Top of the Lake Snowmobile Museum: Naubinway, Michigan

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Top of The Lake Snowmobile Museum, Naubinway, Mich.
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A 1980 Chrysler Sno-Runner at the museum.

What: Top of the Lake Snowmobile Museum, W11660 U.S. 2, Naubinway, Michigan. Open every day of the week except Tuesday, from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Calling ahead (906-477-6298) for an after-hours appointment, or for group trips with a catered lunch.
How To Get There: Highway 2 from St. Ignace on the east, SR 117 from the north or U.S. 2 from Manistique on the west.
Best Kept Secrets: Cut River Inn (Great Lakes Whitefish), Lento’s Pasties (award winning pasties since 1947), GarLyn Zoo (hundreds of animals in a deep woods setting), Anchor In Naubinway (casual dining across the street from the museum).
Avoid: Attempting to ride motorcycles to the museum between November and May! Winter is long in the Upper Peninsula.

The usual defining factor when discussing motorcycle types is dirt or street. Narrowing the field to pavement or dirt, however, cuts out two other media: water and snow. Successful snow motorcycles have been manufactured over the years, but the recent Snow Hawk snow cycle and the snow conversion kits currently sold for modern motocross bikes aren’t the first snow motorcycles.

A historical lineup of snow cycles can be viewed at the Top of the Lake Snowmobile Museum, located in Naubinway, Mich. This museum currently houses 84 different brands of snow vehicles, including approximately a dozen snow bikes, trikes and cycles.

All eras from the 1940s to the 1980s are represented. There are even two snow cycles manufactured by major car companies, Porsche and Chrysler. Porsche’s Ski-Bob snow bike was apparently a limited edition vehicle intended for ski slope rescues. Chrysler’s foray into snow motorcycles was much more intense, as they built a snow cycle in the late 1970s powered by their own 2-stroke racing kart engine in an attempt to market snow motorcycles on a major scale. After converting part of a Chrysler Outboard plant in Wisconsin into a full-fledged assembly line, Chrysler built a reported 28,000 Sno-Runners from 1979 to 1982 before halting production. This undoubtedly was the largest volume production of snow motorcycles in history.

The Top of the Lake Museum is an offshoot of the Top of the Lake Snowmobile Show & Ride, which began in 1993. The museum was started in 2007 by several snowmobile collectors in an old building in downtown Naubinway as an outlet to display their machines more than once a year. A move to a new, larger building on U.S. 2 in October 2013 has given the museum the option to display more of their machines, as the previous accommodations only allowed half of the collection to be displayed at one time.

There is more to view than just snow cycles as you wander the museum looking at snowmobiles, memorabilia, literature and more. The museum also has a 1946 Eliason Motor Toboggan, powered by a 45-cubic inch Indian Scout V-twin. Museum guide and curator Marilyn Vallier says more than 200 different makes of snow vehicles have been documented. Snowmobile architecture did not condense into the current single-track machines with handlebars and suspension until the 1960s. Unique propulsion, steering and track options were tried well into the 1970s, as evidenced here. Need an articulated snowmobile with twin tracks on the drive unit and wheelbarrow-styled tillers for control? They’ve got one here, along with a five passenger radial engine-powered airsled and other oddities.

The museum can be reached by several different routes in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, but U.S. 2 from the east is highly recommended. This 45-mile journey from St. Ignace, Mich., boasts some of Lake Michigan’s best waterfront scenery. U.S. 2 keeps the lake in sight for most of the journey as the road winds along tall bluffs and then dives down to skirt miles of deserted beaches. Rustic businesses that haven’t changed since the 1950s dot the route and add to the aura. Stopping for a genuine hot pasty, smoked fish or an elk burger is part of the “Top of the Lake” experience that should not be bypassed. MC

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