The Duke of Chico
When the CN&R heard there was a General Lee sighting outside of Jack’s Restaurant, we were on it like a pair of cut-off denim shorts on Catherine Bach’s behind (or Jessica Simpson for you youngsters). It didn’t take long to find Steve Gerhart—aka Steve “Duke"—inside, looking like a cast-member from The Dukes of Hazzard. Gerhart came to America on holiday from England for six months. That was 11 years ago. After he arrived, he bought his first car, an Opel, which he eventually traded for a Dodge Charger with seized brakes. Gerhart nursed the car to health and eventually built up a fleet of 24 General Lees, which he’s sold off and traded over the years. The famous car definitely gets attention, as evidenced by the slightly intoxicated but harmless woman who couldn’t seem to get enough of it that day at Jack’s. Gerhart uses the car’s notoriety for good, visiting sick children in hospitals in the North State.
You do stunts?
I’m retired right now. Because of special effects and trick photography and computers, the stunt industry is real quiet now—because studios have their own people. [Changes subject] I’ve got a good design for a drink and drive commercial for New Year’s Eve. I design stunts as well, and I’ve got a great one. You get a handful of kids carrying Christmas presents, singing Christmas carols. And then you get a guy who’s in a bar drinking and gets into his car drunk. He’s driving his car down the street, right? Weaving a little tiny bit, right? And then the car obviously goes out of control because he’s drunk, and hits the kids, and then you have the kids lying on the floor, and then the police surround me, and then arrest me and throw me in the back of the car. Something to get through to people, because people are stupid.
Sounds a little extreme, but it could be effective …
[Interrupted by a drunk woman commenting on the car.]
Why do you think the General Lee gets so much attention?
Because it’s the most recognized famous car—in the world.
It’s a fact. Everybody says it. They did a thing on TV—I mean, I didn’t know myself, because there are a lot of cars, but that is the most recognized famous car in the world. [ed. note: according to cars.com, the General Lee is a close second behind KITT from Knight Rider.]
Looks like you’ve even adopted the style.
It’s my idea, because Bo wore a tan shirt and a blue T-shirt underneath it. I try to keep the look, you know, because people love it. People think it’s a blast.
Do you ever get comments on the Confederate flag?
In 11 years, I’ve had two people—one colored guy, and one white girl. But that’s it. I’ve taken it to Sacramento; I’ve taken it to San Francisco. They were great. It means nothing to me—it just came with the car. I could have any flag on that car, it doesn’t matter.
Do you have to go in through the windows?
[Huge grin] Sometimes, sometimes.