Originally created 07/10/98

State trooper retiring after 40 years of service



GREENVILLE, S.C. -- There he is, a rookie, square jaw, flat-top and intensity inscribed in his youthful unlined face. He is wearing the uniform of the day, a leather strap over the shoulder, black tie and starched, long-sleeved khaki poplin shirt.

The black-and-white picture is of a young Harold Owens. Now, 40 years later, Sgt. Harold Owens, hair graying and face etched with lines of life and laughter, is retiring from the South Carolina Highway Patrol. In doing so, he relinquishes his title as the oldest and longest-serving active state trooper.

"I'm the senior trooper in the state in service time and age," he says with a certain pride. "I'm the only trooper remaining that was trained in the '50s."

A native of Seneca, Sgt. Owens spent his entire career in the department's District 3 that includes most of the Upstate, first working the road, then moving into administration.

"When I was a kid growing up, all I wanted to be was a state trooper," he says. "I've been able to live that dream for 40 years."

Like his uniform now gray and blue with an open-collared shirt, the patrol has changed.

Imagine this: When he began, the Highway Patrol was under the auspices of the state Highway Department. Pelham and Haywood Roads were secondary roads winding through rural pasture land with only a stop sign at the intersection.

"The booming area back then was around Donaldson. The base was in full operation and growth was on Augusta and White Horse Road around there," Sgt. Owens recalled. "Back then, 29 North was known as a superhighway because it had been four-laned. That was the big major road.

"Radar and Breathalyzers didn't exist. You learned the techniques to determine if someone was drinking. I became one of the first certified to use a Breathalyzer."

Owens' first patrol car was a 1956 Ford. His first weapon a .38-caliber revolver.

He laughs and says he never thought he'd see the day BMWs were part of the fleet and adds, "When I came, the older fellows would tell me about the days with motorcycles. I never thought I'd see motorcycles used again, but they are using them now."