Stuntman crosses the Snake River Canyon on rocket like Evel Knievel's
Eddie Braun didn’t think he would have any trouble clearing the Snake River Canyon east of Twin Falls with a replica of the steam-powered X2 Skycycle Evel Knievel used in his unsuccessful 1974 jump.
Braun, 54, a Hollywood stuntman, told the Idaho Statesman earlier this month he expected his Evel Spirit rocket to land 1,000 feet beyond the canyon’s south wall.
It did just that Friday afternoon.
Small wisps of steam wafted from the rear of the rocket ship at about 3:45 p.m. Someone off-camera from a KIVI-TV online live stream said it appeared like what you’d see coming from a teapot on the stove, not what he expected from a rocket ship.
Seven minutes later, the Evel Spirit thrust forward along the incline of the 10-story launch ramp and flew into the sky.
It flew for about 4 seconds before Braun deployed a parachute, that was red, white and blue. The craft floated through the air to a landing on a farm field well away from the south canyon rim, landing safely, the (Twin Falls) Times-News reported.
But the jump was almost called off at the last minute. Scott Truax, 48, the designer of the rocket, said they were unable to get its steam boiler past 465 degrees, short of their 500-degree target for a safe flight. He said the team’s engineer told him it was time to call it.
“I was like, ‘Call it as in go home and come back tomorrow? Or, call it, as we’re going? No, we’re go. Go get Eddie,’” Truax said.
Braun, he said, climbed into the Evel Spirit, strapped himself in and was ready to go after Truax gave him a five-second countdown.
“He did not hesitate. At one and zero, he was gone,” Truax said. “He was gone in a cloud of steam, and I couldn’t see anything until just before he pulled his chutes.”
“It was pretty cool. I’m glad (Braun) made it,” Twin Falls Mayor Shawn Barigar said shortly after watching live video of the jump. “I look forward to hearing him share what it was like to complete his dream.”
A FATHER VINDICATED
Scott Truax built the Evel Spirit from plans developed by his father, Robert, the builder of Knievel’s Skycycle who died in 2010 at age 93.
“We knew how far it was going to go,” Truax said late Friday afternoon. “We would have cleared the widest part of the canyon. It was textbook perfect.”
Truax was 6 when he watched Knievel’s attempt. He said he was confident Knievel would have also gotten to the other side had his parachute not opened prematurely. Using many of his father’s leftover parts, he worked with Braun to vindicate his father.
“Gosh, I wish he could have seen this,” Truax said. “I like to think he had a good seat, watching it from up above than down below.”
CROWDS LED TO SURPRISE FRIDAY JUMP
The launch was originally scheduled for Saturday, but Braun’s team said it could be pushed to another day — Friday or Sunday — because of safety concerns or windy conditions.
But it turned out crowd control was the problem prompting Friday’s early launch.
People wanting to come to Twin Falls to watch the launch became frustrated that no official launch time had been announced and that even the day didn’t seem set in stone. Braun’s team said that because both the launch site and the landing zone were on private property, there wasn’t any place for the public to gather.
The team did not secure a permit from Jerome County for any sort of large gathering.
“To be honest with you, I’m excited that it happened so that we can tell everybody it happened, instead of trying to tell people we have no idea when it’s going to happen, which is what we’ve been doing all week,” said Barigar, who also serves as CEO of the Twin Falls Area Chamber of Commerce.
Friday afternoon, amid suggestions that the jump was going forward, reporters and onlookers gathered in the area near the Hansen Bridge, just east of Twin Falls,
Family members of Evel Knievel, who died in 2007 at age 69, were at the site for the jump, Times-News reporter Tetona Dunlap and KIVI anchor Don Nelson said. They included Knievel’s son, Robbie Knievel, and Evel Knievel’s ex-wife, Krystal Kennedy-Knievel.
FOLLOWING DAREDEVIL’S FOOTSTEPS
On Sept. 8, 1974, Knievel — jumping from the canyon’s south rim at a site several miles west — failed to reach the north wall of the canyon when his rocket cycle’s parachute deployed early. The rocket floated toward the water before a gust of wind blew it back to the rocks on the south shore, below the launch site. Knievel suffered only minor injuries and a jolt to his ego.
The canyon east of the Hansen Bridge where Braun jumped, along Idaho 50, is about 1,400 feet wide, 200 feet narrower than where Knievel jumped. The trajectory of Braun’s jump was at a higher angle.
Unlike Knievel, who was lowered into his rocket ship riding inside a metal cage swung into place by a crane, Braun walked up several steps on the platform and slipped into the Evel Spirit.
Braun’s team was the last remaining of several that sought to jump the canyon in 2014, the 40th anniversary of Knievel’s attempt. Braun was the first to follow through after decades of people talking about re-enacting the event.
“What better way to pay homage to the guy who inspired me and led me to become everything that I am professionally?” Braun told the Idaho Statesman ahead of the jump. “I like to say I’m not doing something that Evel Knievel couldn’t do. I’m simply finishing out his dream. How many people get to finish the dream of their hero?”
People still debate whether Knievel’s parachute malfunctioned and opened early or whether Knievel, born Robert C. Knievel in Butte, Mont., pulled the chute cable himself. He always claimed a glitch caused the problem partway across the canyon.
Decades later, Knievel, who died in 2007 at age 69, blamed Robert Truax for the failure. Truax was a former U.S. Navy engineer who developed concepts that led to high-profile projects such as the Polaris submarine mission and the military’s pre-NASA space programs. The New York Times called him one of the 20th century’s “premier rocket scientists.”
“I was so mad at that engineer. That guy was an idiot,” Knievel said in a 2005 documentary, “Absolute Evel.”
Because Knievel failed to cross the Snake River Canyon, the feat often gets overshadowed by the sideshow that took place around the jump. Knievel promised a weeklong festival complete with celebrities, a golf tournament and fun. Although the 50,000 spectators he said would show up didn’t materialize, those who came upset locals by skinny-dipping, partying excessively and fighting.
Knievel also allegedly left town without paying certain business debts.
Tim Woodward covered the 1974 attempt for the Statesman. In a 2007 column, he summed up his memories: “Far from historic, it was three days of insanity best forgotten.”
Stuntmen and daredevils certainly didn’t forget it, and 2014 was not the first time another jump had been proposed. Notably, Knievel’s son Robbie visited Twin Falls in the early ’90s and again in 2010 to tout a possible jump (the second time with a camera crew following him). Both times, his project went nowhere.