One of Maine’s Chief Ignitors

By Staff
article image

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

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

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

It may have taken that old engine in the town of Peru to get
Elwin interested, yet whether or not you have the engine bug, a
visit to Wiscasset, Maine, to the home of Elwin Cunningham and his
welcoming way will definitely spark your interest and will
assuredly make for a pleasurable day.

When you think of Maine think of our delicious lobsters. When
you think of Maine and engines, Elwin offers a great recipe.

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