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October 3, 2012

Plattsburgh octogenarian a master builder

PLATTSBURGH — When Charles Hackel was a boy, he made model airplanes in Queens.

Once, he built a glider with a 6-foot wingspan. He went over to a cohort’s house to take advantage of a vacant lot to test it. He reared back and let go. The glider crossed the Grand Central Parkway into Corona, the next town.

Hackel never saw his plane again, but he’s never stopped making things.

“No one in my family did anything like that,” said the 82-year-old Hackel, who has lived the last two years in Beekman Towers.

His maternal grandfather, John Niederberger, was a German stonecutter who carved the eagles on the Empire State Building. He was among the thousands of European immigrants and Kahnawake Mohawks who worked on the building.

“He came here in the early 1900s. I probably got a lot of that from him,” Hackel said.

For Hackel, New York City was the best place to work. If he didn’t like a job, he would go to the employment office on his lunch break and have a new job when he left.

He worked in data processing for Cross & Brown Realty for two decades. Then, he took a factory job as a maintenance man.

“I just picked up things here and there,” he said.

When he retired, he wanted more property. He and his wife, Helen, relocated to Peru, where he and his son Dan built a three-bedroom, three-story Cape Cod by hand with a wheelbarrow. Every single board was cut by hand. All the cement was mixed by hand in the wheelbarrow. At the time, he had no electricity.

Hackel built a wind mill of stone on the property, which is owned today by his daughter and son-in-law, David and Cindy Carpenter. When he and Helen moved to the North Country, all three of their children — Dan, Charles and Cindy — followed.

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