Simanaitis Says

On cars, old, new and future; science & technology; vintage airplanes, computer flight simulation of them; Sherlockiana; our English language; travel; and other stuff


WHAT A perfect time to visit Owls Head, Maine, and its Transportation Museum (! The museum offers a real variety for enthusiasts of motion, with 50 cars, 28 aircraft, 14 bicycles, 13 carriages, 9 motorcycles and 25 engines of historical interest.

“Down east,” Owls Head is 82 miles farther along Maine’s coast from Portland and 190 miles from Boston.


It’s a pleasant drive up U.S. Route 1 or, if one feels the need of getting there quickly, Interstate 95.


The Owls Head Transportation Museum is adjacent to Knox County Regional Airport (RKD). In fact, those flying in for a “non-event” visit are instructed to taxi down the grass flightline and over to the museum. This isn’t possible when the museum is busy during one of typically 12 special events annually.


For those traveling U.S. Route 1 down east, the museum is easy to find.

The museum offers permanent and special exhibits, plus workshops, guided tours, curricula and classroom activities as part of its Lang Education Center and Library. The latter contains 5000 books and 10,000 periodicals, photographs, prints and articles of ephemera especially linking transportation and the museum’s home state.


The Milliken M-1 Special was built—and flown!—by teenager Bill Milliken, who went on to become an internationally recognized dynamics engineer.

Aircraft in the collection range from a full-size representation of an 1804 Cayley glider, to a 1903 Wright Flyer replica built by museum craftsmen, to an original—and airworthy—Curtiss JN-4D “Jenny” (see and and a 1946 Piper J3C Cub. The 1932 Milliken M-1 Special is a favorite of mine; see

A replica of the 1913 Deperdussin monoplane is another favorite. The original of this sleek racer had a 14-cylinder twin-row air-cooled rotary engine and won the 1913 Gordon Bennett Trophy at Reims, France.


The museum’s replica of a 1913 Deperdussin Gordon Bennett Racer.

By the way, the “D” in one interpretation of SPAD, another well-known French aeroplane, is Armand Deperdussin, company founder whose earlier careers included one as a cabaret singer.

Cars are well represented too. When I visited in 1999, the 1901 Riker Torpedo Electric Racer impressed me with its minimalism.


The 1901 Riker Torpedo Electric Racer appeared to be a battery pack on wheels, and little else.

Andrew L. Riker’s company produced a full range of electric cars and commercial vehicles from 1888 until its 1901 absorption into the Electric Vehicle Company. The 1901 Torpedo was Riker’s most radical design, with an engineer seated aft and a navigator who man-handled the tiller up front. Riker also served as the first president of SAE, then known as the Society of Automobile Engineers when it was established in 1905.

Another car at the museum owes its origin to New Englander Samuel Eliot. He can also be regarded, albeit obscurely, as the designer of the first multi-story open parking garage.


Eliot’s Cage Garage design. Image from Modern Mechanix, June 1931.

Eliot actually built a Cage Garage, in Boston in 1933. Though primarily a real estate developer, Eliot later took to designing extremely innovative automobiles, his Cricket series.


Eliot’s 1938 Cricket III is innovative—some would say bizarre.

At one time or another, the Cricket III had a rear-mounted engine, torsion-bar suspension, and an aircraft-type control column for steering and braking.

The museum’s collection of historically significant engines includes a 1946 Pratt & Whitney 4360 Wasp Major. At 4363 cu. in. (71.51 liters!), the Wasp Major is the world’s largest production piston engine.


The museum’s Pratt & Whitney Wasp Major is a 28-cylinder powerplant, four banks of radials, each with seven cylinders.

Its array of cylinders gave the engine the nickname “Corn Cob.” The Wasp Major powered the Convair B-36, Boeing B-50, Boeing Stratocruiser (see and a variant of the Chance Vought Corsair known as the “Super Corsair.” To see—and hear!—a Wasp Major fire up, check out ds

© Dennis Simanaitis,, 2013


  1. Peter Ginkel
    July 22, 2013


    As always in the superlatives business, there is always something bigger. Big slow speed marine Diesels could eat the mighty Wasp for breakfast

    From the site:

    “Available in 5-cylinder up to 9-cylinder configuration, the Wärtsilä RT-flex84T and RTA84T low-speed engines cover a power range from 14,700 to 37,800 kW at 61 to 76 rpm.

    But, I do think they would have a hard time getting off the ground!

    Peter Ginkel

    • simanaitissays
      July 22, 2013

      Agreed, Peter. Somewhere in my photo collection, there’s one of a guy standing on a cylinder block peering down into the bore of one of these giants. Amazing.

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