ANAMOSA, IOWA, June 9—It started with a set of leathers and an urge to “see what they smelled and felt like.” Next was a helmet, then a few jackets. Soon, Evel Knievel aficionado Lathan McKay was among a “secret Facebook society” of collectors, friends and fans of the legendary daredevil. And that was just the beginning…
Now, a year-and-a-half later, McKay is owner of the largest known collection of Evel Knievel’s personal items. Not everyday tchotchkes found in truck stops and Walmarts; we’re talkin’ worn leathers, jackets, helmets, flamboyant golf outfits (seriously), original tanks and other parts off of Evel’s bikes, plaques and awards, parachutes, photographs, autographs, canes and even X-rays. Yes, X-rays. The display was a hit and, appropriately, was showcased in the Hall of Fame Room during the National Motorcycle Museum’s 2013 Vintage Rally, courtesy of Evel Knievel Enterprises Inc.
McKay, Scott Wiley and Texan Robbie Hull are the forces behind Evel Knievel Enterprises, operating out of Butte, Montana. With the blessing of Evel’s widow, Krystal, the trio is determined to revive the legend and build a brand in the process. “We went to Evel Knievel Days in Butte, and I expected there to be more of an Evel aesthetic to it,” said McKay. “There was nothing—none of his memorabilia there. His ramps were rotting, sitting in the fields, and that all really motivated us even more to get his legacy intact because it was just scattered everywhere. Evel gave away most of his stuff to friends and family, and in the end those people want to be sure their possessions end up in the right hands.”
At Evel Knievel Days, McKay came across two of Evel’s best friends, Earl Castine and his wife, who owned a fairly large collection of items. After seeing a photo album, negotiations took place and McKay bought his first “collection of items.” McKay owns every item in the current collection, and wore the first pair of leathers he purchased for four hours that day. Uneager to sell in most cases, once owners found out McKay’s intentions they more often than not parted with the one-of-a-kind keepsakes.
“It started with the leathers and snowballed from there,” McKay said. “Once the family and friends understood what we were doing, they opened their doors to us and really liked the idea. Evel’s whole family is kind of involved, especially Krystal. I’ve licensed the original Evel Knievel brand, and we’re just getting started. People are excited to see all of this in one area. There are still a few big things we want to get; items people won’t really sell yet, but most do and think it’s all really cool. We’re picking up our first actual bike of Evel’s in three days from a guy in Canada who’s had it in a museum for more than 20 years.” He points to a gas tank on the table and adds, “The bike that went with the tank George painted.”
Artist George Sedlak painted Evel’s tanks, helmets and other items, and was present at the 2013 National Motorcycle Museum Vintage Rally. “George knew something was up, but he had no clue his helmets were going to be here. He hasn’t seen those in 30 years,” said McKay. “He was pretty stoked. We were at dinner last night with him talking about how he was a part of what made Evel so flashy and cool. He’s a huge part of this whole thing.”
Hull and McKay talked about their upcoming plans including a trip to Rhinebeck the following weekend where Louis “Rocket” Re successfully jumped seven cars on a stock 1970 Laverda American Eagle. Hull, much like “one of his idols” Sedlak, painted the tank of Re’s jump bike, as well as a handful of other tanks and helmets on display in McKay’s collection. It’s clear these guys have big plans for preserving the legend of Evel Knievel, including a TV deal that’s in the works and the restoration of Evel’s “Big Red” semi. “We’re basically trying to get the whole gang back together,” said McKay. “We want to recreate the circus that is Evel Knievel.”
For more information on Evel Knievel Enterprises and to find out where you can catch the collection on display this summer, visit www.evelknievel.com or search “Evel Knievel Enterprises” on Facebook.