“The idea of living in an airpark was a long dream – kind of a to-do list idea for me,” noted Tom Dafoe.
What was once a hopeful thought for the aircraft owner and long-time business aviation professional quickly turned into a reality.
The path to becoming an airpark resident was a function of many things that fell into place at the right time, like how most unforeseen positive life changes seem to happen.
Like many aviators with dreams, realistic or otherwise, Dafoe had long been bookmarking resources he found interesting and relevant on various aviation topics. In this case, several involved communities accessible by air. One of them was a newsletter organized by a real estate agent specializing in runway real estate in Texas.
“When I initially signed up for the newsletter, I was shocked to learn how many airparks there are in Texas,” Dafoe recalls.
But at the time, the resource was really nothing more than inspiration and downtime reading material for the aircraft broker specializing in the turbine market. Until recently, Dafoe, his wife, Rebecca, and their children lived across the country with no intention of leaving their family-operated almond farm.
“My wife and I aren’t from California, but we raised our family there, and we weren’t sure that’s where we’d stay forever. We were interested in several states as potential locations for our future. home.
In a way that Dafoe describes as “I couldn’t have arranged it better,” the potential to become airpark residents presented itself at an opportune time.
“We had put part of our farm up for sale, to begin our gradual transition out of state. It sold out quickly to a buyer with an all-cash offer, after about a week. So we were looking for the possibility of transferring this money to a  exchange and saw a house on the airpark newsletter that looked interesting, just listed.”
The home was at Holly Lake Ranch Airpark (16TE), about a half hour from Tyler, TX. It was a part of the state that had interested the couple since their first discussions of “where next?” Additionally, the house itself was also desirable.
“My wife thinks airplanes are good, but knows that I love them and the kids do too. That said, she wanted to live in a real house and not in a steel hangar. This house that Jaqui [Freund] told us at Holly Lake that there was a brick house with three bedrooms and four bathrooms; although not large, it looked comfortable and quite modern, with an attached 44ft by 47ft hangar with direct access to the runway.
While on paper and in photos, the house and the airpark seemed to be a perfect match, Dafoe went on to mention that he was not an “invisible” type of buyer. This eventuality was fortunately accommodated by the former owner and his real estate agent.
So, with a competitive offer accepted, Dafoe excitedly found the next available flight to the Lone Star State. The mission was clear: get to know the air park and its potential future residence.
“As far as airparks go, Holly Lake is small and quiet. But we are used to it, having lived most of our lives on a farm. Much of Holly Lake Ranch is nearby with lakes, golf, hiking, and plenty of recreational activities. East Texas is dotted with small towns, so you’re never far from the essentials; the airpark is only minutes away from local grocery stores, hardware stores, churches, restaurants, etc.
“Our estate agent, Sharlene, even knew some of the residents and was able to introduce us when I visited. It quickly became apparent that the locals were kind and genuine people, as you would expect in the aviation community.
Now that he had confirmed that reality met expectations, the real journey began, as the Dafoes packed up their truck and hit the road heading east to Texas from the Sacramento area.
Of course, the family’s 1946 Cessna 140 also had to make the adventure-filled journey at 1,542nm to its new home. The couple’s youngest son, Will, recently traveled solo in the 76-year-old Cessna and was happy to alternate left and right seats with his father. After three days of low, slow flight, the two landed on the uncharted grass runway at Holly Lake, which parallels the 2,700ft by 30ft asphalt runway.
Having only resided in Holly Lake for a few days before a month, the family continues to settle into their new home. Fortunately for the father/son duo, the opportunity to slip away for a few minutes and fly has already presented itself several times in their short stay at the airpark so far.
“Within 10 minutes of waking up, you can be in the hangar preflighting and taking off a few minutes later. We are in the early stages of finding cheap gas nearby, where to fly and grab a burger…we’ve probably landed in about four small airports nearby, some with just a gas pump and a short runway in asphalt.
“We have a lot more exploration like this to do.”
In addition to finding where to fly in the area, the tailwheel aviator and his student pilot son are also looking for connections with other aviation enthusiasts. The one they met during their first few weeks in Texas owns a private band just miles from their home and provided the open invitation to land there anytime (at their own risk).
Members of the airpark community have also become fast friends with their new neighbors. “At Holly Lake, there is a mixture of backgrounds and ages. Will is already making some very good friends, for example with Tim, Gene and Jason… other residents and plane owners. It’s great to have the opportunity for young people to come to the airparks and the older generations certainly appreciate the new interest in these communities.
Will’s new friendships in Texas spanned decades, quickly finding common interest with more tenured Airpark residents. Inevitably, the conversation in the hangar between fellow airmen will help him as he continues to work towards his private pilot certificate and future flying plans.
The Dafoes look forward to many more adventures to come in the years to come at their new part-time aerial park.
“It’s like a dream come true, really,” Dafoe said. “For boaters, having a cabin on the lake with the boat on the dock is ten times better than dragging the boat to a nearby ramp to get in the water for the day. It’s exactly the same thing; having our plane in the back of our house, with access to fly whenever the weather permits, is just perfect.
“Add that you are surrounded by like-minded aviators who, while enjoying a peaceful lifestyle, also love the sound of a propeller whipping through the air at dawn with the obligatory low pass after takeoff. or before landing.”