OREGON COUNTY -- For the past five years Jay and Nita Stephens have owned a Harley Davidson Road King and have traveled over 65,000 miles on the motorcycle.
Jay is a 1966 graduate of Couch High School. He now is a detective for the Dallas, Texas, Police Department.
The Stephenses finished up a 5,000-mile bike trip recently by returning to Jay's stomping ground of Myrtle before returning to Dallas.
The couple started their trip in late May by riding from Dallas to Washington, D.C., to the Memorial Day Veterans Rolling Thunder rally. After three days in Washington they rode to Asheville, N.C., to New York City's Ground Zero and to visit an old Navy buddy.
From there they rode to Cape Cod, Md., and had dinner with another Navy friend before continuing onto New Hampshire, Maine and Vermont and ending up in Niagara Falls, Canada. "Spending the night at Niagara and taking the Maid of the Mist boat ride was a high point of the trip," Nita said.
They road across Canada toward Detroit, into Ohio, through Indiana, Illinois and Kentucky.
After a night in Russellville, Ark., they arrived in Myrtle on June 5. Jay reminisced about downtown Myrtle, the post office and his childhood days in Oregon County.
He enjoyed a piece of pie and a glass of iced tea at the Myrtle Cafe while looking at old pictures of the Crass family hanging on the cafe wall. Stephens is the grandson of the late Robert and Irene Crass, longtime Myrtle residents.
Then they rode the Harley on the dirt road up the big hill, past Byrd Church to Jay's old home place. The home he grew up in is still owned by his Uncle Harry Crase.
"It was surprising the house was in such good shape. There was an old tractor sitting near the garden area," he said. Stephens said the trees had grown a lot and obscured the view of the family's original home place across the road.
From there they headed up the road to Couch School. "Couch School, home of the Indians, is where Jay played many games of basketball," Nita said.
The couple rode to Thayer and took in the sites and changes. Jay had returned to the Thayer/Myrtle area to visit relatives, attend funerals and one school reunion but had not had a day with his wife to show her around where he grew up.
They road south to Mammoth Spring and Stephens commented there was an insurance agency where the old Tastee Freez was once located.
"Things have really changed over the years, but it was a fun trip down memory lane," Jay said. He said he holds many fond memories of his childhood days growing up in Oregon County.
After graduating from high school Jay joined the Navy for four years. After his discharge from the service he visited relatives in Dallas and found a job there with the Dallas Police Department.
The Stephenses have been married 34 years and have one grown daughter.
Stephens said his life and family are now in Texas but he has never forgotten his hometown. "My family, friends and teachers from this rural area, along with the morals and values of the time I grew up, have all made me the man I am today. South-central Missouri was a good place to grow up," he said.