The Liberty Gazette
October 25, 2011Ely Air Lines
By Mike Ely and Linda Street-Ely
Linda: The U.S. National aerobatic competition had just wrapped up its week-long activities north of Dallas on a recent Saturday and three-time U.S. National Aerobatic Champion Debby Rihn-Harvey would make Critters Lodge her weekend stopover on her way home to LaPorte. While Debby treated the Lodge guests to an impromptu show in her high performance CAP 232 named “Hurricane,” we were at another fly-in 50 miles away. This was part of our anniversary weekend and we had put two fly-ins on our agenda.
Since the fly-in at Critters Lodge spanned the whole weekend, we planned to take part of our Saturday to visit the airstrip right next to Old Fort Parker in Groesbeck. Friday night while socializing with fellow flyers we spread the word about the other fly-in, “Old Planes at the Old Fort.” The Fort was the homestead of the Parker family, whose nine-year old daughter Cynthia Ann was captured by Indians in 1836, adopted by Comanches and married Chief Peta Nocona. Their son, Quanah Parker, became one of the last great Warrior Chiefs of the Comanches, and later became a judge, a businessman and friends with three U.S. Presidents. The Fort’s old cabins and blockhouses are open for exploring, the atmosphere enhanced by the cowboy shooting range, home of the Old Fort Parker Patriots who host a monthly western style shooting competition.
“Old Planes at the Old Fort” would only last a few hours and would give folks another destination, another reason to spin those props, and then return to the Lodge for more fly-in/camp-out fun. Many of the guests from the Lodge met us at the Fort.
Mike: It was a perfect morning to step back in time and welcome vintage aircraft to the newly completed 2,000 foot grass airstrip christened Fort Parker Flying Field, also the home of the International Bi-plane Association. Men and women Patriots dressed in Western period clothing strolled over from their shooting range about a hundred feet away across the road to join others from the community and the gathering of 17 airplanes at the inaugural fly-in.
This year’s drought has abused grass runways in Texas. For weeks Airfield Manager Darius Farmer kept the field watered, rolling up and down the runway with a tractor towing a trailer with a big water tank. After watering, he used a roller to knock down gopher holes and then filled in some of the low spots with more dirt making it smoother for airplanes to land. Darius and some volunteers labored all week long getting the field into condition for vintage aircraft.
As it turned out, while Debby was wowing the crowd at the Lodge, our friends Jim and Rex, in a Steen Skybolt and Pitts respectively, two open cockpit bi-planes, arrived at Fort Parker in flying formation, with one giving the folks an impromptu airshow of loops and rolls and Cuban Eights.
We returned to Critters Lodge in the afternoon, in time for a big dinner in the dining hangar, sunset fly-bys, plenty of great fellowship with fellow aviators, and camped out like everyone else in the tents that spotted the hide-away coves along the runway’s edge. They say New York City has a beat – a heartbeat all its own. These airfields are the kinds of places that are soothing, a salve for the aviator’s soul; hard to leave when the weekend is over.