One of Maine's Chief Ignitors

Elwin's interest in machinery led him to the engine room.

| September/October 1978

  • Sandwich engine which ran all day

  • Sandwich engine which ran all day

Waldoboro, Maine 04572

Elwin Cunningham with his 6 HP Sandwich engine which ran all day never missing a beat. Picture was taken in 1977 at the Museum of Transportation, Owls Head, Maine. Many of his engines are painted red, white and blue, representing the colors that made this great country of ours. Whenever he shows an engine, he also shows the flag

When one thinks of Maine one often thinks of  lobsters. When one thinks of gas engines in Maine one should think of Elwin Cunningham. Elwin was born in Peru, Maine, on September 25, 1913. He was later employed by the Diamond Match Company and by the age of 19 was in charge of firing four boilers. His interest in machinery led him to the engine room where he operated two Ames Uniflow engines. After 10? years at the Diamond Match Company he moved to the southern part of Maine to be employed by the Central Maine Power Company Mason Station, where he has been employed for the past 37 years. He worked his way up becoming familiar with every facet of the generating plant. He is head of mechanical maintenance and has become known as the 'main gear' of the operation.

Having always had an interest in the old gas engines, he has restored and collected many through the years. He was one of the originators of the Maine Antique Power Association, which has now grown within five years to over 300 members, and over 1,000 engines, made up of strong Maine enthusiasm and drive.

Being a master machinist I have seen him give life back to many a pair of flywheels. His latest restoration is a 15 HP Mogul Sideshaft, which was the prize of this past summer's Owls Head Show. Other engines that he has restored in the last few years include a 15 HP International Famous, a 15 HP Fairbanks, and a 6 HP Sandwich. When Elwin restores an engine it is done piece by piece with a lot of time and pride, the same pride that went in when the engine was originally manufactured. He now has over 40 engines in his collection, having parted with many others to the younger newcomers to the hobby. Elwin believes that it's not the number of engines one has, but more importantly how one treats his collection through restoration and making other people happy. This is a philosophy which has brought a sparkle to many an eye. Besides his restoration he also builds and invents. He supplies the Maine collectors with his version of the induction coil, also taking on most any machining challenge from ignitors and wrist pins to complete steam engines and boilers.

A few years back I traveled with him to his original homestead in the town of Peru. Upon arriving he wanted me to follow him through the woods. After what seemed to be a half mile we came to an old mill site, the only evidence being some old timbers and a large foundation. He stated that on this foundation sat a monstrous gas engine and when she 'barked' it was heard for miles around. It was then that he exclaimed, 'I guess it was hearing this engine and seeing her run which really gave me the bug.'


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