Evel Knievel’s 1974 Mack truck, Big Red (above), and his Laverda American Eagle jump bike (at bottom). They were both restored from near junk.Photos by Landon Hall
It all began with a set of leathers worn by Evel Knievel in 1974. Purchased in 2012 by former professional skateboarder and actor/director Lathan McKay, those leathers set off a worldwide hunt — “Evel Archaeology,” as McKay calls it — for Knievel memorabilia. Now, just five years later, Historic Topeka Harley-Davidson in Topeka, Kansas, is home to the new Evel Knievel Thrill Show Museum. Attached to the Topeka Harley-Davidson dealership, the 16,000-square-foot museum features two floors of everything Evel that one could imagine — and then some.
The trip through the museum starts on the lower floor, beginning with the story of how Robert Craig Knievel went from working in the copper mines of Butte, Montana, to traveling across the country jumping motorcycles over cars, buses, and, maybe most famously, the fountains at Caesars Palace in Las Vegas, Nevada. Interactive displays give background on each of his important jumps through the years, many with live video footage of the actual jumps. Several of his jump bikes are included, from the 750cc 1969 Laverda American Eagle S he jumped for two years to the 1970 Harley-Davidson XR-750 Iron Head that he used for much of 1971 and 1972.
In addition to Evel’s leathers and bikes, the museum has Evel’s legendary 1974 Mack truck, Big Red, which was found rotting away in a Florida salvage yard and featured on the TV show American Trucker. McKay bought the truck and had it restored by Topeka Harley-Davidson with the help of a crew of specialists. Today its trailer also holds Evel’s original jump ramps, the same ones he used throughout his entire career, from the jumps at Caesars Palace to England’s Wembley Stadium. Rescued from a field in Butte, Montana, in 2014, they now reside back in the trailer, just the way they were stored for hauling all those years ago.
And that’s just the first floor. The second floor houses some of Evel’s most famous helmets, personal artifacts, his custom 1974 Cadillac pickup, and one of the two famous X-2 Skycycles, complete with crash damage incurred during practice for Evel’s failed 1974 attempt to jump Idaho’s Snake River Canyon. An amazing collection, the museum is a must-see for any Evel Knievel fan. Tickets are $20 for adults, $10 for students, and free to children 7 and under. On the web at evelknievelmuseum.com. — Landon Hall