OWLS HEAD, Maine — Eleven-year-old Kirk Small of Brewer was just a face among about 50 people watching an employee of the Owls Head Transportation Museum try to start one of its prized possessions.
Museum ground vehicle conservator Peter Curtis tried three times to start the 1898 Leon Bollee Tri-Car, the oldest working vehicle at the museum that is all-original. Curtis cranked a handle three times, quickly leaning to the other side of the black contraption to adjust the oil-and-gasoline mixture. Finally, the Bollee chugged to life, bouncing and rattling for what passed as “idling” in its day. As hard as it was to believe, this model set the world land-speed record in 1897 at 28 mph.
Curtis seated himself aboard the Tri-Car, made a few adjustments and then motioned to Small to get on.
“I was standing there and he told me to get on,” Kirk said after taking a slow lap — much slower than the blazing 28 mph — around the museum tarmac. “That was really fun. It was awesome.”
Like any museum, the Owls Head Transportation Museum prides itself on showing people something they’ve never seen before. The Bollee Tri-Car qualified, as did many of the other more than 430 exhibits at the 32nd annual Vintage Motorcycle Meet & Antique Aeroplane Show, held Saturday and Sunday.
Featuring every brand of cycle from Harley-Davidsons to Kawasakis — including a 1959 Ural with a machine gun mounted on the sidecar — the show attracted more than 2,000 visitors, some 1,200 of them displaying their machines in the museum’s parking lot.
While the wow factor was high, museum director Charles Chiarchiaro said, what makes the show interesting is the stories that are told — whether it’s about a gleaming, vintage BMW or a deteriorating old Honda. In fact, Chiarchiaro’s favorite piece was a 1925 Harley-Davidson Model JD coated with rust and rot. The bike once was owned by the late Richard C. Paine, whose collection is still on display at the Seal Cove Auto Museum.
“That bike is a museum in itself,” said Chiarchiaro, who said Sunday was the best-attended day in the cycle show’s history. “Every time you look at it, it talks about time. If you ever find a bike like this, you don’t restore it.”
Mark Johnson of Moultonboro, N.H., rode his 1999 Harley with a sidecar to the show. Looking over the ’25, he said, was like a history lesson about where his bike came from.
“That V-Twin engine goes back to 1909,” he said. “This kind of thing appeals to me very much.”
People like Johnson have been riding for decades, but the show attracted some others who are newer to the hobby. Paula Kosluk of Waterboro started riding just five years ago. She started with a small 125 cc machine but now rides a Yamaha 950 and is a member of the Maine-ly Angels motorcycle club, an all-women organization that is part of the nationwide Women on Wheels.
“It was pretty easy to break into the hobby,” she said. “You just get a bike and ride it.”