It started as a passion — maybe even an obsession — and turned into a full-time job.
Champion Township resident Raymond Kohn was born in 1977, two years before “The Dukes of Hazzard” started its seven-year run on network television. All these years later, he’s turned his favorite show into a career.
The 34-year-old is the owner and creator of the Northeast Ohio Dukes Stunt Show, which will make its Medina County Fair debut on Aug. 5.
“It’s all I can remember watching as a kid,” Kohn said of “The Dukes of Hazzard.” “I promised myself way back then, ‘One of these days, I’m going to have my own General Lee.’”
The General Lee, for those not familiar with the show, was the souped-up 1969 Dodge Charger — it was orange and had “01” on the side — often driven by Bo Duke, the character played by John Schneider some 30 years ago and now played by Kohn for the Northeast Ohio Dukes.
Anyway, when Kohn graduated from LaBrae High in 1997, he was working at Auto Zone when he finally had enough money to buy a Charger. After a labor of love that took eight years to complete, he had his very own version of the General Lee.
That was in 2005. It just so happened that in August of that year, the movie version of “The Dukes of Hazzard” was set to premier, with Seann William Scott playing Bo, Johnny Knoxville as Luke Duke and Jessica Simpson as Daisy Duke, the jean shorts-wearing character played by Catherine Bach on the original series.
The producers of the movie saw pictures of Kohn’s car on the Internet and invited him to Covington, Ga., which was also where the original TV show was filmed — in the fictional Hazzard County.
By that time, Kohn also had a replica of the car driven by Sheriff Rosco Coltrane, which ended up being used for all the jumps in the movie, while his General Lee was used for close-ups.
Now, fast-forward two more years, to 2007, and Kohn was asked to display his cars at a local event in Trumbull County, but that wasn’t nearly enough for him.
“I thought, ‘That sounds boring,’” he said. “If I’m going to do something, I want it to be great. So I talked to my best friend, Rob Roushey (who now plays Luke Duke) and said, ‘How about I jump the General Lee?’ He said, ‘You’re crazy,’ and I said, ‘You know me too well.’”
Kohn had no idea how many people would show up for that event at Yankee Lake. He also had no idea what they would think about something that lasted approximately 5 seconds.
As it turned out, there were 5,000 people on hand, and they went nuts. So much so, in fact, that he was asked to do it again in July of the following year. This time, 7,000 people showed up. He did it one more time just two months after that, and 9,000 people were there to watch.
“All these people were showing up, so I thought, ‘I’ve got to do something else,’” Kohn said. “By that time, my dad (Robert) had grown a beard, so we made him Uncle Jesse (from the TV show). The next thing you know, my wife (Tina) is playing Daisy.”
Things progressed to the point where Kohn developed a story that was woven between four stunts, and the Northeast Ohio Dukes were formed.
“People love it,” he said. “They just love good, clean, family entertainment.”
In addition to Kohn as Bo Duke, Tina Kohn as Daisy Duke, Roushey as Luke Duke and close friend Dean Jaech as Uncle Jesse (Robert Kohn’s health forced him to quit), the 90-minute show also features Kohn’s brother, Rodney, as Boss Hogg and his nephew, Rob Bowker, as Enos.
If that’s not already enough, Rich Kovalak, who is engaged to Kohn’s sister Becky, and Stan Stevens, who is engaged to Kohn’s sister Miranda, play the bad guys from the original show, while close friends Mike Trembley and John Bailey split time as Sheriff Little and close friend Tony Florie plays Rosco.
“We all get along great,” Kohn said.
Last year, the Northeast Ohio Dukes did a show at a fair in Indiana and another in Lake County. Last weekend, they performed at the Clark County Fair, where so many people showed up the show’s start time had to be pushed back from 7 to 8 p.m.
“There was a line 2,000 feet long,” Kohn said. “We had to hold off on the start so they could get everybody in. It was pretty amazing to see all those people.”
Kohn’s group now performs at about four county fairs each summer. It has become so popular he quit his job at a towing company three years ago and made the Northeast Ohio Dukes his livelihood.
“I had a love and a passion for ‘The Dukes of Hazzard,’ but that all went away when it became my job,” he said. “It’s a lot of responsibility. With doing the dangerous stunts, I have the lives I’m risking on my conscience.
“We use state-of-the-art safety equipment. We never take a chance on safety, but the unknown is always possible. Having that on my mind is stressful.”
At the same time, reaching 50 to 65 mph and jumping the General Lee as high as 30 feet and as long as 140 feet is a thrill that never gets old.
“The adrenaline rush is unbelievable,” Kohn said. “My guys are veterans of doing this and we’re well trained, but when I ask one of them before a show, ‘Are you scared?’ and someone tells me no, that’s when I’m going to pull him from the show.
“You have to be scared. I’ve jumped the General Lee 12 times and I’m still scared. You have to be afraid. Fear keeps you aware.”
On a less serious note — but also a very important one to Kohn — the Northeast Ohio Dukes might help link some young people to Bo Duke, Luke Duke, Daisy Duke and the General Lee. If it helps older people revisit their childhood, well, that’s fine, too.
“I feel like I have to help carry the torch,” Kohn said. “Some of the people who played in the original TV show have died and some of the others are getting old. I’m trying to do my small part to keep ‘The Dukes of Hazzard’ alive.”
Contact Rick Noland at (330) 721-4061 or email@example.com.
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