KINGFIELD – Sue Davis, founding director of the Stanley Museum, has given 25 years of leadership and vision to that institution, steering it from an early beginning to a museum recognized worldwide. Having made many accomplishments there over the years, Davis will soon be moving forward, although not so far away from the Stanley Museum.

Davis begins a new adventure this week, as director of the Maine Narrow Gauge Railroad and Museum at Portland’s waterfront on Commercial Street. It is one of the few places in Maine one can find and ride a steam-driven two-foot railway.

“It’s not like I’m going too far afield,” Davis says.

In fact, she retains strong ties to the Stanley Museum and Kingfield, as she has many friends and family here.

“I will continue to do the steam-car workshops,” she said, “the driver’s education courses, and volunteer, too. My mother is here, as is my home, so I’ll be back and forth a lot.”

When Davis, her then-husband Dan Davis and Jim Meldrum began researching how to establish and run a museum dedicated to the Stanley family and the Stanley Steamer in 1981, some people in town thought they were crazy. There was heated debate for months whether the museum should be given a lease for the old Stanley School building, which the town owned. In the end, the naysayers were overruled, a lease was signed, and Davis, her supporters and crew moved in.

“The single, most important thing to get it all started was our conversation with Charles Chiarcharo at the Owls Head Museum of Transportation, who encouraged us to have the cars be a working exhibit,” Davis says.

Working exhibit, and much more, it became over the ensuing years. Davis set out to learn everything she could about the Stanley family, including twins F.E. and F.O., Kingfield-born inventors of the Stanley Steamer steam car and photographic dry plate, to name but a few creations, and their sister Chansonetta, a world-renown photographer.

More importantly, Davis learned to drive a Stanley Steamer, tinker on a Stanley Steamer, scour the globe for the parts she needed to keep them running and basically care for the turn-of-the-century automobiles. She has since taught others to do the same and has created a worldwide network of people who love Stanley Steamers. The Stanley Museum owns three working exhibits, two of which are housed at the Kingfield facility. The third resides at the satellite museum in Estes Park, Colo. Davis recently drove one car in the Kingfield Festival Days parade with Georgie Woodford, Mrs. Kingfield 2006 aboard.

“I’ve had some truly great people helping me over the years,” Davis admits. “I feel very strongly that now is the time for the Stanley Museum to head in a new direction, get more involved in our local schools and communities. I know that will happen, and I couldn’t be more pleased.”

Kingfield resident Bobby Brown has been named interim director of the Stanley Museum, and Davis said his energy and dedication to Kingfield will stand the museum in very good stead.

“I’m ready for a change,” Davis says. “Twenty-five years is a good way to go out. I love to be busy, learning new things and doing important things with lasting effects. I now have a whole new batch of problems to solve, and I’m definitely up for new challenges.”

As it turns out, there is a Stanley connection to the Narrow Gauge Railroad in Maine. Solomon Stanley, the twins’ father, was instrumental in getting Franklin County onto the system. In 1879, he stood up at the annual Kingfield town meeting to speak to the voters and get them to invest in the railroad. His strategy worked, as Kingfield soon became another stop on the two-footer network.

Davis has been on the Board of Trustees for the Maine Narrow Gauge Railroad and Museum since 2000. She said that last year alone, 50,000 people rode the rails at the museum’s 11-acre complex. She will be surrounded by familiar names there, because the museum has railroad stock from the Farmington line and the Sandy River-Rangeley Lakes line.

“I’m ready for a change, so I’m leaving while I still have the strength to be available and let the Stanley Museum settle into a new existence,” Davis says. “While in Portland I’ll be closer to my children and grandchildren, which will be wonderful and I’ll be back and forth here regularly. I’m really quite excited.”

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