An innovative answer to getting around

By John K. Hanson, Jr. | Jun 25, 2011
Photo by: Maine Automotive X Team/Bill Buchholz Dirigo's low-impact cross-country adventure.

Seventy-five years ago on the coast of Maine, the automobile was beginning to dominate as a mode of transportation. Its popularity, along with the roads and bridges that were being built for it, spelled doom for passenger rail and ferry service, except small island ferries. The car was well on its way to becoming triumphant.

Today, the car is still the primary mode of transportation along the Maine coast; yet, with gasoline prices skyrocketing and environmental concerns heightening, the domination of the automobile is being challenged. The question is: Are there better ways?

The answer is yes, and Maine is responding. Mass transit options are improving along the coast. For example, the Rockland area is currently served by bus, train, and plane. But there is still the need for individual transportation, for visitors as they disembark from mass transit, and for locals as they go about their daily lives.

Maine, with its lengthy winters and its tradition of inventiveness, has long been the home to small companies that are creating new transportation choices. Witness the achievements of the Stanley Brothers and their revolutionary steam-engine-driven car — the Stanley Steamer — created in Maine more than 100 years ago.

Some of today’s inventive thinkers will be at the Maine Boats, Homes & Harbors Show in Rockland this August to display their modern solutions for getting from here to there. Among them will be a high-mileage, low-impact, three-wheeled car built by a Maine boat builder.

Of course, the boat building industry has always dealt with the relationships between weight and power, aerodynamics and volume. It was this heritage of design innovation that helped the Maine Automotive X Team and its ringleader, Camden-based boatbuilder Bill Buchholz, to create a high-mileage, wood-composite car, which they called Dirigo.

An earlier iteration of this vehicle competed in the Cross Country Green Rally for environmentally focused cars that began in Detroit and ended in San Francisco. With the current version, Dirigo’s builders are aiming for success in the “One Gallon Challenge,” a contest to complete a 111-mile course on a single gallon of fuel.

Small cars, like the Dirigo, besides being sufficient for about 80 percent of our daily driving needs, offer a potential solution for our growing number of mass transit riders. Couldn’t something like these cars, door locks equipped with credit card readers, be the next wave of transportation solutions for our bus, train, and ferry terminals?

Regardless of how you choose to get there, you can discuss this and more with the Maine Automotive X Team at the Maine Boats, Homes & Harbors Show in Rockland, Aug. 12 to 14.

This year, the show will focus on the coast circa 1936 as part of an annual exploration of how “Tradition Shapes Innovation.” In addition to historic images and films, a mix of vintage and modern products will trace the influences of the mid-1930s on the products of today, and the ways that creativity has moved the state and its craftspeople ever forward.

As Maine’s only in-the-water boat show and coastal lifestyle event, the show annually features approximately 300 exhibitors of boats and marine gear, home wares and furniture, art and jewelry. It is produced by Rockland-based Maine Boats, Homes & Harbors magazine, maineboats.com, 594-8622.

John K. Hanson, Jr., is publisher of Maine Boats, Homes & Harbors magazine.

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