“The idea of living at an airpark was a long dream—kind of a bucket list idea for me,” noted Tom Dafoe.
What was once a hopeful thought for the aircraft owner and longtime business aviation professional quickly turned into a reality.
The path to becoming an airpark resident was a function of many pieces falling into place at the right time, like how most unplanned positive life changes seem to happen.
Like many aviators with dreams, realistic or other, Dafoe had long ago bookmarked resources he found interesting and pertinent to various aviation topics. In this case, several were about fly-in communities. One of these was a newsletter curated by a real estate agent who specializes in Texas runway real estate.
“When initially signing up for the newsletter, I was shocked to learn how many airparks there are in Texas,” recalled Dafoe.
But at the time, the resource was really nothing more than inspiration and downtime reading material for the aircraft broker that specializes in the turbine market. Until only recently, Dafoe, his wife, Rebecca, and their children lived halfway across the country with no plans of moving from their family-owned and operated almond farm.
“My wife and I are not originally from California but raised our family there, and we were not sure that is where we would stay forever. We were interested in several states as potential places for our future home.”
In a way that Dafoe describes as “I couldn’t have arranged it any better,” the potential to become airpark residents presented itself at a convenient time.
“We had put up part of our farm for sale, to begin our gradual transition out of the state. It sold to a buyer with an all-cash offer quickly, after about a week. So, we were looking for the ability to move that money into a like-kind  exchange and I saw a home on the airpark newsletter that looked interesting, which was just listed.”
The home was at Holly Lake Ranch Airpark (16TE), which is roughly a half hour outside of Tyler, Texas. This was a portion of the state that had interested the couple since their initial discussions of “where next?” Additionally, the home itself was desirable as well.
“My wife thinks airplanes are fine but knows that I love them and the kids do, too. That said, she wanted to live in a real house and not a steel hangar. This home that Jaqui [Freund] tipped us off to at Holly Lake was a brick home with three bedrooms and four baths; although not large, it looked comfortable and modern enough, with an attached 44 ft by 47 ft hangar with direct access to the runway.”
While on paper and in picture the home and airpark looked like a great fit, Dafoe continued by mentioning that he is not a “sight unseen” type of buyer. This contingency was fortunately accommodated by the former homeowner and their real estate agent.
So, with a competitive accepted offer in, Dafoe excitedly found the next available flight out to the Lone Star State. The mission was clear: getting to know the airpark and his potential future residence.
“As far as airparks go, Holly Lake is small and quiet. But we are used to that, having lived most of our lives on a farm. The larger part of the Holly Lake Ranch is nearby with lakes, golfing, hiking, and plenty of recreation. East Texas is dotted with small towns, so you’re never far from the basics; the airpark is only minutes from local groceries, hardware stores, churches, restaurants, etc.
“Our Realtor, Sharlene, even knew some of the residents and was able to introduce us during my visit. It was quickly apparent that the locals were kind, genuine folk, just as you would hope to expect within 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 enroute to East Texas from the Sacramento area.
Of course, the family’s 1946 Cessna 140 also needed to make the adventure-filled 1,542 nm journey to its new home. The couple’s youngest son, Will, recently soloed in the 76-year-old Cessna and was happy to alternate left and right seats with his dad. After three days of low and slow flying, the two touched down on Holly Lake’s uncharted turf runway, which is parallel to the 2,700 ft by 30 ft asphalt runway.
Having only been Holly Lake residents for a few days shy of a month, the family is still settling into its new abode. Fortunately for the father/son duo, the opportunity to sneak away for a few minutes and go flying has presented itself several times already in their short time at the airpark thus far.
“Within 10 minutes of waking up, you can be out in the hangar preflighting and then taking off only minutes later. We are in the beginning stages of where to find cheap gas nearby, where to fly and get a burger…we have probably landed at four or so small nearby airports, some just with a gas pump and a short asphalt runway.
“We have a lot more exploring like this to do.”
In addition to finding where to fly to in the area, the tailwheel aviator and his student pilot son are also seeking out connections with fellow aviation enthusiasts. One who they met in their first few weeks in Texas owns a private strip only miles away from their home and provided the open invitation to land there whenever (at their own risk).
Those within 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 great friends, for example with Tim, Gene, and Jason…fellow residents and aircraft owners. It’s great to have an opportunity for younger people to come into airparks and the older generations certainly appreciate the new interest in these communities.”
Will’s new Texas friendships have spanned decades, quickly finding common interest with more tenured airpark residents. Inevitably, the hangar talk amongst fellow aviators will help him as he continues working towards his private pilot certificate and future flying endeavors.
The Dafoes are looking forward to many more adventures to come in the years ahead at their new part-time airpark home.
“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 tenfold better than dragging the boat to a nearby ramp to launch for the day. This is just the same; having our plane in the back of our house, with access to fly anytime the weather is conducive, is just perfect.
“Add that you are surrounded with like-minded aviators who, while enjoying a peaceful lifestyle, equally love the sound of a propeller whipping the air at the crack of dawn with the compulsory low pass after takeoff or prior to landing.”