Porter County land will go from farm field to airfield
BY AMY LAVALLEY Post-Tribune correspondent October 21, 2013 3:48PM
Lee and Carl Lane pose with their restored 1947 Stinson airplane at the Porter County Airport on Thursday, October 17, 2013. The couple is buying property in Porter Township to build an airstrip. | Michael Gard/For Sun-Times Media
Updated: November 23, 2013 6:03AM
Call it serendipity or synchronicity, good luck or God’s blessing.
Lee and Carl Lane experienced all of those when they found the right spot for a grassy airstrip for their bright red 1947 Stinson, along County Road 100 West in Porter Township.
The avid pilots — Lee, an attorney, flew a Blackhawk helicopter for the Illinois National Guard and Army Reserves, and did one tour in Iraq — happened upon the Stinson in California around four years ago.
“We were looking for a ‘tail dragger,’ and we wanted something from this era,” Lee said, showing off the plane at its current home, inside a hangar at the Porter County Regional Airport.
Carl, 50, a small business owner, went out to California with a flight instructor to retrieve the plane, and flew it back. He did his flight training on the plane.
That was only part of the couple’s dream. The other part was to find a place in the country, but not too far from town, where they could live and keep the plane.
“It’s the timing of everything that’s uncanny in a lot of ways. We feel God has really opened doors for us,” Lee said.
They spotted John and Bettiejane Garriott’s farm in a plat book and flew over it in the Stinson. It wasn’t for sale, but Lee said it was property they thought would work. It was near Kouts and Valparaiso, and wasn’t crisscrossed with power lines.
So they drove to the Garriotts’ house and Lee knocked on the door, where the Garriotts welcomed her in. Lee reminded John of a minister they had at their church in Boone Grove.
Lee, 49, explained what she and Carl were looking for, and while the property wasn’t for sale, the Garriotts, who are in their 80s, said they’d been thinking about selling it in a couple years. Bettiejane grew up in the 1910 farmhouse, and has lived there all her life.
The Lanes stopped by periodically, soon developing a relationship with the Garriotts.
“We actually became friends with them. They’re like a third set of parents,” said Carl, adding they spent a Christmas together and he’s helped clean up around the property.
That all started a year ago. In the meantime, the Lanes got clearance from the Federal Aviation Administration and the Indiana Department of Transportation for their plans, and checked with the airport as well.
The Porter County Plan Commission enthusiastically endorsed the plan at their Oct. 9 meeting, calling it a great idea. The Lanes signed a contract to purchase the Garriotts’ property, and sold their home in the Shorewood subdivision.
They are staying with Carl’s parents in Griffith for the time being, not far from the Griffith-Merrillville Airport, where, as a child, Carl would lay in the grass to watch the planes, sometimes sitting up to take pictures.
Bettiejane’s late brother, Owen Weddle, spent 30 years in the Air Force, and John said his brother-in-law “would be pretty excited to have a landing strip here.”
The Garriotts are planning a move to the Milwaukee area, where one of their four daughters lives. The Lanes could close on the house by Dec. 1, though the future 2,000-foot airstrip, now marked with little pink flags, needs to be graded, and a former hog barn will have to be transformed into an airplane hangar.
That’s when Oak View Farms will become Sojourner Field, so named, Lee said, because even the Lanes’ ownership of the land is temporary.
“We just figured, we are only here passing through. We have temporary custody of that field, and we’ll be passing it on to someone else down the line,” she said.