ASHLAND -- Did you know that Ashland had its own version of Evel Knievel back in the 1930’s and early ‘40’s?
His name was Earl Moseman Teter and his stunt shows were very popular. Earl entertained under the name “Lucky” Teter and was lovingly referred to as “Tete” by his closest friends.
Lucky was born on July 5, 1903 in Noblesville, Indiana, near Indianapolis and his family lived along the White River. At an early age, Lucky became interested in automobiles and he favored Plymouths. He was also involved in a traffic accident which helped him come up with the idea that people should not always suffer with injury when a car accident occurs.
In the early 1930’s Lucky traveled to Ashland on his motorcycle and found a job at the filling station at the point of East Main Street and Cleveland Avenue where Dairy Queen is now located. Apparently as he filled gas tanks, checked oil and cleaned windshields he dreamed of becoming a stunt car driver.
It wasn’t long until Lucky’s business skills and driving talent paid off and it happened quite quickly. By 1932, he was the president and manager of Lang-Cummings, Inc., and the Point Service Station. As a representative of the Standard Oil Co., he made many connections with people. On the weekends, Lucky also worked as a test driver.
Many Ashlanders recalled Lucky’s participation in automobile endurance tests and he sometimes would handcuff himself to the wheel of a car. Walter Krause of Ashland, who had become good friends with Lucky, loaned him $300 for his first Plymouth stunt car.
Lucky participated in his first daredevil stunt event in September, 1933 at the Wooster Fair when he tried to show he could roll a car with a seat belt on and not get hurt. He accepted $250 in exchange for signing a release of all liability in case he died. He hit a furrow at 60 mph, rolled the car several times and was taken from the track by ambulance. His seat belt broke during the stunt causing injury. Later, he performed again in Mansfield and he instantly became popular in the area as everyone wanted to come see Lucky “risk his neck.”
Walter Krause started selling tickets to Lucky’s events as they saw his stunts were gaining attention and it became apparent that the daredevilry was attractive to those young and old. Once Lucky decided to take his show on the road, he hired Hayesville native Tom Semans as his chief mechanic over a crew of eight.
From 1934 to 1936, Lucky expanded his crew to 38 and they had become known as Lucky Teter and the “Hell Drivers.” He employed a business manager, publicity director, billing personnel, truck drivers, sign painters and mechanics. They performed at county fairs, state fairs and expositions all over the country and Canada and became known as the No. 1 Auto Daredevil team and most popular form of outdoor entertainment. He received hundreds of applications for positions on his team each year as the show grew in popularity.
Some of the team’s stunts included racing a motorcycle at 60-70 mph over three other motorcycles while the driver was blindfolded, driving a car on two wheels, driving through flames with only a football helmet for protection and launching cars over eight parked cars or a large bus. Lucky possessed a special kind of talent, according to many news and sports reporters, and held nine world records in stock auto stunts. Some of his basic stunts are now considered staples of stunt car driving and his famous “daredevil clowns” added entertainment value to his shows.
Some information indicates Lucky raced in the Indianapolis 500 in 1936 or 1937 but he did not. At that time, Lucky didn’t qualify to be a driver since they were all required to have at least one year of AAA dirt track racing experience. Lucky didn’t have the experience because he was too busy with his stunt career. Ken Fowler, a veteran dirt track driver, was hired to do the honors and Lucky was the car owner.
The bright yellow car with red wheels and a big red “41” on the side of it was named the “Lucky Teter Special.” Lucky worked in the pits to help keep the car running during the race. They finished 19th.
Lucky performed in many movies and traffic safety tests including some uncredited stunt car driving in the 1936 film “Speed” which featured acting newcomer James Stewart. He was a huge proponent of safety-belt use often performing stunts with his right hand on the wheel and a handkerchief hanging out of the car in his left hand. This promoted his confidence that the seat belt would keep him from being killed. Lucky performed head-on vehicle crash testing and provided input to help improve safety-belt systems since his belt partially failed during his first stunt. He also enjoyed speaking to clubs and other organizations about traffic courtesy and safety as well.
Lucky and his wife, Edna, often returned to Ashland for vacations with the Krause family on U.S. 42 north of Ashland. He also hunted in the area where the Mohican Hills Golf Club is now located. Lucky regularly returned for shows here too, and continued to employ Ashland residents on his team.
By 1942, Lucky had built an empire that drew 1.5 million people annually to his more than 100 shows.
He really lived up to his nickname because he had only ever suffered minor injuries from his activities.
During his career, Lucky hurt only one person and that was when he ran over an “obstinate” fan’s foot during his second stunt show in Mansfield. The fan received minor injury.
Lucky was the last scheduled performance at the Indiana State Fairgrounds on his birthday in 1942. The venue was not far away from where he grew up and was a benefit show for the widows and children of soldiers killed during World War II. He always held these performances near and dear to his heart. Lucky was about to lose many of his crew members to military service and he thought he might want to serve also so this was his last show and then he would retire for the duration of the war.
One of the planned stunts was a rocket car leap which Lucky performed also here in Ashland. He would travel up a ramp and catapult over a Greyhound bus, land on an exit ramp and drive away. A bus was not available due to government bus transport restrictions during the war so a huge transport truck was substituted. The jumping distance was reportedly longer than with a bus. The stunt was properly executed but Lucky suffered an engine miss or partial loss of power before the landing and crashed into the receiving ramp. He died from his injuries on the way to the hospital at the age of 39. The vehicle he was operating suffered heavy damage to the driver area.
Lucky was survived by his wife, parents and sister, Ruth.
Lucky once said, “Feeling the wind in your face, and hearing the screaming tires and roaring motor, and then knowing that you’ve mastered a wildly skidding car … all are a big thrill.” His widow sold the show to race car driver Joie Chitwood who also became a popular stunt driver with his Joie Chitwood Thrill Show. Joie was also the first driver to wear a seat belt in the Indianapolis 500 in 1941.
Noblesville, Indiana honors Lucky’s memory every year with a Lucky Teter Rebel Run Vintage Car and Motorcycle Show. This year’s event is scheduled on Saturday, Aug. 22 and is sponsored by the local masonic lodge.