Contractor left his mark on hometown of Buda
Jack Dahlstrom rose from poverty in Buda to ride the booms and busts of Texas business in the 20th century.
Before he lost it all, Dahlstrom built up a highway construction operation that employed as many as 2,300 workers in nine states and two nations at its peak. He owned 21 airplanes, hobnobbed with President Lyndon Johnson and constructed projects ranging from the Houston Ship Channel to three triple-deck interchanges on I-635 in Dallas.
"Jack had a personality. He'd just get things done. People respected him, they trusted him and he had a gift for making good decisions," said William "Mo" Johnson, who graduated from Buda High School in 1947, a year after Dahlstrom, and later became Hays CISD's first superintendent. "He always had a knack for doing the right thing and influencing people, and he parlayed that into a tremendously large, large business."
Dahlstrom got his start in the early 1950s when he and his brother-in-law, Jim Ruby, picked up payments for equipment owned by Jim's father, Cecil, to clear brush and perform site work on farms and ranches in the area. Cecil, a major Buda landowner and contractor, decided to join the business a few years later. The first road the partners built was FM 150 from Kyle to just south of Driftwood.
Cecil also brought along an important political connection—a future U.S. president.
"Cecil was a big crony of Lyndon Johnson. He got a lot of jobs, and they built some huge projects," William Johnson said.
In two decades, Dahlstrom built an empire, buying out his father-in-law in 1968 and brother-in-law in 1969. But aftershocks from the 1973 oil crisis, soaring interest rates in the 1970s and Texas' economic crash in the mid-1980s ultimately forced him out of business, said Gay Ruby Dahlstrom, Jack's widow and childhood sweetheart.
"He wasn't the kind to declare bankruptcy, but he did go broke," she said.
Unlike his father, Carl, who lost the family cotton farm during the Great Depression, Jack and Gay were able to settle on ranch land she had inherited from her father. In 1989, the couple returned to Buda, where Jack lived until he died on Feb. 2, 2012.
Buda's western landscape still tells the story of the Dahlstrom and Ruby families.
The Hays CISD Impact Center, at 4125 FM 967, was Jack's office, and the school district's maintenance yard was his equipment shop before he was forced to sell it. He also donated land to Hays CISD to create Dahlstrom Middle School in 1984 and sold lands that were developed into the Hays Country Oaks subdivision and the YMCA's Hays Communities Branch.
The western half of Cecil's ranch has been developed in part as the Ruby Ranch subdivision. The remaining eastern half will not be developed, however. In 2010, Gay's son obtained a conservation easement to preserve the 2,254-acre property.
Three members of the Dahlstrom family are also working to revitalize another piece of Buda history. The couple's youngest daughter, Dodi Ellis, and her son, Saenger, along with Gay, are conducting a major renovation of the old Buda Mill & Grain complex, which Cecil purchased in 1963.
They plan to redevelop the historic space for retail, restaurants, a covered farmers market and other uses. The site's first tenant is a bakery that opened in February.
Saenger said the ups and downs of his grandfather's career had provided a roadmap and cautionary tale for his own entrepreneurial efforts.
"What he's been through, I've heard about my whole life," he said.
Visiting the ranch
As early as this summer, the public will have an opportunity to explore part of the Dahlstrom Ranch.
Hays County is negotiating a lease to create a public natural area on 384 acres of the 2,254-acre Hill Country property.
"It's nice. You'll love it," said Mark Jones, Hays County Precinct 2 commissioner, who is involved in the negotiations to resolve liability issues on the lease. "It has a lot of nice caves and some of the most pristine recharge zones for the aquifer."
The public space, which will be dedicated for nature and education programs, is situated off FM 967 between the Ruby Ranch subdivision and Beacon Hill Road west of Buda.
The Buda builder
Jack Dahlstrom had a hand in a number of construction projects as the owner of the Dahlstrom Corp., which he formed in 1971.
1970s–1980s projects: MoPac from Lady Bird Lake to U.S. 183 in Austin, all site work at the Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport, 90 percent of the I-635 loop in Dallas, the Houston Ship Channel and the Georgetown Dam
Buda Mill & Grain
Development plans: Retail, restaurants, farmers market, yoga studio and bakery on the 8.75-acre site
Buda Mill & Grain, 300 Main St., Buda, 512-295-2693