Remembering Harley Collins: A country boy with an ornery streak and a heart of gold
Dora teen Harley Collins lived a vibrant life, true to himself and the things that meant the most to him - his loved ones, his old Chevy truck and the wide-open fields and forests of the Ozarks outdoors.
Following Harley’s tragic Jan. 14 death in a car crash on Highway 160 in South Fork, it seems fitting that the 19-year-old’s ashes will be spread across the rolling hills of his family’s farm, returning the country boy to the place where he felt most at home.
From the time Harley was born, he wanted to be outside on the farm and in the woods as much as possible.
“He was a surprise baby,” Harley’s sister Ashley told the Times last week. “Me and my sister begged our parents [for a baby] for years before he came. And when he did, from the get-go, he had nothing but love for the outdoors.”
Harley’s mom, Audrey Collins, said she fondly remembers those early years, which her family mostly spent outside.
“Being born on a farm full of goats was a delight. As soon as he was big enough to talk, he wanted to help with them,” she said. “He’d help feed the babies or mamas, but he also wanted to sample whatever the animals were eating…. So he’d give some feed. Then he’d eat some feed. He’d knock chunks off the salt blocks and suck on them like they were pieces of candy. I was concerned about it, but the doctor laughed when I told him and said it wasn’t anything to worry about.”
As he got older, Harley’s love of farm life grew, and his fun-loving and wild personality began to take shape. Audrey said she laughs when she thinks about Harley’s childhood, times when he made her laugh as much as he caused her to pull her hair in frustration.
“We probably had the only farm in the country with a little boy who had an all-over tan, because he wouldn’t keep his clothes on long enough to get a farmer’s tan,” Audrey said. “He could run faster than a chicken and climb better than a monkey, which he proved on several occasions when he thought he might get his butt swatted.”
Audrey said Harley often left the outdoor spigot run a little longer than he should when he watered the family’s goats so he would have nice, big mud puddles to drive his toy tractors through.
“There were a few times when he forgot to turn off the water completely, and it’d run for hours. I’d hear his dad yell, ‘Harley, how many times have I told you about playing in the water?’ That’s how we found out he could climb really well,” Audrey said. “He climbed clear to the top of the shed one day, which was at least 10 or 12 foot tall, and he refused to come down until we told him he wasn’t going to get a whooping.”
Having watched his two older sisters, Ashley and Victoria, go to school for years before he was old enough to join them, Harley was especially excited for his first day of kindergarten at Fair View Elementary.
“He was so excited to go…to be on that big yellow thing that picked his sisters up and dropped them off every day,” Audrey said. “But that didn’t last long. He soon decided it wasn’t the place for him when he realized he couldn’t run and play all the time... and he had to keep his clothes on.”
Audrey said his first-day excitement immediately turned to into dread-filled mornings when it was a chore to get Harley up and out of bed and onto the school bus.
“It was just about as hard as the one time I tried pulling the bubblegum out of his hair that he swore he didn’t have when he went to bed the night before,” she joked. “It was pretty amazing. He’d pulled the wool over our eyes on that one, considering he managed to chew the whole pack at once that night.”
Audrey said she often wondered what his teachers thought about her lively little boy and his spunky attitude in his first years at school.
“As he grew, he did manage to calm down some. Although I’m sure his teachers thought different through the years. Bless their hearts for giving it everything they had, because Harley learned that if he pushed enough buttons and frustrated them enough, the school would finally call his parents to come get him,” she said. “I wonder if they ended up throwing a party when he finally graduated.”
Despite his school-day shenanigans, Fair View superintendent Aaron Sydow says Harley was a good student and was well-liked by school administrators, faculty and students during his nine years there.
“Many teachers here were quite fond of him, and we are all upset at the loss,” Sydow told the Times last week. “He had a great sense of humor and was always looking out for the underdog. He was a hard worker and did his best to take care of anyone who needed it. He will be greatly missed.”
Sydow said Harley graduated from Fair View’s K-8 school district in 2015. He then attended West Plains High School, graduating in May 2019.
There was more than enough sweetness to Harley’s personality to make up for his ornery ways, his loved ones say. His mom said Harley often mowed friends’ and neighbors’ yards or cleared their snow-covered driveways, for free. He also mowed a graveyard near his house for three or four years without asking for a dime in return, “just for something to do,” Audrey said.
“He was a good kid. He really liked to help out,” Audrey said. “I remember this one time, him and his friend Justine came home one day, and they were so proud of this one sidewalk they cleared off for an elderly lady. They said she gave them hot cocoa and cookies in exchange for their service.”
He gained an early appreciation for all things motorized and often helped friends and family tinker on lawn mowers or trucks. When Harley was 14 years old, he began hanging out at a nearby scrap yard.
“Somebody brought in a tractor that was probably older than his grandparents, and he fell in love with it. He told the owner of the yard that he’d work every day, all summer, for the tractor, and he didn’t even know if it would run,” Audrey said. “When he finally brought it around, I asked, ‘How much did you have to pay for this tractor?’ And his reply was ...‘Nothing. I just had to work all summer for it.’”
“He worked his butt off... for that old red tractor before he was old enough to drive a truck,” his sister Ashley said. “He said, ‘At 15 I’m legal to drive this tractor on the road.’”
Harley loved to take his nieces and nephews for rides on the tractor and on his “souped-up lawn mower,” his mom said.
When he finally reached that golden age of 16, his world changed for the better when he bought his first vehicle.
“He was so proud when he got his license and could drive. Then, his pride and joy was his truck. He worked to pay to have it fixed and to have new tires and rims put on it,” Audrey said. “He had pipes to make it rumble and a stereo system that could make you go deaf, and he was just so proud of it.”
“He really loved that truck,” Ashley said. “He had dreams of fixing it up big. He was one of those ol’ pickup truck boys… the louder it was, the better.”
Harley spent a lot of time “mudding” in his truck, but he’d often clean it up to take out his girlfriend, Dora High School senior Lindsey Tabor, whom he had been dating for the last three years.
“His truck was his pride and joy – and so was I,” Lindsey told the Times. “He loved doing burn-outs in it. He was such a great person to be around if you were sad. He could make you happy and laugh all the time.”
Over the years, Harley developed a real love for hunting, fishing and collecting guns and knives. Audrey said he also did some trapping with his father, Dale Collins, “when prices were good.”
He kept his ornery personality as he aged, but he had a heart of gold, his family says. He didn’t know a stranger, they say, and he was the first to offer help if someone needed it.
“He was an awesome boy who grew into an awesome man who made me proud,” Audrey said. “I loved him so much, and I’m going to miss him.”