photos by: the author
Despite the recent controversy surrounding a thirty-five year old television program, there are those who still show their support for the Dukes of Hazzard the only way they know how, including our friends over at the Northeast Ohio Dukes. Created by Raymond Kohn, a long-time Dukes fan, he has taken his passion of a TV show he grew up with as a kid, and has turned it into one of the most extreme hobbies we have seen on this side of the Mississippi!
For starters, he has built himself one of the nicest General Lee replicas that’s not only accurate to the show, but restored and modified to the nines. Although it’s not a legit R/T, what lies underneath more than makes up for the lack of a factory pedigree. We’ll get more into that later (including a full-length feature story), but for now, we’ve decided to use this opportunity to focus more on the Northeast Ohio Dukes as a whole, with an interview with the man himself!
“Like many guys from my generation (I’m 37), I grew up watching the Dukes as a kid. But it wasn’t just about the cars and the action sequences for me, it was the message that they passed along to their audience.” – Raymond Kohn
Timeless Muscle: The first question we have to ask is, how did you got into this, Raymond?
Raymond Kohn: Like many guys from my generation (I’m 37), I grew up watching the Dukes as a kid. But it wasn’t just about the cars and the action sequences for me, it was the message that they passed along to their audience. They were about family, traditional values, good morals, helping others and so on. Indirectly, they helped teach an entire generation of kids the importance of those things, and how to treat other people.
As I got older and became an adult, those qualities had stuck with me and when I was able to, I decided to build a General Lee replica of my own. So when I was 18, I located a ’69 Charger (non-R/T) that was once used as a race car here in Ohio. It was purple and had fiberglass fenders, but it was pretty much complete and, I thought, would make the perfect donor car. However as I dug deeper into the car, I soon realized that there was more rust and work then I was willing and able to deal with at the time, so I replaced it with a car that would ultimately become the General Lee that I have now. This car was completed in 2004.
TM: How did the whole Northeast Ohio Dukes operation start? I mean, that’s quite a leap to go from your average Dukes enthusiast with a General Lee replica show car, to an entire event with a full staff, General Lee stunt cars and even the full-line of character cars from the TV show?
RK: Oddly enough, I actually fell into it by accident. Back in 2005, MTV gave me a call after seeing my Dukes replica cars on our website, and offered me an opportunity to showcase them for a TV show they produced, called The New Movie Show. At the time, the (2005) Dukes movie was just being released in the theaters and they wanted to help Warner Brothers create a buzz for the film.
So they invited us out there, put my cars on display (the General and Roscoe’s Fury cop car) and held a General Lee jump event with a stunt guy behind the wheel of an unsalvageable Charger stunt car. Becoming immediately impressed and interested in doing something similar, I researched what it would take to duplicate the jump on my own and went from there. In the meantime, they interviewed us for the show and we didn’t even have a name for what we were doing. They put me on the spot by asking us what we called ourselves, and on a whim, I replied “Northeast Ohio Dukes,” because of where we’re from. The name simply stuck. I made my first jump two years later in 2007 at Yankee Lake.
“They put me on the spot by asking us what we called ourselves, and on a whim, I replied “Northeast Ohio Dukes,” because of where we’re from.” – Raymond Kohn
TM: So you took an idea from a publicity stunt for the 2005 movie, and turned it into something of your own design?
RK: Yes. At first, it was just me and a couple of friends and family members helping out; building the cars, setting up the stunts and so forth. But as time wore on, we turned it into a full-on stunt show with a complete cast playing as the characters from the Dukes of Hazzard TV series – even their vehicles! We have Daisy’s Jeep, Roscoe’s Plymouth Fury cop car, Uncle Jesse’s Ford truck, Boss Hogg’s Caddy and so on.
TM: Tell us more about the cars you’ve used for the jumps. Are they the pristine, numbers-matching R/T examples many of your critics assume they are, or is there something more that the purists should know about these stunt cars? How many stunt cars have you used?
RK: [Laughs] No, the cars we use for these stunts are far from desirable. Literally every car we’ve used from day one up until now have been complete rust buckets; all of them had rotted bodies, none of them were equipped with their drivetrains (we installed those later) and none of them were salvageable. They were basically piles of rust with a roof and a firewall. None of them were even registrable; just old parts cars that had ultimately rotted out over the last 20 or 30 years. In total, we’ve made eighteen jumps and used thirteen cars. Two of the cars were used for three separate jumps.
“Literally every car we’ve used from day one up until now have been complete rust buckets; all of them had rotted bodies, none of them were equipped with their drivetrains (we installed those later) and none of them were salvageable.” – Raymond Kohn
TM: Just curious, were any of them R/Ts?
RK: Nope. We’ve modified one or two SEs, but again, they were completely unsalvageable and unregisterable parts cars that lost their titles years ago. We simply Bondo the heck out of the bodies to make them appear as though they’re solid General Lees. Even the trim on these cars is of our creation; we use red duct tape for the taillights, one-piece sheet metal that we paint, pinstripe and decal to appear as grilles and even the “chrome trim” is nothing more than aluminum heater tape, cut and pasted to mimic the OEM trim pieces. In a stunt car, it doesn’t make any sense to use salvageable trim (or vehicles), so we do our best to make the car at least look like a solid Charger from 100 feet away… or at least from the audience’s point of view.
TM: We’ve recently caught your act a couple of weeks back at Yankee Lake, it was an awesome show! However, the Chargers that were used in the action scenes (and in our photos) seemed pretty solid to us. Tell us what we’re missing.
RK: Ha! For the action scenes, we use my personal General I’ve completed back in the day, as well as my buddy’s General Lee replica. Both of which are very straight cars we’ve built years ago, but they don’t ever see any kind of serious stunt action. We just use them for the staged chase scenes and close ups. We simply drive them out of view of the audience after the scene is completed, then switch to the stunt car for the final jump scene.
TM: Is your beauty car an R/T?
RK: My personal General Lee is a ’69 Charger, but it’s not an R/T. It does have all of the [mechanical] R/T goodies in it, though; from the rearend, suspension, brakes… it’s all R/T. Under the hood sits a warmed over 440, that’s backed by a 727 Torqueflite.
TM: Gotcha! Tell us more about your cast and crew. How many people, collectively, help in the production of your show? Are they simply friends and family members who volunteer or are they hired, paid employees?
RK: When we first started out, it was just my wife, a couple of friends and a few family members helping me with this. But as our production grew, I had to bring in more people to make it a smooth-running, fully-staffed operation. I have guys on my staff now who simply wanted to volunteer, but I wouldn’t let it happen; everybody gets paid for the job that they do. All in all, we have about forty people involved with the production of the show.
TM: What does your family think about what you do? Obviously they worry about your safety, but are they confident in each jump you make or do they get really nervous with each one?
RK: You know, even after eighteen jumps, my wife and daughter still worry about me. My wife plays Daisy in the show, so she’s always right there in the act with me while my daughter watches from the sidelines. My Mom loves the show – but she hates the jumps, for obvious reasons.
My Dad used to play Uncle Jesse in our show, but according to what everyone tells me, could never watch me jump. He would look away at the last second before I landed – he just couldn’t watch it. He recently passed away this February, and at this last show, we held a little memorial for him. My Dad would always say to me, “please tell me this is the last one, Ray…” We all miss him.
TM: Tell us more about the safety equipment you use. I’m sure jumping these derelict, rust-bucket Chargers can be pretty hard on your back?
RK: It’s not so much the back as it is the shoulders. We use some of the most sophisticated, high-tech safety equipment you can possibly get your hands on. Some of it is off-the shelf components, while most of it is safety equipment of our own design. We do some fabricating with the car too, as far as making the landing a little bit safer. For instance, we take about seven inches out of the the seat to make more headroom for the helmet – so it’s a bit lower than it normally would be.
We take every precaution we need to, to be as safe as possible. Of course I wear a helmet, but I also have to wear a neck brace, flame suit, mouth piece, elbow catcher, a shin/leg guard, a wrist restraint for my left arm and a special restraint that’s like a vest, but is super tight to the point that it’s almost like wearing a corset [laughs]. But it has D-rings on the back to hook to the bungee chord connected to the 4-point harness and head restraint – that helps keep my body from moving forward.
TM: Looking at the audience of your most recent event, we were quite surprised by the amount of children we saw in the crowd. Obviously, the show appeals to kids much in the same way as it had to guys of our generation, but even with the changing times, it’s crazy to think that the Dukes still hold water to a generation of kids who were born with smartphones in their hands.
RK: [Laughs] For sure, and we make it a point to implement strong family values into our stunt show just like the original cast had done in the TV series. As you’ve seen in our stunt show, we typically quote lines from the series into our skits. For example, when Uncle Jesse tells us that, “if you start acting like your enemies, you become them,” he’s talking about being the bigger person and taking the high road during confrontations. There are other examples like that found within our dialogue throughout our show.
“…we make it a point to implement strong family values into our stunt show just like the original cast had done in the TV series.” – Raymond Kohn
I’m simply trying my best to carry the torch, or baton, from the television show into my stunt show. We have too many fans to not carry on the spirt or tradition of the series. We keep things interesting, too. We do a lot with pyrotechnics; such as the scene where the “bad guys who are pretending to be the Dukes” sabotage the General Lee with dynamite, and I have to remove it from the trunk and throw it. When I do that, we have it timed perfectly to where when the [fake] stick of dynamite lands, a rigged explosive charge goes off. It’s pretty cool to see, and of course, it’s located as far away from the crowd as possible for safety concerns.
TM: We don’t get into politics around here, and we promised ourselves that we would only touch lightly on this next subject. But what are your thoughts on the recent controversy that effected the cancellation of the long-syndicated TV series and the General Lee die-cast models? Being very passionate about the Dukes of Hazzard, we’re curious as to what the official opinion is by the Northeast Ohio Dukes.
RK: It’s been crazy. We’re not going to let media controversy negatively effect our show or what we do. However, at our most recent stunt show, we opened with honoring those nine people who were involved in the recent church shooting in South Carolina. It was a horrific, tragic event and the public reaction created by that one individual should have never effected the long-syndicated run of the Dukes of Hazzard. The Dukes weren’t racist, in fact, they were quite the opposite. They were all about helping anybody in need, and to them, a stranger was just a friend that they’ve never met.
“…at our most recent stunt show, we opened with honoring those nine people who were involved in the recent church shooting in South Carolina.” – Raymond Kohn
TM: There’s been some talk about this most recent show being your last. Is that true?
RK: I don’t want it to be. I’d like to at least get twenty jumps in before I call it quits. Our show brings in over 10,000 spectators per event, our highest was last year with 13,000. But we’re at a small venue with limited room for spectators. We’d like to do something maybe next year, where we invite some of the General Lee clubs or Mopar clubs to our event. Maybe have a big car show and just make a huge event out of all of it? But we’ll see…
TM: In closing, is there anything you want to say?
RK: Absolutely! I want to thank all of my friends, family members and everyone who helps put this thing together. I always get interviewed by news and media outlets about what we do, as if it’s a one-man band – nothing could be further from the truth! Without the help of my cast, crew and friends and family members, none of this would be possible!
TM: One more thing… can we drive the General?
Rick Seitz is the owner and founder of Timeless Muscle Magazine, and has a true love and passion for all vehicles. When he isn’t tuning, testing, or competing with the brand’s current crop of project vehicles, he’s busy tinkering and planning the next modifications for his own cars.