May 25, 2018
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New director of transportation museum driving ahead with his avocation and vocation

By Stephen Betts, BDN Staff

OWLS HEAD, Maine — Russ Rocknak said his love of cars started when he was 6-years-old and his father bought what is considered an icon in the auto industry — a 1958 Aston Martin DB series.

He recalled sitting in the back seat as his father took the DB2/4 on a test drive with a friend.

“Ever since then I’ve never been the same,” Rocknak said.

Decades later, Rocknak has found his dream job — the new executive director of the Owls Head Transportation Museum. He began the job Jan. 15.

“I’m able to combine my passion for my avocation and vocation,” Rocknak said.

He succeeds Charles Chiarchiaro who retired after 36 years as the director.

Rocknak, who is originally from Maine, is a 1981 graduate of Lincoln Academy in Newcastle. He studied at the Portland School of Arts in the early 1980s and then worked for luxury magazines.

In one of his jobs, for more than 13 years he got to go around the world, test drive luxury cars and then photograph and write about them.

“I’ve always been a car guy,” Rocknak said.

Two years ago, Rocknak started Mesh New England, a magazine that bills itself as the hub of the New England Car Community.

He said he has been coming to the Owls Head museum since 1976 and was entranced by the car and air shows.

His first car was a 1929 Woody Wagon that his father purchased for him. He still has that antique vehicle.

Rocknak said his goal for this dream job “is to expose this jewel of a museum to the outside community.”

He said he wants to take some of the museum’s collections to shows in New England and across the country. This will publicize the museum to other car lovers or make car lovers out of others.

Rocknak said his favorite item in the museum’s collection is a 1930 PA-7 Pitcairn Sportwing Mailwing airplane that delivered mail during the 1930s.

The museum was founded in 1974 on land donated by Knox County at the Knox County Regional Airport. The land originally had been offered to the town of Owls Head for an industrial park but the town deferred. The founding members of the board of trustees of the transportation museum decided the best use would be a cultural park.

The museum’s collection includes 28 aircrafts from 1804 to 1946, 50 automobiles from 1885 to 1980, nine motorcycles from 1913 to 1953, 13 carriages from 1849 to 1910, 14 bicycles from 1868 to 1935, and 25 engines from 1880 to 1946.

During a tour of the exhibits, Rocknak pointed out that the vehicles and planes all run and if they break down, the small but dedicated staff will fix it. He praised Warren Kincaid, who is curator for the cars and motorcycles, and Karl Erickson, who is the curator for the planes.

“I love the smell of cars. I feel like a kid in a big toy box,” Rocknak said.

The museum is located on Route 73 in Owls Head, a few miles south of Rockland.

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