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Category Archives: Hiking

Are we done yet?

We’ve all been there before. You know what I’m talking about…that feeling. What feeling you ask? It’s that I’m at the end of my rope, there’s nothing left in the tank feeling. I am so there and beyond. I’m like a little kid waiting in eager anticipation for something that cannot come soon enough. What is it you ask? Well, here’s a hint-rocker Alice Cooper wrote a pretty great song about it ;)

So if you have not guessed it (and you should since I’m a teacher), I’m talking about the end of the school year. Hallelujah! Yes, we have finally reached the end of the year! I know, poor teacher right? Such an easy job and now you get two whole months off to relax. Well, if you’ve never done it before, you don’t know how mentally (and physically) draining it can be. I am pooped! As I’ve mentioned before in this blog, I’ll be using this time to “recharge the batteries” and prepare for the start of another year in September. For now however, I am not thinking that far ahead and I’m focussing on the foreseeable future.

Even though we are days away from the end of the year, my work is not done yet. Yes, all my exams are done and marks have been submitted, but I still have one more thing to do. Believe it or not, this task is actually going to involve me putting in some overtime. I am supposed to be done on Friday, but I will not officially be done until Saturday night. Confused? Let me explain.

So I’ve mentioned several times on this blog that I would be travelling to the University of Minnesota-Duluth with the football team to participate in their team skills camp. Well, that time has arrived! We leave tomorrow morning bright and early (7am to be exact) for the 3.5 hour drive south to Duluth. We’ll be taking 23 players (4 Gr. 9’s, 17 Gr. 10’s and 2 Gr. 11’s) down to the camp, along with 7 coaches on a charted bus. I’ll be taking my own truck though as I need to pick up a few things on the way home. It’s been four years since we’ve gone to this camp, and based on our past experiences, it should be a fantastic opportunity for everyone involved.

So if everything goes to plan, it will be a short turn-around once I get home from Duluth. My wife is scheduled to do the Advanced Placement Math course in Toronto on July 1st, so we decided to make a trip out of it. She’s flying down on June 30, and I’ll follow her down a few days later with the boys in the van. Ethan and Noah are really looking forward to the trip, especially since were planning to go back to Wonderland (Noah couldn’t do much last year because of his broken arm), visit the Medieval Times and watch the Toronto-Calgary football game.

If anything, this trip will be a good start to my much needed vacation, but it will also get me away from the depressing weather around here. Now I’m sure you’re probably tired of me bitching about the weather, especially since I’ve been doing it for the past year. I can’t help it though…it’s bloody awful! All it does is rain. The ground is still very wet from all the snow we got over the winter and it hasn’t really dried out. It’s rained the past few days and I’m sure everything is saturated by this point. I don’t really care if this summer is really hot, but it would be nice if it could just dry out.

Now you know why I want things to dry out…it makes it really hard to do any hiking if the bush is wet. Right now all the creeks and rivers are high, as are all the swampy areas which the railway does run through. I’m hoping that by the time I get back from Toronto it will have dried out a bit. I’m scheduled to do a presentation on the Paulson Mine and the railway on July 20 at the Chik-Wauk Museum and I’d like to get some field work in after that. Fingers are crossed.

Now speaking of hiking, I did get some in a couple weeks ago. I was back in Minnesota with the idea of exploring some of the mines and test pits along the Centennial and Kekekabic Trails. I had not been to one mine shaft, located (ironically) at Mine Lake, since 2010.

I was up bright and early on Friday the 13th for the 2+ hour trip down to Gunflint. I would be by myself for this hike, since the boys were on a PD day from school and wanted to spend the day at my mom’s house. I was a bit concerned about how things would go, since it did rain a bit the day before and the ground was very wet. By 10:30 I was on the trail heading west toward the Mine Lake shaft, 3km away. It was a bit cool that day, but the strong wind mercifully kept the swarms of black flies and mosquitoes away. It was nice to be out in the bush, especially as I passed by all the history in the area.

After about an hour of walking, I arrived at the west end of Mine Lake; during the time of the railway it was known as Akeley Lake. On the way in I had attempted to look for a series of test trenches that were supposedly located at the east end of the lake, but I was not really sure what I was looking for. I did make one surprise find about 50m from the shaft, which was an adit along the north side of the trail (I had been there in 1998 and 2010 and missed it both times). That led me to explore a mass of rock work that was located just west of the adit and on the opposite side of the Kekekabic Trail from the shaft. It appeared that a whole section of the ridge had been subjected to a massive amount of blasting.

Railway grade near the second switchback, June 2014.

Railway grade near the second switchback, June 2014.

Adit, Mine Lake, June 2014.

Adit, Mine Lake, June 2014.

After carefully exploring the blasted area, I moved south to visit the shaft. Unfortunately I was disappointed with what I saw. The Akeley Lake shaft was the best preserved mine shaft in the whole area and now it had become the worst. The 1999 blowdown and the 2007 Ham Lake fire removed all of the forest cover in the area and now it has all begun to grow back. The opening was so wide open and easy to see into before, but now it is clogged with deadfall and trees growing along the shaft collar that you can barely see into it.

Akeley Lake Shaft, June 2014.

Akeley Lake Shaft, June 2014.

Akeley Lake Shaft, June 2014.

Akeley Lake Shaft, June 2014.

Akeley Lake Shaft, August 2010.

Akeley Lake Shaft, August 2010.

On my way back to the Gunflint Trail I spent my time shooting some new video of the test pits alongside the trail. I even went on a little adventure to look for what I thought were some other test pits but came up empty. I am looking forward to heading back down to Gunflint after my return from Toronto. In the meantime you can watch my videos from the hike here and here.

Iron rocks, June 2014.

Iron rocks, June 2014.

Test pit #5, June 2014.

Test pit #5, June 2014.

Test pit #1, June 2014.

Test pit #1, June 2014.

So since it will be a while before I’m able to do more field work, I’m going to be doing a “different” type of field work while I’m in Toronto. What kind of field work could I possibly do in Toronto you ask? Well, the archival kind. Yes, for the first (and only) time since 1999 I am paying a visit to the Archives of Ontario. The Archives has some really important files pertaining to the railway and I can’t wait to take a look at them with a more mature and discerning eye. I’ll be sure to write all about it in my next post.

Anyway, I better get rolling. I’ll be back in a few weeks with the latest news. Until then…

 
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Posted by on June 25, 2014 in Hiking, History, Railway, Travel, Writing

 

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Three times is not a charm!

We’ve been here before right? This is now the third year in a row that this has happened. Déjà vu? (from French, literally “already seen”, is the phenomenon of having the strong sensation that an event or experience currently being experienced has been experienced in the past, whether it has actually happened or not). A very clinical answer from our friends at Wikipedia, but it seems to be the best way to describe what has gone on. Unfortunately this is not the good type of repetition and it is very frustrating, in my opinion anyway. Cryptic? For sure…I haven’t done that in a while.

So what’s new and exciting Dave? Well, there’s not a lot of “new” stuff, but there’s certainly a lot of “excitement” going on. I guess I should clarify, for “excitement” may not be the correct term to use…maybe controlled insanity is better. Ya, let’s go with that. It’s now June, obviously, but this generally is one of the busiest times of the year for me. So many things going on!

Work is a big part of the current craziness. There is the ever-present marking that I can never seem to get ahead of (the only time you’re ahead of your marking is at the end of the year). We’re down to our final 10 days before exams and there is the usual rush to get everything wound up on time. Isn’t it supposed to get easier as you get older and more experienced? I’m finding it gets more challenging!

This week we started into the annual spring football season, though it began on a sour note on Monday, which led to a cancellation of that first session (ya, it ties into to the title). That left us with only two days of camp, but it still turned out to be very productive nonetheless. Now my time on the grid iron is not over though; our whole program (junior and senior) will be travelling to Duluth, MN at the end of the month to take part in the annual University of Minnesota-Duluth team camp. So I’m staying on the field for two more days to help get the kids ready to participate in that event.

Well, I should get to the title of the post shouldn’t I? What’s your best guess? If you said the weather, you’re the grand prize winner…cheque is in the mail! The end of May was absolutely fantastic; it was sunny and very warm. June unfortunately hasn’t been so kind, especially with regard to the rain. In May 2012 we had a pretty massive storm that dumped a lot of rain on the city and caused some flooding. Last year it was the same story; almost the same itme of the year, but with a little less rain. It was like a broken record this past Monday, with a good dose of rain that put a damper on just about everything. It is so frustrating! We had such a long and terrible winter and things were just starting to look up. Don’t get me wrong, it’s not the end of the world, but the ground is still very wet and it’s been a long wait for it to dry up. Now we’re starting all over again.

Why am I so concerned about how wet everything is? Well, as someone who likes to spend a lot of time in the outdoors, it makes it very challenging to get out there and hike. I was hoping to go out again this weekend to North Lake, but I had to push my plans back another week. Fortunately I was able to go on my first walk of the year a couple week’s ago and it was great to get out.

This hike took me to the Minnesota portion of the railway and I had been planning this for quite some time. I was really anxious to try out my new video camera and capture the grade in the grandeur of 1080p! The boys accompanied me on the hike, along with my old friend Terry (our hiking adventures go all the way back to high school) and my friend John from the Cross River Lodge. I actually needed some help on this walk since I had been itching to shoot some wireless footage of the 400-foot trestle near the Paulson Mine.

It was a nice drive down to Gunflint Lake as it usually is. After a brief stop at the Lodge to pick up John (and for Terry to get his caffine fix), we made our way to the southern trailhead of the Centennial Trail. After a short walk the trail merges with the former right of way and then it is about 600 metres to the trestle. On the way I decided to re-shoot a few areas that I previous taped in the fall (I really wanted to see what it would look like with the new camera). When we arrived at the trestle location I was already sweating; it was a beautiful, sunny day with temperatures already pushing the mid-twenties before 11am. The sweat would become profuse very quickly!

We set everything up and John would man the camera as I made my way into the valley and then up the fairly sheer face of the western side of the trestle. My biggest concern was if the wireless mic would work at such a distance (I tested it to over 450’ at home); thankfully it performed flawlessly. The leaves had yet to open on most of the trees, so it made for a pretty clear shot across the valley. After the filming was done, we all headed over to the western side to resume the hike. It was pretty interesting trying to get everyone up that cliff safely, especially the boys, but we able to do it without any incidents. On the way we came across a lot of metal bridge remains, even a spike still embedded in a piece of wood.

The grade on the west side of the valley had been blasted right out of the side of the cliff. The valley is over 100 feet below the railway (I approximated 50-80’ in the video) and the cliff above is rough 30 feet above the railway. It is really something to see! In the past 122 years many large boulders have fallen from the blasted cliff face and now sit on the grade, making it very challenging to walk. From the western side of the trestle it is approximately 300 metres to where the Centennial Trail re-acquires the grade; at points it is very heavily grown-in and not easily navigated. We ended our hike here, and slowly made our way to back to where we started. The video turned out great (with the exception of me repeating myself a lot); you can watch it here.

Lower grade from the Centennial Trail, May 2014.

Lower grade from the Centennial Trail, May 2014.

Looking west at the 400' trestle, May 2014.

Looking west at the 400′ trestle, May 2014.

Spike in wood, May 2014.

Spike in wood, May 2014.

Metal bridge parts, May 2014.

Metal bridge parts, May 2014.

Blasting hole, May 2014.

Blasting hole, May 2014.

Looking east at the 400' trestle, May 2014.

Looking east at the 400′ trestle, May 2014.

John graciously invited us to stop in to the lodge for some lunch and it was nice to relax for a bit. Afterwards we headed farther up the Gunflint Trail so Terry could take a look at the Chik-Wauk Museum. The visit also gave us some time to walk around on some of the trails at the site. From there it was getting close to supper time, so we drove back to the Gunflint Lodge for what would be a great meal. The temperature was now topping 28C and it was almost *gasp* too hot to be outside! It did cool off considerably as we headed home and got closer to Lake Superior. In any case it was a great day and I’m looking forward to my next opportunity to visit Minnesota.

Gunflint Lake, May 2014.

Gunflint Lake, May 2014.

Anyway, I better get rolling. I was planning to add more recollections from my twenty years of railway work, but I’ll save that for my next post. Until then…

 
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Posted by on June 5, 2014 in Hiking, History, Railway, Writing

 

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It was a really long walk!

Have you ever wondered how far you’ve walked in your lifetime? Too bad we don’t come with built-in pedometers. We’ve all probably walked a lot during our lifetimes, but is it always with a purpose? I know I’ve walked a lot in my forty years, and I can honestly say that there has been a lot of purpose in my steps. Yes, I’m referring to my many walks along the railway; I wish I had a pedometer for that as well. Ninety-two miles of railway were built and I’ve covered a lot of those sections many times over. I wouldn’t even begin to guess how many miles I’ve done over the years. There was one time in the last twenty years that I knew exactly how much of the railway I covered, but that’s a story for later.

So it’s been a crazy couple of weeks since I last wrote. It’s to be expected though, as the approach of the end of the year always brings with it a plethora of things to do. Thank God it is nearing the end of June as I don’t think I could handle much more of this.

Well, what’s keeping you busy Dave? I guess the answer is what isn’t keeping me busy! School is very hectic as usual. I’m trying to keep up with the marking and we are going to be timetabling for next year very soon. Things are ramping up in football as well. A couple weekends ago the coaches from the University of Minnesota-Duluth were in town putting on their annual coaching clinic and camp. I spent the Friday night learning a few new things about coaching defense, while Saturday and Sunday were spent at the LU Hanger watching Ethan go through various drills. This week we met with our Grade 9’s and travelled to our feeder school, Pope John Paul II, to talk about our upcoming spring camp.

The weather is slowly warming, though as is typical in the spring around here, the temperatures can be all over the map…beautiful one day and freezing cold the next. We seem to be about three weeks behind where we should be in terms of the progress of the season. I’m desperately trying to catch up on things around the house that should have been done a while ago but that I couldn’t due to the weather (and we all know how much I love yard work!). A few weeks ago I trashed part of my backyard pulling the boat to the front yard; it’s going to be a treat trying to fix the damage once everything dries out.

This past weekend was a little bit longer due to Monday’s Victoria Day holiday. Traditionally this marks the beginning of the summer camping, fishing and hiking season, but it wasn’t the usual hub-bub due to the delayed spring conditions. I had been planning to go down to Gunflint to do some hiking, but I had to postpone. I’m going to try again this weekend…hopefully we get the +20C they are calling for! I’ll be hiking the railway along portions of the Centennial Trail with the intention of shooting some new video of the area (with my fancy new video camera). Fingers are crossed!

So if you recall I left off in my last post talking about my twenty year involvement with the railway. It was the summer of 1994 and I was in the midst of a great trek to explore a remote, neglected part of the railway along North and Gunflint Lakes. At the time the area was very inaccessible due to the lack of direct roads; the only real way to get in was via North Lake, which was an ordeal in itself. Fortuitously some family connections gave me a little bit of help in making this trip happen.

In those days one could not simply drive in to North Lake; due to some terrible road conditions, I had to walk the approximately 9km in from Addie Lake while carrying all my gear with me. You can do those things with a little more ease when you’re 20 years old! The next obstacle in my path was the famed Trestle Bay, which was spanned by a 1000 foot trestle from 1892 to 1909. It would take an hour plus ride by boat from the east end of North Lake to the narrows between Little Gunflint and Gunflint Lakes where I left my gear, and then another half hour back by boat to my drop off point at the western side of Trestle Bay. The searing late August heat made the 6km hike from Trestle Bay westward to my campsite at the eastern side of Gunflint Lake quite the ordeal, but I made it.

The next morning I was up bright and early as I had a daunting task ahead of me; I would be walking the remaining 12km of railway right to the Gunflint Narrows where the railway crossed into Minnesota. I had never seen this part of the railway and I was amazed at all the rock work that had been done along the shore of Gunflint Lake. Walking through Leeblain I saw the remains of the rock ovens for the first time; I was disappointed that I could not find the location of the Gunflint Cross which was approximately 1.5km west of the ghost town.

My original intention was to spend another day on Gunflint before I was picked up by boat, but after two straight days of walking and a big thunderstorm after day two, I was done. The question was how to get back? I formulated a pretty bold plan. I packed my gear and hiked the 6km eastward to Trestle Bay. When I arrived, I stripped down to swimming shorts, put my hiking boots and clothes in a garbage bag and proceeded to swim the 1000 foot expanse while fighting white-cap conditions and praying not to get impaled on an old trestle piling. The stupidity of youth! I made it across, got dressed and walked another 5km back to the east end of North Lake.

Rock cut, North Lake, August 1994.

Rock cut, North Lake, August 1994.

Rock cut, Gunflint Lake, August 1994.

Rock cut, Gunflint Lake, August 1994.

Rock oven, Gunflint Lake, August 1994.

Rock oven, Gunflint Lake, August 1994.

Rock cut, Gunflint Lake, August 1994.

Rock cut, Gunflint Lake, August 1994.

My North Lake hosts were shocked by my unexpected arrival and astonished by tale of how I got there. A short boat trip later I had retrieved my gear and was back on the trail toward Addie Lake and home. If you’ve been keeping track, the finally tally looked something like this: 9k+6k+24K+6k+5k+9k. I’m not sure about your math, but that equals nearly 60km in my calculator. I walked 60km in three days! This was either an incredible display of determination and fortitude, or just really stupid…I guess it depends on your perspective. Needless to say I’ve never done anything like that since, though I have contemplated a 60km journey along the Kekabekic Trail from Gunflint to Ely (I want to see the planned route of the railway between those two points). Maybe I’ll do it someday when the boys are older.

Anyway, I should get rolling. I’ll probably be back next week with more reflections of the past and some details from the weekend’s hike. Until then…

 
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Posted by on May 22, 2014 in Hiking, History, Railway, Research, Writing

 

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Reflecting on two decades.

Twenty years; for me, it amounts to half of my lifetime. Wow! I spent some time searching the internet looking for a quote to accurately describe my thoughts on this journey but I couldn’t find anything that fit. I guess that is a sign that I need to come up with something on my own; unfortunately I’m not really a master of the profound. Maybe I just need to speak from the heart, to say what I’m really thinking. However, that is usually easier said than done. I’ll give it a try in any case…but you’ll have to wait for it.

So, what’s new and exciting Dave? Well, here we are on the cusp of May and I’m still complaining about the weather. Yup, I went there. This has been quite the on-going saga with me (and everyone else for that matter) for the last year, but who can blame me. This winter does not want to end. It is so utterly depressing I cannot stand it any longer. The temperatures over the last month have warmed up a bit, but just as we seem to get ahead with the melting of the snow, we get blasted with another storm. This has happened three times in the last month-I’ve put together a nice little montage of photos to show you our progress, or lack thereof. I really hope that this it for snow; I and everyone else just wants to put this miserable winter behind us and hopefully move on to some warmer temperatures!

April 17, 2014.

April 17, 2014.

April 18, 2014.

April 18, 2014.

DSC_4788

April 19, 2014.

April 21, 2014.

April 21, 2014.

April 25, 2014.

April 25, 2014.

April 27, 2014.

April 27, 2014.

April 30, 2014.

April 30, 2014.

So with the arrival of May, we are now down to our last two months of the school year. It keeps getting faster and faster every year…it’s just a big blur! The worst part about it is there is so much to do in a little bit of time. You can never seem to get ahead on your marking, exams will be coming up in June and we will be starting to timetable for next year very shortly. On top of that there is a ton of football stuff coming up, such as spring camps and our trip to Duluth for the UMD team camp. Craziness!

Things have been fairly active on the railway front of late. As we move toward summer, planning has begun on our agenda for the historical society. We held our Annual General Meeting at the end of March, and we have a board meeting coming up next week. Planning for our flagship event, History Day, will be commencing at the meeting. There has been some discussion about moving the day into the fall, but my personal preference is to leave it where it is (I’m too busy in September). I’m sure we’ll get it all sorted out so we can start publicizing it as soon as possible.

Another reason why I’m anxious for the snow to go away and things to dry up is that I am itching to get out on the railway. I have a lot of field work planned this year and the sooner I can get out the better; besides, I just bought a new video camera and I’m dying to get things recorded in 1080p! First on my agenda is a visit to Minnesota to get some video of the grade before the trees leaf out. I also want to do the same with the Canadian portion of the Gunflint and Lake Superior Railroad before things get too green as well. In addition to day hikes, I’ve already booked two trips to Minnesota for the summer and fall; hopefully the weather cooperates with me.

So I actually have an ulterior motive for the July trip to Minnesota (well, besides visiting with my friend John at the Cross River Lodge), which is that I’ve been booked for another lecture at the Chik-Wauk Museum. If you remember I spoke there back in August 2012 and they’ve asked me to come back. I’m pretty excited; there was a great turn-out last time and I’m hoping it will be the same this time. If you’re in the area July 20th, you might want to stop by!

Alright, I guess this is the point at which I should explain the whole title thing, right? So here goes. In April 1994 a young guy was just finishing his second year of university and decided to satisfy a long-standing curiosity about a little know railway. What was supposed to be a short trip to the library to find a book to read became multiple trips and then became an odyssey once he realized that there were no books to be found. For some reason this railway seemed to fit all of his interests; history, the outdoors, research and a love of exploration. I was all of 20 years old.

In those early days there was very little information about the Port Arthur, Duluth and Western Railway, or Pee Dee (PD) Railway as it was often referred to as. There were a few maps, some relatively recent newspaper articles and a number of old photos. They all began to slowly form into the story of a long-forgotten railway. Eventually the visits to the library led to trips to Thunder Bay Museum and the files of one Clifford Brown.

Cliff Brown had recently passed away in 1991, but he had dedicated a large portion of the latter part of his life to unravelling the story of the railway. Many knew him as Mr. Pee Dee and were very aware of his work and presentations. His file at the museum was filled with old newspaper clippings, letters of correspondence and many personal notes. They were a huge source of information and provided many helpful insights into where to look for more information.

Research notes, April 1994.

Research notes, April 1994.

Besides rooting through archives and information, I really wanted to go out and explore the railway. My first experience with the PAD&W had been four years earlier in 1990 on my first ever moose hunting trip at North Lake. I had never been to this area before, and the property on the lake had only recently been purchased by friends of the family. I very quickly became enamored with the area, especially with all the discussion and mention of a “railway” that had once gone by. Walking the old grade and finding spikes and the remains of old buildings really intrigued me; I wanted to know more.

I found many old maps in the library, but looking at a map and determining where exactly the railway had been after been abandoned for 56 years was another matter. In some cases it was fairly simple, but in others it was a really challenging. You have to remember that the internet was just starting out, there were no Google maps or GPS and nature is very quick to take back what is hers. I was determined to trace the entire railway before I had to head back to school in September.

West of Rosslyn, April 1994.

West of Rosslyn, April 1994.

I spent a lot of time that summer slogging through rivers, getting eaten alive by bugs and often getting temporarily lost as I struggled to follow a grade that was now obscured by brush, washed out by floods, settled into swamps or rendered impassible by long burned out bridges. It was an ordeal at times to say the least. My journey that year culminated in a 3 day journey to probe the most remote area of the railway, the stretch west of Trestle Bay on North Lake all the way to the Gunflint Narrows. However I’ll save that story for the next post!

Anyway, I need to get rolling. Stay tuned for Part II of this retrospective coming shortly. Until then…

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

 

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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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