Hawkeye’s open barn
On a blindingly sunny weekend day in September 2010, I was driving north from Saranac Lake for a reason I can’t remember when I saw classic cars lining the side of state Route 86 near Darwin Brown Road. They were so beautiful I had to pull over.
They were in front of a house that I knew belonged to Hawkeye, aka John Hawkinson. I had seen him several times driving a roofless antique car through Saranac Lake, going to the post office or grocery store, and people had told me he was a colorful character, a hermit of sorts.
I asked the owner of a gleaming black 1950s Cadillac what was going on, and he told me Hawkeye was having a rare open house — actually an open barn — inviting the public to come in and see his cars. Other collectors had brought their vehicles to join the party.
I had never met Hawkeye, and this seemed like a good time.
At first I was tentative as I walked up the driveway, ready to leave as soon as I was asked, but I was relieved when I saw plenty of other people I knew, including fellow newsman Jack LaDuke, taking pictures. I followed suit.
On one side, there was one of the roofless Packards Hawkeye drove, parked under a low shed — not very clean but operational. On my other side, I had to step back to make way for visitors’ sparkling antique show cars, including a luxurious spring-green Rolls-Royce.
I photographed Hawkeye as he lit a corncob pipe and talked shop with his fans. He was wearing a medal, which he apparently had been given as some kind of honor in the antique car world, aviator shades that a “Top Gun” pilot might wear, and two baseball caps. I guessed he had been wearing one and then was given another by the car enthusiasts, to go with his medal, so he just popped the new one on top.
Inside his barns were rows of beautiful 1920s cars, as well as three fire trucks — one each from Saranac Lake, Lake Placid and Tupper Lake — and an old boat that Jay Annis of Spencer Boatworks was telling people about. The hood ornaments were especially intriguing. I spent a lot of time photographing these wonders, adjusting the camera’s exposure to balance the dark barns with the bright sunlight pouring through the open doors.
I knew I had stumbled into something special, and I felt privileged.
As I was about to leave, I introduced myself to Hawkeye as he held court from a chair in front of his house. He immediately told me I could not publish any pictures in the paper. I tried to plead my case, saying this was special and people would love to see it. He said I could use pictures of other people’s cars and of himself, but not of his cars.
He had a good reason, too: The cars in his barns were worth a heck of a lot of money, and everyone knew he lived alone. He didn’t want someone to see his treasures in the paper and rob him.
Fair enough. I honored the request. While I saved the pictures of other people’s cars and of Hawkeye on the newspaper’s computer system, I kept the ones of his cars on my home computer where no one else could see them.
After he died in July, I kept the photos where they were since the cars were still sitting in those barns. Now that they have all been sold, however, I’m glad to share these images.
To learn more about Hawkeye and his collection, read Chris Knight’s story called “A story in cars” on the cover of Saturday’s North Country Living section.
More photos accompany this article online.