The Liberty Gazette
May 13, 2014
Ely Air Lines
By Mike Ely and Linda Street-Ely
Mike: With the last of the camping gear packed into the Elyminator we climbed in and took off into the brilliant afternoon sunshine for a short flight north. Critters were awaiting us – it was time again for the not-to-be-missed Critters Lodge Fly-in at the Dillard Ranch near Centerville, Texas.
With the Southeast Texas landscape sliding beneath our wings we joined a hundred or so other airplanes bringing aviation lovers to descend upon the 3,000 foot grass strip.
Tents sprung up at campsites the full length of the runway, on both sides, with more people staying in RV campers, and a few in the newly finished lodge.
These fly-ins bring together old friends and the opportunity to make new friends, all hosted by the very gracious Wendell and Beverly Dillard and their incredible team of volunteers.
Bev and friends work for hours on their feet cooking, cleaning, cooking again, cleaning again, and again, so that meals are provided for their guests all weekend. Long rows of picnic tables invite community seating with a perfect view out the open hangar doorway to the midpoint of the runway.
Linda: Mike’s landing between the tall stands of trees that line the runway was spot-on and Wendell directed us to a nice quiet clearing to pitch the tent next to our plane. Even as we were still taxiing I began to see friends and familiar airplanes, such as Jim Doyle and his daughter Darcy, who arrived in the beautiful yellow and blue Skybolt biplane Jim built.
Wendell spends the day with a hand-held radio communicating with pilots flying in to ensure a safe environment. At one point he was suddenly needed in the expansive hangar-turned-cafeteria-with-commercial-kitchen because one of the ovens was not working properly. There would soon be hungry mouths to feed. With a break in air traffic, Wendell darted into the 4,000 square foot hangar, repaired the oven, and was back outside before the next airplane arrived.
Mike: Pitching the tent in the waning last light as the sun dropped behind the trees, we hurried down to the mess-hangar.
Afterward on our romantic walk down one side of the runway and then the other we encountered dark silhouetted figures and glowing faces as campers sat around telling tales while the campfires crackled and flared. Here, all is quiet as the darkness deepens. Half-way between Dallas and Houston the city lights no longer dim our view of the night sky and the stars begin to carpet the heavens. We snuggled into our evening quarters keeping the mosquito net closed but the tent fly open for gazing at constellations, planets, and the occasional satellite moving from horizon to horizon.
As we slept the temperature dropped to a cozy 44 degrees – a perfect night, handed over to a perfect morning, sunlight gently nudging us awake.
Crawling out of our shelter we were greeted by crisp air and the buzz of a prop on a plane that goes whirring by on take-off. Back to the hangar for breakfast, joining others milling about in great spirits at the prospects of a wonderful campground day. Nobody was in a particular hurry to do anything except the occasional pilot taking off to make a few low passes down the runway to the delight of the gathered observers. After breakfast we joined in the festivities and made a few go-arounds of our own.