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John Holland: Talented CharacterWeb Exclusive
When you mention the name John Holland to some of the “old guys” (guys that were racing cool cars in the 60’s and 70’s) many of them will respond, “Oh I remember him, he was quite a character.” Dubbed as Sioux Falls’ version of Evil Knievel, Holland was a rebel and a daredevil. With little regard for authority, he was often in trouble with the police and stories abound about his exploits “back in the days.” Gary Landeen and Gary Kadinger, local motor enthusiasts, remember more than one story about John. We at The Motor Market were talking one day and they started to tell us some of the legendary tales. We thought you might like to hear them too so we asked them to sit down with us and tell us two or three of these stories. Enjoy…
One of the most legendary tales was of the Jumpin’ Jack Flash story which happened on July 4, 1984, at Sioux Empire Thunderdome Dragway, where John attempted to jump 50 Chevy Chevettes at the Fairgrounds. This jump was for a world record 250’, and was known as THE GIANT JUMP. The current record was 212’. The story has it that John convinced the management at the local Chevy dealer (at the time it was Frank Stinson) that it would be a great publicity stunt if they parked 50 Chevettes and he would attempt to jump a motorcycle over them. John had lined up TV coverage and KELO was there to film him jump. He had even consulted a professor at Sioux Falls College to help him with the correct speed and angle to complete the jump successfully. Well all of this planning didn’t quite work out as well as he had hoped. John did not attain sufficient speed and proper angle for the approach ramp to jump all of the cars. He and his cycle slammed into the 41st car, damaging nine cars along with his bike and himself. John was seriously injured on this jump and lost the use of his arm as a result of the accident. Some of the spectators placed bets on which car John was going to hit first. I believe Leo Hess won the bet.
His first jump on a motorcycle was at the Hartford Race Track (now I-90 Speedway) in Hartford. He used a parachute for the landing and his intent was to successfully complete a Guinness Book of World Record jump for the world’s lowest altitude parachute jump. He did succeed in the jump, but he did not have the required representation to satisfy the Guinness guidelines. He laid 4x8 sheets of plywood down the bleachers with a ramp at the bottom shooting him 150 feet in the air. The chute successfully deployed but he had too much lateral speed which made the landing a little rough. The chute was a small emergency chute and didn’t quite slow him down enough to eliminate an accident free jump. He broke his ankle on the jump. He was carried on the shoulders of his friend, Larry Gordon,to the ambulance and hauled off to the hospital.
Another stunt he performed was a little unique. He fabricated a harness made from salvaged conveyor belt material. It attached across his shoulders, down the lower back, legs, and backside. The harness was designed to protect drag racers in the event of a crash. The harness would allow them to slide down the drag strip safely. The stunt was performed between the Tea and Harrisburg exits on I-29. A friend of John’s drove the motorcycle with John on the back with a parachute. It was a small parachute that was supposed to pull him off of the bike and he would slide down the Interstate on his backside. When the cycle achieved a speed of over 100 MPH John pulled the chute and off he went. This stunt worked better than many of his other jumps and he didn’t get injured. He repeated the stunt another time with similar results. He later went to California and demonstrated the stunt at a drag strip but the results were not as good. He crashed into the guard rail and sustained injuries again, hurting his arm and shoulder and a fractured wrist. He should have quit while he was ahead but this just was not in his DNA. He was always pressing the limits of everything.
Larry accompanied John on many of his exploits. In addition to motorcycle stunts, they also promoted a boxing program at bars all over the region. John was always a promoter looking for the get rich quick scheme. The fights were staged at Fritz’s Bar (next to Sid Liquor downtown). Gary remembers one night where John wanted him to take on a large rodeo star. The fights were supposed to be three, one minute rounds. They often lasted much longer because when the action was fast and furious, John did not want to stop the action. Gary couldn’t answer the bell for the third round after downing beer between rounds (this was his third fight of the night).
Another stunt was when John promoted a snowmobile jump at an East 6th Street (Solar Gardens) gravel pit. At the last minute, John talked Terry Kruger a member of the Deadmen, into doing the jump. Terry opened his chute later than planned, and hit a tree stump sticking out of the snow. Terry had some serious injuries, which got John into some problems with the Deadmen motorcycle gang. They took issue with who owned the name Jumpin’ Jack Flash, since Terry had made the jump. (This was the first jump John had used the name) John was supposed to pay, but true to form he negotiated a price less than what was initially agreed to.
John was featured every week in the prologue to the TV show “IT’S INCREDIBLE.” John had a contract with the show to do seven jumps. They got the snowmobile, and The Giant Jump (250’) before John received career ending injuries.
Tom Foley told Gary about John taking a motorless go cart and mounting an oxygen bottle to the cart. John rigged it so when he pulled a cord the bottle would release the oxygen similar to a balloon. Tom said John started on the west end of the Arena parking lot. The cart launched six to eight feet into the air, and landed in the median on West Avenue. It knocked John out, but he was ok.
John was always up for a dare. He told a group of his friends that he could drive his car down the terraces on monument hill above Morrell’s. Well he did it but an officer was waiting at the bottom for him. John told the officer that somebody had run him off the road. The officer knew better, but he let him go. There were many of these free exhibitions. None of us had any money, so John entertained us for free.
John and Gary teamed up after Woodstock to promote a similar concert in Minnehaha County. The Argus Leader picked up on it and the word spread fast. We would go to farms out by Garretson to try and lease land. We only had to inquire at the first place, and every farmer for miles around, knew who we were. They were all scared to death that some long haired, pot smoking hippies were going to invade the area. Any landowner that would have rented to us would have been ostracized from the county. John’s phone was ringing off the hook from agents for Ike & Tina Turner, Sonny & Cher, many of the top groups of the time. County officials weren’t too keen on the idea either. They told us we would have to provide a staggering number of portable toilets. Hire more law officers than resided in the state. Finally we gave it up. It just wasn’t going to happen.
John was born 1-28-1948, died 7-12- 2003, of lung cancer at the age of 55. Stay tuned for the next chapter, the cars and cycles John built.
In part two of our story on John Holland, I sat down with a couple of friends of Johns - Barry Baum and Dave Kadinger. They shared their stories about John and his immense talent with cars. Barry’s younger brother Dicky was a good friend of Johns’ and shared many of his adventures also. Tragically, he was killed in 1972. Gary Landeen stopped in later to share his stories of John and his talent with vehicles.
John Holland was 6’5”, 215 lbs. of lean muscle. He had curly black hair styled in an afro. He had 4’ long arms and hands that were twice the size of an average person. “John was so talented, his trouble was harnessing that talent,” according to Barry Baum. Barry and Dave Kadinger were both close friends with John. “The first time I met John was at Teal’s Body shop on North Cliff. He came to town from Pierre in a ’57 Chevy 2-door hardtop. I was working at John Morrell at the time and would stop there every day after work. We seemed to hit it off well.” John was working on the Taboo Gasser at the time.
One of John’s most well-know creation’s was the Taboo Gasser. The ’55 Chevy known as a Gasser was becoming a popular class on the national drag scene. John bought it because he wanted to race the car. It was originally a 6 cylinder three speed on the column. John Holland: Talented Character Dave Kadinger and Barry Baum John John dropped a 327 V8 in it 340 cubic inch 13-1 pistons and 556 gear ratio. It had an Oldsmobile rear end in it. John had limited money, but tremendous skill. Clarence at Teal’s Body shop let him work on the car at very little cost. John built the car, but didn’t have the funds for an engine. With the help of his friends, he acquired a small block Chevy engine, added Crane big valve heads, ISKY 550 super Laqura roller cam, Vertex mag, Enderle injection, Mickey Thompson aluminum rods and crank, basically the best of the best. John completed the ’55 Gasser and named it Taboo. Taboo’s engine was quite complex and took a year to get the bugs out, but once this was accomplished, the car was running around 11:15 second runs on the drag strip. These were national record times. John raced the car himself at area tracks through 1971 and won many trophies with it. The engine is set back in the car to improve weight transfer. He knew it would improve traction and thus performance . He had to redo the entire frame to accomplish this. He also refurbished the wheel wells to accommodate the racing tires. “This was the first try at welding and it looked like it,” according to Barry and Dave. A testament to his skill and desire, he later became a top certified welder. Not only did he have vision, he was talented and learned craftsman techniques easily. John sold the car to Dave Kadinger in 1971. John needed the money and stripped out many parts on the car. Dave drove it for a couple of years. However, it had trouble passing safety inspection at the time. He took it to the Montgomery Ward’s store (currently Graham Tire on 41st and Western). The store denied the inspection and of course John argued their decision. The store manager called the highway patrol to convince John that the car should not pass inspection. John got mad and tore out of the parking lot, smoking the tires. They later went to another inspection facility and the car passed inspection. “We couldn’t drive the car without the police harassing us, says Dave. The car definitely had a reputation. John even had a police scanner in the car so he could monitor their location. Dave and John completely went through the car after it was sold to Dave. “We tore it apart. We put new doors on it and painted the car black. Gary re-wired it so we had lights,” recalls Dave. Dave still owns the car and shows it occasionally at local car shows like Automania. “After John sold the Gasser to me, I made the mistake of letting him drive it again. We were driving down 12th Street and the streets were wet. I guess he wanted to put his car through its paces one more time. He started doing 360’s in the road. Maybe he just wanted to know if the car still had it, I think it did.”
Space Flight was the name of the bus that John converted into a motor home. It was a wrecked Jackrabbit bus that hit a bridge head on and had severe front end damage. He found the bus in a grove of trees near Harrisburg and purchased it for $500. John had a vision for this vehicle also. He took Dave out to the airport to show him what he wanted to do with the bus. They had already taken the motor and transmission out of it. He was too cheap to pay for a tow truck. Dave ended up towing it with his sister’s ‘62 Buick and burned the transmission out of the car as a result. He wanted it to look like an airplane. He took electrical conduit and shaped it to build the front end. He was so passionate on this job that he even worked on it during the winter under a tarp with a portable heater. He completely gutted the inside. He had a master bedroom in the back and 3 TV’s in it. There were bunks in the vehicle also. “He did it right, except for the engine.” You could not drive it unless you had two people because there were blind spots. John had lined up a buyer in California but unfortunately on the trip out there he burned out the transmission. The torque converter blew up and there were flames coming out the side of the vehicle. He called the local fire department but they wouldn’t touch it because they knew there were propane tanks on it and they were worried it would blow. The bus burned and as a result was a total loss. The propane tank never did blow up.
Barry remembers one of the projects they worked on together was an old Army vehicle called a Half Track. The vehicle was purchased to be driven during the harsh South Dakota winters. As he often did, John came over to Barry’s house one day and asked him to come along, he had a “little project” he was working on and he needed his help on it. The Half Track originally had a gun on the back of it. John found the vehicle at V&O Truck Salvage. It was junk at the time. There was a boom on the back of it that was used to haul culverts. The engine was frozen up on it. John got it going and they took it to Dave’s shop on Hwy. 38. Barry painted the vehicle while John and Dave did all the fabrication work on it. “We re-built the floor with steel in the back as well as the sides and top. We installed heaters and benches. The doors were fabricated from steel.” The look of this vehicle was unique. It was an Army vehicle on the streets. Top speed was 45 mph and it got lots of looks when they drove it. Dave remembers one time they were driving the vehicle and had cops on the side and back of them. One night after a few hours at Fritz’s bar, John put the truck to the test. He thought he could push over a tree. The tracks dug in but the tree didn’t move. The Half Track was eventually sold with the help of Archie Beal who had someone lined up from Texas to purchase the vehicle. It ended up someplace in Central America.
Another vehicle John had an “idea” for was a black Volkswagen Beetle. Of course he asked Barry to help him. It seemed you just couldn’t say no to John. John had an idea to “chop the top.” Chopping the top came with problems. He realized he needed two tops to make one. He had never done something like this before but he had the vision for what it would look like when he was finished. Nobody else would have thought of this. It was tough but he was not going to take defeat and he made it work. The windshield was less than 6” tall when he got done. They finished the car and painted it at Marv’s Body Shop on Cleveland. The windows could not roll down. This was the first bug that we knew of that was chopped. This is an example of John’s vision for cars. He was doing things with cars that other people didn’t even think of at the time.
After the success with the black Beetle, John found a white one at Arndt’s Wrecking Salvage Yard. This time he got Gary Kadinger to work with him. He put a canvas top (which was kind of like a slide back sunroof) and an aftermarket front end on it. He couldn’t just fix the obvious things on a car. He added his own touch to them all. He completely rebuilt the engine. After the car was finished, the car was stolen and wrecked. It ended up at Jim & Ron’s towing. There were three tires on the car and John didn’t want to hire a tow truck to get the car to a garage to fix. It was raining hard that day. Since it was missing the right front tire, John’s idea was to sit in the back seat on the left side. He figured he would weigh down the back end to lift the front end off the ground so they could drive it home. Dave was behind the wheel. Dave said John told him, “Once we get going, don’t let up on the gas.” Surprise, surprise, they had a wreck. Ever the quick thinker, before the police arrived, John jumped out of the back seat and placed a tire on the ground so they would not know that the car was being driven on only three wheels. This is another example of the ingenuity of John Holland.
“I first met John in the summer of 1964 in Pierre,” recalls Gary Landeen. I was 17 years old and he was 15. At the time, I owned a 1927 T Roadster with a Chevy V8 engine with 3 deuce carbs. John saw my car and wanted to show me the early 30’s chopped top pickup he was building. It had a large displacement Olds V8 with 6 deuces. I was quite impressed that a 15 year old kid was capable of building such a machine. John also was building a Triumph chopper at the start of the chopper craze. John moved to Sioux Falls years later and Gary and John renewed their friendship which also included hanging out at Clarence Teals Body Shop, where A-Ox Welding Supply sits today on North Cliff Avenue. John brought his chopped top pickup with but decided to build a 1955 Chevy D gas drag car instead. Gary missed out on a lot of John’s creations after spending a few years in California and Colorado.
John went through several cool vehicles for daily transportation including a 1955 Chevy Nomad and a 1956 Chevy 210 Post that Roger Steuck had built in high school. John put a CAE chrome straight axle front end under it to give it the Gasser look. He also had a mid 50’s GMC 3/4 ton van. He painted the outside like the American flag and paneled and carpeted the interior. He had an American flag for a headliner and a grave stone that said, “Son John” for an added touch.
John went on to a new career as a stunt cyclist. While he continued fabricating cars and an occasional bike, unfortunately, accidents ended both John’s car building and stunt career. Barry and Dave had this to say about John, “He was unlike anyone else. If there was a project to be done everybody went to John. He entertained Sioux Falls for many years but everybody respected his talent. He had some wild ideas, but he got most of them done. You couldn’t help but like him, but I guess you either loved him or hated him. Unfortunately the police department hated him and he was consistently in trouble with them. He was always living on the edge but John was a good friend to his friends.” The stories could go on and on but in the end John Holland will be remembered almost as much for his talent as his exploits. Memories are all that remain of one crazy talented guy.