WRITER | TRACY DONOHUE
PHOTO | GINA HARMAN, SUPERIOR WEB DESIGN
Located in Naubinway, the Lake Michigan shoreline’s northernmost community is an unexpected find that has nothing to do with its storied history of commercial fishing and everything to do with the area’s snowfall average of over 90 inches each year.
The Top of the Lake Snowmobile Museum is a nonprofit museum that celebrates the history of antique and vintage snowmobiles. It is an enjoyable stop for snowmobiling enthusiasts and those who value history or seek to learn more about the mechanics of these rare machines.
Founded in 2007, the Top of the Lake Museum first opened in Naubinway in a renovated laundromat with 62 snowmobiles. It has since moved to a new, larger location on US Route 2 with over 185 snowmobiles, a library, office space, and an onsite and online retail store.
The museum is truly a labor of love for this Upper Peninsula community and is run by a ten-member Board of Directors, a team of passionate volunteers, and a few paid staff members. In addition to monetary donations, the museum accepts unique antique and vintage snowmobiles and related memorabilia and literature.
Board chairman Charlie Vallier and his wife Marilyn have dedicated much of their retirement to working for the museum. They were recently honored for their contribution and commitment to the historic snowmobiling community with induction into the International Snowmobile Hall of Fame in Eagle River, Wisconsin. Vallier explained, “This is what we do. Besides family, it’s about snowmobiles and the museum.”
According to Vallier, the museum was born from the community’s annual Top of the Lake Snowmobile Show held outdoors in the wintertime. “This is something I have always wanted ― to bring these antique and vintage sleds inside and create a museum. It will be 30 years this February that we’ve held our annual outdoor Top of the Lake Snowmobile Show, but some of the guys were getting older, and everyone thought it would be a good idea to bring it inside with a museum.”
The museum showcases a wide range of historic and rare snowmobile models and brands, including a 1936 Westendorf, 1946 Eliason, and 1976 Viking ― a limited edition model owned by Vallier’s mother that commemorated the last year Viking made snowmobiles. Each sled seems to have special memories associated with it, and many on display have in memoriam plaques with photos and stories of the original owner. The snowmobiles on display are a mix of donations and loans to the museum.
Antique snow machines are defined by the Antique Snowmobile Club of America (ASCOA) standards as models 1968 or older. The guideline to define vintage snowmobiles varies by organization, but the museum uses the standard of 1969 and forward. A snowmobile must be at least 26 years old to obtain a Michigan Historical Snowmobile registration.
Another area of interest for many visitors is the museum’s library. The Bud Knapp and John McGuirk Library and Media Center is available to the public as a source for snowmobile history and research. The library is a testimony to the work of many in the historic snowmobiling community.
Knapp, a Grand Rapids resident, was considered the “professor” of snowmobiling history due to his vast knowledge and collection. Vallier said that Knapp’s collection of snowmobile-related printed materials is considered perhaps the largest in the world and was donated to the museum in 2017 after Knapp’s death. Board vice-chairman John McGuirk donated many materials to the library as well. Another library contributor is John Batchelder, a volunteer who has taken on the considerable task of cataloging the library contents.
“It’s an invaluable resource to anyone restoring an old snowmobile ― shop manuals, magazines, brochures, and more. If someone can’t visit in person, they can just call, and we’ll send them the information ― no charge, we just ask if they will consider donating.”
The museum is also involved in three large family-friendly antique and vintage snowmobile events annually, including Top of the Lake Snowmobile Show & Ride in February, Swap Meet in September, and Snowmobile the Mighty Mac in December.
Excluding three days a year, the Top of the Lake Snowmobile Museum is open every day and is worth the stop to experience a special part of what makes Michigan winters so exceptional.
Top of the Lake Snowmobile Museum
SnowmobileMuseum.com l (906) 477-6298