Now one of the busiest winter tourist stops in the Upper Peninsula, Top of the Lake Snowmobile Museum started out as an idea among a few snowmobile collectors and enthusiasts. Two of the founders, Charlie Vallier and John McGuirk, wanted a place to share the old snowmobiles with the public. The museum opened in 2007 and is the only one of its kind in the state, dedicated to preserving and showcasing the history of snowmobiling, including rare manufacturers, makes and models, memorabilia and literature.
“We started out with a bunch of machines sitting in an old laundromat,” said McGuirk, an avid collector from Sidney, Ohio, and the museum board’s vice chairman. “I came home and took down all of my neon signs and banners, suits and boots and helmets, and brought them up there.”
Vallier and his wife Marilyn live near Naubinway, serve as the board chairman and secretary, and regularly volunteer, guiding visitors through the displays.
Open year-round and staffed by volunteers, the museum recently completed an addition to house a substantial donation from the Museum of Ingenuity J. Armand Bombardier in Valcourt, Quebec. The Bombardier museum gifted 33 rare and unique machines from manufacturers, including Polaris, Arctic Cat, Scorpion, Moto-Ski and a few from Russia, Sweden and Finland.
“We received the sleds about a year-and-a-half ago, and we put some in right away because they were so unique,” Vallier said. “They liked the fact we were about the history of snowmobiles, and we’re open seven days a week from 9 to 5. Nobody keeps hours like we do.”
The nonprofit museum features nearly 180 machines either donated or on loan from private collectors, along with a wide variety of signs, clothing and literature, plus a gift shop and new library room. From backyard contraptions to modern inventions, the collection offers a glimpse into the evolution of snowmobiles. Early machines were used for utility, helping trappers, loggers and others transport goods and supplies. The display spans generations, from a 1926 Model T with a track conversion kit to 2001 Arctic Cat “Yellowstone special,” one of 50 made to prove a snowmobile could be clean and quiet, Vallier said.
The new Bud Knapp and John McGuirk Library houses snowmobile literature, owners and parts manuals, advertising, brochures and videos. Knapp, former historian of Antique Snowmobile Club of America, gave his collection to McGuirk, and he donated it and his own materials to the museum. It’s being cataloged for use by the public, especially those looking to restore vintage machines.
The museum (snowmobilemuseum.com) is supported through donations, some grants and admission, and receives more than 6,000 visitors annually. “We’ve had people from every state and 18 different countries,” Vallier said.
Feb. 3: The Soo I-500 Vintage Show/Memories at the Mile vintage lap in Sault Ste. Marie
Feb. 16-17: The 26th annual Top of the Lake Snowmobile Show & Ride in Naubinway