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Home of the Woody
Bob Brooke


When someone says “Woody” today, many middle-age and younger people probably don’t think of a car. In fact, the iconic Woody was a form of station wagon with real wood paneling on its sides, and in early versions, its frame. The woody was to the post- World-War-II generation what the SUV is to today’s suburban families.

Because they were made of wood, plus the number of them produced was small, Woody’s are hard to find today. But not at the Owl Head Transportation Museum, founded in 1974 along the coast of Maine near the Know County Regional Airport. Although there are many automobile and airplane museums in the U.S., none mix the two together, along with other forms of transportation, not just on display but in restored and working order. Here machines of a bygone era are celebrated through conservation, preservation and demonstration.

Unlike many other transportation museums, the Owls Head Transportation Museum operates its collection of antique and vintage aircraft, ground vehicles and engines at a number of special events it holds throughout the year. Care and maintenance of these historic vehicles requires the attention of a large volunteer workforce that, under the supervision of a professional staff, ensures that its collection is in operating condition. And while the museum is open all year, summer is the best time to see its collection in action during scheduled airshows and ground vehicle demonstrations.

The museum got its start with a handwritten note on the back side of a graduation program mailed to Jim Rockefeller, who owned a grass airstrip on the side of a mountain in Camden, Maine. The message, from Tom Watson, who had his own grass strip next to his North Haven Island summer home in sight of the Camden Hills, asked how Rockefeller felt about some old airplanes flying around Owls Head.

Rockefeller, a builder of boats and airplanes, asked his friend Steve Lang if he’d like to help spend some seed money that Watson said he would put up—if they could obtain a permission to fly old airplanes at the Rockland Airport. The two discussed starting a museum as a way to fly old airplanes.

Automobiles, which form a large part of the museum’s collection today, weren’t mentioned. Rockefeller and Watson obtained a piece of undeveloped land at the end of old Runway 17 from Knox County with the idea of developing a cultural park. It had been earmarked for an industrial park, which hadn’t sat well with the locals. Though Owls Head was happy to unload the land, there was no access road. They spent their seed money to built a dirt road and soon drew up papers to form a nonprofit museum with a mission to demonstrate old airplanes.

Next Lang and Rockefeller came up with the idea of a rally featuring old planes, cars and engines to arouse interest. In 1975, wings, wheels, old engines and contraptions of all types and people of all backgrounds gravitated to the first official Museum Rally. A 1912 Curtiss Pusher flew overhead, while vapor engulfed a Stanley Steamer whistling by. High wheel bicycles, chugging old engines, and hundreds of antique cars were enjoyed by thousands of visitors at the first event of its type ever held in Maine. The dirt road, covered with oil weekly to keep the dust down, brought visitors to a 40’ x 80’ building with two planes and two cars. Though not a very auspicious beginning, it was a start.

Today, a dedicated team of people have committed their energy, enthusiasm, compassion, and resources to maintain this concept. The collection has grown from two automobiles, two aircraft, a high-wheel bicycle and a 100-ton steam engine to an internationally recognized collection of landmark vehicles and related technology.

One of the most unique vehicles on display at the museum is a 1931 Ford Woody. As a variant of body-on-frame construction, the Woody as a utility vehicle or station wagon originated from the early practice of manufacturing the passenger compartment portion of a vehicle in hardwood. Woodys were popular in the United States and were produced as variants of sedans and convertibles as well as station wagons, from basic to luxury. Early versions were third-party conversions of regular vehicles—some by large, reputable coach-building firms and others by local carpenters and craftsmen for individual customers. Then Ford decided to produce its first Woody in 1932 and eventually sold 1,654 of them. But maintaining the real wood finish was more of a challenge than designers figured upon. Eventually, bodies constructed entirely in steel supplanted wood construction—for reasons of strength, cost, safety, and durability.

Buick's 1953 Super Estate Wagon and 1953 Roadmaster Estate Wagon were the last production American station wagons to retain real wood construction.

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