Gary Schneider's General Lee
General Lee - 10/15/11 House Fire
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Blue Ridge Mountains
At "The Shop"
Back by popular demand...
Here's my story of the General Lee known as "LEE 1"
I have been accused by some of being long-winded when getting to the point of a story. However, I think to fully appreciate the way in which this story has changed my life, it will be necessary to do just that by way of a little background.
I was brought up in a small, middle-class farming community in western Illinois by two loving and very hard-working parents. I was drug to church kicking and screaming every Sunday where I was taught to follow the Ten Commandments -- especially the one about telling the truth, whichever number that was. I also remember learning about the Golden Rule in the third grade. For those unaware of or that have forgotten the Golden Rule, it's "Do unto others as you would have them do unto you." In other words, treat people the way you would like to be treated. Now, I can't say that I've walked around for the last 25 years reciting the Golden Rule in my head. But in hindsight, I think I've done a fairly respectable job following that simple rule. I attribute these basic morals and principles to leading me to where I am in life today. With that said, I am going to attempt to continue to follow that rule and those principles throughout this story.
Like most Duke fans, I grew up watching the show every Friday night and just couldn't get enough of that big orange clunker car. I remember sitting on the living room floor at 10 years old thinking how cool it would be to have a General Lee so I could jump over the stopped cars at stoplights. Actually, I still think that would be cool.
Fast forward 20 years where I'm living in the Chicagoland area working as a freelance stenographer in the second largest bankruptcy court in the country putting in more hours than the human body can stand. And then it all began... TNN starts playing reruns of the Dukes. A few months later I spotted what now is my General Lee parked at a gas station -- not for sale, unless, of course, for the right price. What about the flag, I wondered. Let alone a place to park it while living in an apartment building. The then two websites about the Dukes of Hazzard and/or the General Lee were of little assistance. In fact, one site strongly recommended against owning a General. My now wife was then working long hours and I needed a hobby, so I made a crazy offer that wasn't refused. I proudly drove my pile of orange crap home New Year's Eve 1997... with no heat.
Jumping ahead to an early Saturday morning in July of 2000, my friend and fellow General Lee fan Travis Bell called and woke me to chat. While talking to him, I checked my email and found an extremely exciting invitation. Tom Wopat's (Luke Duke) personal assistant had been to my website about my General Lee, and she was wondering if I'd be willing to haul my General Lee to Harris, Michigan, to join John Schneider (Bo Duke), Tom and Sonny (Enos) on the 2000 Dukes of Hazzard Reunion Tour.
Fortunately for me, my favorite Canadian of all time Richard Cummins thought that his invite to join the tour was a joke pulled by friends and, therefore, didn't respond to the invite.
"Travis," I said, "you wanna come with?" Or something like that. A few weeks later, my General Lee, Travis and I were off to meet the Duke Boys. While on the Dukes of Hazzard Reunion Tour, Travis and I were overwhelmed with questions about the General Lee. To answer all the cries for more General Lee information, we thought that while there already was a Dukes of Hazzard fan club, why not make a fan club exclusively about the General Lee?! Hence, my General Lee website became what is now known as the North American General Lee Fan Club.
During the time off of the tour, reality set back in for me as I desperately tried to play catch-up with work before going back out on the road, while Travis began hunting down people who might have seen the General Lee jump at Oxford College during filming in Georgia back in 1978. He did this by emailing everyone on the alumni list on the college's website. He received an email from a gentleman who had recently had his truck painted by a guy named Tony who had once worked on the Georgia General Lees when a teen. Travis contacted Tony and learned that he had worked for Henry Holman, the guy who was in charge of keeping the pilot cars tip top during the pilots. Travis mailed Henry Holman $50 and received some priceless photos which were later featured in the Hot Pic Of The Week Section of the NAGLFC. Henry also told Travis that the person to talk to was the transportation coordinator Don Shishler. (I'm sure I'm spelling his name wrong.)
Back on tour, my General Lee, Travis and I stopped at Cooter's Place in Sperryville in between shows. After hanging out with Ben for about an hour, we headed on to Georgia to meet Don Shishler and found that he was out of town filming a commercial. So off to Covington and Conyers where we met up with friends John and Jacki from Ohio and Duane, Debbie and Tommy from Pennsylvania. Together we toured the filming sites and also paid a visit to Tony Kelly, Henry Holman, Pete Hamilton and Bud, the old man that owned the Duke house when WB filmed there. Travis was in search of anything from the show. Anything. Tony had a CNH 320 license plate hanging in his log cabin and Bud had a butter dish from the Duke's kitchen table. Neither of them wanted to part with their treasures.
Back at home again I, of course, am trying to play catch-up with a heap of work while Travis made contact by phone with Don Shishler. The final stop on the tour was in Cummings, GA, on October 11, 2000, so my General Lee, Travis and I headed south a little early to meet Don. Don had some fascinating stories to tell. We sat and listened for hours. Duane and Debbie caught up with us again at Don's shop. Don told us the story that a man named Cliff hauled away all the cars that were used in the Dukes episodes when they had completed filming. Don hadn't talked to Cliff in years, but volunteered to call him anyway. We watched Don like a hawk while listening to his half of the conversation. Cliff wasn't home, but his wife told Don that most of those cars had long since been crushed. But she did say that there was an old Charger out there that wasn't orange, but that it did have a 71 on the door.
We left my General Lee parked at Don's shop and we jumped into his daily driver, a black Chevy Suburban from the movie "Fair Game" staring Cindy Crawford, and we were on our way to Cliff's house. We rode for a good while, and Don's willingness to share his stories helped ease the anxiety, although I could hardly hear from the back seat where I was jotting down notes of our route of travel on the back of one of Duane and Debbie's checking account deposit slips.
Traveling up Cliff's driveway, my first sight was of many long-forgotten cars amidst years and years of unkept vegetation consisting of pine trees, thorn bushes and whatever those vine things are that grow all over Georgia. It looked more like an abandoned public junk yard than someone'shome, right down to the pack of dogs wandering around . Nestled amongst the trees and cars that just seemed to go on forever was a house, I guess. Cliff still was not home, so Don briefly talked to his wife through the screen door. She pointed us in the general direction of what we had come for. "Left at the Pinto, over the hill and down near the road, she said.
With video cameras in hand, we wound our way through the briar. And then there it was with no wheels and sitting on its frame, faded green and rust colors covered with years of fallen pine needles, camouflaging itself into its surroundings like a fallen soldier slowly dying in the jungle. We approached it from the driver's side and declared over and over "This is it." It was truly an exciting time for all of us. Don stood and watched us marvel at what we had found.
We cleared off the pine needles and started investigating closer. Fully aware that the chromed-out motor in the Repo Men episode was obviously edited in, I must confess that the thought of it being under that hood entered my mind as we fought to get it open. A 383 block with heads was about all that was there. The interior was virtually nonexistent with the exception of a seat and roll cage. The trunk was full of hardened concrete. The rocker panels that it wore while it was oranger were gone. And then it only got better. Next to the VIN was a label that read "LEE 1." Don explained to us that Hollywood had built and brought three General Lees and three police cars to Georgia for filming. Each one had a label next to the VIN so you could tell them apart. We were standing there looking at the first General Lee ever. While Duane actually ate a piece of old 71, the rest of us were satisfied by just taking what seemed like hundreds of pictures.
Shortly thereafter, Cliff arrived home. He was pleased to see Don, and
everyone quickly introduced themselves. I remember him saying something like,
"Now, you boys know that's the Richard Petty race car from the Dukes
of Hazzard, right?" Or something similar. Next he said that he thought there
were a couple of police cars that had survived, too. Daylight was growing short and the
hunt was on. We followed Cliff around and around his overgrown property like goslings
following their mother until finally we found a 1974 Dodge Monoco Hazzard County police
car. The light bar was gone and the decals had been completely stripped from the car
except for one tiny piece clinging to the driver's door. And, once again, there
was a label next to the VIN that read "Police 1. By the time we found
Police 2 it was dark. It, too, was a 1974 Dodge Monoco and was completely overgrown with
vines. Once again, there was a label next to the VIN that read "Police
While Don and Cliff caught up with each other, I paced in circles smoking cigarettes one after another uttering things like, "What are we going to do to get this car? We have to get this car. Does he know that it's LEE 1? Would he sell it? How much do you think he'll want for it? How would we get it out of here?" I don't specifically recall talking to Cliff about what he'd want for it, but I do recall him saying that he wanted to talk to his son to get an idea of how much he thought it was worth. He also mentioned to us that he was having thoughts about taking all three of the cars and lining them up in front of his shop for the kids to look at and play on. He gave us a business card and we told him we'd stay in touch. After a quick stop at Don's to get my General Lee, Travis, Duane, Debbie and I were off to Atlanta to get some sleep. My General Lee was scheduled to be on the Peachtree in the Morning Show early the next day with John and Sonny to promote the show in Cummins.
Fall came and went, and the North American General Lee Fan Club finally went on line in December of 2000 and quickly grew faster than Travis and I ever imagined. The pictures from the tour and Henry Holman's behind-the-scene pilot pictures got the site off to a great start.
Before I knew it, I was receiving emails faster than I could respond to them and pictures of people's General Lees faster than I could find time to post them. I married my girlfriend of nine years in April of 2001 and had the best DJ on the planet, Travis, keep my guests on their feet dancing into the night. Travis started tracking down the California stuntmen and mechanics that worked on the show, and Ben was eager to have them and us join the lineup at DukesFest01.
Travis and I agreed not go public about finding these cars for obvious reasons. We frequently discussed the logistics of rescuing 71. We both agreed that it would be great to unveil old 71 at Cooter's Place during DukesFest01, so time was of the essence. Neither he nor I had any equipment to move it onto a trailer, and we didn't know if Cliff did or not. Travis thought it would be best to just show up on Cliff's doorstep unannounced with a fist full of cash and to make him an offer he couldn't refuse. I, on the other hand, preferred to at the least establish an approximate price before we headed to Georgia, which, of course, would allow opportunity to make arrangements to have someone help us put it on my trailer. Now, I understand the element of surprise, but I sure as hell was not going to take valuable time off of work to drive all the way to Georgia only to come home with an empty trailer because of an outrageous price
Jimmy Best (Rosco) was scheduled to appear at Cooter's Place a couple of months before DukesFest01, and rumored to appear again at DukesFest01. At the risk of it being just a rumor, we decided we should go to Cooter's Place and meet Rosco! It was then that I met John and Michelle Parnell and shared the 71 story with them. John lived within a couple hours of where we found LEE 1 and graciously volunteered his services and the rollback to help recover LEE 1. Bingo.
Then came the pivotal point of my friendship with Travis. It was a Saturday afternoon sometime in the spring of 2001, and Travis and I were having a conversation on the phone. As we were ending the conversation, I reminded him that John Parnell was standing by and that DukesFest01 would be here before we knew it and that we needed to call Cliff and let him know that we were interested in his Richard Petty race car.
The very next morning, I received an email from a mutual acquaintance of
ours nicknamed Bender, a great guy that Travis and I met at the Dodge Charger Registry
Meet in Auburn, Indiana, earlier that year. Bender happens to own a car hauler with a
Bender's email was inquiring as to Travis' whereabouts as he and Travis were supposed to be leaving that weekend to recover LEE 1. I immediately picked up the phone and called Bender. He explained to me that Travis had called him a few weeks prior and told him about the help he was going to need recovering LEE 1. Being a long-time Dukes fan himself, Bender agreed to help by picking up Travis in his car hauler and driving to Georgia to recover LEE 1. But when it came time to head south, for some reason Bender couldn't track Travis down.
Right then and there it became abundantly clear to me that Travis had decided that when it came to LEE 1, it would not be "we" as a whole, but "I, Travis." From that point forward, things would only worsen.
Shortly after my discussion with Mr. Bell concerning his actions, we established a date to go to Georgia.
Thursday night, August 9th, my mother went into the hospital for what the doctors thought was pneumonia.
Saturday, August 11th. After arriving home with two crisp $100 bills from a mid-afternoon birthday party that my General Lee was hired to attend, I phoned my mother, still in the hospital. She said she was feeling okay and insisted that I make the trip to Georgia to get the car rather than come visit her. I made a quick call to Mr. Bell to confirm that he had spoken to Cliff's wife. He reiterated that she said she would tell Cliff we were coming and that they leave for church around 9:30 a.m. I then called John Parnell and told him I was headed out the door and would be in touch sometime in the middle of the night. John assured me that he was ready and waiting. After a quick pit stop in Indianapolis to pick up Mr. Bell, we were on our way to Georgia with an empty trailer in tow.
This was the first time since the Dukes Reunion tour in 2000 that Mr. Bell and I had traveled together exclusively again, and we had just as much fun as we did on the tour. During a pit stop for fuel, I went into the station for a Snickers bar and wound up buying a black and white TV. It sure was funny at the time. It was this trip where I also learned it's better to park the truck and trailer rather than trying to squeeze through just about any Taco Bell drive-thru. We drove all night without sleep. I seem to remember something about mad turtles, too. But, as far as I recall, there was never a discussion regarding how much money either of us were carrying or who was going to actually pay for the car.
August 12th, 2001. The day looked as if it were 1979 in Hazzard County with dismal grey skies with occasional sprinkles and stifling humidity. While we waited at our rendezvous point for the Parnells, we watched TV. There was nothing on. Shortly after 9:00 a.m the Parnells arrived. John had brought the rollback and Michelle was driving their truck pulling a trailer. We spoke for a moment and proceeded towards Cliff's. Once we arrived, we parked on the street and Mr. Bell and I headed out on foot towards Cliff's driveway. As we approached, Cliff and his wife were coming down the driveway in a van. Mr. Bell and I rushed to greet him. Cliff was not happy. Apparently Cliff's wife failed to tell him that we were coming. He very sternly explained to us that he was 65 years old, had a bad leg and never does business on Sundays. He paused for a moment, then continued to sternly explain that since we had traveled so far he would make an exception, and that when he returned from church we'd talk and maybe fire up the forklift and see what we could do.
Mr. Bell and I walked back to the parked trucks and briefed the Parnells on the conversation that had just taken place. After discussing several different scenarios as to what to do next, the decision was made to simply make this transaction as painless for Cliff as possible: Get the car on the rollback and we'll worry about price once he returned. If he wants too much, we'll put it right back where we found it and forget we were ever here. Yes, that is correct, no price had yet been established.
We found a break in the fence and John backed the rollback through the trees and old cars. Once the rollback was in place, the cable was hooked to the front. Surprisingly, it quite easily broke free from the ground that it had been planted in for over twenty years. With some pushing and shoving while using care not to tear up the bed of the rollback, LEE1 was on the bed and on the move for the street. Once on the street, John secured the car with chains and cables while we closely analyzed what we were seeing. We took pictures and talked awhile about how exciting this whole experience was, and then walked down to see the remains of POLICE 1 and POLICE 2. We all agreed that due to the mood that Cliff was in when he left that the police cars would have to wait for another day.
We had been waiting on Cliff to return now for what seemed to be an eternity. About two-and-a-half hours into the wait, Travis summoned us together to take a vote on who wanted to just leave with the car and work out the details later. John spoke up and said that he wasn't about to leave until Cliff returned and the car was paid for. Michelle and myself both agreed that it would be best to wait. I could hear the APB in my mind... "truck being driving by a couple Yankees pulling a trailer with the Richard Petty race car from the Dukes of Hazzard on it." Not to mention leaving with the car would most certainly ruin the possibility of recovering POLICE 1 and POLICE 2.
During their trip to meet Mr. Bell and me, John and Michelle were having trouble with their truck, so they decided that while we were waiting that they would go back to the town to see if they could get a part they needed. While they were gone, Cliff had turned into a new man. We met him at the bottom of his driveway where he apologized for "being ill" to us. He saw that we had the car loaded on the rollback and invited Mr. Bell and I up to the house to talk business.
Once at the top of the driveway, the conversation contained small chat about the newly released three-car set by Ertl and the 2000 Reunion Tour. He then asked what we thought the car was worth. I just stood there while Mr. Bell talked. Mr. Bell explained to him that his father was the stuntman that actually jumped the car in front of the college back in '78 for Dukes of Hazzard TV show. Mr. Bell went on to explain that his father was quite ill and in the hospital and that the sight of this car would most certainly lift his spirits. I continued to just stand there dumbfounded. Cliff expressed sympathy and then explained that he thought the transmission was probably still good and that it alone would fetch $500. Then Cliff had an idea. "I'll write what I want for the car on my hand and you write what you want to pay for the car on your hand. We'll hold up our hands at the same time and meet in the middle. Cliff handed Mr. Bell a pen. With no discussion between Mr. Bell and myself, Mr. Bell wrote a figure on his hand, as did Cliff. The hand-flip median was $400. Mr. Bell quickly opened his wallet and began counting out 20 dollar bills and handing them to Cliff in increments of $100. While Mr. Bell was counting his third round of 20s, I opened my wallet and handed Cliff the aforementioned two crisp $100 bills, thus closing the deal 50/50.
Cliff couldn't have been happier. He made $400 on a Sunday and didn't have to do a thing. He even invited us in for lemonade and to watch some of the race on TV. The Parnells had brought two of the three-car sets from Ertl, so Mr. Bell offered one to him. Plus the promise of an autograph from John and Tom for his grandson. Mr. Bell and I wanted to get the hell out of there before he changed his mind.
John and Michelle had returned with their part and were waiting for us to finish up with Cliff. We loaded up and headed to their shop in South Carolina for some much needed rest. In route to the Parnells', I phoned the hospital and was told things were not looking good for my mother. Call back soon. Mr. Bell and I then discussed how lucky we were to have met the Parnells and wondered how we'd ever be able to thank them. I suggested telling John that the squad cars were his. I sure didn't want them because I didn't have anyplace to store what I already had. Mr. Bell agreed. I still contend to this day that if it wasn't for the Parnells, Mr. Bell and I would still be standing there looking at it scratching our butts trying to decide how to get it out of there.
We unloaded LEE 1 into their shop by pulling it off of the rollback with their soon to be DIXIE Jeep replica. We put the Mopar rallies from Mr. Bell's future General Lee on it so we could get it on my trailer. After the wheels were on, Mr. Bell told John that he and I had been talking and decided that because of all of the effort that he and Michelle had put forth to help rescue LEE 1, that the location of the police cars was now their secret and that they could negotiate with Cliff for the cars with our blessing. John again insisted that this wasn't necessary, but he eventually gave in and thanked us countless times. We then pushed LEE 1 around to the front of the shop for more pictures and discussion, and then loaded it onto my trailer. John also donated the "Hamilton" rims that closely matched the rims that were on the car in the episode "Repo Men."
While watching a few early Dukes episodes starring LEE 1, my sister called me on my cell phone crying saying that our mother was not likely to live and to get on a plane now. And just like that the fun was over. Well, there isn't exactly a major airport near the Parnells, so we just started driving. One of the few things I remember of the trip home was thinking to myself that if my mother died while I was a thousand miles from home buying this hunk of crap car from the Dukes of Hazzard, I most certainly will never forgive myself for not being there and probably won't want to have anything to do with it in the future. I also recall screaming at my cell phone because I couldn't get a good signal, and that it rained hard for hours and hours and hours. Travis and I slept and drove in about two-hour shifts all night long from South Carolina to Indianapolis where we dropped the trailer with the car on it, and then I proceeded on to western Illinois. My mother was released from the hospital in October. She was diagnosed with Haunta disease, an airborne virus that comes from mouse droppings in the southwest that roots in your lungs and grows like mold. To this day I am most thankful that Travis was as committed as I was to getting me home that night.
Despite that my mother was still in the hospital, I attended DukesFest 01 and witnessed the enthusiasm of Dukes fans with LEE 1. It was a huge success for Cooter's Place and for the fan club. Mr. Bell had the storage space for LEE 1, so it resided in Indiana.
Included in the aftermath of September 11th came a weakening economy which ultimately lead to more bankruptcy filings, i.e., United Airlines, Kmart, Conseco, etc. My workload increased to the point where I had to hire three people to work for me, and even then I couldn't spend the amount of time I would have liked to on the website and my hobby.
Mr. Bell was as proud of LEE 1 as I was. Although I was unable to travel to the long-distance national shows, I tried to attend the Illinois and Indiana shows with Mr. Bell and LEE 1 whenever I could, as well as DukesFest02. I had also promised lots of people in the Chicagoland area that LEE 1 would be in town soon for a visit at my local town's cruise night.
About a year after LEE 1's recovery, I made plans a month in advance to take LEE 1 to a HUGE car show on the Mississippi River. This was to be the unveiling to my parents and my friends back home of this one-of-a-kind find. Even the local Fox TV station was to be in attendance to do a story on my General Lee replica, LEE1 and the fan club. The plan was to meet Mr. Bell and LEE 1 on the Friday before the show halfway between Indy and Chicago, and then I would travel back across Illinois with LEE 1 for the weekend show. I wound up having to work later than planned that Friday and was not able get on the road towards Indy as early as planned. Once off work, I phoned Mr. Bell and told him that I was leaving immediately. He informed me that because it was raining he would not be able to get LEE 1 out of the barn because of the water runoff from the road and that he would tear up the grass attempting to do so. Frustrated, I hung up with Mr. Bell and proceeded to call everyone back home to tell them the news.
A few weeks after the show on the Mississippi River had passed, I came across a photo on the internet of LEE 1 at the James Dean Festival that just so happened to had taken place the very same weekend as the HUGE car show on the Mississippi River I had planned to attend. This straw broke the camel's back.
After Mr. Bell and I spoke on the phone about my discovery, a considerable amount of time elapsed before we corresponded again. I still had control of the fan club website and agreed to post info about the upcoming jump in Georgia provided it was in ready form. I attended the jump in Georgia and congratulated Mr. Bell on its success, and looked at my half of LEE 1.
After the jump, I decided that it was time for a change for me personally. After everything that we had done and seen together, the damage was irreparable. I was ready to get out of the fan club and concentrate on my life, career and future. I emailed Mr. Bell a proposal. The proposal was to have a disinterested third person sell LEE 1 on ebay, split the total proceeds down the middle and I would give him the website.
It wasn't long after sending the email to Mr. Bell that I received a call from John Parnell informing me that LEE 1 was on ebay. Things had come full circle. Mr. Bell and I spoke amicably during and a couple times after the sale of LEE 1. It didn't reach the reserve, but was shortly thereafter sold for $20,000 to four wonderful gentlemen in Ohio. I received $10,000 for my half of LEE1 from Mr. Bell. I genuinely hated that it had come to this and held onto the website for about a month. I went to DukesFest03 for one last time and simply watched from afar. The fan club had not been invited to attend that year. On August 26, 2003, I put the website on a CD and mailed it to Mr. Bell.
This story is from my personal memory and any errors or omissions are completely unintentional.