The Founding of Antique Acres
From Peaches to Pilots - a history of the early years - 1967 – 1972
By Jill (Hoffman) Shoop
From recollections of the Hoffman family: Carl, Eva, Ross, Carla & Jill - January 2008
In the mid-1960’s, my dad, Carl Hoffman, was not unlike many other pilots who flew for Delta and were based in Atlanta. He was married, lived in the suburbs, had three children, and was active in his local church. My mother, Eva, was the typical stay-at-home mom of that era, known for being an exceptional cook, and who, as “Miss Eva,” impacted the lives of countless toddlers over the years as she faithfully manned the nursery in our church. My brother, Ross, played soccer and football in high school and, with some of his friends, formed a garage band in our basement. My sister, Carla, was a cheerleader, babysat for kids in the neighborhood and was a Candy Striper at the local hospital. I guess I was a typical elementary school kid who rode her bike, played with dolls and enjoyed suburban life. Instead of having a family boat or RV, however, we always had a family plane, a Cessna 195, which for most of those years, served as somewhat of a “station wagon” to ferry us around to fly-ins all over the countryside, the locations of which are now blurred in my memory.
In that respect, we were quite different from other families on our street, who didn’t have a Rearwin Sportster under construction in their basement. Children on our block rarely had grease under their fingernails from reaching into a fuselage to hold a part for their dad or brother because they had hands small enough to fit into areas adult hands were too large to access. I remember being surprised to discover that our neighbors’ bathrooms offered more than the yellow newsprint “Trade-A-Plane” for reading material. It was hardly considered normal in our neighborhood for someone’s son to solo a Twin Beech on his 16th birthday and have his photo and details of the event appear in the Atlanta Journal - Constitution. Others might not have thought it only natural that Ross soloed at the Fulton County Airport, out of Hill Aviation, owned and operated by my uncle, Guy Hill. Nor did other parents have to explain to the principal of Headland High School why their son was absent on his birthday, especially given the newspaper article proving what he had really been up to that day.
It might do well to note here that everyone in my family had the “flying gene.” It just expressed itself in one of two forms: pilot or passenger. My dad and brother were exceptional pilots, while my mom, sister and I were extraordinary passengers. My dad’s father, whom we called Dado, lived with us in the mid-1960’s. He owned a Plymouth convertible and we began piling into it and heading out into the country, around the perimeter of Atlanta, in search of a “farm.” Dado was a master brick mason and construction genius, a hard worker, the likes of which are rarely seen these days. In fact, he had built the 3 bedroom, 1 & ½ bath ranch, with a walkout basement, where we lived in East Point. There was talk that we were going to build an airstrip and have a place to keep and fly our planes, and perhaps rent out some hangar space to other pilots. This seemed reasonable, as I had observed, at the ripe old age of 10, that pilots tended to enjoy congregating together.
As we began to look at property, I could suddenly relate to the line from The Wizard of Oz, “Toto! We’re not in Kansas anymore!” It was, indeed, a different world. On one particular excursion, this one on the north side of Atlanta as I recall, the owner of the property we went to see was what our family often referred to as a “rare bird.” Apparently, she didn’t believe in giving dogs names like King or Spot. As we drove onto the property, her dog was barking wildly to the point where we couldn’t get out of the car. My sister and I both have the memory burned in our minds of the woman running toward the car yelling, “Get down, Dammit!” It was only later that we realized that was the dog’s name and not just her general manner of speaking or preferred method of welcoming visitors.
Finally, Daddy focused on a piece of property on the south side of the city, 6 miles west of Griffin in a small town named Williamson. That location would allow him to get to Hartsfield without having to drive across Atlanta. In addition to location, major factors influencing the decision to purchase any property were availability, cost and the potential for an airstrip.
In his own words, “ I was looking, ideally, for a flat field that was already cultivated, but there was no such thing on the market. Dan Slade was our realtor, and at the time, he was married to Otis Rawls’ daughter. Otis Rawls and Mary Emma Dearing owned the two pieces of property we purchased. There was no Hwy. 362 frontage on the original parcels we purchased, as Tommy Johnson owned that land.”
When Mama and Daddy began to seriously consider this land, they took the rest of us to see it. It is a gross understatement to say my sister and I were less than enthused. Daddy recalls that he drove us in that Plymouth convertible down through the rows between the peach trees and Carla proclaimed, “I don’t see how anyone could build a landing strip here!” Little did she know that to tell someone with a dream that something can’t be done seems only to generate more determination to accomplish the seemingly impossible.
Later that day, Daddy led us through a thick grove of trees to show us a little trickle of water coming out of a swampy, bug-infested area that reminded me of where Jed Clampett struck oil in the opening scenes of “The Beverly Hillbillies.” Daddy excitedly announced that this would be our pond, and I remember thinking that he had truly lost his mind. I’ve come to understand that this is typical behavior for a visionary, but it is only as an adult that I can look back on these events with perspective to really appreciate the magnitude of the dream our family undertook to create.
Later that night, exhausted, overwhelmed, and covered in red Georgia clay, I felt something on my head when I washed my hair. I showed it to Mama, whose comment caused my blood to run cold. “You have a tick,” she pronounced. At the time, I thought you died from ticks. I had absolutely no clue about rural life.
It was determined that we would buy that property. The parcel for sale wasn’t quite as large as Daddy wanted, but again, in the mid-1960’s, most people who owned farm land tended to keep it in the family, and Pike County was most definitely an agricultural community.
As Daddy recalled, “Mama and I prayed about it. We made the original offer to buy Mary Emma Dearing’s land. Then, the day we went to Dan Slade’s office to close, Otis Rawls was there. He had talked to Dan and he said that he would sell me the adjoining acres (given that he was Dan’s father-in-law) at a good price. The price on the land was $45,000, which was 276 acres. (The total land purchased was 276 acres, at approximately $163 per acre). We agreed at the closing table to purchase both parcels. We put down $25,000 on those two pieces of property and signed a note to Mary Emma Dearing for the balance for 10 years. I remember our payment was two thousand and something per year with interest. We paid it off in 5 years.”
Things were different back then....
Mama and Daddy became official Pike County property owners in the summer of 1967. There was never a bank involved in the acquisition of the “farm,” as we lovingly referred to our 276 acres of peach trees and timber, which is a foreign concept to those of us who have come to accept mortgages as a fact of life. Likewise, there were no utility companies involved near that land, another thing we tend to take for granted these days, even in what are considered rural areas.
The City of Williamson had a water system, but the lines only ran within the city limits, and our property was definitely beyond that. As my Mother said, “It was a peach orchard. There was no water, no power, no streetlights - there was nothing!”
In the time between purchasing the property, and moving out there to live full-time in the summer of 1968, some major changes took place. Regarding utilities, Daddy recalled, “I remember when the guy came down there from Barnesville and put the temporary service box in so we could build that concrete block house. There had never been any power there before. They had to run poles from Highway 362. I’m sure someone has put new water lines in by now, but I got permission from the City Council in Williamson to tie onto the Williamson Water System. And, I got permission from Pike County to rent a ditch digger and dig a ditch along Hwy. 362 and then I got permission from Tommy Johnson to run up the edge of his property, by our dirt road to get the line to our farm. You know, I took a big chance, and it was a gamble, but I investigated it and went to the city to talk to them about it.”
Mama added, “You never heard such opposition! People said, “Y’all are foolish. You’ll never get water out there! There’s no way you’ll ever get water out there.”
Daddy continued, “ The City Council gave me permission and didn’t charge me anything but the cost of a meter, as long as I paid for the pipe and the ditch diggers and all that. It took about 6 weeks to lay that pipe, and boy, it was hard work. I couldn’t have done it without Dado and John Orr (a local black man, who along with his wife LouElla, were dear friends and helpers for our family all the years we lived in Williamson). And, I’ll never forget we had a lot of trouble with it and we had to buy a big driving spike to get the pipe under 362. We had to tie onto their system up past Ed Wood’s house on Hwy. 362. (As of January 2008, the house that was owned by Ed Wood still stands on the south side of Hwy. 362 near the Williamson city limits, is painted green, and has a ‘horses for sale’ sign in the yard ). It was over a mile but when we turned the faucet on, it worked! The pressure wasn’t all that great, but it was such a thrill to be on city water.”
So, we owned a peach orchard and land, but being “city folk,” didn’t have a clue what to do with the peaches. Except for the orchard that would be turned into the runway, Daddy leased the peach operation to the Donahoo brothers, who were somewhat colorful local characters.
We became landlords of sorts, because there were two ramshackle houses on the property with tenants, who as Daddy recalled, “paid us some ridiculous rent like $10.oo per year.” I guess that was a fair price for a shack with no electricity, and likely no indoor plumbing, although we never went inside to inspect.
The dirt road had never been graded, was full of deep ruts, and had the effect of quicksand on our cars after any measure of rain. It was a completely new experience for us to have our car get stuck in the mud, but it happened with such regularity that, over time, it became routine. One of us would get out of the car and trudge the distance to get Daddy, Ross, or whoever else was available, to come tow us out. Keds, saddle oxfords, and even black leather shoes took on the hue of red Georgia clay.
Ross had graduated from Headland High School in 1966 and was attending Georgia Tech, but Carla was entering her senior year at Headland in the fall of 1967 when the transitional work on the property began in earnest.
Daddy said, “Well, Dado was living with us at the time and he and I used to get up at 4 in the morning and drive down to Williamson and work on that house all day, then drive back home at night.”
The house was a 4-room concrete block structure to which the original hangar was attached. Mama, Ross, Carla and I spent most weekends working at the farm alongside Daddy and Dado in order to get the house far enough along for us to move there in June 1968. Daddy demonstrated impeccable judgment with all things concerning the construction of the airport, with the exception of one thing - he let me and Carla choose the paint color for the concrete block house.
For some reason, that we either don’t remember or won’t admit, we chose mint green. Later, when we became unbearably cramped in that house, we bought the house trailer that Carl King’s family lived in, while they built their house between Zebulon and Concord, and attached it to our house to give us more space. We were just too busy building hangars and expanding the airport operations to build a proper house. We did, however, add the all-important amenity of a trampoline for my sake. The joys of country life began to be ours as we discovered fish frys, singin’s, cannin’ and that you could use peaches in hundreds of ways.
If you build it, they will come....
Regarding building the landing strip, Daddy remembered,”I bought an old John Deere tractor and I used to go to work at daylight and I’d work until 10:00 at night pushing over peach trees and dragging them up with the front end loader and burning them and stuff. Ross used the chain saw and cut up some of those peach trees and they made great firewood. I’d put a load of firewood in the front-end loader and dump it out by the house and Jill would stack it. A guy from Griffin came and gave me a contract on grading the strip. After we got all the peach trees pushed down, we began to realize how rolling the land was. There was a little hill up by where the office was, then it went down to the lower part down by the lake. Where it hit Otis Rawls’ property, it went back uphill again. I let a contract for $9,000 and some odd dollars and back then, that was a lot of money. The man who did the grading worked hard to do all that grading and leveling . I remember him having to wear a mask because it was so hot and dusty, but it was done by late spring or early summer of 1968. We kept the Cessna 195 at Hill Aircraft until our hangar was completed, but I flew to Cincinnati in 1968 and brought home the Aeronca. I think that was the first landing on the strip, and if I do say so myself, it turned into a pretty nice strip. It was one of the nicest strips around.”
To which my mother added, “And it has endured for 40 years - I should say so!”
From the beginning, a steady stream of our friends – some pilots, some not - drove or flew down from the Atlanta area to help us. Daddy remembers being the first Delta pilot to buy property in Pike County, so our greatest source of help was the local people, who regarded us with much curiosity and considered the idea of a private airport somewhat of a novelty. Bryan Whitehurst, whose family lived in a large, Tudor split-level in what was then the “downtown” block of Williamson, was the Soil and Conservation Agent in neighboring Barnesville. He was instrumental in helping us secure government assistance for constructing the pond, which we stocked with bass and bream. In return, Daddy taught him how to fly and a lifelong friendship was formed.
Trusses for the hangars would arrive on large flatbed trucks, then Daddy or Ross would set them in place with the tractor. The roof and sides were galvanized metal, but they had an aged, or weathered look from the beginning.
When asked why, Daddy said, “Bryan Whitehurst was a huge help to us for that. The government was giving grants to farmers to rebuild their barns and Bryan would tell me about who was about to rebuild and I’d go over and get the old tin and haul it.”
Mama added, “Carl would see tin on old barns that were falling in and stop and ask the people if he could haul it off for them. That’s another way we got metal.”
Surely it wasn’t coincidence that Tommy Johnson, who owned the orchards between ours and Hwy. 362, just happened to be in both the fertilizer and concrete businesses.
Daddy recounted, “I let a contract to Tommy Johnson- oh, for a couple thousand dollars, which was still big money in those days. He came out and seeded the strip and put fertilizer down. That was the summer we were all so heartbroken when it wouldn’t rain, because if the seed didn’t get water, it wouldn’t germinate . The runway was 3350’ feet long by 50 or so feet wide originally, but I think we enlarged it finally until it was 75-100’ wide. There was no way to water it, so we prayed for rain. It took some time for all the grass to come in, so you really had to be careful landing if it had been raining.”
I’ve heard it said that “horse people” would watch paint dry for entertainment. Well, for our family, back in the summer of 1968, we would spend evenings sitting outside on the tailgate of the truck watching it rain everywhere but on the runway. At least once a week, one of us would drive the truck very slowly down the length of the strip, while the rest of us criss-crossed behind, picking up every rock we could find and chunking it on the back of the truck. You can see why driving was the most coveted position in that operation!
Daddy’s relationship with Tommy Johnson was also instrumental in getting concrete. He said, “The way we got concrete was Tommy Johnson had a deal with me - you know he ran a concrete business there on Hwy 362 just past the Elk’s Club in Griffin. When he would sell concrete and they had more than they could use, he would bring it out to the strip, and try to give me as much notice as he could, and he’d come out there and dump the concrete. That’s how we got the floors for the hangars. Dado helped us build the forms, and once it was poured, we would level it and make sure it cured properly. If I do give myself credit, we did try to plan it economically so we could get a pretty good airport going out there.”
The Sheriff of Pike County at the time was named J. Astor Riggins, and he and his deputies kept a close eye on the goings on at the airport. He was a great source of information, and quite possibly instrumental in the County taking an active role in grading our dirt road and setting out some gravel so his patrol cars could have better access. It seemed a little odd to us not to have a street address. Our mailing address then was P. O. Box 46, Williamson, GA 30692, but Bobby Harrison (then the postman and who later served terms as mayor) delivered the mail to our physical address. We suspect he also wanted the road improved so it wasn’t so treacherous for his mail delivery vehicle.
Daddy had this to say about the Sheriff, “ The Sheriff came out one day and I asked if he happened to know what the name of our road was, and he said, ‘Why, we’ll call it the Airport Road.’ And, that’s the way things were done in Pike County back then. Another time, he came out to ask me for help locating some moonshine stills in the area. I took him up in the Aeronca and we found where the stills were. Some of the locals took offense over us using planes for that purpose, as they’d been making whiskey for a long time and didn’t want the Sheriff to have an unfair advantage.”
Ross and Daddy both gave flying lessons using the Aeronca, and as we built hangars, there was income from the hangar rental. Quite a few people began to keep their planes tied down at the strip. Sometime in 1969, Daddy became interested in flying gliders. There was a group of pilots who were flying private sailplanes out of an airport near Monroe, GA, one of whom was a fellow Delta pilot named Woody Woodward. Daddy saw a way that antique airplanes and a glider school could co-exist on the grass runway and felt the gliders could help build our business. He completed an instructor’s level course at a glider school outside Charlotte, NC, acquired the Schweitzer sailplane dealership for Georgia and we opened a school at Antique Acres, the official name of our airport.
Eventually, we would have two 2-33 trainers and three 1-26 single place gliders, trekking to the factory in Elmira, NY, each time we added a plane to the fleet. The glider school attracted a lot of attention and soon, we were training lots of Daddy’s and Ross’ pilot buddies to be glider instructors or tow pilots. We acquired a Cessna 150 with a souped up engine for our tow plane, but I think we towed using the Aeronca, too.
At this point, we began to add asphalt paving to the operation. Daddy remembered, “ A guy from Griffin came out and had a little wheel and rolled out the distance. We poured an original 900’ of asphalt. We used that to hook the tow lines up to the gliders, so they could take off coming across that asphalt so they’d accelerate. The strip ran NE and SW, but we took off to the north, unless there was a really high wind. As the business grew, and money permitted, we added taxiways to all the hangars, and finally paved the large rectangle section in front of the office. Myron Carter painted the frequencies on the little asphalt ramp we had out there. We tried to run the airport right and were always really safety conscious.”
We continued to build hangars, but it soon became apparent that we also needed to build a little office, as our concrete block house was too small to accommodate all the people who would come out to fly. We built an office with two bathrooms, and everyone was relieved, pun intended. It was a huge deal when we got our first Coke machine! We sold Tom’s crackers and assorted snacks, but most people knew to pack a lunch if they headed out our way - there were no restaurants in Williamson. Liaisons with the locals continued to pay off, especially when Daddy was able to purchase the hangar, which we ultimately attached to the office, from an airport in Conyers, GA, for $1.00.
Daddy remembers, “ There was an old, small landing strip in Conyers, GA, that had a row of metal T-hangars. I think it was 3 down one side and 2 in-between, you know, they were tail to tail. That’s the one thing the Donahoos did that I’ll never forget. They had a contract on the peach trees and Ronnie brought his wife over , who used to teach art in the Griffin school system and I gave her some flying lessons. They liked me and they had a big 18-wheeler flat bed truck.
So, I went over and talked to Phil, who was the older brother and kind of ran things. Phil’s wife was the daughter of a man in Atlanta, who was one of the most famous horse-drawn carriage manufacturers, so that was their claim to fame. Phil farmed and worked with all these peaches. Anyway, I told him I would like to rent that truck from them and go over to Conyers and dismantle that hangar and haul it back to Williamson. I had a buddy from the East Point church who was a welder, and Ross helped with the welding. Anyway, they showed up over at the strip one morning to pick us up and that was the first time I’d ever ridden in an 18-wheeler. I remember Ronnie bringing two of his work force to help us . I thought, man, I’ll never be able to pay for all of this! Anyway, we went over and dismantled that hangar, loaded it on the truck in one day, and hauled it back to Williamson, unloaded it and stacked it up on the ground out there and that was it. Anyway, I went over to Ronnie’s the next day to ask him how much I owed him, and he said, ‘Ah, that’s OK. We had a big time doing that - you don’t owe me anything.’ The work they gave me was worth several thousand dollars and I was really humbled by that, which made it difficult for me to ever feel hard toward either of them. It was really sad when later, he committed suicide.”
As the glider school began to grow, it was obvious that we needed to have fuel onsite at the airport. Daddy had approached Standard Oil and was placed on a waiting list for over a year. Daddy said, “We hauled gas out to the airport for over a year. We would load up the truck with gas cans and someone would make a run to the Griffin airport. It was a real problem.” Mama added, “One time, Ross put gas cans in the plane and flew over to the airport in Griffin and filled them up because we were that desperate and couldn’t wait for them to drive over and back.”
One day, a man named Gordon Kraft, who leased hangar space where he worked on several Bamboo Bombers, asked Daddy when he was going to get fuel out there. Daddy remembered, “Gordon and I were talking one day and he asked when we would get gas and I told him I’d just about give up. He said he’d talk to his friend, and made an appointment for us to go see him, and he was a big wheel at Standard Oil Company in Atlanta who distributed gas all around.
We weren’t ever going to be big enough to be any use to them, but he had told Gordon that he would try to do something for me. I’ll never forget it. We were standing in his office and the oil man said, ‘Well, I’m going to approve it and we’ll get you some gas,’ and I mean, that was a huge thing for us. Then, they came out there and dug down and put the tank and pumps in, and we really starting going to town then. The business just took off and people would fly in and buy gas for 37 cents a gallon.”
Every day was an adventure, as we never knew who or what might land. Flying has always attracted both spectators and participants, and the people of Pike County and surrounding areas came to spectate in droves. People who had never been close to an airplane were treated to either plane or glider rides by my dad and brother. I didn’t realize, until much later, that I had received a top notch education in public relations talking to all the people who came out to the airstrip, by making them feel comfortable asking questions about something so foreign to them - not to mention the training I received in sales while working in the office and signing people up for glider rides. A good friend recently told me she admired my ability to communicate effectively. I attribute that skill to my experience at the airport, too, as it was my job to log the glider flights and run the radio once it was added to the operations. It goes without saying that one must communicate very clearly whether or not it is safe to enter a landing pattern, and to let power planes know in no uncertain terms if a glider was already in the pattern, as it had the right-of-way.
We had our share of publicity in local papers and occasionally from the Atlanta news stations, which did public interest stories. Exposure came from some unexpected places, too. A UHF channel in Atlanta was operating what I now consider a forerunner to MTV on the weekends. They would play popular music and show videos of local concerts or people dancing. Their camera crew spent an afternoon filming the glider operation, both from the ground and flying in the glider, which they showed whenever they played Neil Diamond’s song “Soulemon.”
Once, an advertising agency scheduled a photo shoot for Farrah slacks at the strip. When one of the models failed to show, our favorite employee, Joe Jordan, filled in.
The airstrip had a mascot in those days. She was a German shepherd, appropriately named Lady Amelia Earhart, and no one ever came to the airport who didn’t see or interact with Lady. She fully believed that she owned Daddy’s truck, and unless she was in the pen, the truck never went anywhere without her. Although fiercely protective of her property, she was a very personable dog. I’ve never known a dog to show more devotion than she showed Daddy. Lady loved to chase a tennis ball, but in the event no ball was available, which was often given how far away we were from stores and civilization, she was content to use a rock as a substitute. She would find either her ball or a rock, bring it to whomever happened to be handy, set it at their feet, then stare fixedly at it until someone kicked it for her. Anytime she rode in the back of the truck, she would twirl and bark excitedly as if to notify the world that she was having the time of her life. Sometimes, Lady would come slinking across the tarmac whining, trembling and clawing at the door of the office until someone let her in. It would be a beautiful day, without a cloud in the sky, but I knew this was a warning. Lady had a built-in barometer that rivaled any instrument fashioned by man. I would immediately notify Daddy that Lady was under the table, and he would give me the word to call all the gliders in. Since I kept the log, I would call them on the radio, verify their altitude, then assign them the order in which to come in and land. Lady never failed. Time after time, her warnings paid off. We’d help people get their gliders taken apart and onto their trailers, and ours in the hangars or tied down, just as the wind whipped up and giant raindrops fell. Lady saved countless gliders from having to make emergency landings in farmer’s fields. We all marveled over how that dog could predict the weather.
When the time came for us to sell the airport, Lady went along with the property. It would have been more cruel to relocate her than to have her adjust to a new owner. She lived a happy, full life, until one day in her later years, she died of a heart attack chasing the truck while it was being used for truck tows for one of the glider ratings.
There’s a first time for everything....
My family’s collective memories contain many significant, historic “firsts,” relative to our years on our farm. While we remember being the first Delta family to move to the area, others soon followed, including Doug Rounds, Phil LaBerge, Randy Jones and Carl King, not necessarily in that order. They helped us build the feeling of community among pilots and their families in the county. We may have been Dan Slade’s first land sale to a pilot, but in later years, he would tell Daddy that he had opened up a whole new world to him. Suddenly, Dan began to look for marketable land that had length sufficient for an airstrip, which added a profitable new dimension to his business. Our family first met my sister’s future husband when she brought him home from college for a visit. During those years, we kept the faith for Larry when he served his tour of duty in Vietnam. Likewise, we met my brother’s future wife, Betty, when she made her first visit to the airport. We huddled in the little concrete block house to watch the first man step onto the moon in July 1969, which was a feat considering that the only way we could pick up an Atlanta TV station was to install yards of aluminum foil onto the rabbit ears of our TV. It was at our airport that Carla soloed a Cessna 150 and I soloed a glider on my 14th birthday. Given that she and I inherited the “passenger gene,” we did this only to please Daddy and neither of us soloed again, although we continued to enjoy our positions as highly qualified passengers. I will point out for the record, and there are photos to prove it, that I made a perfect landing on my lone solo flight. I brought the glider to a complete stop with both wings balanced, and actually had to lean to get the right wing to fall. I was terrified out of my mind throughout the duration of that flight. It was the only time I ever soloed, as I saw no reason to jeopardize my perfect landing record. It was also at the farm where I owned my first car. Ross gave me his old 1958 Volkswagen beetle, complete with sunroof, which I drove all over the property powered by airplane fuel.
Sadly, there were other firsts, which included fatalities that had the ultimate effect of bringing our family’s dream to an end. Daddy sold the airport operations to another Delta pilot named Jack Harkin sometime in or around 1973. Joe Jordan continued to work at the airport, and I worked for Jack on the weekends, for another 18 months. Joe and I were both there the day that our little concrete block house caught fire and burned. That pretty much signaled the end of my time at the airstrip.
When asked about the ownership progression, Daddy remembers, “I sold the runway and airport operations to Jack Harkin and financed it for him. Later, he ran into financial trouble and I got that portion back. I’m a little hazy on it. It ended up that Tommy Johnson bought the whole thing from me at one point. Lots of sharp real estate agents kept coming to me wanting me to sign Quit Claim Deeds and sell enough land so some guy could build a house and have access to the airstrip, but I never agreed to that. I felt like that land was my retirement and I wanted to keep it in one piece. No individual was ever able to get up enough money to buy the whole thing, so I just wanted to use it for income. Tommy Johnson had the money, so he bought it, and maybe I held the note on some of it. After he died, his wife paid off the whole thing. Seems like an Eastern pilot named Tisdale owned the airport for a while after that, and maybe one of our Delta dispatchers owned a share at one time, but I’m really not sure who owned it after Tommy Johnson’s wife sold it.”
In closing, Daddy had this to say, “I give myself the credit for having the dream. A lot of pilots were talking about doing something like we did, but at least we followed through and did it, and it took all of us. It was only after I bought my place that the door was opened for the other pilots to come into the area, and the people in Pike County were thrilled to death because pilots were coming in there bringing money and property values were going up. We were always accepted by the locals, which really touched me because we were outsiders.”
For me, personally, moving to the country, then building and working at the airport, has shaped my entire life. In I Corinthians, Chapter 3, Paul writes that while he may have planted and Apollos watered, it is God who gives the increase. Here, forty years later, this is the context in which I view our family’s role in what has become the Peachstate Aerodrome. We did our part to plant.
We built the vision, and for that, we were rewarded with both a unique experience and wonderful memories.
Now, we add to that the hope that Peachstate Aerodrome, and particularly the proposed Candler Field Museum, will be a lasting success, which will allow our dream to live on for pilots in this, and future, generations.