OWLS HEAD, Maine — “Quite simply, we’re running out of room.”
That, says Kevin Bedford, executive director of the Owls Head Transportation Museum, is the major reason the popular museum has launched a $9.7 million capital campaign.
The money will pay for a major expansion of the museum’s buildings and allow it to add more educational programs for local grade school students.
The museum held a ceremonial groundbreaking ceremony Wednesday to announce the public portion of the campaign. Bedford says they have raised $4.6 million in pledges so far, and are cautiously confident they will be able to meet the full amount “within two years.”
The museum says it attracts about 30,000 visitors each year, drawn by events and the extensive collection of vintage automobiles and trucks, and the historic airplane collection.
It showcases 20th century transportation, from the era of the Wright Brothers and the early automobiles, through the elegant cars of the 1930s and the rapid developments of the 50s and 60s.
The expansion will provide more space for museum volunteers to do restoration work on vehicles and planes, such as the recently completed rebuild of their replica WWI Fokker triplane. The changes will also allow more space for displays.
Bedford says expanding the technical area for restoration work will also allow the OHTM to expand its work with local schools, providing hands-on technical and STEM classes to help youngsters better understand technology and invention.
“I meet people every day whose kids don’t know how to use a screwdriver, or don’t know a flat blade screwdriver,” Bedford said.
Learning from the skilled volunteers at the museum, he says, can help fill those gaps and help the students understand how things work.
“From that rudimentary [knowledge] all the way up to the workings of a gear box or a gasoline or reciprocating engine.”
He says the museum has always taught adults, but began reaching out to schools during the COVID-19 pandemic, when they needed new ideas for helping students learn.
The expansion, Bedford says, will help teach students STEM skills of invention, team work, and experimentation — and that even failure can teach lessons.
“What we found during the pandemic is every week, working with young people in school systems and teachers in local school systems, we had nothing but positive results, engagement, and requests for more.”
The fundraising work is ongoing, but with nearly half of the target amount raised in pledges, the museum isn’t waiting to begin the expansion.
They have started work on the Restoration Annex and plan to begin the Expanded Restoration Workshop this fall. Completing those areas first, says Bedford, will help grow the education program.
Other portions of the project, including exhibit space, a new museum entrance HVAC system and other details, will follow as fundraising allows.
The museum is open most days in summer, and has several major events coming up including the Wings and Wheels Air Show this Saturday and Sunday, August 6 and 7, and the annual New England Auto Auction, August 25 through 27.