Your Next Motorcycle History Fix is at the Owls Head Museum

Pre-1930 aircrafts, unique automobiles and a collection of motorcycles to get your vehicle history fix

Map to Owls Head Transportation Museum
Plan a trip to the Owls Head Transportation Museum to get a taste of transportation history.Illustration Courtesy of Mark Wagner

About an hour and a half north of Portland, Maine, on U.S. 1, then two miles south of Rockland on Route 73, you'll find the Owls Head Transportation Museum. The museum is noteworthy primarily for its extensive collection of pioneer era (pre-1930) aircraft. However, there are some unique automobiles and a small collection of motorcycles. Most of the motorcycles are standard fare—mostly Harleys and Indians—but in the back hangar you'll find what has to be one of the most unusual motorcycles ever misconceived.

The Scripps-Booth Bi-Autogo was built in 1913, and lays claim to the title, “World’s First Two-Wheeled Automobile.” We suspect it’s also the last. Powered by what is purported to be Detroit’s first liquid-cooled V-8 (displacing 332 cubic inches), it features full automotive-style aluminum bodywork with doors and a steering wheel linked to a single front wheel set in a motorcycle-style fork. Small training-type wheels support it at a stop so the driver needn’t open the door. Besides its unparalleled design, it boasts some other innovations for the automotive world including the first invisible door hinges, the first disappearing arm rests and the first horn button set into the steering wheel.

Despite such amenities, the Scripps-Booth two-wheeled car never quite had the commercial success of less innovative products from firms such as Ford and Chevrolet. Maybe people weren’t ready for doors with no visible hinges. Maybe they couldn’t get used to leaning the right way in corners. You don’t suppose it was the challenge of countersteering using a steering wheel, do you? No matter, you can still marvel at this eccentric side trip in motorcycle and/or automobile design when you visit the Owls Head Museum.

Although the Bi-Autogo is the most bizarre of the museum’s motorcycles, Owls Head has some equally unique flying and would-be flying machines—like an original 1900 Ornithopter, as well as more mainstream flying devices built before 1947. Many of these aircraft are still airworthy and get flown regularly. When we visited, during the press ride for the new Yamaha Venture, Yamaha’s PR honcho talked them into giving us a ride in a 60-year-old Waco biplane.

The automotive collection goes back to 1885 with a Benz three-wheeler. It includes vehicles like a 1935 Stout Scarab, the world’s first minivan, and a prototype of the original Ford Mustang. There are also bicycles, buggies and engines on display.

Getting to the museum offers an opportunity for a wonderful ride, since the coast of Maine presents many beautiful roads. The Owls Head Lighthouse is just a few miles away. You can also fly in since the Owls Head Transportation Museum is located right on Knox County Airport, which has commercial service from Boston.

Owls Head Transportation Museum
117 Museum Street
Owls Head, Maine
(207) 594-4418
www.ohtm.org

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While you are on the East Coast take a Cold Comfort Tour of New England.