Not just whistling Dixie
Thursday, September 20, 2012
By Mark W. Olson
Start off with a 1969 Dodge Charger.
Paint it a shade of orange, burned into the retina of any boy who watched TV between 1979 and 1985.
Throw in an “01.”
And top it all off with the Confederate flag.
You end up with the most distinctive car to fly across the small screen.
Say hello to the General Lee.
Nathan Crooks, 37, of Prior Lake, owns a replica of the car made famous by “The Dukes of Hazzard” television show. It’s identical to the original – right down to the roll bars and tan-colored interior.
Carver residents recently witnessed the machine in action as Crooks, with pal Wade Welter in the passenger seat, skidded rubber until the General’s wheels blew, winning the Steamboat Days annual burn-out contest.
Driving the car puts a smile on Crooks’ face. “I laugh,” said Crooks, adding, “Actually it’s more like a giggle.”
“I feel like a little kid when I’m driving it – a big grin on my face, and I’m happy as I can be,” Crooks said.
For Crooks, owning the General Lee is a lifelong dream. He purchased the car about five years ago.
“I’m the third and final owner,” Crooks said. “There’s no way I’m getting rid of it. I wanted [a General Lee] ever since watching ‘The Dukes of Hazzard.’”
Crooks isn’t alone. At one time, he estimates that there were at least three General Lees in Scott County, although Crooks is now the last Duke standing. The annual Dukesfest get-together in Tennessee can attract 100 General Lees, testifying to the car’s allure.
Crooks notes the constant CMT rotation of “The Dukes of Hazzard” episodes keep the show’s popularity going. Kids still get excited when they see the car – perhaps prompted on by an air-compressor horn that plays “Dixie,” just like the original.
The car gets lots of attention from passing motorists, notably truckers. “I have to be prepared to wave at everybody. I’m honking the horn all the time,” said Crooks. During a Lakefront Days car cruise in Prior Lake, he guessed that he honked the horn about 130 times.
Crooks has brought the General Lee to car shows such as “World of Wheels” and “Back to the ’50s.” He’s also lent it out for wedding photographs and the birthday parties of friends’ children.
As the burn-out contest attests, Crooks doesn’t baby the car. “I’m not too specific about washing it all the time. I let little kids crawl all over it.”
In a nod to the General Lee’s status, type “Dukes of Hazzard” into Google and “Dukes of Hazzard Car” pops up before “Dukes of Hazzard Cast.”
Crooks General Lee is filled with over 20 autographs of original cast members and stunt drivers – some gathered by him, and some by previous owners.
It carries the autographs of the actors who played “Cooter Davenport,” “Sheriff Rosco P. Coltrane,” “Deputy Enos Strate,” “Daisy Duke” and “Bo Duke.” However it is missing the autograph of “Luke Duke” (Tom Wopat).
What autograph wouldn’t he get on the car? Those of Vance or Coy – the “cousins” who briefly replaced Bo and Luke Duke. Their signatures would “lower the appraised price of the car,” Crooks maintains.
Crooks can enter the car by opening a door – unlike the Duke boys, who welded the doors shut. Crooks said it’s so his mom can get in the car. “She doesn’t want to get pushed through the window like Uncle Jesse,” he said.
The car is a family affair, with his wife, Nicole, going for rides. And he looks forward to taking road trips with his 5-month-old son Benjamin Ray.
Crooks has made a few improvements to the vehicle – replacing the original engine with a 440 6-pack Hemi. He’s also added a new transmission, steering and suspension.
He gave the General Lee a punch while driving down the road that led the reporter to believe it could, if given the chance, jump a few broken bridges. Crooks estimates that the car gets 10 miles per gallon. “I can literally watch the gauge drop when I’m driving,” he said.
But don’t expect any high speed chases from Crooks, who said he abides by speed limits. The General Lee often gets a “thumbs up” or a flash of lights from patrol officers sharing the road.
The General Lee is notable for the Confederate flag (or “Stars and Bars”) painted on its roof – a lightning bolt of controversy in recent years. There were recent rumors that the flag would disappear from future General Lee merchandizing – something the show’s owner, Warner Brothers, has denied.
As an American Indian, Crooks said the flag was “one of the things I worried about.” However, Crooks has said he’s never gotten anything but positive feedback about the car. “I like the irony of that – a minority driving around with the Stars and Bars on. I hope there’s some racist Confederate rolling around in his grave,” Crooks said.
One reason Crooks liked “The Dukes of Hazzard” was the moral code the Duke boys followed. “Everything they did was always good,” he said.
It’s a code Crooks has followed. In 2005, Crooks helped out in a storm-battered Louisiana, following the devastating Hurricane Katrina. While volunteering, he met an ambulance driver who had lost everything in the hurricane, but continued to help people. The man prompted Crooks to become a firefighter and EMT.
Crooks works as a firefighter and EMT with Mdewakanton Fire Emergency Services. He is also an advisor for Explorer Post 9100.
Between his baby boy and work with the Explorer Post, Crooks said he only gets the General Lee out of the garage about twice a month.
He wouldn’t have it any other way.
“When you watch their show, everything they did was to help someone or help their family,” Crooks said. “It’s kind of what I do. I’m either helping other people I don’t know or trying to help my family, and seeing that on TV helped influence me the way I am now.”
© Copyright 2012, Chanhassen Villager, Chanhassen, MN