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Category Archives: Hiking

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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The view from the Balcony

I think I’ve mentioned on many occasions that I love the Boundary Waters between Canada and the US; North and Gunflint Lakes are my favourite places in all of this area. It is probably the combination of remoteness, beauty and history that draw me to it and continues to do so. I’ve already been there a lot this year and I wish I could be there even more. If you’ve ever been there you’ll know what I’m referring to…it’s all in the view!

Sunrise, Gunflint Lake, July 2014.

Sunrise, Gunflint Lake, July 2014.

So it is hard to believe that my vacation is already half over…where did the time go? I can answer my own question very easily though. I have not been home very much; this past week is my longest stretch I’ve been at home since school ended. Unfortunately the weather this year has not been very cooperative, with quite a bit of rain and crazy temperature swings. Hopefully things steady up for August.

So last week was a busy week for me on the railway front as I had a number of events on the go. Things got rolling on Sunday the 20th when I travelled down to Gunflint and the Chik-Wauk Museum for a presentation on the Paulson Mine and the railway. There was a good turnout on the front porch of the museum and the audience was very interested in the history of both enterprises; there were a lot of questions afterwards. This was my second appearance at Chik-Wauk and I decided this time around to place my focus more on the mine as opposed to the railway. You can watch the presentation online here.

My trip to down Gunflint had a dual purpose, the second of which was to do a bit of field exploration on a little project that I am working on. I mentioned in my last post that I am planning to write an article on the Gunflint and Lake Superior Railroad, which was a little logging line that branched off the PAD&W at Little Gunflint Lake and travelled several miles into Minnesota. The last time I had done any extensive exploration of the G&LS was way back in 1997.

I was up very early on Monday the 21st as I wanted to get going before things got too hot. The temperatures were supposed to be close to 30C in the afternoon. My other big concern of the day was the wind; Gunflint Lake is over 11km long, very narrow and situated in a valley. When the wind picks up, especially from the west, the water gets very angry. My ride from the Cross River Lodge was slowed by the waves, which were already up at that time, but by 9:30 I was on the beach at the eastern end of the lake.

The first part of the day would involve following the G&LS grade north-east to where it intersected the PAD&W. I was last in this location in July 2011 and in addition to the timing, the weather was eerily similar. That time I walked 13km from Trestle Bay to the same sandy beach in some killer heat…I’m pretty sure I had heat exhaustion. Before the day was over, I would find myself in a similar situation.

Until the 1999 blowdown, the grade of the G&LS in Ontario was a nice little trail about 400 metres long. The blowdown and 2007 fire unfortunately did a number on it and I remembered how difficult it was to explore from my experience 3 years earlier. My plan was to hike to the PAD&W, cutting a trail and marking it for future exploration in the fall or next spring when it would be more visible without the leaves. It would be a little more challenging without my trusty machete (which first hiked with me in 1994) since I wasn’t comfortable taking it across the border. That left me with my K-Bar knife, another trusty friend, but its packs a little less punch than the machete.

It did not take me very long to realize that this would be a difficult journey. Away from the lake it was stifling hot in the bush, and the thick forest growth made it very difficult to cut a trail. Very quickly I was dripping in sweat and the mosquitoes and black flies were eating me alive (even active bug dope doesn’t last long with that kind of perspiration). It took me over 2 hours to cover all 800 metres, which is rather ridiculous (most people can walk that in 20 minutes).

After photographing the area where the grade crossed into Minnesota, I jumped into the boat for a 1.5km journey around the peninsula to where the railroad rounded a bay and crossed a small river. However, try as I might, I could not find a place to beach the boat to start the hike. I was forced to backtrack to the narrows between Gunflint and Little Gunflint. It was a bit of a challenge getting into to the narrows; this year with all the snow and rain, the water on the lakes is several feet above where it normally is. I had to fight a very strong current coming through the narrows before I could beach the boat.

Boundary Marker, Gunflint Lake, July 2014.

Boundary Marker, Gunflint Lake, July 2014.

G&LS Crossing, Gunflint Lake, July 2014.

G&LS Crossing, Gunflint Lake, July 2014.

G&LS Crossing, Gunflint Lake, July 2014.

G&LS Crossing, Gunflint Lake, July 2014.

It was after 1:00 when I started on the 750 metre journey along the twisting grade to the bridge crossing. This was going to be an interesting hike for me, as I was entering some “virgin” territory if you will. I had only ever hiked about 100 metres of this portion of the G&LS so I was excited to see what I would find. The only downside was that the wind had dropped and the temperature was climbing fast.

This section of the G&LS turned out to almost as bad as the one I had hiked in the morning. There was a lot of deadfall and new growth, but there was a lot to see as well. For a logging railroad, this part of the line was very well constructed. There were a few sizable rock cuts, and rock fill had been used in a number of places. Corduroyed logs were still visible in the water under parts of the grade, exactly where they were placed some 111 years ago. I did get sidetracked a little bit, losing the grade for a short distance until I backtracked and got myself going in the right direction. When I reached the river crossing, I was unable to continue following the grade to its end due to some wet ground; it would turn out to be mute a point anyway since I slightly miscalculated the exact location of the crossing.

G&LS grade, Gunflint Lake, July 2014.

G&LS rock cut, Gunflint Lake, July 2014.

The journey back was a bit of an ordeal since the heat was beginning to take a toll on my body. Despite drinking water and Gatorade to keep myself hydrated, my legs began to cramp trying to negiotiate all the fallen trees and brush. I really had to will myself back to the boat and it reminded me so much of my experience in 2011. When I later returned to the lodge the thermometer was showing 94F, which works out to be 34C and with the humidity it was nearly 45C!

Now despite the searing temperatures, I was not finished for the day. Back in 1997 I had identified a piece of “machinery” near the site of the logging camp along the G&LS. It turns out that this was not some random chunk of steel, but rather a gear shaft from a specialized locomotive known as a Shay. Made by the Lima Locomotive Works, Shays were used typically on logging railroads because of the heavy grades involved. The kind folks at shaylocomotives.com had helped my identify one of the engines used by the G&LS as SN-164, but they wanted me to measure the shaft to confirm it. Turns out this shaft was not from SN-164, but most likely from another loco SN-683.

Shay shaft, Gunflint Lake, July 2014.

Shay shaft, Gunflint Lake, July 2014.

Unfortunately my next day of exploring was a bit of a wash due to some heavy rain overnight and some pretty wicked winds on the lake. I did venture out after supper for a quick run (which is a relative term, since it is 6km away) to Leeblain. I had not been there since last August, so I figured it was time for a check in. My excitement very quickly turned to disappointment though; I was not very pleased at what I saw, but I’ll save that thought for my later.

Wednesday was my last day and even though I was leaving, I was hoping to make up for some lost time. I had to move quick though, as I needed to be home by the early evening. My first stop across the lake was the site of the river crossing just south of Monday’s hike. I beached the boat and poked around a bit looking for the where the grade resumed. I became very frustrated when I could not find anything, so I jumped back into the boat hoping to find some traces of the bridge. Turns out I could not find anything as I was looking about 15-20 feet too far west. I’ll have to get back when I have more time and when the water is lower to expand this find.

From the river I drove 2.5km southwest to where the Crab River empties into the lake. There a 600 metre trail that heads west toward a beautiful set of falls known as Bridal Falls and about 40 metres beyond that is the grade of the G&LS. I was last there in 2011 and the trail at that time was much easier to negotiate; this year’s weather left sections of the route very wet and muddy. However arriving at the falls was well worth the walk, but that would have to wait for later.

The falls had more water cascading over its rocks than I ever remember seeing, which made it a real challenge crossing over the river toward the railroad. Before the 2007 fire there was an amazing wood corduroy trestle beside the falls, but that is a story for another time. Starting at the top end of the former trestle, I worked my way up and south over the ridge toward Crab Lake. Eventually after about 200 metres the grade became too wet for me to follow so I decided to leave it for my return trip in the fall.

G&LS rock cut, Gunflint Lake, July 2014.

G&LS rock cut, Gunflint Lake, July 2014.

Before I had to make my way back across the lake to the lodge I had a little spare time to do something that I haven’t been able to indulge in in recent years. Since I caught the “bug” in the early 1990’s, I have always loved photography. Before marriage and a family I had time to do both the railway and photography, but those times are long gone, so it is very rare that I have time these days to take photos. I found myself getting a little giddy as I snapped away!

Bridal Falls, July 2014.

Bridal Falls, July 2014.

Bridal Falls, July 2014.

Bridal Falls, July 2014.

Now one of the biggest results of the whole trip was what I discovered at Leeblain. I didn’t have a lot of time to poke around, but I did check over the rock ovens. I found that two of the three remaining intact ovens had been tampered with. I don’t think it was a malicious act, but rather an attempt an individual (or individuals) to help? clean up the ovens. However at 122 years old and having been through a lot of turmoil in the past 15 years, this is not the type of interference they need. Unfortunately this is not the first example of someone trying to “help” these historic sites. I have followed this up with a series of emails; I’ll see what transpires.

Rock oven, Leeblain, July 2014.

Rock oven, Leeblain, July 2014.

Rock oven, Leeblain, July 2014.

Rock oven, Leeblain, July 2014.

Anyway, I better get rolling. There’s a lot to digest in this post, so I better save some for next time. Until then…

 
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Posted by on July 31, 2014 in Hiking, History, Railway, Research, Writing

 

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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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