no light entered that way either since it opens up underneath the outside deck.

The new shop had no electricity. I had to run a long extension from the adjacent ‘finished’ portion of the basement to get the power I needed. That is not a very tidy situation. Things had to change.

I finally got around to making the changes this spring. I now have a workplace that makes me feel comfortable and at home. I’m not sure if I will have any greater luck at fixing old radios but at least I will have plenty of power and light. There are still a few things to do. I need to hang a couple of cabinets and some decorative stuff. I also have to make room for the bookcase I moved out during the construction. All should be shipshape just in time for winter. For now I intend to spend the summer outside with the lawn, the old Buick, and maybe that cranky old tractor.

(Note: Clicking on any image will display the large version)

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The 2016 ECARC Swap Meet or What can $10 get you?

The 2016 Eastern Connecticut Amateur Radio Club Flea Market is now history. It took place last Saturday, March 19. I wait all year for this one (see an earlier post about the 2013 event). It’s nearby (I made the drive in 45 minutes ), well attended and it usually has lots of old stuff that radio collectors like. The emphasis, of course, is on amateur radio equipment. I’m pretty well all set when it comes to ham radio. Unlike me, most of the attendees are looking for newer items. That’s good news because I have my pick of the old stuff.

ECARC 2016 Heathkit Transistpr Portable front

I look for bargains. A nicely restored radio is not usually something that I will buy. I want something that I can work on and hopefully bring back to life with minimal work. Otherwise I am content to leave some radios as found so long as they look good. Well, I circled the church hall where the event takes place several times. Some restored portables were interesting but none of them were must-have items, so I concentrated on looking for parts.

One seller was disposing of some nice rigs (mostly Heathkit) and a variety of parts that once belonged to her recently deceased husband. The radios did not interest me much but the parts did. She had about 8 boxes of them. The deal was that you took a cardboard flat (the ones that hold beer) and filled it up  for $5. If you filled three the price was $12 for all three. I was able to fill just two with the items that caught my interest. It’s amazing how many neat items you can find by  sifting through all the junk.  Just to prove my point I have inserted a little gallery of photos here to display what I took home. The photos do not cover everything, just some of the more interesting items. Have a look and then let me know if you think it was worth $10.

(Note: Click on any image to see an enlarged version. Comments welcome)

I took home other items too: one 01A tube (a dud but a nice space keeper), an eye tube, cables, brass shims, and even a special motor kit that actuates the landing gear on a RC airplane. Go figure!

Posted in Radio: Amateur & Broadcast | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

The 2016 New England Antique Radio Club Swap Meet

If you have visited this blog in the past you are well aware that I am a dedicated radio collector. A better description might be radio accumulator. A collector is very discriminating. He or she specializes in certain styles or eras. The collector usually only buys items that are in the best possible condition. If something is broken or otherwise not in near perfect condition he repairs and restores it. My collecting interests are all over the place: communication radios, 1920’s  TRF’s, cute little Bakelite tabletops, cathedrals, portables, and incredibly large consoles of all sorts. Although I am getting a bit more selective these days it is due more to a lack of space rather than a maturing of my collecting interest. I haven’t stopped buying radios yet. I just do it less often.

My primary sources for old radios are three:

(1) The Eastern Connecticut Amateur Radio Association (ECARA)  annual flea market held in Dayville, CT,(2) The New England Antique Radio Club (NEARC) annual swap meet, and (rarely) (3) eBay. ECARA has not happened yet this year (9 days to go and counting). eBay is a constant source of temptation. I recently bought a RCA Radiola 16 through eBay. It looks pretty good with all of its globe tubes present but unfortunately only two work. The cabinet will need to be refinished. I have not tested the audio transformers yet. I hope they are good!

I have not been to the NEARC meet for some 5 years or so. It is a long drive (1-3/4 hours) and since my partner in crime, Ken Franklin, moved away I have nobody to share the  ride with. This year I finally decided to attend once more.

TNEARC Buyer Badgehe event is held at the Westford Regency Inn in Westford, Massachusetts. There is plenty of parking but you need to get there early if you want to be anywhere near the end of the sprawling complex that houses the swap meet. This year I arrived at exactly 8:00 am just as the doors opened. Stand in line, pay your $10 and put this sticker on your jacket, that’s the drill. If you frequently enter and leave the exhibit room (the size of a basketball court) you will need that sticker or the guards will not let you pass. I anticipated several trips to the truck since the stuff I usually buy is quite heavy and it takes a few trips to get it all loaded. It was not so bad negotiating the aisles between vendor tables at first but things picked up quickly within the first hour. This is a very crowded event! I walk the periphery of the meeting room first and then continue with an aisle by aisle search.

Right off I found a book I was looking for. It is a history of E. H. Scott Radio. Books and other kinds of radio ephemera are a big deal for me. I love looking through the old stuff, especially the brilliant engravings from the 1920’s and earlier. I did not see any old written material that was of interest at this particular flea market; but, I did see several radios.

This is the Crosley model 5-38. Five tubes and $38. Crosley was known for making radios affordable for everyone. Maybe a little cleaning, Old English and lemon oil will be enough to make hide the scratches.

This is the Crosley model 5-38. Five tubes and $38. Crosley was known for making radios affordable for everyone. Maybe a little cleaning, Old English and lemon oil will be enough to hide the scratches.

The first one I noticed was a Crosley 5-38. It’s an old wooden slant top battery radio from 1926. It had five UX201A Globe tubes with it. The seller claimed that they were all good and that the two audio transformers were also good. I made the deal for $60. If the tubes are good (I have not checked yet) they are worth at least $15 each. What are my chances? This Crosley is a Tuned Radio Frequency (TRF) radio that also has a feedback amplification stage, otherwise known as regeneration. That means it combines two different styles of amplification and tuning. The three TRF stages all have their own separate dials. I’ll try to update this post in the future when I get a chance to inspect this radio properly. For now I know that it is a good-looking radio that just needs a bit of cleaning and polishing to make it look almost new. Then I have to build the power supply kit that I have in the closet and I will be ready for the big test.

That little Crosley weighs just about 6 pounds. The light weight is partly due to the fact that it does not have a power supply. The next radio that intrigued me, a Kolster K-21, was also a TRF (Tuned Radio Frequency) radio but it was much more advanced than the Crosley. The Kolster is set into a cabinet made of wood with a metal frame. The top is hinged and lifts up for access to the 8 tubes within. Although the Kolster is also a three-stage TRF it has just one dial to turn all three tuning capacitors. This is because they are ganged together and thus rotate in unison. This 1928 radio also has its own internal power supply that provides all the required voltages by routing the AC wall current through a transformer which is tapped for the various voltages. The tubes are also specific to AC power. They were designed to help eliminate the 60 Hz hum that AC creates. Weight? It has to be between 60 and 80 pounds. I had to rest this one on my knee several times while carrying it out to the truck. I could almost see the headline in the Monday newspaper: “RI Man has Fatal Heart Attack while carrying 1928 Radio”. The shape of the radio and the way the top is hinged has led to this style being called “coffin radios”. Fortunately I did not collapse while carrying the coffin radio. Look closely at the intricate detail on the cabinet. This thing is a work of art! And do you see those feet? It has four real feet with little toes sticking out. They are made of brass. All this for a mere $25!

After walking around the room twice I decided to slow down and look more closely. There must be a few more inexpensive but desirable radios that I missed. Then I spotted a bathtub radio. All metal with a metal top. Take the top off and you have a bathtub. Of course that is not what it was called. It was an Atwater Kent Model 40. I already had a working Model 44 at home. The 44 and the 40 look very similar but the 40 is only about two-thirds as long as the 44. This one was in pristine condition. It had a mostly brown crackle case with a green panel on top. In the middle of the green top panel is a huge gold emblem. The inside was especially clean and all 7 tubes were present. The sign on the radio said “restored”. That was a switch. The price for this beautiful AC gem? A mere $25! I took it right away. Off to the truck again. This time the total weight was only about 35 pounds.

By now I pretty much had my fill of old radios. I was beginning to think about where I was going to put all of them. That’s when I came to the table that had some radios with the word “Free” written on their tags. I could handle that! The vendor had two 1940’s Motorola police squad car transmitters (model T69-20A), or that’s what it looked like. I have since inspected them more closely and I believe that one box is the transmitter and the other is the power supply. I like old cars. I’m even in an old car club. These were the perfect item for a radio-collecting car nut. I might even use them as props for an upcoming presentation on radio collecting that I will be giving to the car club (the Westerly Pawcatuck Region AACA). Oh, when boxed they weighed about 50 pounds. The final trip to the truck almost did me in.

Note: All of the above photographs can be clicked on to see an enlarged version.


Geoff Fors, WB6NVH has a nice website that discusses Motorola transmitters and receivers used by the California Highway Patrol.

Nostalgia Air circuit data for the Crosley 5-38

Nostalgia Air circuit data for the Kolster K-21

Google Books excerpt from Crosley section of Alan Douglas book.

KD6FW/R discussing the speaker that goes with Kolster K-21

Atwater Kent Model 40 in action at a site dedicated to AK radios.


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Fig Squares, The Quick and Easy Kind

I’ve always liked fig squares. They usually consist of two layers of semi-flaky pastry with a sweet fig filling. Some have just a taste of fig and with others the stuff is oozing out. Either way, I can’t resist eating more of them than I should. When I was a kid we used to get them at Kennedy’s Bakery right at the top of our street. That’s when fresh doughnuts were 7 cents each and a half-dozen of iced cinnamon rolls were about 50 cents. My brother and I would hang out at the open back door of the bakery on summer mornings and just watch and smell as the baker performed his magic.

About 12 years ago I came across an after-Christmas bargain in my local grocery. They had trays of figs that were marked down to about $1 or less per package. A pack usually is about 9-15 ounces in weight. It consists of about 20 figs wrapped up in a tight circle. Well, I bought a bunch of them and delivered them to my dad who was retired and looking for something to do. He took those figs and changed them into fig squares and then delivered them to family members including me. They were great! He had learned how to make traditional flaky pastry crust that was perfectly tasty.

My dad has been gone about 9 years now and good fig squares are difficult to come by. The local grocery and bakeries sometimes have them but I really think the average $2 per square is a bit pricey. I decided to be on the lookout for some post-Christmas figs and luckily I found some for only $1.50 per bunch at my local Ocean State Job Lot store. I got the very vague recipe from my mom (now 92 years old) and tried my hand at making those delicious fig squares. The result was well worth the work. They are every bit as good as the store-bought ones. So far I have tried two batches. The first time my wife bought me some frozen flaky pastry. I was able to make about half a pan of very thick squares with that. I believe she paid about $4 for the pastry. For my next try I just made two regular pie crusts using the old Crisco recipe. The result was not as neat but tasted just as good. I did not try to make correct flaky pastry (cold butter chopped into pastry, etc.) because I wanted to do something easy. Cooking is not a hobby with me. It is a means to an end.

I have presented here my recipe (based on dad’s). The primary options are what you use for the pastry. I prefer the pie crust. It’s easy and inexpensive.

Quick and Easy Fig squares

Prepare the Filling
Cut off and discard stems of figs from two circular bunches of figs.
Place figs in small pan and cover with water.
Add 1 half cup of sugar for each 9-14 oz bunch / package of figs that you use. So, one cup of sugar for two bunches.
Boil for 12 minutes then put figs through
a grinder (reserve liquid in pan).
To the water that is left in pan, add two
tablespoons of corn starch and heat.
Remove from heat when it boils.
Mix with figs.

Prepare the Pastry
Make two ordinary pie crusts, one for the top and one for the bottom. The Crisco© recipe works well. Another recipe that looks great is the All Butter Pie Crust by Jen Miller. Her recipe is a version of flaky crust that looks pretty easy to make. The illustrated instructions are very well done.
Roll the pie crusts as thin as possible. You may have to patch together rectangular pieces to cover the pan.
These will easily cover a 15” x 10” baking sheet.
(Alternate Methods: purchase a frozen pastry or make flaky pastry from scratch)

Final Steps
Line the baking sheet with the pastry (pie crust)
Spoon on the filling. Use the amount you want. If you spread it a little thin you will get at   least two full baking sheets. If you put it on very thick you may get one sheet.
Cover the filling with the top crust and seal the edges.
Bake at 350° for 25-30 minutes. Check often. Remove early if necessary. A very light brown color indicates doneness.
Cut into squares of the size you like best.


Here are a few photographs of the process:

If you try these let me know how they came out. If you have suggestions or comments you can use the form that follows this blog to submit them.

Two last items: I lined the baking tray with parchment paper for the first batch. I did not use the paper or any lard for the second batch. Neither stuck to the pan. That could be because I used too much Crisco in my recipe.  Also, I recommend you refrigerate the squares for several hours before eating. They are much better when fully cooled.


Posted in Occasional Commentary | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , | 17 Comments

A Short Winter Walk

Yesterday I experienced a sudden moment of health consciousness. I’m overweight and under-exercised. I find every excuse in the book to remain at home and do ‘inside things’. Instead of going outside I worked on an upcoming blog series and tinkered around with a 1948 Ford radio that I am trying to resurrect for a friend. My intelligent and beautiful wife went off to the gym. I should have followed but did not. Then the weather changed. It shot up to 55 degrees yesterday. That’s rather warm for a winter day in New England.What to do next? Hang around and finish off the M&M’s?

I made the decision in a flash. Take a walk! I quickly suited up (hoodie covered by a light jacket), attached a cell phone to my belt and put a camera in my pocket. The note I left on the counter for my wife said “I went for a walk. I have my phone. Love, Ken”. The Boy Scouts taught me well: “Always register with the mountain trail rescue staff before taking a hike.” Okay, so it was just going to be a two-mile round trip on level country roads; at my age you don’t take chances.

My biggest problem with exercise is that I get bored easily. Every walk has to be in a different direction. I need to liven things up with a new GPS program, an active search for old hubcaps, or taking photographs. The camera was good enough for this short outing. I present here a few of the photos I took. You will notice that our neighborhood is a bit scruffy during the winter. There is an excess of gray dirt, gray trees, dull mailboxes, and invading bull briers. Thankfully the groundhog did not see his shadow today so that means we can expect an early spring.

One of our neighbors keeps Highland Cattle. They like to stare at me. Although they are said to be gentle beasts, I am grateful for the fence that contains them.

One of our neighbors keeps Highland Cattle. They like to stare at me. Although they are said to be gentle beasts, I am grateful for the fence that contains them. They are beautiful animals. I usually stand for several minutes staring back at them. Clicking on the photo will bring you to a site dedicated to people who enjoy raising these imports form Scotland.


Do they have Bop the Mailbox competitions where you live? It's a great sport that is practiced primarily by teenagers who have about as much imagination, creativity, and pride as an old bottle cap. Some people repair the mailbox after it has suffered one or two rounds of match play. Others don't.

Do they have Bop the Mailbox competitions where you live? It’s a great sport that is practiced primarily by teenagers who have about as much imagination, creativity, and pride as an old bottle cap. Some people repair the mailbox after it has suffered one or two rounds of match play. Others don’t.

I think this tree is making a plea to heaven: "Please take me to the great forest in the sky." It's limbs have been rotting and falling for decades, cuttings of hurricane-damaged saplings surround it and the brambles are closing in.

I think this tree is making a plea to heaven: “Please take me to the great forest in the sky.” It’s limbs have been rotting and falling for decades, cuttings of hurricane-damaged saplings surround it and the brambles are closing in.

Our town, like many in New England, used to have a couple town pounds. It usually consisted of an enclosure with a brook running through it. Stray domestic animals were kept there until the owners paid a fee and picked them up. These granite posts would have supported an iron gate at one time. If this was on my property I would clean out all the bull briers and small trees. History should not be neglected.

Our town, like many in New England, used to have a couple of town pounds. They usually consisted of an enclosure with a brook running through them. Stray domestic animals were kept there until the owners paid a fee and picked them up. These granite posts would have supported an iron gate at one time. If this was on my property I would clean out all the bull briers and small trees. History should not be neglected.

There are several plants species represented in this fall debris but oak is the dominant one. I look down a lot because that is where you find all the neat things like old signs, broken telephones, and hubcaps. I really should take a garbage bag with me next time. It would be a cinch to fill it with Budweiser cans and those small liquor bottles they used to serve on airplanes.

There are several plants species represented in this fall debris but oak is the dominant one. I look down a lot because that is where you find all the neat things like old signs, broken telephones, and hubcaps. I really should take a garbage bag with me next time. It would be a cinch to fill it with Budweiser cans and those small liquor bottles they used to serve on airplanes.

After walking about a mile (and removing my jacket and hoodie - it was getting hot) I passed by my cattle friends again. This time one of them began to approach the fence. This is as close as he would go, though. They have incredible curiosity. Are all cattle like this or just these shaggy mountain dwellers?

After walking about a mile (and removing my jacket and hoodie – it was getting hot) I passed by my cattle friends again. This time one of them began to approach the fence. This is as close as he would go, though. They have incredible curiosity. Are all cattle like this or just these shaggy mountain dwellers?

Many years ago I subscribed to the Providence Journal Bulletin, the only RI newspaper that is not a one-community paper. They used to pile up inside my home because I never seemed to have enough time to read them. These days I get most of my news from the radio, TV, and Internet. A newspaper is better but I know what would happen to it if I subscribed again. Apparently these people are on vacation or they don't read as much as they think they do.

Many years ago I subscribed to the Providence Journal Bulletin, the only RI newspaper that is not a one-community paper. They used to pile up inside my home because I never seemed to have enough time to read them. These days I get most of my news from the radio, TV, and Internet. A newspaper is better but I know what would happen to it if I subscribed again. Apparently these people are on vacation or they don’t read as much as they think they do.

Flowers that bloom in the winter. You should see the other side. It's even more colorful. This family keeps a nice place and reminds us that spring is coming. Their newspaper goes in the red box.

Flowers that bloom in the winter. You should see the other side. It’s even more colorful. This family keeps a nice place and reminds us that spring is coming. Their newspaper goes in the red box.

So, are you inspired to take a walk in your neighborhood now? Take your camera. The photos are waiting for you to take them.






Posted in Nature: Plants and Animals, Backyard, Woods, and River, Occasional Commentary | Tagged , , , , , | 2 Comments

Plumbing Penance


This past Tuesday night my friend and neighbor Ed informed me by email that he had a bit of a computer problem that might need fixing. I gave him some suggestions and indicated that I might see him the following day if he still needed help. Unfortunately I ended up Wednesday by returning home late in the day and a bit exhausted. I wrote a followup email to Ed to explain where I was all day. If you dislike plumbing, please read the email message I have copied below.



How did your day work out? I’m sorry I wasn’t around to help you
with that computer problem. My day did not follow the plan I had
worked out. Let me explain.

I left home at 7:05 am and got back at about 4 pm.
I went to mom’s after breakfast at McDonald’s with the guys.
I found her still in bed at 9:30.
She felt warm so I figured she was alive (you have to do that stuff when someone is 92).

She woke up after a little while and told me about how
sick she was the previous day. I gave her the scheduled vitamin shot (1 ml every 6 weeks)
and then went to the kitchen to wash dishes. This is when I noticed the faucet had
no handle (reminds me of an old Bob Dylan ballad).

“Oh yeah” says mom, “I have to walk to the bathroom to get
water to wash the dishes.” So I ask her how long has it been like this.
“Since the weekend, I think” says she. Well you need a new
faucet set. “I know that” she returns, “Andrew is going to get one
for me”.
I decide to call Andrew to determine whether or not he has
acquired the sink faucet set. “It’s on the floor next to the china
cabinet in the dining room” Andrew informs me. “I was going to put it in
as soon as I felt better. Got a serious case of the runs, you know.
Even the dog is sick.” I see a pattern emerging here.

So what to do? I called my friend Lee and informed him that I would
not be able to meet him today. I was having a plumbing crisis. He
offered to loan me some tools but I declined. I had to go home
and get all my special gear.

So off to Hope Valley I go at warp speed. I return to Warwick in no
less than 100 minutes laden with every tool and light source
known to modern man. I also drag along my wife who is seriously
concerned about a maniac errant son driving with wild abandonment
on the slightly icy roads of Middle RI.

Of course my mom has already requested that I return with a loaf
of cinnamon swirl bread without the raisins. She used to put raisins in
everything she cooked, including meatballs. That was to make my
dad happy. Now he’s gone so damned the raisins. I said damned the cinnamon
swirl bread until we get the sink fixed.

So we arrive. I carry in my tools that are cradled in a cardboard Narragansett beer
flat, the best toolbox I had on hand. Camille goes into the dining room to
converse with my mother (bless her heart; Camille’s, not mom’s) so
I can tinker, throw things about and curse willy-nilly to my heart’s desire.
It’s the only way I know to do plumbing.

What does it take to install a kitchen sink faucet? This box of goodies just about covers it. Someday I'll turn in the Narragansett Beer box for something more sturdy. For now, it does a nice job.

What does it take to install a kitchen sink faucet? This box of goodies just about covers it. Someday I’ll turn in the Narragansett Beer box for something more sturdy. For now, it does a nice job.

Step one was to remove all four mousetraps from under sink. Two were sprung and contained no bait. One was primed and went off when my screwdriver touched it.
Number four had a mighty well-dead mouse attached. Lucky me.
Now the fun part of the day (and I thought the 15 mph first drive up on route 95 couldn’t be beat) began. The old faucet set was held on by this really big fitting that would not budge. So I just started ripping stuff out. I severed the old spray hose with some sharp scissors mom had on hand (the only tool of any value in the house; even her
flashlight didn’t work … it was full of water). Then I proceeded to undo the two nuts
that seemed to be holding the faucet stem in place. Have you ever tried to use
an 8-inch wrench in a 3-inch space? After a liberal dose of the F-word and much
twisting and bending of my back (not to mention the drop light that decided to drop
in my face and the spanner that missed my head by an inch) I finally pulled
the sucker off. The actual install of the faucet was a piece of cake, almost. If you
think using an 8-inch wrench in a 3-inch space is frustrating, how about using
two at a time? Yup, that’s how you tighten the supply nut without twisting
off the faucet nuts (both cold and hot). Did I already mention falling wrenches,
raining rust flakes, and dripping supplies? I swear, all plumbers must go straight
to heaven when they die. No waiting in line for those guys. They already spent
a lifetime in purgatory.

Finally the faucet is working. The only leak (very slight) is the shutoff valve. I don’t do those.
Besides, if I fixed that what would the mice think? So my wife and I make a quick run
to the store for cinnamon swirl bread without raisins ( any brand will do, just no raisins if you please) and a fresh pink bottle of Pepto-Bismol© so as to replenish mom’s recently
exhausted supply. Job done. Goods delivered. Bye mom! “You can’t leave yet” says mom. “Watch me” my face responds. You have to replace the bulbs in the dining room
lamp. I do this with great reluctance (plumbing brings out the worst in me).

My wife and I finally leave. “I would have stayed home if I knew it would take this long” she huffs.
“Wait!. Do you know what day it is? It’s Wiener Wednesday!” I say. That did it.
We set a path for Kingston Pizza down in Peacedale. When we enter the store I immediately ask the friendly lady behind the counter “Is today Wiener Wednesday?”
“All day, honey” she responds. And the guy eating alone in one of the booths
chimes in “That’s what I ask her every Wednesday too.” So five wieners, one large fry, a six-pack of Gansett and 20 minutes later we are back home eating our 4:00 pm lunch/supper.
That was an unexpected day.


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