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Category Archives: Hiking

You win some, you lose some.

Well, it’s pretty much the story of life isn’t it? I think all of us have experienced this at various points during our lives. The ups and downs are all part of the journey and make it all that much more interesting. It can take on many different forms, whether it be about our relationships, careers, school or sports, it doesn’t matter. In this case, I’m referring to something a little different, but when aren’t I? Now that I’ve peaked your interest (or maybe not), I can blather on about a bunch of other stuff first.

So, here we are at the end of June. Despite my best intentions to write more often, it’s unfortunately been over a month since my last post…I guess there are too many other things to preoccupy my time. That means I have a lot to catch up on.

The end of June means that we are days away from the end of the school year. In my case, it’s technically down to one day; in reality I’m on the clock until Saturday, but that’s a story for later. As I’ve stated repeatedly in the past, this year has been a complete blur. The years seem to go by faster and faster. I can’t believe I’m almost done my 17th year of teaching at St. Patrick…geez I’m getting old! With my upcoming semester off, I only have 12.5 years left of teaching. Never mind the year, my life is turning into a blur!

On Thursday I’m forsaking the last couple days of school to travel with the football program to the University of Minnesota-Duluth team camp. We have 25 players heading down with us and as usual it should prove to be a fantastic experience. UMD Head Coach Curt Weise and his staff put on an amazing event for players and coaches alike. The weather is even supposed to cooperate for us while we are there!

With all this talk about the end of school and football trips, we must be heading into summer. Thank Jesus! Yes, I know, poor teacher; life must be rough with all the holidays we get. The fact of the matter is I’m tired and burnt out. It’s not easy teaching teenagers…or any kids for that matter. I know what it’s like being at home all day with my boys and I can’t imagine having them plus another 20 or more for 5 days a week. I’d need to take up drinking! In any case, the time to decompress will be nice and I’ll be able to spend some time with the family (and some me time too).

My railway time lately has been taking a beating with all the other stuff going on, but I hope to change that soon. With the end of the school year, I’ve already planned my first research session of the summer for next week. Last year I spent a whole day at the Cook County Museum in Grand Marais looking through the Arpin Papers, which are the records of Daniel J. Arpin, president of the Pigeon River Lumber Company. I managed to examine four of the books, which at 500 pages per book made for an interesting day. There are still a number of volumes to look at, so I imagine it will take multiple trips to finish it all. I’m sure I’ll be bug-eyed by the end, but I know there will be a lot of great information to come from it.

The beginning of summer of vacation means that I’ll have more time to spend doing field work which will make me immensely happy. At the end of my upcoming trip to Duluth I have a meeting scheduled with all the principals involved in the July exploration of Camp 4. Hopefully we can formulate a good plan to maximize our time in the area. In the meantime, I have a few other hikes on the books along the PAD&W and G&LS to tide me over.

My last trek into the outdoors occurred at the end of May and is reflected in the title of this blog. I was very excited to visit a an unexplored portion of the Gunflint & Lake Superior Railroad, but unfortunately it did not pan out as I expected. One of the biggest mysteries surrounding this little logging railroad is how far it extended into the Minnesota wilderness. It’s route from the PAD&W across the border and 4.5 kilometres to the ridge on the south shore of Gunflint Lake is very well documented. The next kilometre from the ridge to Crab Lake is a little more sketchy but generally known; it is here where the questions begin. According to statistics, the G&LS reached its maximum length in 1907-1908 at nearly 5.5 miles (far short of its planned 30 miles). That means there could have been another 4 kilometres of track beyond where it reached Crab Lake. Where the track was located and how far it extended toward Whisker Lake is unknown.

So my plan was to drive up the Gunflint Trail as far as Loon Lake and then go north to the Crab Lake Trailhead of the Border Route Trail. This access trail extends some 3 km from Loon Lake to Crab Lake and then another 1.5 km to where it meets the Border Route Trail. I would walk and the boys would ride their bikes to where the trail passes between Crab and Whisker Lakes and at that point try and locate any traces of a railroad grade. I hoped my new metal detector would locate any spikes that had been left behind when the rails were removed.

It took us about an hour to reach our destination; along the way I periodically swept the trail with the detector to see if there were any traces of a rail line along the south shore of Crab (I’m pretty convinced that this trail was indeed built in 1936 during a forest fire). At the east end of Crab and on toward Whisker, I swept around with the detector but nothing really turned up. Sometimes you can hype things up too much and end up disappointing yourself. I guess I just assumed I’d get there, find a whole bunch of spikes and see a clearly defined right of way. Most likely if the railroad did extend this far it was a temporary affair and there was not a lot of effort put into the construction of the grade. It’s not that I am giving up, but I’ll have to reload and rethink my strategy. Maybe continuing to follow the grade east from where it meets Crab might help me connect the dots. In any case, it was a nice hike and I got to spend some time with the boys. You win some, you lose some!

Border Route Trail, May 2015.

Border Route Trail, May 2015.

Border Route Trail, May 2015.

Border Route Trail, May 2015.

Whisker Lake, May 2015.

Whisker Lake, May 2015.

Border Route Trail, May 2015.

Border Route Trail, May 2015.

Border Route Trail, May 2015.

Border Route Trail, May 2015.

Border Route Trail, May 2015.

Border Route Trail, May 2015.

Anyway, it’s time to move on. I should be back shortly (I know, I say that all the time) with more news and photos. Until then…

 
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Posted by on June 23, 2015 in Hiking, History, Railway, Research, Writing

 

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It felt so good…

Yes, yes it did. You know the feeling don’t you? Well, I guess everyone does for that matter. What feeling you ask? It’s that “oh my god, I have not done this in forever” feeling. Catch my drift now? I bet you’re still confused though, because I could be referring to a million things right now. I hate to burst your bubble, but it’s not what you’re thinking of…especially if you’re thinking of that! Some of you may have figured it out, but the rest of you will have to keep reading.

So we have reached the middle of May and I’m not sure I’m going to make it another month and a bit. I am burning out very quickly. I have wayyyyyy too many things going on right now…I can barely keep my head above water. Funny thing is if you look back on posts from previous years at this time, I probably wrote the same thing. Not much changes from year to year I guess. What’s keeping me busy you ask? The answer is pretty easy; what isn’t? This is my “other” crazy time, with work, football and family all piling up.

As we near the end of the school year, there is a push to finish my marking, especially big items such as essays. There are a lot of meetings plus the usual timetabling for next year. Football spring training is creeping up fast and then there is the trip to Duluth for the UMD camp to plan for. The kids are busy with swimming and soccer and there are a thousand things to do in the yard (we all know how much I love yard work!).

I don’t think I could write a blog post without commenting about the weather can I? So, what to say…well, how about crap? The sun and warmth of April and the first part of May has been replaced with cold and rain. Makes me happy doesn’t it? Just when I thought things were looking up for a dry and hot spring and summer, Mother Nature has decided to dump all over that idea. I guess the up side is that there is still a lot of time for things to turn around…I hope!

With all the craziness of late, I have had a little time to spend on railway stuff. There has been a lot going on with the Silver Mountain and Area Historical Society as I reported in my last post. On the 4th the board was present at the city council chambers as we made our deputation to ask to have the CN Caboose donated to the society. I was very nervous as I had never done anything like this before and it was made worse by having to wait a long time for our turn to speak. I did my best to make our case to council; it is now up to them to decide if they want to keep it or donate it to us.

Alright, so let’s get to this feeling stuff shall we? Well, if you’ve read some of my recent posts you’ll know that I’ve been really looking forward to getting out and doing some hiking. Fortunately I was able to do just that last weekend. The plan was to drive down to the Minnesota side of Gunflint Lake and then take my boat across the lake to do some exploring on the Gunflint & Lake Superior Railroad.

Things went fairly well, though I did have to deal with a few wrenches in my plan. The day was supposed to be partly sunny, but the sun decided not show up until we were ready to leave. Then there was the boat. So last fall when I was at Gunflint, the motor seemed to be acting up a little bit. At the end of April I had it looked at and apparently it needed a new carburetor kit and had a loose ground in the throttle assembly. A week of waiting and $400 later I assumed everything was peachy. Wrong!

Gunflint Lake is approximately 7 miles long and normally it would take about 20 minutes or so for my boat to travel that distance. Not on this day. About two minutes into our journey, the motor started to sputter and then would not accelerate beyond 1/3 speed, even with the throttle wide open…obviously something was up. In any case, I was not about to let the day be ruined, so we puttered along at a snail’s pace. Twenty minutes became almost an hour to get across the lake!

Because of the delay, I had to modify our plans for the day. The first stop on agenda was the former Pigeon River Lumber Company logging camp at the east end of the lake. I mentioned back in February that I would be participating in some archaeological explorations at the site this summer, so I wanted to do some preliminary work to prepare. With the GPS in one hand, metal detector in the other and the boys in tow, I spent an hour or so documenting and photographing the area. For obvious reasons I don’t want to say too much about what I found, but I’m sure I’ll have more to say once the professionals have a chance to do their thing.

From Camp 4 we crawled our way north, first to the site of the second bridge crossing at the next bay and then to the international boundary. The water level is down a bit from last year, so I wanted to see how much more was visible of the bridge pilings at that second crossing. I think if it drops a bit more, there will be a lot to see, but it may be a challenge getting into that shallow bay!

At the international crossing, I had more exploring to do at the site of the former US customs house. It’s another place that does warrant some investigation and maybe that will get some attention once the logging camp is done. My big task was to try and see if an image in the files of the Cook County Historical Society was in fact the customs house. After taking some pictures and comparing them to the one in question, I’m pretty positive I’ve made a match. At some point I’ll have to get some exact measurements that will help with the identification.

International Crossing, May 2015.

International Crossing, May 2015.

G&LS Grade, May 2015.

G&LS Grade, May 2015.

Custom house flagpole, May 2015.

Custom house flagpole, May 2015.

Custom house location, May 2015.

Custom house location, May 2015.

G&LS Grade, May 2015.

G&LS Grade, May 2015.

Fishplate connector, May 2015.

Fishplate connector, May 2015.

G&LS Rock Cut, May 2015.

G&LS Rock Cut, May 2015.

G&LS Grade, May 2015.

G&LS Grade, May 2015.

With an hour ride back to Cross River lodge, that was my last stop for the day. Hopefully I’ll have a chance to get back to Gunflint in the next few weeks…if the weather cooperates. There are so many things to look at and such little time. Maybe next year when I’m off I’ll have more of an opportunity to get out into the field. Of course that will also depend on what Mother Natures has in mind.

Anyway, I think it’s time to get rolling. It is in fact Victoria Day, so I should get out and enjoy this wonderful holiday; oh wait. In any case, I’ll be back soon enough…until then.

 
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Posted by on May 18, 2015 in Hiking, History, Railway, Research, Writing

 

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Breathing is overrated!

Overrated? Well, I guess that’s a little too far. As usual I’m being a facetious, but I think it accurately reflects my life over the last few weeks. Breathing has certainly been a challenge and it really makes you realize how we can take something so simple and vital for granted. You’re confused right?

As some of you may have guessed, I’ve been sick…very sick. Actually, it’s probably the worst I’ve been in a long time. My oldest son Ethan became sick over the March break with a fever and a lot of coughing. Turns out he had a bronchial infection. From him it went to my younger son Noah, and of course to me. I had a number of days of fever, chills and headaches and then the fun started. I too must have had the bronchial infection because breathing became a chore. It felt like I had phlegm in my lungs, which made me cough, but nothing would come up. It was like I had smoked for 50 years! I was always out of breath and felt so run down because of it. It’s been over three weeks now and I finally feel like I’m getting back to normal. I’m still a bit sniffly, but it’s a million times better than what I was.

So despite my ill health of late, I am very happy. The snow is all gone…thank the Lord! We had some rain last week and a little dip in the temperatures that resulted in a dusting of snow, but I don’t care. The last two springs were brutal and it took forever for the snow to go away. This year is much closer to normal and hopefully that will translate into warmer days and a much better summer. That should help dry out the bush as well, so I might have more opportunities to go hiking!

April 27, 2014.

April 27, 2014.

April 2015.

April 29, 2015.

It’s hard to believe we are almost through April and by the end of the week we will be into May. Holy cow time is flying by! Before we know it, the school year will be over. May and June are usually a very busy time between work and family, so it will go by even faster. Things are starting to pick up with football and will get even more hectic in the coming months. Noah has had skills and drills the whole month of April, which I’ve been involved with. In June our school program will start our spring training camps, which will then spill into our trip to Duluth for the UMD team camp from the 25th to the 27th. Good thing I get paid lots to do it!

With everything that has been going on, and being sick, I have not had a lot of time to devote to railway matters. Much of my “railway” time has gone into the historical society. On March 29th we had our annual general meeting and I was acclaimed as the new president until 2017; new title, same responsibilities. We have a number of projects on the go, the chief of which is an effort to re-locate the “CN Caboose” from its current location at Prince Arthur’s Landing to Silver Mountain. It was originally donated to the City of Thunder Bay in 1990, but the group that was supposed to maintain it has since dissolved and it is in a state of disrepair. I have to go before city council and make a deputation to have it donated to the society…then we have to move it should they approve our request!

Although I have not had a lot of time to spend on the railway of late, I am looking forward to the start of hiking season. Last week I took my boat to have some repairs done and hopefully it will be ready for a trip to Gunflint by the second week of May. I’d like to take a look at a few things and possibly do a little site survey at the logging camp in preparation for the archaeological work happening in July. There is ice still on Gunflint Lake, but from what I understand, it should be gone by next week. Now I just need the weather to cooperate and I’ll be good to go. I’ve got a lot of explorations planned for this year and hopefully I’ll be able to get to as many places as possible.

Anyway, time to roll. I’ll be back before you know it with the latest news. Until then…

 
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Posted by on April 29, 2015 in Hiking, History, Railway, Research

 

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I can smell it!

It’s definitely in the air and we all know it. It’s one of the most anticipated events of the whole year and I know everyone (myself included) cannot wait until it’s in full effect. Technically it has already happened, but as you know there is normally a little lag. Confused? No you’re not; you know I’m talking about spring. Yes, glorious spring, when we shed the cold of winter and watch nature new itself once again. I love the smell of the air in spring; so crisp, clean and wonderful…and of course, sprinkled with the aroma of dog crap. Gotta love spring!

Well, as you can probably tell, I’m excited for the change in seasons. Not that this winter has been particularly terrible, but certainly it has not been pleasant since my last post. Things seemed to be fairly normal this year until we hit February and that’s when the fun started. It was cold, really cold; we actually broke a record set way back in 1936. The mean temperature in February was -19.6C, which is freakishly cold. The month of March seems to be going much better, with relatively normal temperatures. With the very cold springs we’ve had the last couple of years, it will be nice to see some warm weather and have the snow go away by April. In that regard, things are well on their way. A lot of the white stuff has melted in the last few weeks and it won’t be long before the rest goes. Good riddance!

Early March, 2015.

Early March, 2015.

Mid-March, 2015.

Mid-March, 2015.

Up the mountain, March 2015.

Up the mountain, March 2015.

Up the mountain, March 2015.

Up the mountain, March 2015.

Up the mountain, March 2015.

Up the mountain, March 2015.

So here we are nearing the end of March and are almost into April. The time continues to fly by! Now that the March break has passed, we are on the downward slide to June and things will only go by even faster. Unfortunately there are still a million things to do between now and then. Work, kids, football…the list goes on and on. It actually makes me tired thinking of all of it. Oh well, I’m sure I’ll get by just fine like I always do.

Speaking of keeping busy, there are many things on the go on the railway front. This coming weekend we have the Annual General Meeting for the Silver Mountain and Area Historical Society which I am in the process of preparing for. In addition, we have a lot of projects on the table, which while not generating a steady amount work, do get intense from time to time. I have one on-going email conversation for one project, while I had a meeting today for another. I’ve been nominated for re-election at the AGM, so it appears I’ll be working away on this for at least the next few years!

My research on the railway continues unabated as usual. Last month I sent a proposal to the Thunder Bay Historical Museum Society to gauge their interest in publishing a book on the Gunflint and Lake Superior Railroad. I have not heard anything official from them to date, but I am optimistic that they will like where I am taking this. The more I dig, the more intrigued I become in this project. It’s amazing how something that only existed for 7 years can have so facets to it.

With the prospect of a somewhat normal spring on the horizon, I am very hopefully that I can get an early start on the hiking season. It would be nice to get out in late April or early May before the trees start to leaf out. Maybe the bush won’t be so wet as it has been over the past few years and the lake levels will be lower. That will certainly make my life a little easier. Fingers crossed!

Anywho, I better get rolling…busy as you know! I’ll be back as soon as I can with more information and updates. Until then…

 
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Posted by on March 24, 2015 in Hiking, History, Railway, Research, Writing

 

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Digging for Treasure

So we’ve all done it, or at least imagined ourselves doing it. I guess it’s the allure of finding something exciting, or maybe it’s the whole process of discovery. Admit it, we’ve all fancied ourselves being like Indiana Jones, probably without all the people trying to kill us or all the gross snakes and bugs and stuff. Especially the spiders…I hate spiders! In any case, few of us get to actually do anything like that, and besides, archaeology is not anywhere near what it is portrayed in the movies. I’m not one, unless you could the railway archaeology I do, but I do have an idea of what goes on. It generally involves a lot of research and tons of careful, painstaking excavation in the hopes of finding some small artifacts…no Holy Grails or Arcs of the Covenant unfortunately! So where am I going with this? I guess you’ll have to read on.

I know that it’s been a while since I last wrote, but as usual, I’ve been rather busy. It wasn’t my intention to go this long between posts, but it kinda snuck up on me. We’re now just over a week into February and it’s amazing how quickly time is going by. Five more weeks and it will be March break…hopefully with some nice “spring” weather to go along with that, unlike the last few years.

With February comes a new semester and new kids. Things seem to be going well so far and it appears I have some nice kids in my classes. I have Grade 12U History again, along with the Grade 10 AP History and Grade 12U Geography online, which is a nice, little mix. As good as things are, I’m already looking ahead to next year at this time. Although not as bad as last year, this winter is really starting to drag and I need something to distract me from the monotony.

So what’s happening a year from now that’s so exciting? No work, that’s what! Yep, one year from now Jo-Anne and I will be on leave from teaching for the entire semester. Seven glorious months of doing whatever I want to do! As much as I love to teach, I have a life outside of the bricks and mortar on Selkirk Street and I plan to exercise it to the fullest. Although we do have a family trip in the works for February, the main reason for me taking this leave was to work on the railway.

Since I began researching the PAD&W way back in 1994, I realized that I would not be able to fully complete my work without a visit to the National Archives in Ottawa. The trick has always been trying to find first the money, and then the time to get there, so I figured that this would be one of the best ways to accomplish this task, and I’d also have time to do some writing and field work.

I’ve also got a couple of other side trips planned for next year. I’d really like to get a book done on the little Gunflint and Lake Superior Railroad, which has become quite a fascination for me. The US National Archives repository in Chicago hopefully has some files pertaining to the customs operation at Gunflint I’d like to sift through since I cannot find that data anywhere else (unlike here in Canada). There are also some personal letters belonging to Pigeon River Lumber Company VP Frank Hixon located at the University of Wisconsin-La Crosse that might prove valuable. Should make for an interesting road trip, since I’ve been to neither place.

Speaking of the G&LS, I’ve been keeping myself busy of late with more research. I spent an afternoon before New Years at the Thunder Bay Museum looking through some of their files, which yielded a few valuable leads (one of which I’ll mention later). I’ve also spent a bit of time digging on the Internet, which as usual answers some questions and raises a whole pile more. However, this is why I love this type of work; the excitement of the hunt and the satisfaction of making discoveries!

Even though it’s only February, I’m already anticipating the arrival of spring so I can get into the field to do some hiking. I’ve got a lot planned for this year, so hopefully the weather cooperates. I’d like to get out to the G&LS in early May, but that will all depend of how quickly the lake ices out. The past few years it has been very late due to the cold winter, which doesn’t really help me out. I want to make as many day trips as I can during the summer, and I already have the fall trip on the Thanksgiving long weekend booked.

During my Christmas break research I came across some information in one of the files describing some “finds” that were made at the Camp 4 (logging camp of the PRLC) site in the 1970’s or before. I passed along that information to my contacts at the US Forest Service who I know had done a cursory examination of the camp a few years ago. I’ve looked around site a bit over the years, but I haven’t done anything detailed other than examining the Shay line shaft located on the beach. That will change however.

This past week I was invited by the USFS to be a bit of a “historical adviser” for some exploratory work that will take place there this July. The digging will be done by the USFS in conjunction with archaeology students from the University of Minnesota-Duluth. I am very excited to be a part of this research, particularly since I am a historian and have never seen any type of archaeological work carried out. This is the reason why I’d like to get to Gunflint in early May so I can try and identify some potential sites for the experts. I’ll be sure (as usual) to report on everything that happens.

Camp 4 building site, Gunflint Lake, October 2014.

Camp 4 building site, Gunflint Lake, October 2014.

Camp 4 beach, Gunflint Lake, October 2014.

Camp 4 beach, Gunflint Lake, October 2014.

Anyway, I better run. Lots of things to do. I’ll be back soon enough with more news and updates. Until then…

 

 
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Posted by on February 10, 2015 in Hiking, History, Railway, Research, Writing

 

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Man I’m tired…

Is that straight forward enough? I figured I’d get to the point and not tiptoe around the issue. It’s like stupid tired at this point. Too blunt maybe? Well, frankly I don’t really care. I’m sitting here right now at 9pm and I feel like going to bed. My eyes are heavy and my contacts feel like glue. It’s a struggle to concentrate and organize my thoughts. So what’s the story morning glory? Read on…

If you’re thinking it’s been a while since you’ve heard from me, you’d be correct. It’s been a very, very busy fall; hence the reason why I’m so tired. We are now into November and I can’t believe how quickly the last two months have flown by. What a blur!

If you’ve read this blog before you know that this time of year is the craziest for me with work and football. But some respite is on the horizon, and none too soon. Minor football is done for the year, so I’m no longer doing double and triple duty coaching. No championships for either of the boys, but I know they had a lot of fun on their respective teams. Next year they are both moving up, with Ethan going on the PeeWee and Noah stepping up to Atom.

Tomorrow is the last day of high school football as well; for the third time in four years we are playing in the championship game. We finished the regular season at 4-1, and defeated Hammarskjold in Tuesday’s semi-final game to make it this far. We are playing our sister school St. Ignatius for the second year in a row, who accounted for our only loss of the season. It’s supposed to be -5C with 30-50kph winds…wish us luck!

Besides the regular grind of work, the other thing keeping me busy is planning another trip to Europe. In 2017 Canada will be marking the 100th anniversary of the Battle of Vimy Ridge. Our board has graciously allowed us to go on the excursion and join the thousands of other Canadians who will be there. There has been a lot of interest in the trip and the toughest part is going to be selecting the lucky 21 who will make the trip. Departure in 881 days!

As you can imagine with the insanity that is my life I have not had a lot of time to devote to railway stuff. I have spent a little bit of time here and there doing some research or transcribing notes, but nothing major. Once things slow down a bit I’ll be back at it. However I did have the opportunity a few weeks ago to take a break from the grind and spend some time doing fieldwork. I also got to spend some quality time with the boys on Canadian Thanksgiving weekend…two of the things I’m most thankful for. This trip would be my second visit this year with my good friend John at the Cross River Lodge on Gunflint Lake.

The purpose of this expedition to the bush was to take a look at portions of the Gunflint and Lake Superior Railroad, much as I had done in the summer. Before that, I had last been on the G&LS back in 1997, which was a very long time ago. Much has changed since then, especially after the 1999 blowdown and 2007 Ham Lake fire. There were also sections of this railroad that I had never been on, and that did not appear on any maps, so I would be heading into some real unchartered territory.

It was supposed to be a beautiful weekend, so I decided to take the day off on Friday so we would have almost three full days of hiking. After a brief stop in Grand Marais for some food, we arrived at the lodge by 9am local time. A short time later our gear was stored and we were on our way across the lake. If there was only one complaint from the weekend was how windy it was on the lake. It is a 10 km ride to the east side of the lake and the wind it a rough and chilly ride. With extra layers, gloves and a toque, I felt like I was going to Siberia!

The objective of the first day’s hike was to explore about a kilometre’s worth line along the south shore of the lake. We beached the boat at the same backcountry campsite we used on our previous visit in August and proceeded up and over the ridge between the lake and the grade. The trek was much easier this time with the cooler temperatures and the lack of underbrush. A few minutes and 90 metres later we were standing on the grade. It was much warmer and less windy away from the lake, so we had to take a moment to shed a layer to keep from overheating.

We would first head east along the former right of way, a distance of about 400 metres, which would take us to a point just south of the former logging camp. Here we would have to turn back, as approximately 50 metres of grade has been submerged by a rather large beaver pond. The journey west would cover almost 900 metres, a walk highlighted by the beautiful fall folage.

A few metres west of our original starting point resides one of the great locations along the whole G&LS. On my 1997 trip I discovered a spot where a section of rails had been left in place; in August the boys and I re-acquired these rails and marked them on the GPS. These 40lb. rails had been purchased from the Illinois Steel Company in the spring of 1905 and are marked “Illinois Steel Co. Union 92 IX.” The absence of foliage made the couple sections of rail in this area a bit more visible than they were in the past.

A short walk further west brought to another section of rails that we had discovered back in August. These rails were unique as they were clearly part of a junction that formed a spur or siding. The ties are gone, but very visible are the metal spacers/separators for the rails. Working back east, I was able to determine that this was the western end of a siding. It is not indicated on the International Boundary Commission map which was surveyed in 1911, but it is very clear from the grading work on the ground. With a very steep ridge just south of this location, it makes perfect sense to have a siding in this spot to shunt loaded log cars in preparation for the trip over to North Lake.

Rails, Gunflint Lake, October 2014.

Rails, Gunflint Lake, October 2014.

Beyond the junction the incline of the grade grows increasingly noticeable as it passes through a cutting on a small hill before it turns south alongside the Crab River. To climb the large ridges south of Gunflint Lake, the railroad used the small hill to gain elevation. Instead of constructing an elaborate trestle to bridge the valley between the hill and the ridge, the engineers filled the chasm with corduroyed logs until they had the necessary angle and topped it all with gravel. This expedient structure was built around 1905 and lasted for 102 years. I was in awe when I saw it back in 1997, these stacked logs towering over my head. I would still be there today had it not been for the 2007 Ham Lake fire. The corduroyed logs, possibly soaked in creosote, were burned and stubbornly smoldered throughout the winter of 2007-2008. Afraid of potential flare-ups, the US Forest Service had to dynamite the trestle in March 2008.

Log Trestle, Gunflint Lake, October 2014.

Log Trestle, Gunflint Lake, October 2014.

The boys and I climbed 75 metres over the remains of the trestle and headed southward through the rock cut that had been blasted into the top of the ridge. After another 125 metres we arrived where the Border Route Trail intersects the railroad grade. We decided to follow the trail westward over the Crab River and then took the short branch to the north that bring you to Bridal Falls.

After heading back to the boat, it was across the lake to the lodge; unfortunately the wind had picked up and was now howling from the northwest. We absolutely froze on the ride, me more so as my face was being pelted by spray as I attempted to cut the whitecaps. It took me quite a while to warm up afterwards!

The next day we were up bright and early, and after the boys had (second) breakfast at the lodge, we started toward the east side of the lake again. It was already windy by the time we left, so I knew it was not going to be a pleasant ride back. Our task for the day was to follow the grade along the Crab River southward to Crab Lake. It would not be an easy walk, as there are very few traces of the railroad beyond Bridal Falls.

We left the boat on the shore of a small bay and walked the 500 metres of trail to the falls. From there we picked up the branch of the Border Route Trail that took us back above the falls. Our journey would be further complicated by a discovery we had made the day before; since my visit in July, beavers had dammed the river above the falls, flooding the grade for an unknown distance. I had to leave the boys for a few minutes while I probed for a way around the flooding. It took us an extra 100 metres of walking to detour around the pond, but eventually we got back on track.

Rock cut, Gunflint Lake, October 2014.

Rock cut, Gunflint Lake, October 2014.

Back on the grade, we followed the line south for another 140 metres before we reached another swampy area. The boys waited at the edge while I tried vainly to see if I could find any traces of the grade. After a little bit of wandering around I decided to see if the I could find something closer to river; big mistake! My misplaced step put me up to my knees in freezing cold water, which instantly flooded my rubber boots. The boys thought it was rather amusing as I sat on a rock and poured muddy water from my boots and attempted to wring out my sodden wool socks.

With the route of the grade in doubt, we found a trail that would take us southeast to a small lake formed by a bend in the river and cut out about 300 metres of walking (it was already getting tough on the boys). When we arrived at the lake I left the boys to eat a snack while I hiked westward along the shore of the lake to see if there were any traces of the grade. I walked about 120 metres and in two places found what appeared to be corduroyed logs sitting just below the surface of the water. Collecting the boys, we headed east and then south along the shore for another 200 metres.

Where the lake narrowed back into a river we saw evidence of what appeared to be blasting work through some rock for about 90 metres. A short distance later we passed through a small cutting and then reached Crab Lake. The boys sat and ate their lunches while I pushed further ahead a little bit along the shore. I was pretty sure I was on top of the grade, but there was no way I could drag the boys another 800 metres to the other end of the lake…it was time to head back.

Cutting, Crab Lake, October 2014.

Cutting, Crab Lake, October 2014.

We stopped briefly at Bridal Falls so I could take some photos of this very breathtaking cataract. I first saw the falls (also known as Bridal Veil Falls) back in 1997 and I have been back several times over the years. The boys were anxious to get back, so we didn’t linger very long, but I was able to get a few good shots.

Bridal Falls, Gunflint Lake, October 2014.

Bridal Falls, Gunflint Lake, October 2014.

The wind was howling again on the lake, this time much stronger from the west. Gunflint Lake is surrounded by high ridges on both sides of the lake and is oriented in an east-west direction. With a maximum depth over 200 feet and no features to impede the wind, it can become downright nasty when the wind is from the west. Poor Noah had the bumpiest ride of his life as we battled the whitecaps across the lake; I was very glad to finally make it back to the lodge!

I had promised the boys we would go “out” for supper one evening and Saturday was that day. After a wonderful shower in our room, we headed over to the Gunflint Lodge. We stopped for a quick hike along part of the Border Route Trail, which affords a spectacular view of the lake, especially the Gunflint Narrows. The meal at the lodge was fantastic; based on our previous experiences on portion size the boys split a triple-decker club between them. Dad opted for the Royal Trifecta, which on paper seems like a coronary waiting to happen. But since I walked 4.5 km cross-country and didn’t eat much, I demolished the hogie bun layered with ham, pulled pork and bacon with a great amount of gusto. It was delicious!

Gunflint Lake, October 2014.

Gunflint Lake, October 2014.

Our last day of hiking was “supposed” to be easier than the previous one, but as usual it didn’t turn out that way. The plan was to head north along the grade from the site of Camp 4 to where it crossed a creek, a distance of 1.5 km. Unfortunately the route proved much more difficult to negotiate than I anticipated, with a lot of deadfall from the blowdown and fire impeding our progress.

As with the previous days, it was quite cool on the lake, but we were forced shed layers on the walk, even though we were a short distance from the shore. We were forced to zigzag our way along the grade, climbing over or under fallen trees and chopping at branches in our path. We only made it about 400 metres before we turned back, since I knew the boys would not be able to handle the breaking trail work much longer.

Rock cut, Gunflint Lake, October 2014.

Rock cut, Gunflint Lake, October 2014.

On our way back, we came across a solitary rail just a few metres north of where Camp 4 was located. I tried to find some markings on it, but it was too badly worn. These rails, from the main line of the PAD&W to the camp, were originally laid by Canadian Northern crews in the fall of 1902. Afterwards the boys went back to the boat for lunch while I spent some time poking around the site of Camp 4 and shooting some video. I’ll have to get back at some point and see if I can turn up anything new or interesting.

After the boys had “recharged” with some food, we were going to finish the day by hiking from Camp 4 approximately 350 metres to where the grade is flooded by the beaver pond. Most of it was fairly easy to follow, though it does get a bit sketchy were the grade meets the dam and beyond. When we reached the eastern side of the flooded cutting we had hiked to on Friday it was time to turn back.

Cutting, Gunflint Lake, October 2014.

Cutting, Gunflint Lake, October 2014.

The next morning we headed home bright and early (and of course the lake was nice and calm). It was Thanksgiving that day so we had to give mom a hand getting dinner and the house ready for our guests. Hopefully the boys remember these expeditions when they get older…I told them they could tell their kids about their grandfather and his crazy hikes. I know I will cherish these times forever.

Anyway, I better get rolling; I have a an early morning and a very busy day tomorrow. I promise not to wait another two months for my next post. Until then…

 

 

 

 
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Posted by on November 7, 2014 in Hiking, History, Railway, Writing

 

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You can’t learn history sitting there!

Well, I guess technically you can, but history does not stop at the door of wherever you’re at. I’ve said it on many occasions in the past (hehe) that there is so much more to be learned when you “touch” history. There is only so much you can get from a book, a library or an archive; if possible, you need to get out and see whatever it is you are interested in or studying in person. It adds that physical element to our understanding of what happened in the past as there is only so much “reality” you can build into a written account. As it turns out, I have had the opportunity to study history both inside and outside over the past few weeks. Please, read on…

So, where are we? Well, we’re past the mid-point of August, and you know what that means. Yup, it will be time to head back to work soon…sigh! I know, poor teacher, had the whole summer off and now it’s back to reality. I realize it’s hard to get people to sympathize with our situation, but I think it’s a little different for teachers. You see, I still have two weeks left on my vacation but my brain is already thinking ahead to what needs to be done to be ready for the first day/week of school. I don’t know that many other people do that same sort of thing.

Now one of the things I need to start gearing up for is football, which as you know combined with work, makes my life go from the proverbial 0-60 in a matter of a few days. Schedules are already out and I have a coaches meeting on the books for next week. The trick now is to get my brain, which has been focussed on anything but football for the last two months, into that frame of mind. I really don’t even want to think about it right now, but as usual things will kick into gear as our start date approaches.

So this summer is the second year in a row that I haven’t spent a whole lot of time in the bush doing railway field work. There were the few days in July following my presentation at the Chik-Wauk that I was able to get out, but that was about it. With that in mind, I decided to get out again a week and half ago to follow up on a few things I missed on that earlier trip. This time was going to be just a day trip, so it was a bit of a challenge making sure I had maximum time on the lake. That meant leaving pretty early, since it takes 2.5 hours to negotiate the round-about journey from Thunder Bay to Gunflint Lake. I would also have the boys with me this time, so I would have to keep this in mind.

We were up and on the road early, so we arrived at our launch point, the Cross River Lodge, by 9:00 local time. A short time later we were zipping across the lake at maximum warp, which is about 21 knots for my boat (39 kph). I know the boys really enjoyed this part, since the lake which our camp sits on is pretty small, so we really can’t open up the throttle for very long. Our first stop of the day was going to be the spot where the Gunflint & Lake Superior crossed a small, unnamed river just south of the international boundary. I wanted to see if I could locate more of the bridge pilings and pick up the right of way on the south side of the river.

The lake was fairly calm, so we were able to see some of the pilings under the water and get some good shots of them. Hopefully the water levels will drop a bit next year so I can re-shoot this area with an even better view. After studying the maps and Lidar in a bit more detail, I was able to follow the grade on the south side very easily. The pilings there were now part of a beaver lodge, but I was able to beach the boat successfully. I only followed the grade for about 80 metres since the boys stayed in the boat and I did not want to wander too far. I should be able to follow it fully when I am there in the fall.

G&LS river crossing looking north, August 2014.

G&LS river crossing looking north, August 2014.

G&LS grade, August 2014.

G&LS grade, August 2014.

Our next stop was going to be a nice beach southwest of the river, near where the Pigeon River Lumber Company had its logging camp, known as Camp Four. The plan was going to be to follow the grade as it made its way southwest toward the log trestle and the big ridge on the south side of Gunflint Lake. We would walk about 500 metres and attempt to locate some rails that were still in their place that I had seen in 1997.

Unfortunately my plan came unglued pretty quickly. After securing the boat, the boys and I moved off the beach, found the grade and started our hike. After about 100 metres we ran into a snag; just east of the beach the beavers had built a large dam, flooding the area in front of what is known as Saucer Lake. With the high water levels this year, the dam had now flooded about 80 metres of the grade as it skirts behind a ridge. No problem right, just detour above the rail line? Unfortunately that didn’t work too well since the area is littered with deadfall from the 1999 windstorm and 2007 fire. By myself I would have been okay, but the boys are still young and they could not walk through all the new growth of bush and avoid the fallen trees. Back to the boat we went.

Plan B was going to be to walk down the beach a bit then cut across the ridge and try to get on the grade that way. We did do our best, but it was just too difficult trying to get over that ridge. Seventy metres or so doesn’t seem like much, and I would have had no issues by myself, but again the boys are too young to handle that type of serious bushwhacking.

Plan C. So my next thought was to take the boat about 500 metres or so further west along the shore to a point where the railway passed close the edge of the lake. We would still have to climb over the ridge, but I was sure this time we could just go straight over and not have to worry about any wet areas. As it turns out where we decided to beach the boat was a back country campsite, so the shore area was already cleared. It was about 90 metres to get up and over the ridge, but once we did, we found ourselves standing on the G&LS grade.

After the first few failed attempts, luck was on our side this time. Within the first few metres of walking the grade, Noah announced that he had found a rail. We had come down right in the spot I was looking for! In this area there are a few lengths of track still in place, the rails joined by two-bolt fishplates and marked “Illinois Steel Co. Union 92 IX.” Even more remarkable, we found what appeared to be metal ties under the rails. As it turns out, these metal “ties” were probably designed specifically for logging railways, so that the rails could be laid and then easily removed and used elsewhere.

Rail & connector, August 2014.

Rail & connector, August 2014.

Rail, August 2014.

Rail, August 2014.

The grade in this area seemed pretty decent to negotiate, so I decided we would continue to follow it until we reached the log trestle, which was about 450 metres to the southwest. A little further along the grade, it was Ethan’s turn to make a discovery. This time it was a set of double tracks, which left me scratching my head a bit; I had no idea what the purpose of this might have been. It only took a few more steps along the rail to figure out that this was a junction, complete with parts of the switch. Where this spur might have gone from there was a bit of a mystery.

Rail junction, August 2014.

Rail junction, August 2014.

G&LS grade, August 2014.

G&LS grade, August 2014.

We made our way to the bottom end of the trestle, the whole time noting how quickly the grade rises in a short distance (about 3-4%). It was very breezy on the lake, but stifling hot in the bush, so it was time to head back. I am really looking forward to going back in the fall and re-examining everything once the leaves are down and the visibility improves. Hopefully the weather cooperates and I’m able to accomplish all of my hiking.

North side of the log trestle looking south, August 2014.

North side of the log trestle looking south, August 2014.

So along with this field work, I’ve been spending a lot of time online, searching for material for the article I would like to write on the Gunflint and Lake Superior Railroad. My efforts have yielded quite a bit of information, and my file on this small logging railroad has very quickly expanded. I always quote this biblical line from the Gospel of Matthew to my students and they are certainly words to live by, especially as a historian-“seek, and ye shall find!” There is still much to do before I can even contemplate writing, but I have made a lot of headway.

Now one of things that has helped me out a lot is a little field work of a different type I did last week. One of my great guiding sources for this project is the history of Cook County, Minnesota, “Pioneers in the Wilderness,” which was written by Dr. Willis Raff in 1981. I had the good fortune to meet and chat with Dr. Raff back in 1997 before his passing in 2002. His book, which includes a chapter about the G&LS, has given me a lot of direction as to where to look for information.

One source that Dr. Raff used was a series of letters written by Pigeon River Lumber Company president Daniel J. Arpin known as the “Arpin Papers.” At the time of his research, these papers were in the personal collection of Lloyd K. Johnson, who was an attorney in Duluth, but originally hailed from Grand Marais. Johnson passed away in 2007, but with a little bit of digging I found that these papers were now in the possession of the Cook County Historical Society in Grand Marais. So last Thursday I went to take a look.

I don’t think I really understood what I was in store for when I decided to take a look at these letters. Raff stated that there were 9 volumes of letters, with 500 pages per volume…that’s 4500 pages! He said they were on “onion-skinned” paper, which really meant nothing to me; it only took me a few seconds to figure it all out! The letters are actually carbon copies of his correspondence with friends, associates and businesses. The vast majority are typed, but since they are carbons, the paper is tissue-paper like (hence the onion-skinned) and the text is purple. Some are easy to see, some are quite faded.

Arpin Papers, August 2014.

Arpin Papers, August 2014.

These letters were a gold mine of information, and I am very thankful they are still around. However, between the purple text, fine paper and the sheer quantity pages, I was bug-eyed and exhausted at the end of the day. It took me seven (yes, seven!) hours to go through 4 of the 6 volumes they have accessible (not all of the collection is catalogued…I’m hoping they have the other 3 volumes). I will need to make at least one more trip back (maybe two) to get through the rest of the books. That was just to look at them all though; I photographed the pages of interest on my iPad and now I need to go back and make notes from them!

Well, in any case I’ve yammered on too long. I’ll be back in a few weeks with more news and updates. Until then…

 
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Posted by on August 19, 2014 in Hiking, History, Railway, Research, Writing

 

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