Outdoors & Recreation

That Old Shop

Story and Media by
Cameron Woodward
Media by
Ashley Lofstrom
Written by
Cameron Woodward

Saying that Alaska is a big state is an understatement. Alaska is massive—the largest state in the union by land area—‘weighing in’ at more than 663,000 square miles. Yet its population is among the lowest in US states. Having a spectacularly large landmass yet so few people inhabiting it cultivates unique ways we sometimes relate to and navigate the nature that surrounds us. It is indisputable that aviation is the key to how so many Alaskan communities stay connected over such vast distances.

Over the years, I have had the opportunity to spend time every once in a while at That Old Shop, a small-aircraft or ‘bush plane’ maintenance company in Birchwood, Alaska. The owners: Caleb and Ashley Lofstrom, are friends of my family, and Caleb’s father David has known my parents since long before I was born. Caleb and Ashley’s business operates out of a hangar situated between the road and the tarmac of the Birchwood Airport, a small state-owned airport open to the public. There is no control tower on site, so all radio communications are entirely moderated by the pilots in the area, both in the air and on the ground. Every week or so, my father spends a day in the shop working on a PA-18 build that our family has partnered with Caleb and Dave on. I enjoy going with him to help out as well whenever I can. They are restoring and upgrading this older plane to be a fast, lightweight, and fun machine to fly, and I look forward to using it for some flight lessons myself. Caleb’s family and employees stay busy in the shop day-in and day-out constructing, inspecting, upgrading, fixing, and test-flying aircraft for their friends and customers.

That Old Shop had its humble start in an antiquated barn/warehouse behind Caleb and Ashley’s property in Wasilla where Caleb and David began using the space as an aircraft shop in 2018. It colloquially became known by their friends and customers as “that old shop behind the house”, and the name stuck. As word got out and their customer base increased, so did their needs for a bigger space and for more help. Ashley now works as a full time administrator and bookkeeper, and the business looking to expand bought hangar space at the Birchwood Airport. That Old Shop now employs two full-time A&P IA (Inspection Authorized Airframe and Powerplant) mechanics along with several other A&Ps and trainees in Birchwood. David is also an A&P IA certified mechanic

Year-round, the Birchwood airport can be a lively hub of aviation activity: flight lessons, test flights, charter flights, just-for-fun flights, and more… planes constantly buzzing in and out. It is easy to find yourself there just standing still and watching the Cessas and Piper Supercubs make touch-and-goes all day long, admiring the loud unmistakable sounds of the propeller, the delicate machinery of the aircraft, and the piloting skills at work before you.

Dave (left) and Caleb Lofstrom

The aviation community has historically played a large role in Alaskan life and state development. The US census indicates that there are well over 200 villages and remote communities in Alaska, and most of these are entirely inaccessible by road, leaving only air (sometimes water and sled-dog) as the mode of transportation in and out of these rural areas. Businesses like That Old Shop enable both private citizens and businesses to service the needs of fellow Alaskans living far away by plane: assisting in the mail, cargo, subsistence, and transportation needs for these communities.

There is absolutely a ‘bush-plane community’ here in Alaska, ‘bush-plane’ referring to the small aircraft (usually Supercubs) that can access grass or gravel landing strips in remote or undeveloped areas. These planes must be capable of taking off and landing over very short distances, and are often characterized by their very large tires, high-wing configuration, and rear tail wheel. Bush planes such as these will always be built to reach the untouched and untamed wilderness of Alaska.

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That Old Shop

Outdoors & Recreation

Author

Cameron Woodward

Cameron Woodward is a born-and-raised Alaskan who is passionate about writing and sharing stories with the Alaskan community.

Saying that Alaska is a big state is an understatement. Alaska is massive—the largest state in the union by land area—‘weighing in’ at more than 663,000 square miles. Yet its population is among the lowest in US states. Having a spectacularly large landmass yet so few people inhabiting it cultivates unique ways we sometimes relate to and navigate the nature that surrounds us. It is indisputable that aviation is the key to how so many Alaskan communities stay connected over such vast distances.

Over the years, I have had the opportunity to spend time every once in a while at That Old Shop, a small-aircraft or ‘bush plane’ maintenance company in Birchwood, Alaska. The owners: Caleb and Ashley Lofstrom, are friends of my family, and Caleb’s father David has known my parents since long before I was born. Caleb and Ashley’s business operates out of a hangar situated between the road and the tarmac of the Birchwood Airport, a small state-owned airport open to the public. There is no control tower on site, so all radio communications are entirely moderated by the pilots in the area, both in the air and on the ground. Every week or so, my father spends a day in the shop working on a PA-18 build that our family has partnered with Caleb and Dave on. I enjoy going with him to help out as well whenever I can. They are restoring and upgrading this older plane to be a fast, lightweight, and fun machine to fly, and I look forward to using it for some flight lessons myself. Caleb’s family and employees stay busy in the shop day-in and day-out constructing, inspecting, upgrading, fixing, and test-flying aircraft for their friends and customers.

That Old Shop had its humble start in an antiquated barn/warehouse behind Caleb and Ashley’s property in Wasilla where Caleb and David began using the space as an aircraft shop in 2018. It colloquially became known by their friends and customers as “that old shop behind the house”, and the name stuck. As word got out and their customer base increased, so did their needs for a bigger space and for more help. Ashley now works as a full time administrator and bookkeeper, and the business looking to expand bought hangar space at the Birchwood Airport. That Old Shop now employs two full-time A&P IA (Inspection Authorized Airframe and Powerplant) mechanics along with several other A&Ps and trainees in Birchwood. David is also an A&P IA certified mechanic

Year-round, the Birchwood airport can be a lively hub of aviation activity: flight lessons, test flights, charter flights, just-for-fun flights, and more… planes constantly buzzing in and out. It is easy to find yourself there just standing still and watching the Cessas and Piper Supercubs make touch-and-goes all day long, admiring the loud unmistakable sounds of the propeller, the delicate machinery of the aircraft, and the piloting skills at work before you.

Dave (left) and Caleb Lofstrom

The aviation community has historically played a large role in Alaskan life and state development. The US census indicates that there are well over 200 villages and remote communities in Alaska, and most of these are entirely inaccessible by road, leaving only air (sometimes water and sled-dog) as the mode of transportation in and out of these rural areas. Businesses like That Old Shop enable both private citizens and businesses to service the needs of fellow Alaskans living far away by plane: assisting in the mail, cargo, subsistence, and transportation needs for these communities.

There is absolutely a ‘bush-plane community’ here in Alaska, ‘bush-plane’ referring to the small aircraft (usually Supercubs) that can access grass or gravel landing strips in remote or undeveloped areas. These planes must be capable of taking off and landing over very short distances, and are often characterized by their very large tires, high-wing configuration, and rear tail wheel. Bush planes such as these will always be built to reach the untouched and untamed wilderness of Alaska.

No items found.

Author

Cameron Woodward

Author & Media

Cameron Woodward

Media Contributor

Ashley Lofstrom

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