MidwestWeekends.com — Your Travel Guide to the Upper Midwest

Home of horsepower

In Wisconsin, see where race cars, snowmobiles, outboards and motorcycles were born.

Carl Eliason and his

© Vilas County

In Wisconsin, folks like to go fast when they're on vacation.

That's why they invented the snowmobile (Sayner), the Harley-Davidson motorcycle (Milwaukee), the outboard motor (Cambridge) and the race car (Menomonie).

Wisconsin's leisure machines have come a long way since the days of grain belts and lawn-mower motors.

Here's where to go to pay homage to your favorites.

Sayner, the snowmobile. In the northeast Wisconsin town of Sayner, the Vilas County Historical Society Museum exhibits the 1924 "motor toboggan'' built by Carl Eliason and his models through 1953.

In nearby St. Germain, the Snowmobile Hall of Fame shows famous models after Polaris began manufacturing them in 1955.

And in Eagle River, the World Snowmobile Headquarters includes an adorable collection of Skee-Horses, Hus-Skis and Sno-Twisters, from the 1953 Eliason to modern powerhorses.

In Eagle River, the Snowmobile Capital of the World, snowmobiles from the 1960s, '70s and '80s compete on Vintage Weekend and in the World Championships in January.

Cambridge, the outboard motor. Half an hour east of Madison, Norwegian immigrant Ole Evinrude built the first outboard motor in 1906, testing it on Lake Ripley.

The Cambridge Historic Museum contains displays about Ole and his engines, and spring-fed Lake Ripley still draws boaters and tourists.

Milwaukee, the Harley-Davidson motorcycle. Arthur Davidson and Bill Harley were childhood friends of Ole Evinrude and credit him for parts used on Harley's first engine in 1905.

Their motorcycle has achieved cult status and now is celebrated at the Harley-Davidson Museum in Milwaukee.

Menomonie, the race car. This western Wisconsin town was the home of Harry Miller, whose pioneering cars won the Indy 500 12 times; cars with his engines won another 29 times. 

The start/finish of the old race circuit.

© Beth Gauper

In Elkhart Lake, race-car drivers used public roads from 1950 to 1952.

The Rassbach Heritage Museum includes the exhibit "Harry Miller, King of the Race Car Builders,'' with a photo of Miller and the Golden Submarine, a race car he built for driver Barney Oldfield in 1917 for $15,000, the equivalent of $282,488 today.

Other museums and historical sites

Hartford, the Wisconsin Automotive Museum. The custom Kissel was built in this town near Milwaukee from 1906 to 1931, and many are on display.

There's also a display on the Nash, built in Kenosha from 1916 to 1937.

Kenosha, Kenosha History Center. In addition to the Nash, Kenosha made Ramblers, Hudsons and AMC cars and trucks between 1902 and 1988. Its Rambler Legacy Gallery shows rotating exhibits.

Elkhart Lake, Road America and the Historic Race Circuit. This lake town near Sheboygan is the home of Road America, the "National Park of Speed,'' with a four-mile race course.

In town, visitors can take a self-guided tour of the Historic Race Circuit used in 1950-1952 on public roads.

For more, see Foot to the floor in Elkhart Lake.


Last updated on January 18, 2015