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And so it continues…

*Sigh* It seems like the more things change the more they stay the same. In my last post I wrote about how bloody cold it was and how tired I was of the weather. Well, guess what? Yup, it’s the same ‘ole story three weeks later. Yes, we did get a little reprieve in there, but come on! This has definitely been the crappiest winter I can remember. Now don’t get me wrong, I did sign up for this (as in I decided to live here), but there’s got to be a limit to it. It hasn’t been as cold as it was at the beginning of the month, but -41C is still flippin’ cold. We better have a kick-ass spring and summer to make up for all the BS we’ve been putting up with. Rant off!

So it’s almost the end of January and that means the end of another semester and the start of a new one. I finished marking all my exams and submitted my reports, so I’m done with the first half of the year. Yay! It’s not that I didn’t like my classes, but after 5 months it’s time for a change; new kids, new classes. A new semester always energizes you a bit, like a breath of fresh air in your sails. Second semester also means that we’re on the downward slide toward June and the end of the school year. Geez, it just keeps going by faster and faster every year!

One of the most exciting parts of moving into February is that we are inching ever closer to the March break Europe trip. One of the students stopped by room last week and said that when we started the countdown it was like 500 and something days before departure. Wow, time has certainly flown by! I am very anxious to go, but as the group leader I always have that bit of nervousness that accompanies a big event like this. The reality I guess is starting to set in. It’s probably just me though, just like I get nervous before every football game. In any case, our EF backpacks and trip water bottles have arrived, so all the little pieces are starting to fall into place. 35 days until we leave!

The craptastic weather we’ve been experiencing over the last month has certainly put a big damper on any outdoor activities one would expect to do in winter. So far I’ve only made it up the mountain twice since Christmas, and haven’t gotten out the last few weekends (see the reason above). I’m hoping that the -14C they are calling for Saturday is warm enough to get out and about, since Sunday is Superbowl Sunday and you know what that means! Yup, it’s time for the annual Superbowl party and I have a million things to do to get ready. It would be nice to squeeze in a little fresh air before I spend the day on Sunday cleaning up and preparing food. This is the first time in a while that I am not cheering for a particular team, since I actually like both Denver and Seattle. Maybe there will be some real football weather for this year’s edition ie. snow and cold!

Snow-obscured Loch Lomond, January 2014.

Snow-obscured Loch Lomond, January 2014.

So I actually have some things to report on the railway front for a change. I have some really exciting news to talk about, but I’ll save that for last. However it started me thinking about writing another article on a railway related topic, so I did spend time doing some research over the weekend. I’d like to write about the Gunflint and Lake Superior Railroad, which was a little logging line built by the Pigeon River Lumber Company in 1903. It connected to the PAD&W at Gunflint Lake and was in operation until 1909. It was very unique in that it was an American railroad that had no connection to any other American railroad; its only link was north through Canada. Very odd indeed.

The president of the G&LS was one Daniel J. Arpin of Wisconsin and I’ve been trying to track down a photo of him for some time. That led me off on a search for the gentlemen who manned the Canadian customs house at Gunflint between 1903 and 1909, Thomas Roberts and Peter Chausse. I’ve mentioned on several occasions that I love to do this type of investigation and see what I can come up with. It can be very frustrating at times, but also great when you make a big discovery. Most of my time was spent trying to scrounge up some pictures, which was fairly unsuccessful. But you never know though, maybe a breakthrough will come at some point.

While I was on the topic of the G&LS, I moved into looking at some maps of the area. Hiking the G&LS is on my agenda for this year, weather permitting, since I haven’t really looked at the Minnesota portion since 1997. It`s really too bad the amazing wood trestle near Bridal Falls is gone, as it was quite the sight to see (it burned in the 2007 Ham Lake Fire and had to be dynamited to put out the fire smoldering inside the logs). When I did walk the railway all those years ago, I did not follow the whole length of the line. The question I need to answer is where did it go from there. Documents suggest that the railway ran down to Crab Lake and then possibly a mile east to Whisker Lake. To help me locate the route, I turned to Lidar.

Gunflint & Lake Superior RR map, International Boundary Commission Map (1929).

Gunflint & Lake Superior RR map, International Boundary Commission Survey (1929).

Top of the G&LS log trestle, August 1997.

Top of the G&LS log trestle, August 1997.

G&LS log trestle, August 1997.

G&LS log trestle, August 1997.

G&LS log trestle, August 1997.

G&LS log trestle, August 1997.

G&LS log trestle during the Ham Lake Fire, May 2007. (T. Kaffine)

G&LS log trestle during the Ham Lake Fire, May 2007. (T. Kaffine)

Remains of the G&LS log trestle, August 2011.

Remains of the G&LS log trestle, August 2011.

Lidar is a remote sensing technology that uses lasers to collect elevation and other data from the ground. It is very useful at finding old railway grades, especially where embankments and cuttings were made as they stand out in the ground around it. It`s not always perfect, especially in wet or low areas where the grade has settled into the ground, but it`s better that nothing. Hopefully it has given me a few clues as to where to look for the G&LS south of Bridal Falls; I guess we`ll find out in the fall when I`m planning to go there!

Lidar image, Gunflint Lake.

Lidar image, Gunflint Lake.

By far the most exciting news from the past week was the publication of my article on Leeblain. Yes, I am now officially an author and historian! It is amazing to see my work in print and out there so people can read what I’ve discovered. Unfortunately things are not all roses though; part of my article is missing from the 2013 edition of Papers & Records. After a bit of digging, we were able to determine that a little technical glitch omitted the last third of my article. However, the Thunder Bay Historical Museum Society has graciously agreed to reprint it in their 2015 issue. Better late than never and maybe if they like my G&LS article, I’ll have two entries for the book!

Leeblain article, Papers & Records.

Leeblain article, Papers & Records.

Anyway, it’s time to run. I’ll be back in the next few weeks with more news…maybe the weather will have warmed up by that time. Until then…

 
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Posted by on January 30, 2014 in Hiking, History, Railway, Research, Travel, Writing

 

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Reflections on a Great Weekend

Moments like these do not come along very often. They are ones that are often engrained in our memory, reminisced upon for years to come. I certainly remember similar occasions from my youth, and they do bring with them comforting, warm thoughts. I hope that this past weekend does likewise, though my perspective is a bit different this time. I definitely glad I took the time to do this and I will mostly likely do it again!

Okay, so I guess enough of the cryptic stuff. It’s been a good weekend…really good. I got a chance to get away from all the stressful stuff that has been going on in my life and decompress a bit. I spent quite a bit of time on the railway, which as you know is my happy place. Most importantly, I got to be a dad for a few solid days. I do miss seeing my wife, but sometimes a guy just needs to spend some time away with his boys; a man’s weekend if you will. This fall has been so busy I haven’t really seen a lot of them, which is very unfortunate. As I indicated in my intro, these are the events that get remembered. I look back on with great fondness the times I spent with my dad all those years ago and while it does make me a bit sad that’s he gone, it makes me truly understand what a dad really is.

Fall is particularly special for me. One of my most cherished memories of my childhood father-son time is warm evenings spent hunting in the area around South Gilles. The fall colours, the blue skies and the crisp air make me think back to those years long ago. I certainly hope that the boys will remember those same feelings when I’m gone. I can’t wait to do this all again next year…if my wife lets us!

So this was my long-winded way of saying it was a great weekend. I think the boys enjoyed it and so did I. We spent Saturday along the Gunflint Narrows Road, looking for the elusive turning wye along that section of railway that seems to defy discovery. I did see a few things that were optimistic, but I failed to make the “big” breakthrough. I got myself a nice sloppy booter though!

After a few hours of slogging through the tall grass in the swamp, I turned my attention to the railway further south where it bridged the Cross River twice. Unfortunately, owing to all the rain we received this year, I wasn’t able to do much since the river level was so high. I’ll have to try again next year.

Railway grade, Gunflint Trail, October 2013.

Railway grade, Gunflint Trail, October 2013.

Railway grade, Gunflint Trail, October 2013.

Railway grade, Gunflint Trail, October 2013.

We headed back to our great cabin for lunch (it was just renovated) and then drove back up the Gunflint Trail to the Chik-Wauk Museum. Noah had never seen the museum, so I thought he might like taking a look at it. Also, I had to drop off a new copy of my railway poster. Seems as though someone took a liking to it, and stole the previous one! I guess that’s a positive theft. While we were there we took the opportunity to look at some of the trails around the site and snap some pictures of the beautiful scenery.

Chik-Wauk Museum & Nature Center, October 2013.

Chik-Wauk Museum & Nature Center, October 2013.

Chik-Wauk Museum & Nature Center, October 2013.

Chik-Wauk Museum & Nature Center, October 2013.

From the museum it was back to the lodge for a quick stop over and then we were back on the Gunflint Trail, east this time toward the Gunflint Lodge. I had decided that we would eat dinner one of the days at the Lodge’s fantastic restaurant and Saturday became that time. We left a little early so we could stop at the Gunflint Lake Overlook, which is just north of the lodge. There are some trails in the area, and I wanted to see which one would give us a nice vista of the lake. We wandered around for a bit, and finally found the West End Trail (which is part of the Borderland Route) that brought us to the spot. Too bad the clouds had rolled in otherwise it would have made for some awesome photographs!

Sun & Snow Cabin, Cross River Lodge, October 2013.

Sun & Snow Cabin, Cross River Lodge, October 2013.

Sun & Snow Cabin, Cross River Lodge, October 2013.

Sun & Snow Cabin, Cross River Lodge, October 2013.

Gunflint Narrows, October 2013.

Gunflint Narrows, October 2013.

Supper at the lodge was great as usual, and I probably ate way more than I should have. Ethan decided that he could handle a three-slice clubhouse sandwich; no he couldn’t! Dad had to help him out, which I know isn’t the best plan for watching your waistline, but I hate to throw away food I paid for. I guess it worked okay though, since I did burn it off the next day.

Back at Cross River we spent the evening passing time in the lodge playing some games and watching a bit of TV. When we headed off to bed, it was drizzling a bit which made me nervous for what we’d experience the next day. Fortunately it wasn’t too wet when we woke up and it was a very beautiful morning on the lake.

Sunday’s hike was going to be along the railway grade that forms part of the southern arm of the USFS Centennial Trail. This was the part of the area I explored in the spring with Ethan and John. Noah had never come hiking in Minnesota so this was going to be a new experience for him, and I also wanted to do a bit of investigating along this stretch of the railway.

I always love to hike on this part of the Centennial Trail as it passed through some amazing work that was done on the railway, such as rock cuts and embankments. I particularly like the 200 foot north-facing rock cut that is very cool and damp, since it sees very little sunlight during the day. I also used the opportunity to shoot some new video of the railway through this area, which I hope to upload once I get caught up on stuff from the summer.

Centennial Trail, October 2013.

Centennial Trail, October 2013.

Rock cut, Minnesota, October 2013.

Rock cut, Minnesota, October 2013.

Rock cut, Minnesota, October 2013.

Rock cut, Minnesota, October 2013.

400' Trestle, Minnesota, October 2013.

400′ Trestle, Minnesota, October 2013.

Rock cut, Minnesota, October 2013.

Rock cut, Minnesota, October 2013.

Embankment, Minnesota, October 2013.

Embankment, Minnesota, October 2013.

Centennial Trail, October 2013.

Centennial Trail, October 2013.

When we reached the intersection of the Centennial and Kekekabic Trails, we paused a bit for lunch. Then I tried to do a bit of sleuthing, using the boys to help me piece together what happened with the railway grade in the area, where it forms another switchback. I’m not completely clear on the situation, but it certainly helped clarify a few things and I did shoot some video that I can analyze at another time.

From there it was a three kilometre walk back to the truck, highlighted by Noah stepping on a snake and scaring the hell out of everyone. We did stop at a few of the test pits along the way so Noah could have a chance to see them. In all it was a great day and a heck of a lot of walking, 8km in total! I was certainly tired and so were the boys.

That evening it was a well-deserved meal of barbequed chicken and steak; I really appreciated the opportunity to sit down and have a nice quiet dinner with the boys. They were very excited for that night’s activities, since I had promised them that instead of our usual weekend movie night, we would do “football” night. The Cowboys were playing the Redskins in the late game, and we had chips and bottled cream soda ready to go. I think they quite enjoyed the evening and the snacks (and staying up a bit late), which made me a happy dad. The icing on the cake was the ‘Boys beating the ‘Skins in a very close game (I didn’t see the end as the boys had to go to bed).

Gunflint Lake, October 2013.

Gunflint Lake, October 2013.

The next morning I was up early to start packing for home. I was able to catch the sun rising over the lake, which was very beautiful. We all ate an amazing breakfast at the lodge, bid goodbye to John and Rose, and made our way home. It was sad to leave, but great to be home. My wife Jo-Anne had already started Thanksgiving dinner and wonderful scents emanated from the kitchen. The great feast was really the culmination of a fantastic weekend.

Gunflint Lake, October 2013.

Gunflint Lake, October 2013.

So I’ve had a week to digest everything that went on during the long weekend. Thanksgiving is supposed to be a time to reflect on all the great things we have in our lives…I certainly have a lot to be thankful for. My wife, my boys, all things in my life…they are all blessings. There are times that I do take everything for granted, but deep down I’m glad to have them all. I’m excited to do the boys’ weekend again next year, and I’m sure Ethan and Noah are too. Hopefully the weather will cooperate like this year and allow us to make more great memories.

Anyway, I need to go. Hopefully the end of the football seasons will allow me to write more often, maybe even next week…we’ll see! Until then…

 
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Posted by on October 22, 2013 in Hiking, History, Railway, Travel, Writing

 

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It’s like riding a bike…right?

I’m sure we’ve all heard this saying at one point or another in our lives. If you’ve done it once before, then it should be simple to pick it up again later on…in theory. I’m sure life has taught us that it isn’t as simple as that. Sometimes things don’t come back to us as easily as we would like, and at times it can be very difficult, or even downright frustrating. That’s what I feel like right now. How and why do you ask? Please, read on.

So I’m back! Yes, I’ve made my epic return to the keyboard after an extended absence. If you’re keeping track, this is my first post since July 31st and my first regular post since July 17th. So it’s been a while. I had a very busy summer, especially with travelling, so it didn’t leave me a lot of time to write and this fall has been just utterly insane! But I hope to reverse that trend starting today. It has been tough however to get back into the “saddle” per se. It’s almost like I lost a little bit of my mojo by not writing in so long. Hence the title of the post; you’d figure it would be very easy to get back into the swing of writing, but it really has been a struggle to resume my ramblings. I guess this is a start in the right direction. We’ll see how it goes!

As I mentioned earlier, this fall has been extremely hectic; well, maybe the previous metaphor of insanity is better suited to describe the situation. I had hoped that when the summer of travel was over, I would be able to resume my blogging, but that hasn’t been the case. I just haven’t been able to find the time. Between work, family and three football teams (school, Ethan and Noah), I just don’t have the time or energy to write. So what’s different about now you ask? Well, I shall tell you.

I guess first of all I’m on Gunflint Lake as I write this post. I know that it is Thanksgiving, and what the heck am I doing down here right? Well, I’d been planning this trip for over a year now and it’s coming at a very fitting time. I wasn’t sure I’d be able to swing it, but my good friend John Schloot at Cross River Lodge found me a place to stay and I jumped at the chance. I needed the break, and it’s given me the opportunity to spend a little time writing.  I’m here to do some field work on the railway (go figure), but also to spend a little time with the boys…mom gets the weekend to herself! Don’t worry, we’ll be back for Monday dinner, but it lets me have some bonding time with the boys for a change. It’s rather fitting since we just passed what would have been my dad’s 85th birthday, and certainly fall makes me think of the time we spent together. I know he’s right there with us in spirit.

Gunflint Narrows, October 2013.

Gunflint Narrows, October 2013.

I really don’t have the time to fill in all the blanks with what has gone on in the last few months…I’d need to be much better at typing! Football has certainly kept me very busy over the last month, especially since I’m also helping out with Ethan and Noah’s teams as well. Our junior team is doing well, though we only sit at 1-2. We’re getting better every week and hope to even our record with our final regular season game this week. It’s been very tough shuttling between practices, as Ethan usually practices right after the high school team. It leaves me pretty pooped once I get home. Unfortunately I haven’t been able to make it to very many of Noah’s practices because of the conflicting schedules, but I’ve been there for the games. Both their seasons are wrapping up soon, so there is some respite on the horizon.

As you can image, with all of these things going on, I haven’t had a lot of free time to devote to the railway, but I’ve done my best. I have managed to go on a few hikes since my last post; one kinda railway related at Gunflint Lake, and the other along the grade west of Mackies at Sun Hill. Obviously I’m excited to get out this weekend, since this will probably be my last hikes of the year. Hopefully I’ll be able to accomplish my objectives!

Rock oven, Leeblain, August 2013.

Rock oven, Leeblain, August 2013.

Cutting, Sun Hill, September 2013.

Cutting, Sun Hill, September 2013.

Embankment, Sun Hill, September 2013.

Embankment, Sun Hill, September 2013.

The most important railway related news I have is regarding Leeblain. On September 24th I gave my first ever lecture at the Thunder Bay Museum on the ghost town, which was very successful. There was a good turnout, and I even had people asking if I recorded it since they were not able to attend. With the blessing of the Thunder Bay Historical Museum Society, I put it up on YouTube for the general public to view.

On a similar note, my article on Leeblain has been submitted to the TBHMS for publication. I literally had one weekend to make the necessary revisions to it based on the reviews that were done, but I pushed through and hopefully everything was okay. I have not heard back since it was sent it, so I’m taking that as a good sign. I’m really excited to see it published and have some of my “blood, sweat and tears” make it into print. Fingers crossed!

Anyway, I gotta wrap up since I’m off exploring very soon. I’ll post again tonight with some thoughts about the day’s adventure. Until then…

 
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Posted by on October 12, 2013 in Hiking, History, Miscellaneous, Railway, Travel, Writing

 

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Older, and unfortunately dumber!

Yep, that about sums it up! Older? Well, I am going to be 40 this year, but it is more of a reflection of the fact that I can’t do everything I once did effortlessly like I did in my 20’s. Dumber? How can you be dumber Dave? You are almost 40, right? With age comes experience and knowledge! Yes it does, but it doesn’t necessarily prevent me from being a bonehead. One can still be *gasp* middle-aged and still be astoundingly dumb…case in point. So, how were you a dummy Dave? Please, read on.

So summer is now in full swing, as we are now into the third week in July. The weather has been all over the place; one day hot, one day rainy…it just can’t make up its mind. Yesterday was just plain stupid hot. Stupid hot you say? Well, it hasn’t been anywhere close to that temperature all summer, then all of sudden it is 40+ Celsius with the humidity. Craziness! Hopefully this means things will start to settle down, especially with all the rain we’ve been receiving lately. The rivers and creeks are high, which makes my hikes a little more challenging (as mentioned later).

As I write this I am sitting in a hotel room in Sault Ste. Marie…Ontario. The family and I are on the first leg of our trip to Toronto and we’ll be in the centre of the universe by tomorrow afternoon. The boys are very excited for the trip; first to see their uncle, and second to experience all the cool things to see in the Toronto area. We’ve never come here as a family, and I have not been to southern Ontario since 2006.

Day One was fine, though eight hours behind the wheel was a bit tiring. I do love the drive though; the scenery is spectacular! What wasn’t exciting were the constant stops for construction. If you’ve never heard this one, the joke is that there are two seasons in Canada-winter and road construction! I’ll have more to say about our trip in my next post.

Things have been busy on the railway front. I did get out for a hike last week, which was much more successful than the previous week (which I’ll talk about shortly). We’re also slowly putting everything together for History Day, which is less than a month away. There are so many little things to plan and prepare. I’ll put up a copy of the poster once it’s ready.

Obviously the highlight of the past week was my hike at Leeper (mile 31 of the railway). Where is Leeper you ask? Well, it doesn’t really exist anymore, other than a road that runs off Highway 588. It is located about halfway between Hymers (mile 28) and Nolalu (mile 34). It is marked by several crossings of the Whitefish River, the remains of which are still very visible. I was last there in 2009, but I didn’t shoot any video, which was the reason for my re-visit.

The trick for this hike was going to be where to start. Leeper was located on the south side of the Whitefish River, just east of a crossing of the river. It has rained quite a bit lately, so I figured it would be a challenge to get across without getting wet (I hate walking with wet boots). So I decided to park north of the river, near the old highway crossing (the new bridge is about 85m east of the old one). From there I would walk to where the first bridge was located; what I didn’t take into account was how far away that bridge was. Thankfully there was an old road that brought me right to that spot after a 430m walk.

Finding bridge remains is always a challenge due to the shifting course of the Whitefish. It has moved quite a bit since the railway was built through the area in 1890, obliterating some sections of the railway. The crossing at Leeper is no exception. There are pilings and parts of the abutment in the west bank, but I cannot even find where the eastern side might have been. I have looked around on several occasions, but have come up empty. Right now the bridge looks to be about 60m long, but in actuality it was probably shorter than that.

Bridge crossing, Leeper, July 2013.

Bridge crossing, Leeper, July 2013.

Bridge remains, Leeper, July 2013.

Bridge remains, Leeper, July 2013.

Immediately west of the western abutment (about 50m), I encountered the first effects of the river erosion. The river has shifted again, but at some point after 1938 it washed out a 75m stretch of the rail bed. These detours make hiking a bit challenging, as picking up the grade on the other side isn’t always easy.

It was at this point that I realized that I had not calibrated my GPS for the altitude of Leeper station (I like to try to plot the rise in elevation of the grade). I didn’t have the number on me (it’s about 1000ft), so I thought I’d be smart and call my wife for it. Her reaction was quite interesting; after explaining what I wanted her to do, she answered with “why don’t you look it up yourself?” She did give me the data, and as I hung up I stared blankly at my iPhone in my hand. It took a few seconds to realize that I called my wife on a device that has a connection to the internet. I thought, “man, you’re a dummy!’

The major feature of the grade in this area (other than the bridges), are the near constant cuttings that are present. The railway skirts along the south side of a large ridge and the grade is cut into the side of that ridge. It makes for a very well defined, picturesque area.

Rail bed, Leeper, July 2013.

Rail bed, Leeper, July 2013.

Almost 500m past the previous washout, I arrived at yet another area of erosion, this one for about 90m. This area had fallen victim to the hydraulic effects of the river, but it was very evident that the railway engineers were concerned about this along the whole section. I passed several areas where rock fill had been placed at the bottom of embankments and it was clear that the river had once passed alongside.

Erosion, Leeper, July 2013.

Erosion, Leeper, July 2013.

One hundred and eighty metres past the erosion I encountered an approximately 20ft creek that appeared to have been ravaged repeatedly by torrents of water; what remained of the bridge or culvert was displaced and pushed downstream several feet. Again I had to fuddle around trying to pick up the grade on the west side.

From here the railway continues another kilometre to the second river crossing, dominated by very long cuttings and embankments. In many places the grade opens up and is very easy to walk along. In my head I thought about how it would have looked when the trains were running and how pretty it must have been alongside the river. It would make an awesome hiking trail!

Cutting, Leeper, July 2013.

Cutting, Leeper, July 2013.

Cutting, Leeper, July 2013.

Cutting, Leeper, July 2013.

Cutting, Leeper, July 2013.

Cutting, Leeper, July 2013.

Cutting, Leeper, July 2013.

Cutting, Leeper, July 2013.

One of the other reasons why I wanted to return to this section was that it contains a few well-preserved telegraph poles. I had found two on my previous hikes and I was hoping to find more. Locating them is a bit of a challenge, especially given their age (it’s been 75 years since the line was abandoned). I found the remains of a few more, but they were both in very bad shape.

Telegraph pole, Leeper, July 2013.

Telegraph pole, Leeper, July 2013.

Telegraph pole, Leeper, July 2013.

Telegraph pole, Leeper, July 2013.

My original intention for the hike was to push about 500m past the second river crossing to the third crossing, but my efforts were thwarted by the river. It was much higher than I expected (higher than it was in 2009 and that was high) and would make any attempt to ford very dangerous. I’ll have to cover this section when I do part two of the hike, this time coming in west from Nolalu…I can’t wait!

1960 Ontario Geological Survey.

1960 Ontario Geological Survey.

Anyway, time to wrap up. I have another long day tomorrow and I need my rest. I’ll be skipping a post due to the trip, so I’ll be back in a few weeks. Until then…

 
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Posted by on July 17, 2013 in Hiking, History, Railway, Travel, Writing

 

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That’s why the train was always late!

So I’m sitting here trying to figure out how to start this post. Obviously I need to fold in the title somehow, but I have no idea how I should do it. Oh to be a literary genius like Shakespeare or Wordsworth or Shelley. Wait, I don’t think I want to be in the same category as those guys…I hated English. Why the hell do I want to be like them? Okay, how about Pierre Berton? Yes, good ole’ Pierre Berton, Canadiana author extraordinaire! That’s more like it. So there I have it; eight sentences later I have an introduction to this week’s post. Does it make any sense, or have any relevance to the title, nope. But hey, if you’ve read this far…

So, how’s your week been Dave? Well, do you really want to know? To be honest it wasn’t the start of summer holidays I was expecting. Things were okay at the start of the week, as recounted in last week’s blog, but it kinda went downhill from there. How bad you ask? Well, I should be posting this from my brother’s house in Toronto as part of the first leg of our vacation, but I’m still at home. That bad!

So, what happened? Well, my hike last week did not go exactly as planned and then the coup d’grâce happened on Friday. The boys and I were supposed to go somewhere in the early afternoon and we had some time to kill, so we stopped by my mom’s. Pretty innocent right? The boys had a snack and my youngest Noah decided as he’s done a million times before to ride one of the bikes my mom has at her house around the back yard. Low and behold he falls off the bike. When I got to him he was complaining that his arm hurt and a quick examination gave me the bad news; his concave left forearm was broken!

We spent most of the rest of the day in the emergency and Noah is now sporting a cast on his arm. The orthopedic surgeon wanted to see him this week and next, so we were forced to postpone the trip. The main thing is for him to be okay and healthy, but it sure is a pain trying to re-schedule the trip and flights…quite the headache! We’re going to try to go to Toronto next week and then do our Disney trip in August when the cast is off.

So in other news, I’ve been quite busy with the Silver Mountain and Area Historical Society planning our next event. Last year my friend and co-president Shelley Simon organized the first ever History Day, held at the Silver Mountain Station. With the inception of the historical society, we have taken over the hosting of the event. We are trying to build on the success of the first annual edition, adding more historical content and speakers. It is kinda of exciting being part of the planning process, but it is also a bit scary as well. I’ll be the Master of Ceremonies, which gives me butterflies just thinking about it. Posters are currently being put together, but you can check out the Facebook post in the meantime.

Well, I guess I should get back to the title of the post right? My plan last week was to hike the railway west of Iron Range Lake, which was a place I last visited in 2010. My GPS data wasn’t super detailed and I didn’t shoot any video of the area. I also had an ulterior motive…finding one of the water tanks (or where it was) on the railway, which brings me back to the title.

According to old railway timecards, the PAD&W had three water tanks staggered along the line; Stanley, Sand (Sandstone) Lake and Addie Lake. The one at Stanley was quite well known, and I was shown the remains of the one at Sandstone in 2011. However, the tank at Addie Lake was a very interesting story. I tried looking for it back in the 90’s, but the only spot it could have been didn’t really make sense. After examining old timecards I figured out the problem; the tank at “Addie Lake” wasn’t really at Addie Lake.

So I took the 1901 Canadian Northern Railway timecards which show the distances on them and tried to calculate its location. Working backward from North Lake (mile 71), which is a known entity, 6 miles brings you to a point approximately 1100 metres west of Iron Range Lake (another maps puts the tank right by Iron Range). It then dawned on me that the distances on the card must have been out, as the measurement from Sand Lake (another known entity) was not working out right. By using the map, I was able to figure out that they messed up the distances between Whitefish (correct at mile 43) and Addie Lake (mile 65). That made me think of all the stories about the railway and how it was never on time…of course, they didn’t know how far it was from one place to another!

Port Arthur, Duluth & Western Ry timecard, October 1894.

Port Arthur, Duluth & Western Ry timecard, October 1894.

Canadian Northern Ry-Duluth Extension timecard, October 1901.

Canadian Northern Ry-Duluth Extension timecard, October 1901.

At this point I should mention something about the hike right? So I began my hike where the railway crosses Highway 588 just east of Addie Lake. The mosquitoes and biting flies were quite murderous and made life very unpleasant. About 400 metres into our journey east I got my first rude shock of the day. At this point the railway crossed through a swampy area for about 200 metres; much to my displeasure the beavers had built a series of dams that had inundated the grade. I tiptoed along the crest of the beaver dam for part of it, but then the course of the dam forced me into a long detour around the flooded ground.

Back on the railway, things were okay for the next 1.5km. However, when I arrived at the next swamp, I found it flooded as well, probably a combination of high water and beavers again. That basically stopped me in my tracks, still 1.5km from my destination. I turned back, figuring I could spend my time searching for the water tank.

Flooded grade, Iron Range Lake, July 2013.

Flooded grade, Iron Range Lake, July 2013.

If you’ve ever done any type of historical/archeological investigation, you know how frustrating it can be. It’s like the proverbial “needle in a haystack.” I was just going with some rough measurements and guesstimations. I spent quite a bit of time poking around where I thought the tank could be, using the fact that it would need some sort of solid ground underneath and a water supply (the concrete pads of the tank at Sandstone are still there, along with the syphon pipe). However I could not find anything remotely resembling that; I did find some telegraph wire which led me on a fruitless wild goose chase.

Water tank area?, Iron Range Lake, July 2013.

Water tank area?, Iron Range Lake, July 2013.

I finally gave up searching and headed back to my start point. On the way back, I had to cross through the flooded beaver dam area. Instead of detouring around it again, I decided to do like I would have done in the old days (when I was younger and more foolish, but a bit more agile) and plow straight through the water. I hate getting my feet wet, but the water was only up to mid-calf so it wasn’t completely horrible (you can watch it here). It made me think of the headaches the beavers must have caused the railway when it was running.

Flooded grade, Iron Range Lake, July 2013.

Flooded grade, Iron Range Lake, July 2013.

Beaver dam, Iron Range Lake, July 2013.

Beaver dam, Iron Range Lake, July 2013.

Rock cut, Iron Range Lake, July 2013.

Rock cut, Iron Range Lake, July 2013.

I am by no means giving up in my quest; I’ll just have to go back to the drawing board and figure something out. The only map I have is from the 1911 boundary survey and it seems a bit off. Maybe the original profile drawing might have something on them, but I need to get to Toronto or Ottawa to take a look. I might have to re-visit the 1935 highway map I have, but I don’t recall anything on there. Ah, the thrill of a mystery!

1935 (1911) International Boundary Map.

1935 (1911) International Boundary Map.

Anyway, time to wrap things up. I have another hike planned for this week at Leeper, one that I know will yield some interesting discoveries (I’ve been there several times before). More to say and show next week. Until then…

 
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Posted by on July 9, 2013 in Hiking, History, Railway, Travel, Writing

 

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Oh the irony!

Irony [ahy-ruh-nee]; the use of words to convey a meaning that is opposite of its literal meaning. Yes, everyone probably knows the dictionary definition of the word Captain Obvious. However, not everyone is aware of the cryptic insinuations that usually permeate my ramblings, and if you are a regular reader you are well aware of this. So what’s so ironic Dave? All in good time!

So I’m four days into my summer vacation…boy does it feel awesome. It’s like this huge weight has been lifted off my shoulders. I like waking up and not having to think about assignments that need to be marked or anything else. Not that I don’t love my job, I do, but it is a mentally and emotionally draining profession. Summer is a time to step back, relax and recharge the battery. I’m really looking forward to some time with the family and some time doing railway related stuff.

Now speaking of family stuff, I just got back from a couple days in Duluth, Minnesota with the wife and kids. And that brings me to the irony part of the blog, which is probably still not making sense to anyone. Yesterday was an important day…if you’re Canadian of course. Yes, it was Canada Day, the most patriotic holiday on our calendar and I spent our national birthday in the United States of America. Yup, God Save the Queen and Maple Leaf Forever. What kind of patriot am I? Well, one who tried to make his wife happy by going shopping with her that’s who!

Freighter Kaye E. Barker leaving Duluth, July 2013.

Freighter Kaye E. Barker leaving Duluth, July 2013.

Freighter Kaye E. Barker leaving Duluth, July 2013.

Freighter Kaye E. Barker leaving Duluth, July 2013.

We had a good time; the weather was nice and there are always things to do. The only unfortunate part about living in a place like Thunder Bay is that there are no large neighbouring Canadian cities within a reasonable distance (Winnipeg is 8 hours away), so the 3 hour drive to Duluth doesn’t seem so bad. The only part that bothers me is the highway itself. Huh? Do tell Dave.

Well, the road is very picturesque, a photographers paradise (one day I’ll have to do the drive slowly in the fall). However, Highway 61 from the Canadian border to Duluth lacks one thing-passing lanes. From the border to Grand Marais isn’t too bad, and from Two Harbors to Duluth is divided highway. The problem lies in the section between Grand Marais and let’s say Silver Bay. The road is very winding and makes it difficult to pass people. Of course this is the part where you get caught behind someone driving substantially below the posted speed limit and this brings me to another point.

Cruise control…my little rant for the week. Really? Yes, really. So I’ve done a bit of driving in various parts of northern and southern Ontario, northern New York state, Minnesota and Wisconsin over the past 10 years. I’m pretty positive that cruise control is a fairly standard feature on almost all vehicles these days. I’m very compulsive about using my cruise control; I love to set it, take my foot off the gas and just zoom along. The question I must ask is why don’t people use it? Studies tell us that it saves gas, but I’m constantly finding people who are obviously not using it. Speed up, slow down, speed up…you get the point. Drives me bananas! Nothing worse than having to jam on the brakes because the car in front of you is going below the speed limit, only to watch them speed off moments later (then catch up to them again). Please, people, press that little button on your steering column and save my sanity!

So I do have to wrap things up for today. I’m off to Iron Range Lake tomorrow for what will be my last hike until August. I have not seen this area for three years and did not shoot any video of it. I’m also on a quest to try and find the location of the Addie Lake siding and water tank (which was close to Iron Range Lake…go figure). I will definitely have some good pictures and info for next week. Until then…

 
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Posted by on July 2, 2013 in Hiking, History, Railway, Travel, Writing

 

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The Ghost Town of Gunflint

Very mysterious. Murder? Intrigue? Failed dreams? Sounds like it would be the title of a cool book huh? Maybe something you would have found in the Hardy Boys collection. But this is no work of fiction. Many do not know it even existed, partly because its tenure was so brief. Much of what was there is veiled in a cloak of mystery and it does not give up its secrets easily. Historical and archeological investigation has offered a few glimpses into life at this remote frontier village that was poised to become a metropolis in the wilderness. Its story has certainly captivated me and will continue to do so for some time.

So here we are; we have just passed the halfway point of June. Summer is just around the corner and so is vacation. There are only 2 more days of classes before exams and the end is in sight. I still have a bit of marking to finish, but once that happens I am in the clear. It will be nice to not have to worry about assignments, marks and or even getting up early. It has been a long semester and I really need to recharge the battery.

Now speaking of vacation, I am very excited about our upcoming plans for the month of July. For many years my brother, who lives in Toronto, has been bugging my wife and I to bring the boys for a visit. The boys are also getting older (8 and 6), and the window is rapidly closing for us to do “kid” things with them. So we made the decision that we would “kill two birds with one stone” and do Toronto and Disney in one shot. We’ll be driving to Toronto, head to Disney for 12 days and then spend some time in Toronto before returning home. Should be an awesome time!

So what’s the ghost town stuff? Did you go to the old west or something? Well, as you probably guessed from the title, the ghost town is a real place on Gunflint Lake. Leeblain…you may have heard me mention it a few times in the past (just a few). Anyway, though I’ve been to the site of this former “town” on many occasions in the past, I had never really explored where many of the “buildings” were located (mostly because I didn’t know where they were). What I found was very exciting and makes me want to go back as soon as possible.

I was up bright and early on Friday morning, which was very tough considering I had a late night on Thursday (we had our school convocation ceremonies and then it was out for a drink and some conversation). I didn’t get to bed until 1:00, so I was pretty tired when I rolled out of bed a 6:00. Why was I going hiking on Friday you ask? Well, I had the day off; I get one free day off per year (personal day) and I usually take it on this day since the kids have a PD day at their school.

After loading up my stuff and the dog in the truck, I had to zip over to my mom’s where the boys had spent the night (mom and dad were both at grad). From there it was supposed to be a 2 hour drive to Gunflint, which ended up taking me 20 extra minutes since the road is so rough. I was in a bit of a hurry since I was supposed to meet up with Bruce and Sue Kerfoot at the site. Bruce grew up on the lake, and is very familiar with the historic locations in the area. It was Bruce, through his own explorations and those of his mother Justine and the local natives, who told me about the other buildings at the site.

I arrived just after 10:00, very apologetic to Bruce and Sue who were waiting for me. The road in is so rough that one must drive slow, but it is also very picturesque. I always like to stop just north of Magnetic Lake, where the road begins a long decent from the surrounding ridges down to the lake. Here, at an elevation of nearly 1800ft, you are afforded a spectacular view of the lakes and area; it makes for some great photos. Definitely God’s Country for sure!

Gunflint Road above Magnetic Lake, June 2013.

Gunflint Road above Magnetic Lake, June 2013.

Gunflint Lake, June 2013.

Gunflint Lake, June 2013.

Magnetic Lake, June 2013.

Magnetic Lake, June 2013.

Once I got to the lake we began our explorations. Unfortunately for everyone, the area we were exploring was not as pristine as it once was. I was at Leeblain in 1997, but I did not know to look for remains in this particular spot. Two years later, in 1999, the Boundary Waters was hit by a large storm called the Boundary Waters-Canadian Derecho (derecho means straight line wind). The storm caused massive blowdowns throughout the area, including Leeblain. The Canadian side of Gunflint was then logged to remove the deadfall lest it provide dry tinder for a forest fire. The falling trees and then the logging disturbed much of the site, so finding things wouldn’t be as easy as it once was.

Bruce and I were going to look for the most obvious remains, which were those of a two-storey “hotel/trading post” located along the beach, some 120 metres southeast of the railway grade. Just a couple of metres off the beach, Bruce showed me two large depressions in the ground, oriented north to south. They were about a metre deep and separated from each other by about a metre and a half. Bruce had deduced that these were the cold storage cellars below the hotel. Some of the “walls” of the hotel could be made out (mostly small mounds now), and they were littered with nails. This building would have had quite a breathtaking view of the lake!

Beach north of the hotel, Leeblain, June 2013.

Beach north of the hotel, Leeblain, June 2013.

Beach south of the hotel, Leeblain, June 2013.

Beach south of the hotel, Leeblain, June 2013.

Cold cellar, Leeblain, June 2013.

Cold cellar, Leeblain, June 2013.

Nails at the hotel, Leeblain, June 2013.

Nails at the hotel, Leeblain, June 2013.

View of the lake from the hotel, Leeblain, June 2013.

View of the lake from the hotel, Leeblain, June 2013.

View of the lake from the hotel, Leeblain, June 2013.

View of the lake from the hotel, Leeblain, June 2013.

Several metres west of the hotel one finds a small trough or ditch in the ground. A few metres in length, it deepens as it runs west and ends in another depression surrounded by mound walls. Bruce had suspected that this was a root cellar, with the trough being the ramp into it and a wood structure above it. I found a few items in it, but most appeared to be more recent additions to the area.

The hotel is the subject of most of the mystery at Leeblain; as a two-storey structure, it must have been quite a large building. However, it is not shown on the best map we have of the area done in 1911; in fact only one of the 9 buildings at Leeblain is on that map, presumably what is the station near the railway siding. The evidence that Bruce provided me with (both his own discoveries and what was told to him by local natives) and what I saw with my own eyes clearly indicates that the structure was there…so what happened to it? That same 1911 map reveals a collection of structures at Gunflint Narrows near Magnetic Lake. An article written by Bruce’s mother Justine in the 1960’s mentions a station, hotel and customs house at the Narrows. My theory is that the structure was abandoned or moved to that location sometime between 1893 and 1911.

Western Gunflint Lake, International Boundary Map 1931 (1911).

Western Gunflint Lake, International Boundary Map 1931 (1911).

Bruce and I looked around unsuccessfully for some of the other structures in the vicinity, but that search may have to wait until the fall when the leaves are down. We were joined on our exploration by friend and amateur archeologist Harold Alanen who has spent a lot of time on the lake. After Bruce and Sue left to return to Gunflint Lodge, Harold and I began the next phase of our search with the metal detector. Our previous visit to the area last August turned up some very fascinating items under the ground and this time was no exception. Tons of nails, cups, pots, a pry bar and the big prize, a skate blade, all reveal glimpses of life in this turn of the century settlement. Maybe the video I shot does everything more justice.

Pot?, Leeblain, June 2013.

Pot?, Leeblain, June 2013.

Skate blade, Leeblain, June 2013.

Skate blade, Leeblain, June 2013.

Cup, Leeblain, June 2013.

Cup, Leeblain, June 2013.

Pry bar, Leeblain, June 2013.

Pry bar, Leeblain, June 2013.

It was another very successful visit and our discoveries make me eager to return and find more. I obviously cannot turn back the clock and repair the past damage, but I am quite determined to preserve and protect this very important piece of our history. I am working both through the Historical Society and on my own to accomplish this goal. I know that it is a slow and tedious process but one that needs to be done. Maybe awareness is part of the battle; maybe my words, images and video are making a difference. Only time will tell.

Anyway, it’s time to move on…marking to finish! It will be a quiet couple of weeks as I won’t be able to get out hiking for a few weeks (I need to catch up on some stuff around the house). However, I’m sure I’ll have plenty to talk about next week. Until then…

 
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Posted by on June 18, 2013 in Hiking, History, Miscellaneous, Railway, Travel, Writing

 

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Soaring eagles and killer blackflies!

I was lucky to get out with my life. They were huge, and there were a lot of them…actually clouds of them. It was like a scene out of the Walking Dead; hordes of blood-thirsty man-eaters looking for blood. They were inescapable, around you wherever you went and did. And no matter how many you killed, there were always more swarming around you. My body bears the scars of my harrowing escape-scars that have not yet healed.

Facetious, always; funny, maybe; based on a true story; you betcha! Hope you like my attempt at literary wit. So I’m back kids! After a well-deserved week break, I’ve returned to the keyboard, more or less in one piece. Obviously I’ve been referring to the swarms of mosquitoes and black flies I encountered on my expedition this weekend (the bites of which I am still scratching while I type). The respite was nice; I was actually too busy to write more than anything else. But we’ll just say it was a vacation.

So speaking of vacation, there’s only 7 days left until exams…halleluiah!  I know, I know, poor teacher, two whole months of holidays to worry about. I need a break though. The last few weeks have been crazy and very stressful; I need to get away for a bit and recharge the battery. Even as I sit here and write my head is pounding and I’m thinking about the essays beside me I need to mark. I guess soon enough I’ll be able to clear my mind and just focus on my family and some me stuff for a while.

One of the things that kept me from writing last week was our annual spring football camp. I know it was only three days, but it does take up quite a bit of time in what is already a very hectic period. It was worth it though; 26 Grade 9’s and 8’s came out to prepare for next season. We did a couple of days of drills followed by a game of two-hand touch to wrap up the camp. I always love that last day as the coaches get involved as well…it’s nice to be out on the field for a change. I had a ton of fun-had a big stretch pass break-up and a pick six, but boy did my body hate me the next day! My hip flexors were so tight I could barely walk. Must be getting old! On a positive note, we have finally moved the program into the next arena of social media; you can now visit us on Facebook!

On Saturday I finally made it out to my second railway “hike” of the year. I use the term hike lightly, as there wasn’t a heck of a lot of walking done, mostly exploring you could say. This adventure took me and the boys back to the North Lake area, somewhere we hadn’t been since last spring. That trip took us to Little North Lake (west of North Lake) in search of telegraph poles and insulators. I made a big discovery of an intact insulator still attached to the wire beside the rotten remains of the pole; I was determined to find more.

The drive to North Lake is about 105km from my house, which normally takes about an hour and a half. However, since I was going to be towing my boat, I would need to drive a bit slower this time around. It was a beautiful morning and the lake was very calm and tranquil. By 10:30 we were heading west across the lake toward Trestle Bay. My newer, bigger boat made the 4.5km journey much quicker and in 10 minutes we had arrived at the site of the once mighty 1000 foot trestle that spanned the bay.

North Lake, June 2013.

North Lake, June 2013.

I always love visiting Trestle Bay, and while I’m there try to imagine what the trestle used to look like that spanned this long bay. The water is very clear and the depth is fairly shallow (9-15ft), so on a calm day you can clearly make out everything resting on the bottom. In addition to pilings and rails, there is a 1952 Pontiac sitting submerged on the side of a large rock bed (the chrome is still shiny). It’s a bit of a mystery as to how it got there.

Trestle Bay, June 2013.

Trestle Bay, June 2013.

Eastern abutment, Trestle Bay, June 2013.

Eastern abutment, Trestle Bay, June 2013.

1952 Pontiac, June 2013.

1952 Pontiac, June 2013.

Heading from the east side to the west is very neat, but also very freaky. There are still pilings that jut upward from the bottom, massive 12+ inch logs still in their place 121 years after being driven through the mud to the bed rock. It’s kinda fascinating to see. Last year I was sent an image that was taken from the air in 2007 when the lake level was very low (the rock bed that today is 3 feet under water was above the surface). It almost appears as if the trestle is still there, hiding below the water.

Piling, June 2013.

Piling, June 2013.

Pilings, June 2013.

Pilings, June 2013.

Pilings, June 2013.

Pilings, June 2013.

Trestle Bay, July 2007 (B. Rushton).

Trestle Bay, July 2007 (B. Rushton).

From Trestle Bay we headed west toward the end of the lake and into the narrows that leads to Little North Lake. That area of the boundary waters is always breathtaking and on Saturday it was no exception. As we neared Little North I could see eagles soaring through the sky, looking for a meal or roused from their perch by the sound of our boat. I even caught one is the distance as I snapped a picture of the lake. I always wish I could spend more time on the lakes to see and experience their natural beauty.

Little North Lake, June 2013.

Little North Lake, June 2013.

A few minutes later we arrived at the end of Little North, where the water spills westward through a small creek into Little Gunflint Lake. It was at this spot, presumably during the construction of the railway in 1892 (there is no definitive mention of it), that one of the most unique objects in the railway history was built. The creek itself is not very wide (and it looks as if its course was altered by the engineers), so they fashioned a marine railroad to move boats carrying supplies between the two lakes.

Small rails were laid across the spit of land between in the two lakes on the Minnesota side. A small cart with railway wheels was fashioned, attached to a manually operated capstan. This allowed the laden boats to be winched across to Little Gunflint, thus keeping the work crews far from the rail head well supplied.

I was hoping to get some good video of what is left of the tracks and capstan, as well as the creek itself. However the water was high from our recent rains and so I decided to postpone until later in the year when the lake levels are lower.

Marine Railroad, Little North Lake, June 2013.

Marine Railroad, Little North Lake, June 2013.

Creek between Little North and Little Gunflint Lakes, June 2013.

Creek between Little North and Little Gunflint Lakes, June 2013.

After poking around for a while, we made our way back east about 600m. Just off a small bay on Little North was a spot where I had previously found a telegraph pole and the map also indicated that there were at one time some buildings. I had found a very well preserved telegraph pole (they were put up in 1903) in this spot back in 1997. At that time, the crossbeam was still attached to the pole. When I saw it again in 2011, time had taken its toll and the crossbeam had fallen off. I don’t normally grab too much stuff when I hike the railway, but I decided that this object would soon fall apart and it might be worthwhile to save it and get it into a museum or something. God, I feel like Indiana Jones…”it belongs in a museum!”

Telegraph crossbeam, June 2013.

Telegraph crossbeam, June 2013.

I did poke around for some remains of buildings north of the grade. I figured that these buildings were the Ontario Forest Ranger cabins indicated on another old map. I didn’t see any foundations or anything, but it has been a long time. I did find some old cans, but it’s tough to spend a lot of time in one place, especially when you have young kids with you.

Back in the boat we went another 1000m back toward the east end of the lake. It was at this spot that I had found the intact insulator. My goal was to grab some of the wire (to preserve the authenticity of it) and maybe find more poles and insulators.

When we arrived at the spot, I grabbed the piece of attached wire and immediately began following the rest of the wire through the bush. It is rather tough, since the wire in many cases has been on the ground so long that trees have now grown over it. The initial piece led to a dead end, as did another piece I found a short distance away. About 150m to the east I found a shard of an insulator beside a round hole in the ground, which could have held the pole. The bush then became very grown in, so I decided to turn around and head west.

I walked about 150m west from the previous site until it once again became very dense growth. I was a bit disappointed, but I thought that I should retrace my steps, this time a little closer to the grade. My perseverance paid off, for lying next to a tree and previously hidden from my view was another intact insulator (the tree had grown on top of the wire). This time I snapped off the wire away from the insulator and coiled it around a tree branch for easier retrieval. I obviously was quite excited by the find and it makes me want to go back and look for even more. I need to get a metal detector so I can find the poles and wire in the ground!

Insulator, June 2013.

Insulator, June 2013.

After my great find I realized it was now getting close to 2 o’clock, so we needed to head back to the truck. Our decision was helped by swarms of black flies that had made walking around insufferable, despite an ample application of bug dope. It was also quite hot along the closed-in railway grade, so it felt good to get out on the open lake. Loading the boat also became quite the ordeal, as we were beset by more blackflies and mosquitoes. This is where I probably acquired most of my battlescars that I spoke so eloquently about earlier.

Little North Lake (ON left, MN right), June 2013.

Little North Lake (ON left, MN right), June 2013.

Unlike the two previous hikes/adventures of this year, I have a very short turnaround between trips this week. I have the day off on Friday, so I will be driving down to Leeblain on Gunflint Lake to do some exploring of what remains of some of the buildings that made up that ghost town. I’m pretty excited to see what turns up, though the drive diminishes some of that zeal. The road into Leeblain is one of the worst ones I’ve ever experienced and I don’t relish my trips over it. The last 20 miles into the lake are particularly pleasant and enjoyable!

Anyway, time to go; lots of things to do. Of course I’ll have tons of news and pictures for next week. Until then…

 
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Posted by on June 11, 2013 in Hiking, History, Miscellaneous, Railway, Writing

 

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It’s about time!

Yes, yes it was. Talk about venting months of frustration. You know, when you can’t wait to do something and it finally happens you’re so giddy with excitement that you cannot contain yourself? That was me on Saturday. And no, I’m not talking about doing yard work, ‘cause we all know my feeling on that subject (besides, that was Sunday’s agenda). It wasn’t a stroll in the park and I was pretty beat afterwards, but it was well worth it. No, I’m not some addict getting my fix, but then again I could be since I can’t wait to do it again. Not making sense? Obviously you’re not visiting this blog on a regular basis…read up!

So we’ve arrived at the end of May. There are only 17 days left before exams…yikes! That’s not a lot of time kids! There is still so much to do, and to top it off, I’m out of the classroom for 6.5 days in these last few weeks. Talk about craziness. How I am going to get everything done? I guess I will manage like always, but I’m really finding it hard to plow through all of my marking. Besides, no teacher is ever caught up on their marking…ever!

One of the things that is going to keep me busy over the next week is our annual spring football camp. Yesterday I travelled to our feeder school Pope John Paul II (or PJP) along with another coach and a few players to plug the camp to prospective Grade 8’s. It should be a good three days of football skills and fun. Hopefully we will be joined by a couple former Fighting Saints alumni who are currently playing university ball here in Canada; I think these young athletes will really enjoy the experience.

Things have been both quiet and busy on the railway front. I worked on a few small items for the historical society, though I do need to get cracking on the poster and website. The website is of particular importance, as it will be one of our main means of providing information to the public. We’re also planning to have a page for society membership, which hopefully will attract more people to our organization.

So the biggest news of the past week and the obvious title of this post, involves the hike I did on Saturday in Minnesota. It was so good to get out and do some hiking on the railway (actually, it was great to get out period). I had been looking forward to this outing for quite a while, really since my visit to Gunflint Lake in March (I’ve written about it so many times over the past month or so). Unfortunately I left my usual hiking partner Loki behind, but I was joined by my oldest son Ethan, as well as my friend and Cross River Lodge owner John Schloot.

After an uneventful 2.5 hour or so drive from Thunder Bay to Gunflint Lake, I stopped at the lodge to pick up John. From there we proceeded the approximately 5km to the southern trailhead of the Centennial Trail. Once we were ready, we headed back up the Round Lake Road (County Road 47) to where it intersects with the Gunflint Trail. It was there that we picked up the old railway grade, and proceeded to follow it for about 200m to the east (it eventually disappears under the Trail).

Grade near the Gunflint Trail, May 2013.

Grade near the Gunflint Trail, May 2013.

We then headed back to the west, retracing our steps until we crossed back over the Round Lake Rd. From there the grade skirts a ridge as it makes a large arc through a swamp and begins to climb the opposite ridge. The engineers did this as the railway needed to climb about 200 feet as it leaves the valley of the Cross River and heads toward the Paulson Mine. It also required an elaborate double trestle switchback to make the grade sufficiently low enough for the trains to negotiate the climb. One can actually see a rock embankment almost 100 feet above the swamp on the southern ridge of the valley.

Cutting, May 2013.

Cutting, May 2013.

Railway embankment on the ridge, May 2013.

Railway embankment on the ridge, May 2013.

It is rather interesting walking the round edge of the loop as it curves through the swamp. The grade has obviously settled into the ground, but beavers have conveniently used it as the base for a large dam. At the southern end of the curve, the line passes through what looks like a large hill, but what is in actuality an esker. From there the slope of the grade becomes very noticeable as the line ascends the ridge passing through several cuttings and rock cuts. The distance from the esker to the western side of the first trestle is 230m, while the rise is about 11.5m (38ft); that makes the slope near 5%. Craziness! I can’t image how the trains would get up that grade, but worse, how loaded ores cars could negotiate the decent and curve.

Swamp loop, May 2013.

Swamp loop, May 2013.

Esker cutting, May 2013.

Esker cutting, May 2013.

At the eastern end of the ridge, the engineers were confronted with a valley opening to the north directly in their path. The simple solution was to build a 150 foot trestle across the expanse, but they would have to cross this valley a second time. From the east side of the trestle, the railway skirted around to the south side of the ridge for 250m, passing through a very large rock cut. Previously overgrown, this area has now been cleared by the US Forest Service and will probably become part of the Centennial Trail. Eventually the grade merges with the Round Lake Rd next to the Cross River.

Lower rock cut, May 2013.

Lower rock cut, May 2013.

At this point was located a switchback, which meant that the train now changed to another track and reversed its path along the ridge at a higher elevation. The grade continues for another 200m, through another large rock cut until it reaches the valley once again and crosses a second 150 foot trestle. Portions of this upper line have also been cleared and we made an interesting discovering. Previously obscured by the brush and part of what I assumed was the grade, was an immensely large pile of blasted rock lying between the upper and lower lines. Likely taken from the two rock cuts, it is a bit of a mystery as to why this pile was created and left in that spot. My best guess is that it would eventually have been used to replace the wooden trestles with rock embankments.

Rock pile, May 2013.

Rock pile, May 2013.

Upper rock cut, May 2013.

Upper rock cut, May 2013.

One of my goals of the hike was to shoot some new video of the area, and in particular, with John’s help, film the double trestles from the far sides. It must have been something to see those wooden structures one on top of the other on the side of the ridge (I’d love to find someone who can do some sort of drawing or CGI of what it would have looked like). My attempt was partially successful; I sort of underestimated how much forest growth was in the area. The upper trestle turned out okay, but at the lower one I was obscured by the trees. I was able to get enough footage to create two videos which have already made it to YouTube (Part I & Part II).

Loop and switchback in Minnesota.

Loop and switchback in Minnesota.

After concluding our very enjoyable “walk” through the bush, we headed back to the lodge to drop John off. Ever the gracious host, John invited us in to share some lunch and conversation with him and his wife Rose. I know he really enjoyed the hike, and I hope to get to visit him in the summer. If I can wrangle it, I’d like to spend a few days at the lodge in the fall and hike the Gunflint and Lake Superior Railroad. We’ll have to see how things play out at that time.

After saying goodbye to John and Rose, Ethan and I drove the 17km farther up the Gunflint Trail to the Chik-Wauk Museum. It’s a very beautiful old building (it used to be a lodge) and has some great historical displays. I did have an ulterior motive however, which was to drop off one of my railway posters to the museum director Ada. Gotta sell the website right? From there it was back to Grand Marais, dinner and then home. We rolled into the driveway at about 7:45, which made it almost a 12 hour round-trip. Boy was I pooped, and so was Ethan; he uncharacteristically slept in until 8:30 the next morning!

I’m really hoping to get out again this weekend. I’d like to go to North Lake with both of the boys and see if we can find ourselves more telegraph poles and maybe some insulators like we did last year. Right now Mother Nature doesn’t look like she’s going to cooperate however, but things seem to change very quickly around here. Let’s hope for the best.

Anyway, time to get rolling. With any luck I’ll have more adventures to talk about next week. Until then…

 
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Posted by on May 28, 2013 in Hiking, History, Miscellaneous, Railway, Writing

 

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Mother nature sucks, but lunch was epic!

Cryptic? Of course; you wouldn’t expect any less of me! I think the title pretty much sums up the state of affairs around here. It has been a crazy, depressing and frustrating past seven days…I’ll try to express it all in words!

So I might as well start off with the crappy part, namely…wait for it…you probably know it already…the weather! Yes, the weather. The stupid freakin’ weather. If I talk about it anymore, people will start to think I have some serious issues (maybe I do-I did say Mother Nature sucks). I can’t help it though, it’s really starting to make me (and everyone else) rather crazy. What is driving most of this angst is that I cannot go out and do what I want to do, which is hike.

So if you read this blog with any regularity you’ll know that I’ve been dying to get out hiking for the past month. First it was the cold, then snow, and now rain. Obviously I did not get to do my planned hike in Minnesota for the long weekend; I unfortunately spent it cooped up in the house all 3 days (well, accept for a few hours on Saturday morning). Remember this time last year when we had that biblical flood? Well, let me tell you a story!

So the forecast called for some rain this weekend, which here in Canada is the traditional start of the summer camping/outdoor season. Then the rain was upgraded to a lot of rain; then it was a flood. Talk about déjà vu! We had a huge deluge last May 28th, and they were talking about rain in the same proportions. So it rained most of Saturday, Sunday and off and on Monday. I thought it was over, but we’ve gotten another big dump of rain today. Fortunately there has not been the widespread flooding that we had last year, but are some flooded areas and road closures. I’m not sure of the exact count, but we’ve had something like 70-80mm of rain so far…I guess hiking in this area is out for a while.

Backyard flooding, May 2013.

Backyard flooding, May 2013.

Backyard flooding, May 2013.

Backyard flooding, May 2013.

Anyway, now that we’ve passed the May long weekend we’re on the downward slide toward the end of the school year. It’s going to be a crazy, hectic 23 days. Teaching, football and graduation will make it all interesting. On top of all of that, I have 6.5 days that I’ll be out of the classroom for various workshops; that’s more than a quarter of the remaining time. Insanity! I will do my best to keep my feet firmly planted.

Now one of things that will help is that our crew at work will try to squeeze in one more epic lunch before the end. Yes, you heard it, an epic lunch (hence the title). This is something we came up with last year and we have continued the tradition of excellence. What is it you ask? Well, it’s what it says, lunches of epic proportions. It was mostly inspired by the YouTube videos of Epic Mealtime. So we try and find culinary challenges to complete, which are usually not always to healthiest choices, but it makes for good time and company. So far we’ve done the 6 foot sub, 3-65” pizzas, Taco Time tacos and burritos, Chinese chicken balls and bonbons, chicken wings and the McDonald’s triple double (double Big Mac, quarter-pounder & cheeseburger). What’s next? Some dirty bird (aka KFC)?

The challenge revealed, May 2013.

The challenge revealed, May 2013.

About to dig in, May 2013.

About to dig in, May 2013.

Things have been very busy on the railway front, mostly with the historical society. We had a board meeting last week to plot our strategy for the upcoming months. A lot good stuff is coming up for the summer. At the beginning of July there will be a Horseback Riding event with proceeds going to the society. In August, the Silver Mountain Station will be hosting the 2nd Annual History Day, which brings together local historians and writers and allows people to learn more about the history of the area.

We’re also starting our first ever membership drive, which we hope attracts more people to the society. To help publicize our efforts, our website is undergoing a major overhaul, and we’re having an advertising poster created (much like the one for the railway). It’s a pretty exciting time, and we hope that society grows and prospers. Be sure to join us if you’re interesting in preserving history!

So as I mentioned earlier, my plans to go hiking last weekend were derailed by the weather. I am hoping to try again this weekend. It might be a bit wet, so for the first time ever I may have wear my stylish rubber boots in the bush. Let’s hope it’s not too bad. I am very glad however that my oldest son, Ethan, has decided to join me. It’s awesome that I can share my love of the outdoors and history with my boys, and teach them to appreciate what we have around us. My youngest, Noah, will soon be six and I imagine he will be joining us on longer hikes soon enough.

Anyway, time to roll; lots of stuff to do in a short week. Hopefully I will have good news to report next week. Until then…

 
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Posted by on May 21, 2013 in Hiking, History, Miscellaneous, Railway, Writing

 

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