Hell on Wheels – Jimmy ‘Daredevil’ Washburn

Performing death-defying stunts aboard his Harley-Davidson within the Thirties and Forties, Jimmy ‘Daredevil’ Washburn was the Evel Knievel of his day. Descriptions of his feats seem in dozens of interval newspapers, together with the San Jose Information and Santa Clara’s The Sportsman. Writers in these publications used a contact of purple prose to explain Jimmy and his hair-raising daredevilry – together with using whereas blindfolded and leaping over his spouse, Vi. Right here’s an instance from a front-page story within the March 3, 1941, version of The Sportsman. “To Jimmy Washburn, going motorbike using just isn’t the breezy pleasurable sensation which involves the common motorcyclist. You see, Jimmy focuses on using his high-powered velocipede by plate glass home windows, burning partitions and into brick partitions!”

Jimmy Washburn together with his modified 1932 Harley-Davidson VL on the Capitol Speedway in Sacramento, in 1952. [Dan Pereyra]

Newspapers, honest and carnival handbills and plenty of present contracts kind a part of a major Jimmy ‘Daredevil’ Washburn archive acquired by California-based motorbike collector Dan Pereyra. Final summer season, he purchased a 1932 Harley-Davidson VL with its 74ci sidevalve motor: the primary of the Massive Twin Flatheads. The VL, Dan says, was Jimmy’s foremost stunt bike, a machine the daredevil purchased used within the mid ‘30s and saved within the Washburn household for many years. In keeping with an interview performed by Glenn Bator of Bator Worldwide and posted to YouTube with Jimmy’s son, Jim Washburn II, the VL began life as a $200 second-hand road bike that was stripped all the way down to change into a stunt bike. In images, relying on the period, the machine seems painted in several schemes, however triple white diamond flashes over black paint are the predominant motif.

Robust man, huh? Yep, he certain was. Jimmy Washburn within the Forties. [Dan Pereyra]

Dan is an vintage motorbike fanatic of greater than 40 years, and lives close to Jimmy’s San Jose house base, and is justifiably pleased with the Washburn archive, in addition to the machine. “There’s all this documentation concerning the stuff that he did, and it’s essentially the most provenance I’ve ever had for any motorbike I’ve owned; it truly is unimaginable, all of this memorabilia is proof of his excellent accomplishments.” Throughout Jimmy’s period, he was associates with some very well-respected individuals, together with AMA Bike Corridor of Fame members Sam Enviornment and engine builder and tuner Tom Sifton. They raced collectively on the Backyard Metropolis Velodrome, a San Jose observe the place, 25 years earlier, racing legends together with Freddy Ludlow, Ralph Hepburn, Ray Weishar, Otto Walker and Jim Davis proved their mettle on the board observe.

Making a spectacle of himself in opposition to the canvas of night time: Jimmy Washburn. [Dan Pereyra]

A June 12, 1968, function story within the San Jose Information about Jimmy supplies a few of his background. He’s quoted in it, and says, “I purchased an outdated Harley Davidson (1917) for $75. You understand how I paid for it? Selecting prunes at 10 cents a field.”  A long time earlier than it was paved over to change into Silicon Valley, the Santa Clara Valley was full fruit orchards, with a light local weather and really fertile soil. Jimmy’s quote continued, “A good friend of mine, Clinton Wells, taught me to experience. No king was any extra proud than myself. We started touring, using at carnivals, and so forth. I realized to ‘experience the wall.’ I actually had no hassle getting up. It was getting down. However I managed. I obtained $2 per day for the act at Coney Island.” In keeping with newspaper tales, that ‘tour’ happened as early as 1925.

Not simply bikes, Jimmy Washburn additionally drove stunt vehicles in touring exhibits. [Dan Pereyra]

When Jimmy later returned to the West Coast, he took a job with Tri-Valley Growers, however within the early Thirties was supplied a chance by promoter Lynn Matthewson, at San Jose Speedway on Alum Rock Avenue. Jimmy is quoted, “Matthewson wished a daredevil act to complement his auto racing applications. Was I ? I certain was. Something for a buck. We had hassle with the primary act, although. I used to be to crash by a wall six foot by six foot, an inch thick. We made a mistake. We used inexperienced wooden. The end result was that all the things went down in a pile and the cycle was bent into innumerable shapes and varieties.” That story ran three years earlier than his loss of life, in 1971.

The MotoBall made by Firestone Tire and Rubber. [Dan Pereyra]

In lots of the handbills, Jimmy’s outfit known as ‘Dare Satan Washburn’s Thriller Squadron’; ‘Thriller Squadron’; ‘Hollywood Loss of life Defiers’; ‘Hell Riders’ and the ‘Circus of Loss of life’. Relying on the venue, showgoers had been promised pleasure with ‘Two Hours of Breathless Thrills’, that includes stunts together with, ‘A Thousand to One Trip! Up a 60-ft Incline, Hurtling Via Mid-air at 70 miles per hr, Over a Sedan Automotive’, and the ‘Human Wall Crash in Flames!’. Jimmy was maybe greatest identified for his flaming tunnel crash; it’s described within the December 7, 1948, version of The Sportsman like this, “The Flaming Tunnel which Jimmy originated is the closest factor to ‘hades’ on earth a stunt man can suppose up, with a 50-50 probability of shaking the chilly hand of an undertaker each time! The tunnel is a 25-foot lengthy box-like construction composed of extremely flammable supplies and boarded up stable at one finish with one inch thick planks. Twenty gallons of high-octane Ethyl gasoline is poured over the construction and fired.”

Using by the Tunnel of Loss of life, which generally got here shut for Jimmy Washburn. [Dan Pereyra]

“The warmth is terrific, flames billowing excessive into the air. Washburn, sporting solely a crash helmet and leathers for defense, hurtles down the observe at terrific pace to plunge into the flaming inferno. For a number of lengthy seconds rider and motor are swallowed in that terrible maw of flame and your coronary heart stands nonetheless, then with surprising suddenness and a shattering roar motor and rider come crashing by the boarded-up part amid a bathe of splintering timbers and a billowing ball of flaming gasoline.” Jimmy known as trick using ‘sissy stuff,’ and the story concluded, “He prefers the wild hair-raising, crashing, smashing stunts with a punch!”

Washburn broke data and gained loads of races, too, as seen in his trophy room. [Dan Pereyra]

One other of Jimmy’s stunts was Bike Speedball. In keeping with Jim Washburn II in Bator’s YouTube interview, an 8-foot diameter rubber ball, made particularly for Jimmy by Firestone Tire & Rubber, was, “Like motorbike soccer.” Riders would hit the enormous ball with their machine, with the orb rolling alongside to hit one other ‘bike owner. “There are footage of riders consuming the dust due to being hit by that ball!” Jimmy toured the world together with his stunt using, with experiences of him having carried out in Canada on the Calgary Stampede, in Europe, Australia and Mexico. In keeping with The Sportsman, he rode on the “Chicago and New York World’s Festivals,” and, “He gained the championship of the Worldwide Congress of Daredevils at St. Louis, Mo., in 1933 and 1934 by hurtling by mid-air on his motorbike over eight sedan vehicles, a stupendous leap of 65 toes by house, being 15 toes above floor as the best level.” Jimmy additionally made stunt using appearances in Hollywood movies, together with the 1936 Common Image launch Crash Donovan.

Jimmy Washburn together with his buddy, the legendary racer Sam Enviornment, with a Harley-Davidson Dash. [Dan Pereyra]

Jim II says his father was deaf from the age of 9, and newspaper experiences listing a few of his extra important scars, together with a “silver plate in his head, a number of lacking toes on a foot, and burns over three-quarters of his physique.” Though he tried his hand at vehicle and motorbike racing and promoted pace occasions at velodromes, he primarily give up the stunts after an accident within the mid Nineteen Fifties on the San Jose Speedway. It went awry when he drove a burning automotive with a bomb within the trunk down the observe. Among the gasoline used within the conflagration had discovered its method onto Jimmy – the bomb by no means went off — however he was in hospital for months coping with pores and skin grafts to second- and third-degree burns.

A poster for the Hell Riders present in Santa Cruz CA, a ‘Congress of Dare Devils in Bike Rodeo.’ [Dan Pereyra]

Dan says Jimmy’s VL, with its particular stunt aids together with the fork mounted boardwall crash bars and display, braced proper aspect rider pedal and bobbed and skirted rear fender had been beforehand restored when he purchased it. “In some areas it simply had ironmongery shop bolts with the stamped heads, so I took all that stuff off and changed it with unique {hardware} from my inventory and blacked out the megaphone, which you’ll be able to see it was like that within the unique images. I simply tidied up a couple of issues and made it look extra prefer it did within the interval footage, the best way Jimmy used it.” Using for the reason that age of 13, Dan’s had greater than 100 attention-grabbing bikes by his fingers however solely has room, realistically, to maintain 10 machines in his personal assortment. With that, he’s determined that he’d half with the Washburn Harley-Davidson stunt bike. He concludes, “I actually suppose this VL belongs in an enormous collector’s museum, and the Washburn story to me is cooler than the bike.”

Jimmy Washburn’s stunt bike immediately, appropriately refurbished by Dan Pereyra. A 1932 Harley-Davidson VL 74ci Massive Twin flathead.




Greg Williams is Profiles Editor for The Vintagent. He’s a motorbike author and writer based mostly in Calgary who contributes the Pulp Non-Fiction column to The Vintage Bike and common function tales to Bike Classics. He’s proud to reprint the Second and Seventh Editions of J.B. Nicholson’s Fashionable Bike Mechanics collection. Comply with him on IG: @modernmotorcyclemechanics