Working at Antique Archaeology, we get to meet a lot of incredible people, but it’s not every day that we hear stories like Viola Stephens.
While looking around the old Harley Davidson Knuckleheads we have on display, Viola told us all about her beloved 1949 peacock blue Knucklehead she owned back when she was just 18-years-old. She pulled out a Zippo lighter from her pocket that had an exact illustration of her motorcycle on it (in the same vibrant peacock blue color) and it was obvious that her love for motorcycles ran deep.
It all started back in 1947 when Viola (aka Brownie) was 17. She had her first motorcycle ride with a friend and that’s all it took… she was hooked.
After Viola graduated, she worked in Kansas City, Missouri for Commercial Corp. as a cashier and had to walk several blocks to and from the bus station every day. “I decided that I needed to make some changes, so I walked down to Speed Thomas’ Harley Davidson shop.”
There at Speed Thomas, she found the bike she wanted, the beautiful 1949 Harley Davidson Knucklehead in peacock blue.
“The mechanics drew straws to see which one would have to teach me how to ride,” Viola recounted. “I paid $938.00 for my bike. Everybody said that I could have bought a new Ford cheaper.”
She took her bike home on March 12th, 1949 making her the first woman in Kansas City to buy a motorcycle.
Just about a week after she purchased her knucklehead, Viola, had heard that there were some motorcyclists in her area so she went out for a ride to go find them. She missed the biker group (which consisted of a few local guys and their girlfriends; Hugh Phillips, Bill Jones, & Eddie Stephens) but she sure caught the attention of Eddie. On his Harley Davidson, Eddie and his fiancé, Mary, pulled out and followed her into the next town. Once they stopped her, they asked her to ride with them. To turn around, Eddie made a u-turn in the middle of the street and Viola had her eyes locked on him so closely that she didn’t see a car coming and it knocked her down. She skinned her right leg on the footboard.
“The rest of the day he started my bike for me. That was the beginning of the end of the fiancé.”
A little spill didn’t scare Viola from riding though. She recalled a trip out to Sabetha, Kansas.
“This was before the highway was changed to cut off those little towns. I got it up to 95 mph, not very smart! I went back to Speed’s and told him that something was wrong with my bike. I told him that 95 was all that I could get out of it. He promised me bodily harm if I did that again. I told Eddie that I had tried my bike out and he said that he had only hit 90 on his, so he tuned his up so he could outdo me.”
She continued to ride with them several more times but one Saturday while at Speed’s shop, Eddie Stephens asked Viola if she would like to ride to where he lived and worked, Longview Farm. At the time, Eddie was working in the greenhouses, which used steam boilers to sterilize the dirt in the growing benches.
“We spent the evening talking and monitoring the steam gauges. When I got home, my Dad asked me where I had been and I told him I had been at Longview Farm, cooking dirt.” “That’s a new one,” he’d say.
And just like that, on July 3rd, 1949—Viola “Brownie” Bailey, then 19, and Eddie Stephens, 21, got married. Before you ask, she wore her wedding dress while riding on the back of Eddie’s 1949 metallic green Hydro Glide Harley Davidson. When they went to go tell Viola’s parents about their marriage her Dad said, “I knew cooking dirt was going to lead into something. And it did.”
A courtship short of just 25 days lasted 66 years. They lived on Longview Farm and started a family in 1950. Eddie found work as an automatic transmission mechanic at the Nash dealer in Chillicothe, MO.
With a new family, they sold their bikes and went without for a few years but continued owning and riding motorcycles well into the 1990s. In April of 1998, Viola had her right hip replaced.
She asked the doctor what she couldn’t do and he responded, “You can’t ride a horse.” “No problem!“ thought Viola. He then added, “You can’t ride your motorcycle either.” “Now, that is a problem!” she replied.
Viola’s motorcycle days may be behind her at the age of 86, but she will always be a biker babe at heart. What started with a love of motorcycles turned into a lifetime of love. Viola and Eddie raised a beautiful family, who then raised their own beautiful families.
Eddie with a gleam in his eye would say to Viola, “Just look what we started.”
In Loving Memory of Eddie Stephens Oct. 11th, 1927-June 8th, 2015
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27 thoughts on “Shop Talk: A Knucklehead Love Story”
I don’t recall A 1949 knucklehead , last being in1947 , the photo shows A WL 45 , that would do about 90 / 95 mph. Still a great story , more Power to Viola ! One SPUNKY LADY !!!
Here’s to Eddie & Viola!!!! (Brownie)
What a tear – jerker of a love 1st. ory! Most couples don’t make it past ten years….ha – ha!
Your legends will linger, through your offspring; grandkids; & their children…..
RIP – Eddie
Guys, that just made me cry! I am 75, and my wife of 48 years walked out of the family (3 girls) in 2010. I so rejoice in the true commitment of the “Real Americans” with love values. Keep pickin’ and grinnin’!
What a great story. Isn’t love grand.
One of the greatest love stories ever!
Here is a Sweet Story for all of you. I had a ticket for both parks of DisneyLand My Sister Fawn coldn”t make it for the Sisters Day out. She called me and said she was sick but told me that I could do whatever I wanted to do with that Ticket . I sold the ticket and then I took my husband to outback restaurant for dinner. He got a big steak. My Dinner went bad. So all I had was Chicken Strips with sauce. My Husband felt bad about the dinner gone bad so he takes me out to the store the next morning and buys me 2 Pair of Shoes. I have always said a girl can never have enough shoes so now all is well! I say now that’s love Your Friends Bambi and Mark
What a wonderful story! R.I.P.Eddie
What an amazing story . I can not believe Violas first motorcycle was a Harley Davidson! My first motorcycle was a Suzuka 80? Oh well, I am a slow starter! Thanks for the your story Viola.
I HAVE KNOWN ED AND BROWNIE MY ENTIRE LIFE!!!! THEY ARE SUCH NEAT PEOPLE!!!! ALWAYS THERE TO HELP OTHER PEOPLE!!
I’ve been honored to listen to Violet tell this beautiful story. Her love for her family and for the Lord keeps her young and full of life!
What a tear – jerker of a good ol’ American love story!!!
Most couples don’t make it past ten years. Here’s to Eddie and Viola! (Brownie) Forever will your legends live….through your children; your grandkids; their children…..& your Harley-Davidsons!
RIP – Eddie
Beautiful! It is all about commitment! Mine walked at 48 years, and I so respect those who saw it thru! Love covers all things…always!
Such a great story , I’m restoring an old sportster and was wondering what color I might paint it when I’m done.Im thinking maybe Peacock Blue in honor of Eddie & Viola’s commitment to each other and to motorcycling. RIP Eddie
We’d love to see that, James!
So love your stories of those you all connect with. So nice to see honest business people (you) treat others with such respect and honor! I was in construction related field for 48 years, and back then, honesty was the backbone of our success. Keep truckin’ and keep saving the history of our people!
What a great story that was. I love hearing of the old stories. Hearing about the history of days long past. It makes us appreciate what we have today. Thank you for sharing the wonderful stories!
Commitment towards each other, and to buying an American Made Motorcycle… back then not to many imports, maybe BSA, BMW or Triumph.
As does anyone with a heart and feelings, this story brought me to tears.
At 62, I still have the drive for my 2 Oldsmobile 442’s,65 rag top and a 1970-W-30… but my wife could care less, about ANY of my projects. Kids are almost all gone ,and when my last one is out … we’re done.
She read the story, and nothing….
Family is the most important thing we have in life.
I applaud the commitment Eddie and Viola had to each other.
Eddie, You we’re a lucky Man. I guess I’ll have to keep looking for MY Viola!!
God Bless you Viola,
Something about vintage bikes that just nudge the soul and pull on the heart strings. Wonderful story.
I personally knew Ed and Brownie, she is one of the most kind hearted people, she opened a spot up for the kids in Breckenridge Mo. They called it teen town, every Friday and Saturday night my parents would take me up there, 25 cents for a game of pool, Brownie also did a lot of work for the church, and with youths that had troubled paths, Ed also had a plane, all the kids in town thought that was so cool, they were a staple in our small community, I moved to Lawson Mo. About 11 years ago, about 4 years ago I was in the dollar General and I heard a lady and sure enough it was Brownie, I was so happy to see her and that she got to meet my children. You could make a movie about these two and the life’s the led and lived.
I am Brownie and Eddie’s 2nd oldest Grand Daughter, daughter of Kathy, their oldest of 5 daughters. I just wanted to take a moment to thank all who have lovingly read/ commented and passed on to read this awesome Blog Post about my Grandparents Harley Heritage and their Legacy of Love. Sadly, we lost Grandma on May 3rd, 2018 to complications steaming from a scheduled Triple Bypass. It was shocking because the doctors where so optimistic about how healthy and strong her heart muscle was and that remained strong even after surgery. However, her other organs didn’t respond as favorably. All efforts were made but My Aunts Brenda and Nancy sang her into Heaven with her favorite Gospel Hymns just like they did for Grandpa at his passing. So… she and my Grandpa, parted in death by only three short years are now reunited in Heaven. Yes, Grandpa’s got his Biker Babe back by his side but we miss them both so much. My father, Robert Howell, said it best… Whenever we hear a Thunder Storm, just know that it’s Grandma and Grandpa revving up their Harley’s in Heaven. Would you believe that she even made arrangements for the Funeral Director, a Harley enthusiast also, to lead the Funeral procession to the Graveside on his own personal Harley Trike, all decked out in his leathers. How fitting! But that’s my Grandma… The consummate adventurer! She was the ROCK of our Family. She is so missed, already, but we are comforted in knowing that she and Grandpa are together again. Our family sincerely appreciates the response this Blog has received in its run and the continued posting of the link to various social media venues. Grandma really did LIVE as she LOVED… Fully and Unconditionally!!! We count it all joy to have had her for this long… 88 short years… as of April 4, 2018.
Sherri, your fine letter really touched me. I commented on this story in 2016. I am 77 and truly rejoice in the peace and love shown in this family…along with the knowledge that we will all again be reunited “when the roll is called up yonder”! What awesome peace! Blessings
Mother was so surprised and thrilled at the recognition she received from the AMERICAN PICKERS, and specially meeting Mike Wolf and the time he spent with her hearing her story in person! She was a very special woman, daughter, sister, wife, mother, grandmother, aunt, friend, Sunday School teacher, and confidante to so very many! She will always be by our side and in our hearts! We
love and miss you Mama!
To everyone who took the time to read the story thanks and unfortunately in May 2018.
Bill Roelse feb 12 2021 I have a 46 ul big twin 1200 cc, violas bike looks to be an 80 ul big twin 1300cc when new would move right along. The pictures sure add to the story.
Born in ChiilacothyMo. moved when I was two to Cedar Rapids Iowa. Now after 85 years living in Ca. Only second time i heard of Chillacothy.
Speed Thomas is my Grandfather;
It’s because of him I have the love for motorcycles I have.
Thanks for sharing your story with everyone and naming my grand father.
Note: I took a trip out to Kansas city MO.
To see his old shop on Mcgee st.
R.I.P. Oscar “Speed” Thomas.
Love you Gramps.
Great story – Speed Thomas was my great grandfather..