Should you find yourself in Owls Head, Maine on the east coast of the United States, Iím willing to bet you are either A: Lost, or B: Looking for this place. Itís called the Owls Head Transportation Museum and itís one of the best little collections of its type youíre ever likely to find. Located on the coast, next to the small town of Rockland on Route 1 East, the museum is not only a collection of bikes, cars, planes and even a gypsy caravan; itís also a living, breathing restoration shop where most of the exhibits either ride, drive or still fly.
Itís run by volunteers, too; mainly retired guys and gals who enjoy getting their elderly mitts grubby on some truly wonderful machinery. Think of it as a bit like our Menís Shed concept, but nobody at Owls Head is making spice racks or barbecue tools. The
nice bit is that you can wander up to stuff and talk to the blokes working on it. And, boy, do they like a chat on a hot day. You can even wander around the aircraft restoration shop where biplanes and big radial engines are being restored and returned to airworthy condition.
I spoke to one fella in the plane workshop who told me that he lived about an hour away, but made the trip to Owls Head whenever he could since he retired.
ďOf course, Iím not an engineer or mechanic,Ē he told me, ďso Iím not allowed to touch any of the important stuff. We leave that to the experts. But Iím allowed to clean things. I polished that plane last week,Ē he said, gesturing towards a huge gleaming bi-plane.
ďYou missed a bit,Ē I told him, pointing vaguely at
the fuselage. He ignored a hundred years of stereotypical American behaviour by getting the joke and having a chuckle.
A few minutes later I was standing in a paddock watching about a dozen people trying to start a 1916 Curtiss Jenny biplane, only to have a couple of old boys pull up next to me in a 1920 Model T and offer me a ride around the museum. And as I was about to leave, one of the guys trying to start the plane walked past me, smiled, shook his head and explained that the magneto on the Jenny was kaput.
ďSomebody has messed with it and put a later magneto on it,Ē he told me.
ďSo I guess weíll just have to tear it down and fix that first.
But not before lunch.Ē
The exhibits cover a range of eras and include competition cars, more mundane passenger stuff, plenty of bikes, a short history of the push-bike and all those lovely old fabricand- optimism planes. Thereís even a faithful replica of the Wright brothersí Flyer of 1903.
If youíre lucky youíll be there on a day when something from the collection is being driven or flown and finding somebody to chat to will not be a problem. In fact, youíll be made more than welcome even if, like me, you just turn up there one morning and start looking around.
True, Owls Head is not exactly on the tourist trail, but thatís part of the magic, I think. Itís not the biggest car and plane collection in the world and it isnít laid out as slickly as some. But the passion and the vibe of the place make it a very special spot. Iím thinking about going back when they sort the Jennyís magneto problem and get the thing in the air.