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Hollywood stuntman will try to land Evel Knievel’s jump over Snake River Canyon

TWIN FALLS, Idaho – Hollywood stuntman Eddie Braun is dead serious.

In six days, Braun will pay homage to his lifelong hero, Evel Knievel, when he straps himself into a projectile and his team of rocket scientists shoots him 1,600 feet across the Snake River Canyon.

The rocket? The Evel Spirit: a replica of Knievel’s steam-powered X-2 Skycycle that famously failed a similar jump 42 years ago.

Knievel’s Skycycle was not the only thing launched that day in September 1974; then-12-year-old Eddie Braun’s future as a stuntman also started to take shape.

Braun met Knievel at a time when the daredevil – who survived motorcycle crash after crash while attempting seemingly impossible jumps – commanded a worldwide audience.

“Evel Knievel was the ultimate showman – a superhero, cape and all,” said the 54-year-old Braun, a 30-year veteran of film and television. “Knievel inspired a generation. I wanted to be him.”

But there’s a difference between being a daredevil and being a professional stuntman, he continued.

Daredevils defy death while leaning heavily on luck; stuntmen use all the science available to reduce risk, and details are meticulously combed.

Braun climbed inside the cockpit of the Evel Spirit earlier this month and sat with his eyes closed as he visualized the upcoming jump. Stunt engineer Craig Adams watched intently. Adams can pull the plug on the stunt anytime he senses a serious risk.

“Let’s get rid of this,” Braun said, pointing to something in the cockpit. “I’ll never use it.”

“Now you’re scaring me, Eddie,” Adams challenged.

“I’m a technician,” Braun said. “Scott and I have gone over every detail a thousand times.”

Scott is Scott Truax, Braun’s partner in this adventure and son of Skycycle designer Robert Truax.

Knievel’s failed jump in ’74 was blamed on the premature deployment of the Skycycle’s parachute, which could be seen dragging behind the rocket as it climbed the ramp. The rocket engine blew the parachute cover off its housing and released the chute, Scott Truax said, which slowed the Skycycle and dragged it into the canyon.

Truax is determined to vindicate his father’s design by proving Knievel’s attempt at the canyon would have succeeded had the parachute opened properly. He started his project before his father’s death in 2010.

“I wish he could have seen it to the finish,” he said.

Over the last eight years, Truax has used his father’s designs to piece together Braun’s rocket from scratch. Now, the “Return to the Snake River” team is taking it a day at a time. The jump is scheduled for Sept. 17. If conditions aren’t right, it will be postponed until conditions are right, Truax said.

But one way or another, the jump will be over in seconds.

“3.9 seconds – that’s how long the rocket will fire,” Braun said.

In those few seconds, the steam-powered rocket, with Braun in it, will go from zero to 430 mph. That’s not the speed of a bullet, but it’s enough to cause Braun to feel a mighty punch to the gut, Adams said.

“Eddie will experience six G’s, and he’ll weigh over 1,000 pounds at that point,” Truax said.

When the 1,300-pound rocket reaches its 2,200-foot apogee, Braun will pull three handles – painted red, white and blue – to release the chutes in order to slow the Evel Spirit’s fall.

“I needed something to remember the order to pull them – even in a panic – and red, white and blue was already ingrained in me,” he said.

The canyon at the jump site east of the Hansen Bridge is narrower than the canyon at Knievel’s original jump site, east of the Perrine Bridge. But Braun plans to jump 1,600 feet – the same distance attempted by Knievel. The ramp points southwest so the rocket’s path will angle across the canyon to achieve the full distance.

“It’ll be a better view for spectators,” Truax said.

Fewer than 500 hand-picked spectators will watch the jump from the site, but the team landed a contract with a major network to cover the private event, which is scheduled to air nationally on Sept. 19. Organizers have not announced details about the TV broadcast.

A Kickstarter campaign with 604 backers and $52,202 was canceled when the network contract was signed, Truax said.

The Evel Spirit will launch from Kelly Klosterman’s property in Jerome County, Idaho. If all goes smoothly, it will fall to the ground on Chuck Coiner’s farm in Twin Falls County. Braun has a do-not-resuscitate order in place, just in case things don’t go smoothly.

The team does not anticipate any traffic or trespassing issues, Truax said.

Nevertheless, the Idaho State Police plans to add extra patrols on the day of the jump, said ISP Lt. Robert Rausch.

“I’m not doing this to make money,” said Braun, who has put $1.5 million of his life savings into the project. “It’s not about money; it’s about doing something for the pure coolness.

“Evel’s jump far outlasted him,” Braun said. “Whatever happens, this jump will outlast me.”

He wants his four children, ages 12 to 19, to see their father achieve his goal with integrity – something that Knievel failed to do.

Painful memories still reside in the valley where Knievel trod four decades ago. But Twin Falls Mayor Shawn Barigar is excited about Braun’s jump and plans to watch the jump when it is televised.

“Anytime there’s an event like this that gets a lot of attention – in a positive way – is good for our community,” Barigar said. “It gives us a good chance to showcase the other good things that happen here.”

Right now, Braun is taking the stunt one step at a time, “like an action sequence. The emotion will hit me later.”

He knows just how monumental the jump is.

“Very few things are determined in 3.9 seconds,” Braun said, but those 3.9 seconds “will determine the rest of my life.”

Contact Mychel Matthews at mmatthews@magicvalley.com.


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