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RIP Hawkeye – One Last Glimpse of John “Hawkeye” Hawkinson’s Famous Collection

By Tim Martin:

Fortunate were those who knew John “Hawkeye” Hawkinson and were treated by him to see his collection of over forty antique vehicles, accumulated over roughly 60 years.  At age 83, Hawkeye passed away July 15, 2016 at his home in Gabriels, New York.

Hawkeye was born in Hartford, CT into a well to do family, related to the Pratts of Pratt & Whitney.  He attended Paul Smiths College and the University of Vermont, and fell in love with the north country as well as just about anything that was mechanical, and of outstanding quality.  He collected cameras (Leicas were a favorite), microscopes, carbon arc movie projectors, fire trucks, marine engines, and of course, cars, some of which can be seen in the video at the end of the post. 

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  • Hawkeye at a young age posing with a stripped old car chassis. Image from Josh Clement video. 

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  • One of Hawkinson’s Packards converted into a truck for general use in front of his home circa 1995. The young man standing on the left is one of “Hawkeye’s” contemporaries, well-known car collector Steve Dana of Vermont. Tim Martin photo. 

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  • Hawkinson’s  large Lake Placid FD and Saranac Lake FD trucks that returned to the respective Fire Departments after his death. Image from Josh Clement video. 

His favorite cars included Packards of the 1928 – 1930 vintage, both sixes and eights, as well as V-16 Cadillacs and Buicks.  The crown jewel of his collection was a 1930 Minerva.  None of his cars were restored.  Many were well maintained original cars that he kept in good running condition and used for decades as every day drivers.  He was an excellent mechanic and raconteur.

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  • Hawkeye’s house photographed recently, which he bought for $100 and moved onto his property with a bulldozer.

While he lived in a very modest house in a very rural area of the Adirondacks, which gave many the impression he was a recluse, he was quite affable and welcomed visitors, including Glidden Tour participants in the 1960’s, to spend time with him and discuss anything car related. His vehicles have all been sold. Below is a wonderful video by Josh Clement Productions of the barns and some of his vehicles.

32 responses to “RIP Hawkeye – One Last Glimpse of John “Hawkeye” Hawkinson’s Famous Collection

  1. I was fortunate to have met John “Hawkeye” Hawkinson back in the 1980s and spent a day with him at his home in the Adirondacks of upstate NY. He gave me the grand tour of his farm and I was able to see all the beautiful antique automobiles he had in his collection. He was truly unique!

  2. Well done Tim, and the video is great too.

    The chair in the garage caught my eye. I imagine he would do what we might do. When he was done tinkering…….he’d have a seat and think about the times when he rode in cars like those. Not the ones he owned, but the ones his parents and his granddad owned. Back when they were new. If he is anything like the car guys I know. These cars were his elegant ride back to the days, and time of life of a time when everything that mattered most to him was still in place. My weathering sugarhouse, my old ford tractor, the dirt road we live on. These are the things that connect me to the past. I put my hands on the steering wheel of my 9N and with the sound of the little flathead…I can almost feel my great grandfather’s hand on my shoulder. From that chair…maybe these cars did that for Hawkeye.

  3. JOSEPH F. SEITZ Very well done. Superb. It makes me dream of a time past, when I could get cars just becuse they were there, and not because they had a great value. I bet you he had fun.

  4. A wonderful commentary in words and images of a real character, they don’t make em like him anymore. Thank you Tim for this excellent tribute.

  5. For me, the story and the video are both happy and sad. Like many of you, I have a shop where I store and work on my antique truck. It is filled with tools which I have collected since my Dad first taught me how to turn a wrench. There are many spare parts, old pictures, and memorabilia collected over my lifetime. We probably all own some things similar to the hood ornaments being unwrapped from brown paper in the video. Like me, Hawkeye thought they were probably too nice for every day use, and was saving them for that special project.

    I recently lost two friends who passed away leaving similar shops. Their cars, their spare parts, their tools, and many of their “treasures” were sold off, hopefully to others who will treasure them just as much.

    Most all of the time, I relish the good fortune that has enabled me to be a part of this hobby and the good friends it has enabled me to make. But sometimes when I am working in my shop, I look around and wonder what will happen to my truck and my treasures.. I suppose those kinds of thoughts come to many of us as we grow older.

    Tim and Josh did a nice job remembering Hawkeye, I am glad I had a chance to know a little about him.

  6. Wonderful video and a well-done srory as well. So ominous to see hat trailer in the background, like the collection will never be together again. Eerie and beautiful. Thank you.

  7. A poignant tribute to the man and the hobby (too weak a word to use for our passion for the old cars) which gave Hawkeye so much pleasure in his life. All of us walk this mortal path; along the way some of us find a means to dwell amidst our fondest memories. As we age, our forebears slip beyond the mortal gates and those more solid mementos which link us to those who were beloved to us remain as keynotes in our memory bank. There is more, of course, but the link to a father or grandfather provided by an old car which we keep around long after its usefulness has expired is undeniable. Perhaps Emily Dickinson summed it up best when she wrote, “Memory is a strange bell, jubilee and knell.”

  8. These kind of men are slowly disappearing from the landscape. Since even their sons are now in their 60’s, it’s obvious the successors will not be anything like they were. To all of our detriment. Can you imagine something as crass as Gas Monkey being tolerated by these men in 1946 after coming home from war? They had a gravitas I have never been able to achieve. RIP

    • There have been, and will always be a wide variety of people. We can never know what the future generations will like or dislike. Twenty years ago people said that there will be no interest in cars of the 70’s, and certainly no interest in “modern” foreign cars. I’m sure twenty years earlier there were similar statements.

      This man saved things that mattered to him, for his own reasons. There are many here that praise him. There are others that may criticize his hording; keeping these cars hidden away and rarely used. In the end, each person finds their own reasons and methods for cherishing the things or people they love, and that is their right. I find it interesting that many of the accessories remained wrapped in paper and never used. Were they ever really enjoyed?

      I’ve collected and read many older car magazines and found that each generation criticizes their contemporary culture. “The next generation will never properly appreciate what we appreciate.” Yes, some WWII veterans did value the cars of their fathers, but the same generation defined the culture of “hot rodding”. Some of those men coming home from war might have been the Gas Monkey of their day. The best we can do is love what we love, and value our limited time here as best we can. The ones that come after will have to find their own path. Surprisingly, some will value the things we value, whatever they may be.

  9. I spent several hours with Hawkeye one day back about 1990. I had been forewarned that he was a gruff and grumpy guy – bad advice , as he was most welcoming. Just a wonderful experience. I have always wondered what he did for a living, he seemed not in the business of buying and selling, just buying and stashing away.

    • Stewart Crawford – My experience with Hawkeye was the same. He was most welcoming and genuinely glad to have me visit. We sat outside his house at the end of the day and enjoyed a beautiful Adirondack sunset together.

  10. This is a tribute to that generation of old collectors who taught us everything: they are gradually going up to the great junkyard…
    The movie is really moving: the cars look sad, as they have lost their guardian and friend, and fearful of being separated and -even worse- restored!
    Thanks for sharing.

  11. Simply outstanding and moving presentation. I wish I had known of his existence when I was stationed at Fort Drum. I clearly missed one of life’s golden opportunities.

  12. I really appreciated the reflective comments on this video and story — I suspect from a number of collectors who have lived a full life and are now mulling over what it all has meant to them as they too come to the ‘end of the road’ in life. Mr. Hawkeye, through his lifestyle and collection exhibited character traits that we covet and cherish, possibly fron the memories of our own past. Thanks for letting me relive those once again.

  13. The video (tribute) was really moving.
    I like thinking about and envisioning these beautiful old classics getting regular “exercise’ as daily drivers out on the twisting roads in the Adirondack’s. In my mind’s eye, it’s a beautiful Spring or Fall morning, the Sun is up, and Mr. Hankinson’s big dilemma is deciding which one to take for a ride to run errands, or go grocery shopping.
    It was also nice to think about the Fire Trucks heading back to Saranac Lake and Lake Placid, and taking their rightful place in a future 4th of July Parade.

    Thanks for sharing…

  14. Sometime in the 1960’s the company I was working for had the flight control on the Kaman Helicopter which was built in Hartford Ct. I was the engineer on the project and came to Hartford about once a month. on one trip I stayed over the weekend and our resident salesman took me sight seeing and we went through Farmington. I saw an old Bentley in the front yard on one of the old homes (it was built in the 1660’s) and behind it was a series of stables full of old cars. The owner was Fred Jones and he had a RR touring car and some Packards. He wasn’t very friendly but when I told him I knew Jack Frost who was President of the RR owners club he thought I must be ok. Through Jones I met Dick Cantwell and Hawkeye. I went up to his “estate” in the Adirondacks several times. On one trip he had an hot air engine running pumping water.
    On one trip he showed me a Whitney gun which his grandfather or great grandfather made. Jones had 2 Packard phaetons a 740 and a 745. Jones got to like me and on one of the trips said I could have either one of the Packards for $900. I took the 740 because it ran and had wire wheels. I started driving it back to Michigan in March of 64 or 65 and got about 30 miles and it stopped so I towed it the rest of the way. It was during the restoration that I started making parts for it in my basement and found that others needed parts so I quit aerospace in 74 and worked full time making the parts that make the classics valuable. This also led to me starting the Meadow Brook concours in 79 which was the first of it’s type east of the Mississippi. You stories on Hawkeye bring back fond memories.

  15. I do not know if this observation applies to Mr. Hawkinson, but too many people have cars that perhaps get lost in the shuffle of life. Rather than being cared for and driven on a regular basis, they sit idle in a garage, a barn, or worst yet, on a driveway or lawn. As they deteriorate those people begin to say that someday they will restore them, at least to a point where they can drive them with a degree of enjoyment and pride of ownership. For so many of those cars, that simply never happens. Eventually they fall prey to a wrecking yard and are destroyed, or become parts cars for those other cars of their marque that require repair or restoration. The ones that fate favors are restored as planned, either by their long term owners or someone who finds them and them. With hindsight, it would have been better if the challenge was accepted and met to take exceptional care of them so they became those original survivors that have become so desirable. I regret to say that I am one of those people who have not done that with several cars, and they have succumbed to my neglect. Yes, I do enjoy looking at them and recalling all the memories they bring to mind, but perhaps I should have sold a few of them when I began to find myself not enjoying them to a more significant extent and committing to their care.

  16. I thoroughly enjoyed the recent tribute to John “Hawkeye” Hockinson in a recent episode of Chasing Classic Cars with Wayne Carinni (F40 Motorsports, Portland, CT). Of particular interest was the fact that the 1930 Minerva was purchased from someone in Winsted, CT, my hometown when it was there, and at the time it was purchased. Perhaps someday I’ll discover where that car was, and who owned it. “Hawkeye” appeared to be right out of the mold of Hemingway, one of my favorite authors, of whom I’ve read extensively.

    • Ditto! Another Winsted boy. I thought they said “Edwin B.,” and I was looking up some of the well-to-do families I remembered whose last names began with “B,” but no luck.

    • Michael, the car was owned by Edwin Meade, a lawyer and intellectual who practiced in Winsted and lived in Norfolk. Haven’t heard about you since High School.
      Clare Jamieson

  17. well done, grew up living in Gabriels the yellow truck and one he drove that was an open cab, wearing what appeared to be an old bearskin coat in the coldest temps. He also had a garage close to the IGA, both are gone as are many of the buildings. , My dad knew him well , Fond memories and stories,

  18. My dad “Charlie Walker” of Avon, CT always spoke of Hawkeye with respect, as a true, fellow classic car lover, especially Packards. I kept my dad’s harbor blue ’29 Packard Roadster 640 custom, (some pix at my site College Research Sharing) with an original Don Sommer made Goddess of Speed hood ornament installed; I believe one of the first he made of stainless steel and always a show stopper. Charlie was a collector with about 20 cars to his name when he passed on in 1994 at age 76. I’m sorry I didn’t get up to see Hawkeye a few years ago as I don’t remember him well as I was young at the time and going to school. My dad helped Dick Cantwell find his first car. I carry on the torch as secretary of the Valley Collector Car Club, Simsbury.

  19. I’m so pleased that I watched this episode of Classic Cars today. I never met Hawkeye or knew about him but, can’t stop thinking about him and his love for autos , watches and a special way of life. Many thanks to Mr. Ash for his devotion to Hawkeye’s wishes.

  20. I had a chance to spend about 3 hours with Hawkeye one summer afternoon sitting in one of those chairs in the picture behind his house and seeing his collection. We met him coming back from Town in the yellow Packard and he invited me to stop and visit. It was truly an Afternoon that I will never forget and a collection of which we will never see again. A Friend of mine told me during a visit ” I’ve lived in some good times”, I’m sure Hawkeye would say same. I’ve watched the video many times and still have a tear in my eye. I feel very lucky for that visit!

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