I went to Butte, Montana, in late summer of 1960 for a visit with relatives and I drove my 1934 Ford, 5-window Coupe, which was my auto at the time, as it was an excellent car for the road and for drag racing, which we all did at the time. This car had a big Chrysler Hemi engine and it was loaded with dual-4's and a Howard Camshaft and Mallory Ignition, along with a balanced assembly which gave it a high RPM capability and it was very fast. I had a two-speed rear axle and the car was great on the road. A quick change to low-ratio made it a monster drag machine, and I very seldom lost a race. The car was very fast off the line and topped out very quickly.
While I was in Butte, all the car guys used to hang out at Stan's '76 gas station. Stan Dugdale was a really good guy who was into custom cars and hot rods and he let us use the grease rack when it was empty and he would help us with tools and advice on repairs to our cars, so that a lot of the car guys bought gas and had oil changes and did a lot of business with Stan. Right across the street from Stan's gas station, there was a guy who owned a motorcycle shop by the name of Robert Craig Knievel. He used to walk across the street and talk with most of the car guys and try to sell them a motorcycle, but most of the guys didn't want bikes, they wanted to stick with their cars. When Knievel saw my '34, he approached me with an offer of wanting to trade two of his brand new motorcycles for my hot rod. I told him that I didn't need a motorcycle and thanks, but no thanks. He was partially offended by my remark, but he just muttered and walked off and went back across the street to his shop. I got to know this guy later on while I was in Butte and saw some of the crazy things he would do with a motorcycle or even a Tote-Goat and he had a notorious reputation. After I left Butte and went back to Salt Lake City the following year, I found out that this motorcycle guy had left Butte and gone to Washington State first and then to California to start his journey as a motorcycle stunt man, and the first one to do many crazy stunts and that he would become famous and even wind up on TV with some of those stunts. The most famous being the attempted jump of the Grand Canyon of the Snake River in Idaho, which was televised on one of the major networks as part of their sports programs. By then, I had married and had a couple of boys and they had been hooked on this guy who did motorcycle jumps and had a toy figure made by the Mattel Corporation, as I recall, and of course they didn't believe that I had actually known this guy who had become famous when he became known with his new name of "Evel Knievel. His name was synonymous with dangerous stunts and he became world famous. He had taken his notoriety with him though and went though some events that took some of the glitter off his name, which didn't surprise any of us who had known him from Butte in his earlier days.
I last saw him in the 1990's when I went to a Sports Awards banquet for different individuals and athletic teams from the past and he was given an award by the City of Butte for his accomplishments as a stunt man and giving the city of Butte some national recognition. He was much more frail then as his body had been broken so many times when he crashed doing stunts down through the years, but thinking about when I had known him and watched some of his early stunts around Butte, brought back some old memories. Mostly about how he had wanted my '34 Ford so many years ago.
Gus Hernandez Jr.