At Railway Village, engines that still can

Enthusiasts gather to show off their vintage mechanical wonders
Sun, 07/07/2019 - 8:45am

Story Location:
586 Wiscasset Road
Boothbay, ME 04537
United States

    The sensory aspects were profound from the get-go: the gentle popping of combustion engines, the faint wafting of gasoline in the air, the sight of engine enthusiasts ringing the yard at Boothbay Railway Village on Saturday.

    At each truck, trailer and pop-up shelterwas a different delight, or several. Pete Haskell of South Freeport brought a collection of vintage engines to the gathering of the Maine Antique Power Association: a 1950s-era chainsaw and several outboards. He comes every year to this meet and wanted to change things up from his usual offerings of generators.

    Asked when someone becomes so attached to mechanical things, Haskell shrugged and said, “All my life. I have the outboards I used as a kid.”

    Haskell isn’t alone. The act of curating and maintaining vintage engines has adherents all over the country. He said there is more than one meet each weekend in Maine in the summertime. The biggest is in Eliot, in York County. "I can pick and choose where to go."

    In general, according to the power association’s president, Doug Kimball, the outlets are at venues like BRV and the country fairs scattered around the state. And those who gather are a dedicated, talented crew, with a bent for collecting and the ability, in many cases, to do their own fabricating work when rebuilding or repairing an old engine.

    Kimball, of Kennebunk, brought his 1908 Tom Thumb engine, made by International Harvester, to the Boothbay meet. Back home, he has “around a hundred” of the machines. From time to time, he sells one, but it’s difficult: The emotional attachment runs deep.

    “After all these years, they tend to find me.”

    The engines are byproducts of an agricultural legacy, for the most part. They were, and are, capable of most any repeatable task, whether milling or sawing or pumping. As farms or old factories are inventoried and turned over, the machines emerge back into the light, and enthusiasts stand ready to take them in and treat them well.

    Rick Gilbert of Augusta was showing off a 2.5-horsepower International engine he recently added to his collection. His curation of the machines is taking on a particular flavor: “I’m going strictly International.” Three weeks ago, he brought in this new, old engine, which had been in Ohio. He bought it in December and just got it.

    “It’s amazing how many people do this all over the country,” he said.

    However, the hobby comes with challenges, Kimball noted. For one thing, antique engines are an outlier in a world populated by smartphones, tablets and seemingly disposable appliances. Increasingly, their enthusiasts are outliers, too.

    “It’s an old man’s hobby,” Kimball said. “And we lose several of them every year.”