Signal Mountain 14-year-old gave his life savings to buy his ‘Papa’s’ Ford pickup at the Mecum Auction

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Oct. 23—The paperwork on the old 1973 Ford truck says it belongs to me, but the real owner is our 14-year-old son.

His mother and I bought the pale yellow pickup last Saturday at the Mecum Auction downtown at the Convention Center.

For decades, the truck belonged to Walter Hawk, a man our two boys called Papa. A dear friend of the family, Walter died a year ago this month of COVID-19, before there was a widely available vaccine.

Walter was the closest thing our boys, ages 14 and 19, had to a second grandfather. My father died before either of them were born. They have a biological grandfather, Wade Frazier, whom they call PaPaw and love with their whole hearts. But they loved Walter, too.

He was the first family member our boys have lost. And they both took it hard.

Last year, before Walter got sick, our older son spent months painting him a picture of a hawk. Not to be outdone, our younger son promised to build Walter a table.

Walter Hawk, who lived in Jefferson County, Tennessee, was a man of simple beginnings who became an entrepreneur and built a successful mail-order shooting supply company.

In his spare time, Walter collected cars, mostly ’60s- and ’70s-era muscle cars and trucks. As his shooting supply business flourished, so did his collection, which he kept warehoused in old buildings around Jefferson City.

Walter loved fast cars. His most cherished piece was a 1969 Dodge Daytona with less than 10,000 miles on the odometer. It is long, gray and sleek and looks like something born in the ocean. Walter had a soft spot for trucks, too. Yellow ones.

Every time the boys went to visit him, they would beg Papa to go see his cars.

In the months after Walter died, his widow, Martha, decided to sell his cars and trucks through Mecum Auctions so other collectors could buy them and baby them just like Walter did. At the time, she didn’t know that our boys were interested in his old trucks.

By happenstance (or perhaps by heaven’s plan), the trucks landed here in Chattanooga a year to the week after Walter died. When our boys learned about the auction, they started begging to get one of them, a Ford F350 with a big, loud V-8 engine.

Our 19-year-old son, who is off at college, texted us that he wanted to sell his car, his guitar and his brand new Canon camera — his most prized possessions — to help us win one of the trucks for his little brother.

We said, “No, Son, we’ve got this.”

Meanwhile, our younger son, who had nothing of value to sell, started calling relatives to line up odd jobs for himself. He also brought me $900 in cash, his life savings, which he had earned cutting lawns and serving as a scorekeeper at family trap shoots.

“Here, Daddy, take it all,” he said, handing me a thick wad of $20 bills.

Meanwhile, a couple of family members heard about the auction and offered to contribute to the cause.

Finally, last Saturday, the family gathered at the Chattanooga Convention Center for the big sale. I was the designated bidder, and I was so nervous I had to hold my hands together in my lap to keep them from trembling.

Also at the auction were my wife, both boys, my sister, Walter’s widow Martha, and Walter’s good friend, Roger.

My big fear was that I would somehow get confused and lose track of the bidding. Mecum sells a car every two minutes, and sometimes when I get nervous my mind spins. I asked one of the ringmen, who shouts out the bids, to come stand beside me when the truck came across the stage.

Walter, who loved auctions, always told Martha, “If you want something bad enough, put your hand up and don’t put it down until the man with the hammer says ‘sold.'”

Finally, about 10:30 a.m. last Saturday, our truck rolled out. Lot number S17. “A 1973 Ford F350 Super Camper. No reserve!”

When the bidding gained pace, I kept my eyes locked on the ringman. As I raised my hand to bid, I felt other offers flying in from over my right shoulder; but I didn’t dare turn around to look. The back of my neck felt hot.

Then, when the hammer finally came down — crack! — I realized we had won the bid! My hand was still up in the air.

Mercy.

Our 14-year-old pumped his fist. Our older son pressed down on his little brother’s trucker cap in celebration.

Meanwhile, I felt all the blood drain out of my face, and I thought for a second I might pass out from sheer relief.

After a few minutes passed, our 14-year-old decided he wanted to go see his truck, which by then was parked back on the Convention Center floor.

He climbed into the cabin and gripped the steering wheel with both hands. He sat there with his back straight, grinning from ear to ear. A sign on the windshield said, “Sold.”

“Are you the new owner?” a man asked.

“Yes, sir, I sure am,” our son said.

In that moment I imagined Walter looking down from heaven and laughing out loud.

Twice this week, I’ve seen a hawk flying lazily over our neighborhood on Signal Mountain.

Looking up at the sky, I thought, “We did good, Mr. Hawk. We kept our hand up until the man with the hammer said ‘sold.'”

Because no boys on Earth had ever wanted a truck more than our two sons wanted that old Ford pickup.

Email Mark Kennedy at [email protected]

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