In a Dec. 10, 2014 photo, the Top of the Lake Snowmobile Museum, located just off US-2 in Naubinway, Mich., features 80 different brands of snowmobiles and nearly 150 displays - like this "Then and Now" feature which showcases past and present designs. Of the old machines represented, many are one-of-a-kind creations _ either special prototypes or homemade machines by barnyard engineers. (AP Photo/The Evening News, Scott Brand)

In a Dec. 10, 2014 photo, the Top of the Lake Snowmobile Museum, located just off US-2 in Naubinway, Mich., features 80 different brands of snowmobiles and nearly 150 displays - like this "Then and Now" feature which showcases past and present designs. Of the old machines represented, many are one-of-a-kind creations _ either special prototypes or homemade machines by barnyard engineers. (AP Photo/The Evening News, Scott Brand)

Snowmobile museum features historic, unique sleds

NAUBINWAY, Mich. — Roaring into its second year of operation at the new location, Top of the Lake Snowmobile Museum in Naubinway is deriving tremendous benefit from moving to its new location.

“We have 80 different brands of snowmobiles here,” said John Batchelder, adding there are approximately 140 different displays.

The museum’s oldest machine, a 1936 Westendorf, was built by a Bay City man to fit in the back of his Model T truck for ice fishing, according to The Evening News. The fastest machine currently on display is described as a Boss Cat III, designed for drag racing, which posted a top speed of 128 mph. This addition, in the ever-changing rotation of displays, recently replaced the previous fastest machine — Miss Budweiser — that reached 201 mph in 1990.

The 1969 I-500 machine piloted by Dan Planck when he captured the flag in the inaugural running of snowmobile’s biggest race is featured in the racing section.

The Timberwolf, one of only eight produced, was built in Sault Ste. Marie by Dick Zabelka and Dr. Tom Robinson.

“We can account for four of them,” said Charlie Vallier while conducting a tour of the museum. “We have two; one was crushed and another was burned up in a fire. There are four of them missing and we would love to know where they are.”

Of the old machines represented, many are one-of-a-kind creations — either special prototypes or homemade machines by barnyard engineers. But the museum’s rich history reveals that many big manufacturers — Evinrude, Johnson, Mercury, John Deere and Harley-Davidson — also entered into the booming snowmobile market as their popularity caught on with the general public.

Of all the manufacturers, only four still survive: Arctic Cat, Polaris, Ski-Doo and Yamaha.

“We’re looking for the unique sleds that have a history,” said Vallier, noting there is waiting list to get even worthy machines on display as the snowmobile collectors from near and far are more than willing to put their machines on loan to be included in the museum.

“We have plenty of machines to add on,” said Vallier with one eye on the future and a second on the finances, “but we’ll pay for this first.”

“There are other museums out there,” said Batchelder, admitting Top of the Lake might not be the biggest, “but we are about the history of snowmobiling — here we have all brands and the memorabilia along with it.”

The move to the site just off of US-2, made in October 2013, has paid great dividends in the form of increased traffic. Vehicular traffic through the prime summer tourist season was drawn to the site due to the close proximity of the main east to west artery, both men explained. And Trail No. 2, which connects Drummond Island to Calumet, draws snowmobile traffic in the winter months.

“Sometimes there won’t be a vehicle in the parking lot,” said Batchelder, “but we’ll have a dozen or more snowmobiles.”

Vallier added that on cold days the riders like to come in, have a hot cocoa or chocolate in the conference room to warm up and then tour the heated facility.

Maybe even, Vallier added, warm their feet by the fireplace.

The Top of the Lake Museum is open seven days a week from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.

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