A Refuge Like No Other

Stardust family discovers the ultimate get away

June 2014 Feature Gini McKain

It wasn’t really an ultimatum, only a strong suggestion from his wife, Johna Orr, to her busy and almost workaholic type husband, Jason, who has a thriving Nissan dealership in Searcy, Ark. The young married couple of a dozen years have finally found the ideal refuge to the stress and problems of today’s work-all-day world with cell phones, emails, and business that is hard to get away from, even at their home.

Johna’s suggestion was after buying a houseboat about a year earlier on a whim, and not really researching the situation, that her husband should have a custom houseboat built that he really wanted, with all the amenities that both of them would use and enjoy for a long time. That answer recently materialized with a custom 2013 Stardust houseboat that is 18 by 88 feet long. Their sleek and elegant home on the waters of DeGray Lake in Arkansas is docked at the Iron Mountain Lodge and Marina.

That decision came after much renovation on the first boat, while realizing how much they loved the houseboating way of life. It was a way to get away from it all, and provided a real refuge and escape for Jason that he didn’t realize he could ever have. Jason could finally leave work behind and enjoy the respite he so badly needed to recharge his own batteries, while enjoying relationships that so seldom materialize in emails and short texts.

“We both fell in love with houseboating, particularly for Jason,” explains Johna. “It’s the best thing that could have happened because he relaxes from work and just enjoys himself, with or without me. It’s the only thing that he has experienced that way.”

So after eight months of remodeling the first boat that the couple found to be too small, they wanted their next boat custom built so they wouldn’t have to change anything and they did just that.

“I can come after the hour and 45 minute drive to DeGray Lake from work and just relax, visit neighbors at the dock, watch football games with friends or just be by myself without thinking of work, or work-related problems,” says Jason. “This seems to be the only real place that it works for me.”

A New Tradition

The Orrs have found other very enjoyable occasions to be on the houseboat, such as enjoying their beloved Razorbacks with family and friends. That usually comes during a party with a purpose, which is for the Razorbacks of the University of Arkansas to win! As far as the Orrs are concerned, everything helps in that effort.

The couple brings out the metal tubs labeled “Razorback Game Day” that are loaded with snacks for the big game. They’ve discovered that onboard their Stardust, named Razorback Island 2.0, there’s not a better way to watch a game. Guests are invited to grab some beef jerky as they wallow by the Hog Trough set on the bar and make their way to the coffee table and the cushy sofa and chairs. All this while they watch the Razorbacks play when away from home on two different flat screens or in the evening, on their 110-inch projector screen on the top deck.

Before the majority of the food comes out for game day, the Orrs put out the flags at the boat’s stern, open up the grill for hamburgers and hotdogs, or better still, offer some great Polish Mistakes made from browned crumpled sausage on Velveeta cheese and toasted on thin whole wheat bread. Fair warning though: just one slice won’t suffice.

The fridge in the bar holds plenty of beverages, and other coolers onboard have soda and water on ice. A big blow-up Razorback hog takes honor in the bow by the steering wheel, that is, of course, when the women onboard are not sunning themselves at the beautiful “Four Finger Cove” inlet, just on the other side of the Iron Mountain peninsula from the marina.

Game Day Run

The Razorback Island 2.0 party for the big game actually started when Johna cooked and prepared many of the dips and deserts for the guests a day ahead of time. One of the reasons she loves the Stardust is because she now has the spacious galley to prepare the foods at the large granite-topped island, with a large refrigerator and a double sink. The other reason she loves this new houseboat is being able to house her Razorback implements, unique dishes and paper ware in the walk-in pantry, along with other various Razorback containers. Having the inside stairs leading off of the salon to the upper deck also helps her bring up or down the items for the party where everyone will be.

While the women did most of the food prep on this day, the men, on the other hand, were busy with the electronics and the auto-tracking satellite TV as they worked to make sure the connection was available throughout the houseboat. Because much of the electronic connections and programming was done under the roof of the 1,255-foot long dock at the marina, additional work had to be established while out in the open lake with the satellite dish. Three minutes before game time, Jason secured a good reception with the correct channel and everyone breathed a sigh of relief.

Friends and family came from as far away as Dallas, Texas, like Johna’s mother, a very avid Razorback fan herself. Because her daughter went to the University or Arkansas and got her hooked on the team (along with the rest of her family), she was present and got the opportunity to spend time on the new houseboat. Jason’s side of the family and their love of the Razorbacks go way back. Their long hog history just adds to the excitement and camaraderie as the family have been season ticket holders since the 1950s. Through many generations, the Orr family have followed the Razorbacks through losses and wins over the years.

One Last Touch

Although the Orrs houseboat is exactly what they wanted, adding full enclosures are on their list. One of the benefits to the area is the milder weather for year-round boating. This is particularly true when the bow deck, top deck, and stern are enclosed with acrylic canvas and vinyl windows for those cooler days in winter. Viewing football games next fall is anticipated on the enclosed top deck or enclosed bow. That is about the only project yet to do for the new houseboat owners; everything else is the way they want it.

Fellow houseboat neighbor and “helpful boat instructor” Eldon Flanagan and his grandson got to enjoy the food and friendship, too. Lucky for the Orrs, Flanagan owns Texarkana Tent and Awning, with many years of experience working on just those needs.

This spring, Flanagan anticipates the enclosures will be done and ready, now that the charcoal color and material have been picked out by the avid Razorback couple. When the enclosures are complete, the couple plans on being able to enjoy the games on the houseboat until the end of the season, no matter what the weather is like.

Full Control

Not only are the Orrs happy with the additional room compared to their previous houseboat with the extra three bedrooms for guests and family members, but the bow and stern thrusters have delighted Captain Jason when coming back to his slip or backing out of it. The first boat didn’t have them, and now that the larger boat size no longer intimidates him, he has realized the value and joy of maneuvering the boat into his 24-foot wide slip easily and accurately.

“It’s a whole different world with thrusters,” say Jason. “It’s much easier to bring the boat in, even with the wind pushing us.”

It took a while for their houseboat that was built at the Stardust plant in Monticello, Ky., to travel through four states. Some of the delay that caused it to take over four days was the height restriction and low bridges.

“The bottom deck with its high ceilings proved to be a problem, but it was well worth the wait and anticipation,” says Jason. “People took pictures and called me to let me know how it was going. Even people at my car dealership took pictures of it as it went past the store.”

Now that it is set up and they have everything they want in a houseboat, the Orrs are ready to continue enjoying their houseboating life on their Stardust.


DeGray Lake


DeGray Lake is centrally located for the Orrs and their families, so it was logical to have their houseboat docked on this lake. Yet the beauty, ease of cruising, and dockage amenities were high on the list of reasons to stay there.

Iron Mountain Lodge and Marina slips at the newest dock all have 24-foot wide berths for houseboats, as well as room on the other side of the walkway for the owner’s other boats and water toys. Many year-round people will also have a pontoon or ski boat, several personal water craft and water toys that can be stored within easy access a ramp width away.

The 1,288-foot long by 130-foot wide covered S-dock currently houses 46 houseboats. Over 80 other houseboats are at several of the 17 other docks at the marina. They are all within a short distance to the waste management facilities if owners wish to pump out themselves, or can have the marina do it on a set schedule or even on demand.

This situation has led the U. S. Army Corps of Engineers who oversee the lake to look favorably to houseboaters, on this 13,400-acre lake which was filled with water and finished back in 1973. It has a shoreline of 207 miles at elevation 408.0 NGVD, with a depth of about 200 feet by the DeGray Dam.

The building of the dam to facilitate the water was authorized in 1950, then the Water Supply Act of 1958 started the ball rolling and provided for the inclusion of a municipal and industrial water supply as one of the project purposes. The primary reason for the lake was flood control in the region that included two other filled lakes, Ouachita and Greeson. An additional purpose is for the hydropower located on the downstream of the dam which supplies electricity to the Southwest Power Grid.

DeGray Lake is in the Ouachita Mountains, one of the few ranges that runs north and south rather than east to west. The lake has now become very popular as a recreation destination because of it clear, clean waters, easy access to temporary shore bank dockage, and great fishing, especially for the slab-size crappie and hybrid strippers located under massive concentrations of shad.

Tammy Richardson of DeGray Lake Houseboat and Water Toy Rentals has a 90-foot, multi-bedroom houseboat for rent by Iron Mountain Marina if you want to test the waters. But most certainly don’t over look the opportunity to fish with the only female and experienced guide on the lake if you are interested in fishing for large crappie or bass. She has a lifetime of experience on the lake and has fished in the Bass Masters Tournament Trail gaining fishing knowledge all over the country, not only in her backyard on one of the prettiest lakes around.



DeGray Lake Houseboat & Water Toy Rentals

140 Iron Mountain Dr.

Arkadelphia, AR 71923




DeGray Lake Park Manager

729 Channel Rd.

Arkadelphia, AR 71923




DeGray Lake Visitor Center

870-246-5501 Ext. 4005


Iron Mountain Lodge & Marina on DeGray Lake

134 Iron Mountain Marina Dr

Arkadelphia, AR 71923




Stardust Cruisers

110 Stardust Ave.

Monticello, KY 42633








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