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Offbeat Oregon History: Album cover art

“Daredevil Al” survived 177-foot plunge at Silver Falls

“Daredevil Al” Faussett ended up in the hospital after the plunge; while he was recovering, his partner skipped town with the proceeds from his feat

South Falls as seen in 1906 (postcard)
South Falls as it appears on a postcard postmarked 1906.

Eighty-one years ago, on July 1, 1928, a man rode a 12-foot canvas boat over the biggest waterfall in Silver Falls State Park and survived.

And yes, he did it on purpose.

If you’ve ever lived in Silverton, Sublimity or Stayton for any length of time, you can stop reading right now, because surely you already know the whole story. For everyone else, though, here’s a brief version:

An early aquatic Evel Knievel

By summer of 1928, a formerly obscure Washington logger named “Daredevil Al” Faussett was making a name for himself the same way Evel Knievel would decades later: By risking his neck in spectacular ways.

Unlike Evel, though, Daredevil Al specialized in waterfalls. He’d paddled over Snoqualmie Falls in Washington and even Willamette Falls in Oregon City. Problem was, he was getting famous, but not rich. The solution? Al figured he needed to find a bigger, more death-defying waterfall to run.

South Falls takes tiny Silver Creek over a 177-foot drop into a splashpool that looks, from the top, just a tiny bit larger than a child’s wading pool. It was perfect.

South Falls as seen in 1906 (postcard)
South Falls as it appears on a postcard from the mid-1950s.

Daredevil Al owns Silver Falls for a day

Of course, this was before the area became a state park. Al talked to the owner of the falls, Daniel Geisler of Silverton. Geisler was already in business charging people to watch him shove junk cars off the top; he was open to the plan, but with one stipulation: Al would have to own the property when he did it, so that Geisler couldn’t be held liable. To that end, they drew up a contract under which Al would own Silver Falls for one day, on which he’d do his stunt.

To make it work, Al and his partner — whose name historian Brekas says has been lost in the mists of time — dammed up Silver Creek at the top and rigged a chute to push Al’s boat out over the rocky lip. Then they rigged a cable that would guide the boat into that pint-size splash pool so it wouldn’t end up lighting on the rocks instead.

On the big day, thousands of spectators were there to watch, and soon they started getting restless; it seemed like they’d been waiting a long time. One spectator, Bryan Gordon of Silverton, said he went to investigate and found Faussett “sitting in the canoe bracing himself with spirits for the ordeal ahead, for which you could not blame him.”

That was, of course, bootleg spirits, as prohibition was still going strong in 1928. There was a rumor that Al wanted to back out and his unknown partner was helping him change his mind “with a little help from a bottle of hand-crafted gin,” as Brekas puts it.

The big moment: Al takes the plunge

This video, which runs about six minutes, includes some great old newsreel footage of
Daredevil Al's assault on Silver Falls, along with some great info about his earlier death-
defying run over Willamette Falls in Oregon City. The video is produced by Travel Oregon,
narrated by Grant McOmie, and is really well done. [To see Travel Oregon's full article on
Daredevil Al, click here.]

Finally, Al gave the signal. The dam was opened. (Some sources say the dam never worked, and he had to be pushed.) The water roared and Al shot out into space as the spectators “caught their hearts in their throats and held their breath” (Brekas again).

But 30 feet above the water, the boat hung up on a splice in the guide cable, which snapped it to a momentary halt in midair. Then the guide ring ripped off the boat and it dropped to the water, where it landed flat on its keel.

South Falls as seen in 1906 (postcard)
A relatively recent image of South Falls. (Photographer unknown; please
contact me if you recognize this image)

Brekas compares this to a high diver doing a belly flop. The boat was supposed to knife into the water and pop back to the surface again with a soggy but triumphant Faussett ready to jump out and shake some hands.

Badly hurt, physically and financially

Instead, a dry and badly injured Faussett barely managed a feeble wave before being brought to shore and rushed to the hospital.

While he was there recuperating, that partner of his – the one whose name no one remembers – skipped town with the entire $2,500 proceeds of the stunt.

(Sources: Brekas, Jeff, “The Daredevil Al Story.” Trail’s End: News from Silver Falls, Summer 1995; www.friendsofsilverfalls.net)