Columbiana County man builds antique hearse for brother’s last ride

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antique 1925 ford hearse
Ted Hawk and his nephew Mark Runk built this 1925 Ford Model TT from the cab and chassis. It will be used to carry his family for their "last ride" to the family cemetary. (Rachel Wagoner photo)

EAST ROCHESTER, Ohio — Ted Hawk has dealt with death more than the average person.

He’s buried his parents and five siblings in the family cemetery — Hawk & Sanor Cemetery — that sits just up the hill from the house where he was born. They’ve held wakes in the family’s Victorian house, built in 1898.

So when his older brother, Jim, came to him with his post-mortem requests, it seemed practical, not morbid.

“My brother said, ‘When I go, I want to have a wake in the parlor and bury me in the cemetery,’” Ted said.

hawk sanor cemetery
The Hawk & Sanor cemetery is a family plot south of North Georgetown managed by Ted Hawk. The first person was buried in the cemetery in 1829. (Rachel Wagoner photo)

The problem is that his brother lives more than 90 miles away in Dresden, Ohio. Ted’s solution was to build a hearse to bring Jim to his final resting place.

Once it’s done, anyone will be able to use it. Ted is the second youngest of 12 children.

“Then, any family or friends can use it for their last ride,” he said.

Adapting the past

The hearse was made from a 1925 Ford Model TT, which is the commercial 1-ton truck version of the Model T.

When Hawk bought it three or four years ago, it was a pickup truck. But the TTs were meant to be transformed into whatever they needed to be for the owner.

Ford built the cab and chassis, then it could be made into a milk truck, a van or a hearse, Hawk said. Most hearses at the time were built by cabinet-makers or buggy-makers.

Hawk and his nephew, Mark Runk, began the build and restoration in earnest in the past year. The first thing they did was swap the transmission for a 3-speed Rocky Mountain Transmission.

The Ford came with 2 gears — low and high — and had a blistering top speed of 17 mph.

With the new transmission, the hearse can now go 25 mph.

Homemade

Ted and Mark built the wooden box on the back and extended it out long enough to fit a casket. Some of the wood came from Ted’s property and was processed through his sawmill.

Decorative wood mouldings embellish the sides. Those came from Amazon. The advent of the internet has been invaluable in conducting research and connecting with other collectors.

Ted’s daughter created a stained glass window to sit between the cab and the back, and is making two more to go in the back doors.

There’s still some work yet to be done, but Ted and his wife, Diana, took the hearse for a test drive to get dinner at Guilford Lake one recent weekend.

They pulled over on the way home to let the long line of cars behind them pass, and Ted said he was surprised at the reactions from the passers-by. Many of them slowed down to take pictures of the hearse and stare.

Keeping the past alive

The hearse project is just one of many Ted has taken on.

“When it rains, I work on the cars. When it doesn’t, I work on the house,” he said.

His parents bought the house in 1951, and he bought it after his mother died in 2002. Ted and his younger sister were both born there.

hawk couple in front of hearse
Ted and Diana Hawk stand outside the 1925 Ford Model TT hearse Ted and his nephew are building to use for his family. (Rachel Wagoner photo)

Ted and Diana have been working to restore the house to its former glory and ready it for the future. While they try to maintain the house’s history, they also added on an elevator and accessible bedroom and bathroom for when the house’s many stairs become too much for them, Diana said.

Ted also restores other antique and collectible cars, including a line up of Fords ranging from 1912 to 1929, and competes in cannon shooting competition through the North South Skirmish Association in Virginia.

“I don’t go to the bars. I don’t golf. I don’t watch football. I don’t watch much TV. This is what I do,” he said.

Making plans

When his brother dies, Ted plans to hold a funeral procession with the hearse and other antique cars owned by the family to bring Jim back from Dresden. He estimates the procession will take seven or eight hours in all, because they’ll have to avoid highways.

Ted already has plans for when he dies. He wants to build his own casket and have a green burial.

“It’s the inevitable,” he said. “It’d be foolish not to prepare for it.”

(Reporter Rachel Wagoner can be contacted at 800-837-3419 or rachel@farmanddairy.com.)

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Rachel is a reporter with Farm and Dairy and a graduate of Clarion University of Pennsylvania. She married a fourth-generation beef and sheep farmer and settled down in her hometown in Beaver County. Before coming to Farm and Dairy, she worked at several daily and weekly newspapers throughout Western Pennsylvania covering everything from education and community news to police and courts.

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