“Wouldn’t it be nice to have some old airplanes flying around Owls Head.”
That was the simple note that Tom Watson sent to Jim Rockefeller in the early 1970s. The two aviation aficionados both had airstrips near Camden, Maine and a deep love of old planes. While the museum was begun largely as an excuse to fly old planes, it quickly grew to encompass more than just planes. (The note ends in a period because Tom Watson was the head of IBM at the time and apparently refused to use question marks.)
The museum is a hidden gem in midcoast Maine–quite literally, due to the museum’s placement off the road, surrounded by pines and its location on Route 73 which is not one of the area’s highly traveled “tourist” roads. For those who enjoy exploring the history of not just aviation, but also automobiles, bicycles, trains, and old factory engines, it is a treasure worth seeking. The collection grew from a high-wheel bicycle,a 100-ton steam engine, two automobiles and two aircraft, to one the nation’s best transportation collections.
Founded in 1974, the museum is well known in the community for its demonstrations and shows. The vehicles featured here are not meant to just be observed: instead they are to operated. Skilled craftsmen, both employed and volunteered, work here to keep each piece of history in top condition so that every exhibited piece can do what it was built for: to move. The ground vehicles, engines, and aircraft are all demonstrated at special events throughout the year.
While it is not a large museum, or a complete history of human mechanical engineering, it is a fun diversion into the history and style of automation for both the gearhead and the casual observer.
Know Before You Go
From Rockland, take US Route 1 south to Route 73, heading into Owls Head. Museum Street will be on your left, and the Museum proper and its parking lot are at the end of that road.
The Museum is open 10-5 every day year round, so visit during the week if there's a show during the weekend if you want to skip the crowds. If you want to see the exhibited pieces in action, though, the shows are typically the only time that they are trotted out.