Owls Head, Maine, is a tiny town. The population is only 1600, and there's exactly one store in the place. Yet it also boasts a world-class auto and airplane museum: the Owls Head Transportation Museum. How'd it wind up in such a tiny place? The list of founders holds a clue: it includes such worthies as Thomas J. Watson, Jr. (of IBM fame) and James S. Rockefeller, Jr.
So what's inside? There's a small but fascinating collection of steam engines, including a giant Corliss engine from the 1890s. The automobile collection is weighted heavily toward pioneering designs, with an 1885 Benz, a Stanley steamer, and a Sears motor-buggy from 1908. If you're a fan of MG sports cars, there's a whole gallery of vintage MGs.
Weirdest vehicle? Without a doubt the 1913 Scripps-Booth Bi-Autogo. This landmark of motorized insanity is a hybrid of automobile and motorcycle, with a body like a narrow car (bench seats and everything) slung between two big motorbike wheels fore and aft. At low speeds a pair of little outrigger wheels are supposed to flip down and keep the whole thing from toppling over. Just to make it completely crazy, there's a V-8 motor to blast it along at 75 mph. It's a gorgeous piece of machinery, like an old Frank R. Paul painting come to life.
As to airplanes, the collection again leans heavily toward early designes, with a good assortment of pioneers and World War I aircraft. Most of them are actually "representations," which is to say modern replicas, but they're faithful replicas. The museum grounds adjoin the Owls Head regional airport, and several of the aircraft are kept in flying condition (you can tell which ones by the drip pans under them to catch the oil leaking out of their engines). From time to time during our visit to Owls Head our Crack Team saw vintage biplanes overhead.
Younger visitors (and their parents) are likely to be enchanted by the whimsical fish-bike and dragonflycycle in the musuem's outdoor display area.
Overall rating: A+ if you're a car buff, B+ if you're disappointed by replica airplanes. If you happen to be near the central Maine coast, stop by Owls Head and check it out.