CORNWALL, Ontario – A pair of men are hoping to put together the pieces of a puzzle that connects the present to a bizarre stunt from the past that dazzled some and confused others.
Cody Glive and Andrew Whitton are stockpiling a small collection of relics from the failed attempt by Ken Powers in 1979 to jump the St. Lawrence River in a rocket-powered Lincoln Continental near Morrisburg and land on Ogden Island, in the United States.
The men have managed to collect pieces of the wrecked car that was designed to make the leap from Canada to the U.S.
They want more.
“We are searching for the car,” said Whitton. “We’re trying to collect as much as we can.”
Glive said ultimately the duo would settle for collecting the pieces to build some kind of tribute to the spectacle.
“We’d like to display it somewhere,” he said.
The stunt was an unmitigated failure. The car disintegrated after barely leaving an 85-foot ramp built years before the jump actually took place.
Powers was replacing Canadian Ken Carter who had initially planned to complete the jump in a rocket-powered Lincoln Continental. Financial problems plagued the stunt, and there have even been rumours that organized crime played a role in financing and forcing the stunt to be completed.
The failed stunt effectively bankrupted Carter, who was killed years later in a doomed jump in Peterborough that saw another rocket-powered car sail past its intended landing spot and land on its roof, crushing the ‘Mad Canadian.’
Glive and Whitton have laid claim to one of the wings from the Lincoln that was destroyed in Morrisburg, as well as assorted pieces of fiberglass from the car that still show the effects of the jump. The fibreglass appears to have been shredded in places by the cables that connected the parachutes to the car.
Both men said scavengers who watched the jump grabbed what they could when pieces of the car washed ashore. The car itself was stored near Morrisburg after the jump, but has since gone missing.
They were able to get the parts by calling people who lived in and around Morrisburg and had storied them in basements and sheds.
“We used to go up there to pick apples,” Whitton said of the jump area. “For years we would drive by that ramp.”
The ramp, and condition of the track leading to it, sealed the fate of the car and Ken Powers in 1979, the date of the jump.
Many winters had created bumps and undulations in the track that sent the car bouncing towards the ramp, instead of smoothly accelerating.
“The bumps in the runway…tore apart the fibreglass body,” Glive wrote in an online report on the subject. “Powers, who was shorter than Carter, was thrown around in the cockpit and was unable to keep his foot on the accelerator.
“As a result the car, which was supposed to leave the ramp at 270MPH, was only going 180MPH. When the car left the end of the ramp, the wind caught the fibreglass body, taking away all momentum generated by the rocket thrust. The cracked body work deployed the parachutes ahead of schedule and the car sailed only 506 feet into the shallow waters of the Canadian shoreline. The car was destroyed. Powers had broken his back, but survived.”
After the financiers of the stunt defaulted on paying local construction companies, the ramp soil was sold off as fill, and the steel beams salvaged.
A Facebook group has been created by Glive to pay tribute to the event, and serve as a place for people to contact he and Whitton with information on the stunt.
The men were heartened to learn that another stuntman, Mike Hughes, had planned a similar jump of the river this year. But this winter Hughes had to pull the plug when he could no longer provide assurances that he could get the proper permits, liability coverage and logistics.