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Gunflint Narrows 2012

This week’s episode of our YouTube tour of the PAD&W takes us to Gunflint Narrows, the Canadian terminus of the line (MP 85.5). From here the railway continued west across the narrow channel between Gunflint and Magnetic Lakes and into the State of Minnesota. A station and hotel were located in the area, along with a small population of settlers and Indigenous people. The First Nations considered the waters of the Narrows, the Cow-o-bob-o-cock (where the rock ledges come together), a place where evil spirits resided.

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Posted by on December 11, 2018 in History, Railway, Video

 

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Gunflint Cross

Hey, so let’s try something a little different for a change. Since I’m not always able to write a full blog regularly, I thought I’d copy a little initiative I’ve been doing on social media.

Since January, I’ve been featuring videos from my YouTube channel on social media, which highlight parts of the line. These videos date back to 1997 and I am still producing new ones regularly. Part of their purpose is to promote the history of the railway as well as to chronicle some of the physical remains of the line and its infrastructure before it all disappears. I know I started this many months ago, I am doing this rather mid-stream, but there never can be too much publicity. In any case please enjoy!

This week’s episode of our YouTube tour of the PAD&W takes us to the section of line west of Leeblain (MP 84). Here, in October 1892, crews were working a rock cut for the right of way. Unfortunately one labourer, Joseph Montegia, was tragically killed in a blasting accident. In his memory, his fellow workers carved a cross in the side of the rock cut near where he died. It still remains, 126 years later, as a silent tribute to all those that toiled constructing the railway.

 
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Posted by on December 3, 2018 in History, Railway, Video

 

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Well, it only took 16 years!

Well, it only took 16 years!

They, or at least someone at some point, said patience is a virtue. Well, if that’s true, I could be the poster child for that. It’s also been said that it’s not the destination but the journey getting there; it’s definitely been a long journey! I have however enjoyed every moment of this particular journey and those who I have shared it with. The reality of our world is that sometimes we have to wait for good things to happen and it certainly makes you appreciate it even more.

Hey, I’m back kids! I know, it’s been a while, but as usual, I’ve been a tad busy. In case you weren’t aware, I do have a job and a life. Too busy to write a blog? Well, ya, it does take time out of your life even though it’s just “writing.” And as anyone who writes will tell you, sometimes you try but it’s not working, the proverbial “moment striking you.” Anyway, what’s keeping me busy you ask? Well, what isn’t? We’ve passed the halfway point of the school semester, and no matter how much I get done, I’m always behind on my marking. Oh the life of a teacher. This week is the last of November, which means there is only four weeks until Christmas break. What a blur things have been…I don’t even know what to ask Santa for!

Besides school, I was particularly busy with football. The minor season ended in late October, with both boys making the finals with their respective teams. Unfortunately, they were both on the wrong side of very close games. However, they both played well in the fall and grew a lot as players and teammates, which makes dad proud. After 7 years, Ethan played his last minor football game as he will be joining dad at high school in September.

As for the high school campaign, our team finished in top spot with a 5 and 1 record, the first time that has happened in a long time. We won our semi-final game quite convincingly, and booked a spot in the finals, our first trip there since 2014. We would be taking on our cross-town rivals, the St. Ignatius Falcons, who we beat twice in the regular season. We scored first, and went into half with a 7-0 lead. By the fourth quarter we were up 21-7, but unfortunately we let them score late to make it close. Our defence came up big though, intercepting their last gasp pass attempt.

2018 SSSAA Championship final score, November 2018.

2018 SSSAA Champion captains, November 2018.

2018 SSSAA Champions, November 2018.

Our program had not won a Junior championship since 2002, a drought of 16 years. We had four previous trips to the final, but sadly could not come away with a win, losing two of those games by one score. It definitely plays into your psyche, as at times you question your abilities as a coach. However, we were very lucky to have an amazing group of young men who were extremely dedicated and willing to work hard all season long. I am glad they were able to come away with the title and I could help them cement their place in school history. With a solid crew coming back and a strong incoming group, hopefully we don’t have to wait another 16 years!

Since it’s November, it means that we’re on the verge of winter. Not like it hasn’t been “winter” for awhile; if you read my last post you’ll know it already snowed in early October. The weather hasn’t really improved since then. We’ve had some good days, but we’ve also had some rainy, snowy and bitterly cold days as well. I have no idea what this winter will be like as Mother Nature doesn’t seem to know herself. We had a bit of snow until a few days ago, and then it warmed up to +6C and it all melted. Who knows if we’ll have a brown or white Christmas this year.

Late Fall, November 2018.

So with everything going on, you’d imagine that I have not had a ton of time to work on railway stuff of late. On the contrary however, I have been a bit busy. In my last post I mentioned that I’ve been working on some research related to the early history of the Pigeon River Lumber Company and that has continued unabated.

When I was in La Crosse, Wisconsin in August, I was able to probe some of the interactions between the principal investors in the PRLC, well before the company was even formed. That led me into the tangled history of the early logging along the Pigeon River, making many interesting discoveries. If you don’t know, this is where I excel or it’s “in my wheelhouse.” I love the thrill and challenge of historical research, confident I can find exactly what I’m looking for.

What have I found you ask? Well, apparently there was an attempt to log the Pigeon River area well before the late 1890s, which ended in quite the controversy. Later, extensive work was done by the Ontario government to encourage/assist the later logging operations, which amounted to thousands of dollars. And then there is the matter of when exactly did D.J. Arpin, William Scott and the others become involved in the Pigeon River, which appears to be well a number of years before the company was formed in 1900.

While these discoveries have been huge, there have been some frustrations, namely tracking down all the information I require. It looks like I might have to do travelling again; places like the Cook County Museum is easily done, while the Archives of Ontario in Toronto might require a bit more effort.

With the Christmas break on the horizon, it means that I will be back to writing soon enough. There is still a lot to accomplish, and I hopefully I can get most of the book done by spring. The laundry list is quite extensive; complete/revise the first chapter, add the information from 1906 and complete the last couple chapters. This doesn’t even include anything about Camp 8/11, which I cannot finish until I wrap-up all the field work there next summer. However, for some reason, I am rather apprehensive regarding this session of writing and I’m not sure why. Maybe it is because I’m getting to the end and there is some finality to it all. I think though, it is because I’ve left the more difficult sections for last and I am worried about getting them right. Whatever the case, I’ll do my best to get it done.

Anyway, it’s time to go. I’ll probably be back before the holidays with a few thoughts before the close of the year. Until then…

 
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Posted by on November 26, 2018 in History, Railway, Research, Writing

 

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Hey, who opened the refrigerator door?

Hey, who opened the refrigerator door?

Refrigerator door? Is that a bad thing? Are we worried about the milk or something else spoiling? I know, it’s one of your ridiculous metaphors, but pertaining to what exactly? Well, if you’re a regular reader, you’ll know exactly what it refers to. So, what does Dave routinely write about, well other than the railway? Hmmmmm…

Welcome to fall kids! While fall is one of my favourite times of the year, as you know, it is one of the craziest. I cannot believe we are already halfway through October; what a blur. Work is extremely busy as usual and between that and family life, there isn’t a lot of time to breathe. As our kids get older, their schedules get more hectic, like everyday hectic. Gee, isn’t parenthood a blast?

One of the things keeping us hopping is minor football. Since the boys play in different divisions (peewee and bantam), they play on different days (Wednesdays versus Saturdays) and therefore have different practice schedules. That means we are going everyday of the week, especially with playoffs coming up. And all of that is on top of high school football, which is now entering week five. Thankfully I have a fantastic wife who makes it all work.

Unfortunately, the only negative has been weather. Yes, I’m back on the weather train. Maybe I cursed it in my last post when I said that it had been great, which it was. Sadly, that changed in a real hurry…it’s like someone flicked a switch or opened the fridge door. The first part of September was awesome but the last three weeks have been downright miserable. It has been rainy and cold nearly everyday. At times the temperatures have been 10 degrees below normal and we’ve had like 150mm rain during that time. Maybe we’ve been spoiled the last number of years with gorgeous weather in the fall and this is nature’s way of reminding us that it isn’t roses all the time.

Last weekend was Thanksgiving Day long weekend, which meant that the boys and I made our usual trip to Gunflint Lake for a well-deserved break from the grind. This was the sixth year we would spend the weekend with our friends John and Rose at the Cross River Lodge for some boys time and field work. We had been blessed the previous five years with fantastic weather, but alas our luck ran out. There was no respite from the gloomy weather, which included early fall snowfall.

We left home on Friday morning, a bit later that usual as it was raining but that rain was supposed to stop by mid-morning. On our way to the border we experienced some snow, which was just a harbinger of things to come. By the time we arrived in Grand Marais, where we stopped for some supplies, the precipitation had stopped. While there we noticed vehicles with a significant amount of snow on their exterior, which made us wonder what it would be like at Gunflint. As we drove up the Gunflint Trail we found out. At the mid-trail point, we could see that more than 10cm of snow had accumulated on the ground. As we drove, Ethan commented to me that it was ironic that we were driving through snow while towing a boat. Thankfully Gunflint was on the edge of the storm system and only received a dusting of snow.

Gunflint Lake snow, October 2018.

With some snow on the ground and very windy conditions, we decided not to head out that day. That gave me some time to relax, plan the hikes for the next few days and get ready for that evening’s presentation. As I had the two previous years, I would be doing a little lecture at the lodge on an aspect of the area history. This year it was Leeblain, the ghost town on the Ontario side of Gunflint Lake whose story was intertwined with that of the railway.

The next morning, we headed out on what was a foggy, misty morning. It was quite chilly, especially on the boat ride across the lake. The ground was wet from all the rain and snow that had come down, but it could have been worse had the summer not been so dry. Our first stop was Bridal Falls, or least the trail that takes you to it. Last year I had planned to shoot some video at the site of the former corduroy trestle of the Gunflint and Lake Superior Railroad beside the falls, but the batteries on my wireless microphone were dead. We managed to get that footage this time, as well as record the rock cut above it with Ethan’s GoPro.

Bridal Falls, October 2018.

From there we travelled 3km northeast to where the G&LS crossed a small creek just south of the international boundary. I had been there on several occasions before, but just like the corduroy trestle, I wanted to get some footage with the wireless microphone. On the approaches to the creek, we realized just how low the lake levels were. Parts of the shore I never seen before were exposed and water depth dropped to less than a foot. It was not easy to maneuver the boat around in that environment, but I managed. In the process, I made a neat discovery. Back in 2011, I was sent the image of a rail car brake wheel taken at the crossing by some of the guys from the US Forest Service. With the low water levels, I found the wheel as well, shocked that there was quite a length of shaft attached to it.

Hand brake wheel, Gunflint Lake, October 2018.

Hand brake wheel, Gunflint Lake, October 2018.

Our next stop was to the south at the site of Camp 4, which was the first of two logging camps belonging to the Pigeon River Lumber Company. Some of the areas logged by the company east of Camp 4 were several kilometres away, and I wanted to see if a spur had been built eastward from the main line. While my search came up empty for now, I did make some neat discoveries. I turned up a few horseshoes, and what I thought was a blacksmith hammer. As it turns out, it was a hammer, but not what I thought it was. After putting it up on social media, it turns out it was a snow knocker, a hammer used to remove snow and ice from the bottom of horse’s hooves, and there were many horses used for these logging operations.

Horseshoe, Camp 4, October 2018.

Horse snow knocker, Camp 4, October 2018.

On our way back to the lodge, we made a slight detour to the Gunflint Narrows, as the low lake levels caught my attention. I’ve been to the Narrows on many occasions in the past, but I don’t think I’ve seen the rocks and bridge remains that exposed before. We didn’t linger long, but I did manage to snap a few photos from my phone.

Gunflint Narrows, October 2018.

Gunflint Narrows, October 2018.

After breakfast on Sunday we left the lodge, this time by truck, for the day’s work. Our destination that day was parking lot for the Crab Lake Spur of the Border Route Trail near Loon Lake. The boys and I would make the long trek to the site of Camp 8, the second logging camp of the PRLC. After re-discovering it back in 2017, I had last visited the camp back in May. I had spent some time then taking measurements and photographs of the eight structures and debris there. The plan was have the boys help me take more detailed measurements that would help pinpoint the exact location of the structures.

Although it was not sunny, it was a bit warmer that day and the walk along the trail was pleasant. Fall is a beautiful time of the year to be on the Boundary Waters and this was no exception. My only regret is that opportunities to experience this are very fleeting.

Crab Lake, October 2018.

Crab Lake, October 2018.

Crab Lake, October 2018.

Crab Lake, October 2018.

Whisker Lake, October 2018.

Whisker Lake, October 2018.

Getting to Camp 8 requires quite a bit of “bushwhacking,” which was not particularly easy given the deadfall in the bush and the fact that it was still wet. Just after 11am we arrived at the camp and after a quick look at one of the debris fields, we started taking measurements. Ideally, I would love to have a sub-metre accuracy GPS, but the cost of such a device makes it prohibitive. I tried doing it the old-fashioned way, triangulating two structures to a central reference point. It didn’t really work out the way I thought it would, but it was worth the try.

I spent the remainder of time taking more photographs and recording the structures with my son’s GoPro. I though the wide-angle view of the GoPro would give a better perspective but unfortunately, I was only able to record six of the eight buildings as the battery died before I could get to what I believe are the two stables at the site. I’d like to go back next spring and finish the job, and maybe I can get my hands on one of those GPS to get all the data I need. The best discovery of the day was what I thought was part of a horse bridle near the southern wall of one of the stables. Turns out it is a bit, which helps to confirm my theory. Hopefully I can get some experts from the USFS in there at some point to do more detailed explorations.

Building foundation, Camp 8, October 2018.

Building foundation, Camp 8, October 2018.

Bridle bit, Camp 8, October 2018.

It was sad to head back home on the Monday, but I already booked our return visit for next year. Interestingly, the hikes I did at Gunflint was not the only railway related work I’ve done recently. If you read my previous post, my visit to La Crosse brought up some important leads, especially regarding the early history of the PRLC. This has led me to many new discoveries regarding the company and even other, earlier, attempts to log the Pigeon River. I’ll write more about these in my next post.

Anyway, it’s time to go. I’ll be back soon, likely when football is over and I have more time to breathe. Until then…

 
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Posted by on October 7, 2018 in Hiking, History, Railway, Research

 

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How can I be tired already?

The simple answer is yes, yes you can be tired Dave. But after only 4 days back at work? Yup, you sure can…it doesn’t matter if it’s 4 days, 4 weeks or 4 months. However, you know what would make the fatigue more epic? How about throwing a cold on top of it? Ya, that sounds like a great idea, because nothing makes the situation better like a stuffy, snotty nose, a sore, burning throat and horking up phlegm. Yes folks, the last few days have been absolutely fantastic!

It’s September and I’m back kids! It may seem that it has started as well as a train wreck, but in reality, it’s pretty good. It’s just hard to go from being on vacation for two months to extreme craziness in a few days. The worst part is that it has just become even worse as the boys’ football season has started up. I know, poor hard done by teacher complaining about how busy things are after a summer off. I get it, but that doesn’t make it any easier. I really feel like poop.

If it’s September, it means that summer is over; well, not officially but close enough. I wrote in my previous post back in July that the weather had been good and that is how it continued. This summer was one of the best we’ve seen in recent memory. We didn’t spend as much time at camp in August as we did in July, as the boys had football practices 3 days a week. Nonetheless, we were able to make the most of the time we were there.

Sunset at camp, August 2018.

Calm morning at camp, August 2018.

Last camp sunset, August 2018.

So as I mentioned, I began football early this year. The boys wanted to play summer ball again, especially Noah who missed the tournament last year and the entire fall season after suffering a very unfortunate concussion in practice. The only issue this time around was the format of the tournament, which changed venues from last year. On the Saturday, the teams were supposed to play some squads from Orono, MN, which is just west of the Twin Cities. A week or so before we left, we were informed that things had changed for a third time. Orono had been invited to play in a jamboree style exhibition and they stipulated that the organizers had to invite the Thunder Bay Minor teams too. The best part, the games would be played at US Bank Stadium, home of the Minnesota Vikings. The players (and the coaches too) were beyond excited as it is not very often that you get a chance to play in an NFL stadium.

The games were to be played on August 25th and 26th, so we left Thunder Bay on the 22nd. Our journey began with a one day detour to La Crosse, Wisconsin (which I’ll discuss later). I really enjoy La Crosse as it is a beautiful city, though we didn’t really see too much of it. The next day we headed to Minneapolis and I decided that instead of taking the interstate, we would take the more scenic Highway 61 along the banks of the Mississippi. It was worth the extra 20-25 minutes it added to the trip, as the views along the river were fantastic! Once in Minnie, we were able to spend a couple days shopping and relaxing before the boys had to play.

Scenery near Arcadia, WI, August 2018.

Mississippi sunset, La Crosse, WI, August 2018.

Lake Pepin, MN, August 2018.

On Friday night, the Vikings were hosting the Seattle Seahawks for a pre-season game, so we decided to take it in. Neither myself nor the boys had ever been to an NFL game, so it was going to be a very exciting experience. Our seats were in row 3 in the endzone, which gave us a fantastic view of parts of the game. You can view some of the great video I shot here.

US Bank Stadium, August 2018.

Seahawks vs. VIkings, August 2018.

The experience at US Bank Stadium was awesome. The stadium is both huge and small at the same time, if that makes sense (the stadiums look so much bigger on TV). The kids had a blast and I’m sure they won’t soon forget this opportunity. The only downside was that it was a warm day and there was no air moving inside the stadium; by late afternoon it was like a sauna inside there.

US Bank Football Jamboree, August 2018.

Field level at US Bank Stadium, August 2018.

Field level at US Bank Stadium, August 2018.

So unlike my last post, there has been a bit of movement on the railway front. In early August I paid a visit to the Lakehead University Library to do some research. I first had to find a few books that would help me fill in some missing areas in my book. I later had an appointment at the university archives, which held some files related to the Pigeon River Lumber Company (PRLC). These documents were from a much later period than I am working on, but I thought there might be a few tibits that might help me out. I didn’t find anything explosive (which I did in the States), but there were a few useful things.

PRLC fonds at the Lakehead University Archives, August 2018.

As I mentioned earlier, our trip to the States included a brief visit to La Crosse, WI. Now you might be wondering what is in La Crosse, but if you read this blog regularly, you’ll know that I’ve been there before. La Crosse was the hometown of PRLC vice-president Frank Hixon, and the Murphy Library at the University of Wisconsin-La Crosse holds his very extensive personal records. During my June 2016 trip I compiled a veritable gold mine of information, but I inadvertently missed records from the fall of 1905. Hence the return.

Murphy Library, August 2018.

Working very quickly in the limited time I had, I was able to gather all the documents I required from the fall of 1905. I had decided, before I left, that I would look at some other records if there was time. I wanted to review those from 1909, when logging operations concluded at Gunflint, to see if I missed anything. I also wanted to look and see if I could find anything important from the 1897 to 1899 periods, before the PRLC was formed. In the end, my discoveries were extremely important.

Hixon Papers at the Murphy Library, La Crosse, WI, August 2018.

One letter from 1905 helped affix a date to the construction of the wood trestle alongside the Crab River. Others pointed to some internal turmoil in the company following Herman Finger’s departure from the board. Some of the 1909 records helped clarify and confuse what I already knew about the Gunflint operation. And finally, pre-1900 records gave me a better understanding of how the company was formed and where I should look for additional sources of information. In the end, the materials I uncovered were all critical pieces for my research.

Anyway. it time to get going. I’ll be back in mid-October, as I have my usual field work scheduled for the Canadian Thanksgiving weekend at Gunflint. I’ll have all the information and news from that visit. Until then…

 
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Posted by on September 11, 2018 in History, Railway, Research, Travel

 

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The heat is melting my face and I can’t find any cream soda!

Have you ever watched the movie “Raiders of the Lost Ark?” If you have, do you remember the final scene? You mean the one where the ark was boxed up and stored in a warehouse? Uh, I guess the one before that. You know the iconic one, where the Nazis open the ark and their faces melt? Ya, that one! So, have you ever been so hot that you felt as if that was going to happen to you? Yes, no? Almost had that exact scenario occur the recently and you know you’re going to have to keep reading to find out the how and why.

Hey, it’s summer kids! Ya, I know I’m a little late, but as you can tell, I haven’t posted anything in almost two months. Sometimes life gets in the way! Anyway, it’s been a good vacation so far as the weather has been fairly cooperative (maybe not in the coming days) and it has been very relaxing. The only issue is that it is going by too fast…July is almost over! Where has the time gone? I know, time flies when you’re having fun, but it still doesn’t make it better.

So, most of our time this past month has been spent at camp (we’ve been through this discussion many times). We’ve only slept at home four times since school ended, which is great but also means there are a lot of things to catch up on there once August hits. We’ve made the most of our time here, but unfortunately, it’s like having another house, so there’s always things to do. We built another bedroom in basement, which is almost done, and there is years worth of work to do in the yard. There has been time for relaxation though; swimming, boat rides, biking, entertaining and hiking. We’ve been busy!

Calm morning at camp, July 2018.

Sunset at camp, July 2018.

Waterfall, July 2018.

Sea Lion, July 2018.

Lake Superior, July 2018.

One of the rituals of camp is roasting in the sauna, or as any good Finlander will tell you, the sowna. According to the internet, ideal sauna temperatures are between 70 and 100C, which is usually where we’re at. However, lately I guess I’ve been stoking the fire too much because it’s been over 100C consistently. Last night it was 105C with 80% humidity, which is a little on the blistering side! It pales in comparison to the 115C I achieved a few weeks ago however. I had already had my sauna at a toasty 95C, so I guess I didn’t need to add more wood. When my wife went in, she said she couldn’t even sit in the sauna it was so hot, so she sat in the vestibule instead. She said it felt like your face was melting! You know what would have helped? A nice cold can of cream soda, but unfortunately, I couldn’t find it in stores for like two months. A travesty!

Keeping us busy this summer is a new addition to our family. Last year we had to put our dog of 13 years, Loki, down. People who own pets know that they are not just a pet, but family and Loki was an amazing dog. We decided over the winter that we would get another one, but while we loved our golden retriever, my wife wanted something with less hair and we had to get the timing right. Puppies need a lot of attention and we are very busy while school is on. It had to happen over summer. We originally looked at some goldendoodles, but there were no local breeders and their cost was a bit steep. By chance we happened on some labradoodle puppies and my wife fell in love. On the first day of vacation we drove to Fort Frances to pick up Luna. She is very cute, growing fast but also a pain in the rear. I forgot how much fun puppies are!

Luna, July 2018.

With everything going on, the railway front has been rather quiet, but has picked up as of late. Last Sunday I did a day trip to Gunflint to give another railway related presentation, this time on the life and times of John Paulson, the man behind the Paulson Mine. I always love travelling to Gunflint, and it is certainly one of my happy places. It was a bit of a longer drive this time, as I was coming from camp, which is east of Thunder Bay, but it was worth it. I arrived quite early, so I decided to go for a little walk along the Centennial Trail, which I have mentioned before covers part of the railway grade in Minnesota. In particular, I wanted to look at the rock cuts which form the switchback beside the Round Lake Road. I was shocked at what I found. Those two cuts had been cleared five years ago and were very easy to navigate, and while I know it is summer and it tends to be more grown in, nature has certainly come back with a vengeance. Definitely not a hike I wanted to be doing wearing crocs and dressed for my presentation!

PAD&W rock cut, July 2018.

Lower rock cut, May 2013.

PAD&W rock cut, July 2018.

Upper rock cut, May 2013.

PAD&W rock cut, July 2018.

Anyway, the presentation was well attended as usual and the crowd really enjoyed the information I presented. I’ve already been invited back for next year, which means I need to start revising a previous slideshow I put together many years ago. I’m already looking forward to it as it ties in with an article I wrote on the ghost town of Leeblain.

Audience at the Chik-Wauk Museum, July 2018.

In less than a month the family and I will be in Minneapolis for a football tournament and while we were there, I decided to take the opportunity to do some railway research. While I was writing this past winter for my book on the Gunflint and Lake Superior, I noticed that I had a gap in my information. Two years ago, I travelled to La Crosse, Wisconsin to examine the files of Frank Hixon, the vice president of the Pigeon River Lumber Company. Between those documents and the Arpin Papers at the Cook County Museum in Grand Marais, I thought I had everything covered; turns out I didn’t. I guess I did not realize that the Arpin Papers had a gap in the fall of 1905 and therefore did not examine anything from that time in La Crosse. So, we are leaving a day early for our trip and heading first to La Crosse before proceeding to the Twin Cities. I hope I can find all the information I am missing so I can get most of the book written this coming year.

Anyway, it’s time to go. I’ll be back after my trip with all the latest updates. Until then…

 
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Posted by on July 26, 2018 in Hiking, History, Railway

 

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That moose gave me a heart attack!

Well, not literally, but it felt like it. You could imagine the headline though, “Moose gives man heart attack!” Not that I want to joke about something like that; first, because heart attacks are not something to joke about and second, I guarantee you, it’s happened before. Probably in Canada…I might just Google it. Anyway, I’m sure it took a few years off my life!

Wow, its almost June kids! That means school will be over in month, so another year bites the dust. Unfortunately there is still a ton of stuff to do between now and then, so much that I don’t want to even think about it. This is on top of everything going on at home. Football is over, but Noah’s baseball is in full swing, which occupies 3-4 nights a week. I’ve also spent the last few weekends at camp, as there are quite a number of things to do there. It never ends!

Fortunately the weather is cooperating. Up until a few days ago, we haven’t seen very much rain. We still need more, as it is still very dry. It’s been the nicest spring we’ve had in a number of years, especially compared to last year. I hope it continues, and we have a warm summer. Last summer was okay, but it wasn’t particularly warm by any stretch. I guess we’ll just have to see what happens.

Even though things are crazy, I was finally able to some railway work done. I had been looking forward to my first hike of the year from quite a while, and it was critical for my research on the Gunflint & Lake Superior Railroad. I decided this year to plan my hike for the Friday before the Victoria Day long-weekend, which would give me the whole weekend to go to camp.

So I headed down to Gunflint on Thursday after work. With everything going on lately, it was nice to not think about it for a while. I’ve always thought of the North-Gunflint area as one of my happy places, somewhere I can decompress. It was also nice to visit my good friends John and Rose at the Cross River Lodge…it’s like a home away from home.

Sunrise, Gunflint Lake, May 2018.

The goal of the hike was two-fold; finish locating the grade of the G&LS and explore more of Camp 8. It was a beautiful morning, and I had a long walk ahead of me. From the parking area, it was a 6km walk to where I would start my work. As I walked east along the Border Route Trail, I could already feel the heat building and I knew it would be a very challenging day. It was about two-thirds of the way to my destination that it happened.

Whisker Lake, May 2018.

I was in a hurry to get to my starting location, so I was walking quite quickly along the trail. And then I heard it…the distinctive “crack” of a branch breaking. Small animals don’t break branches like that, so my mind starting racing; bear? Proceeding slowly forward, my heart stopped when a large moose wheeled about 25 feet in front of me and took off through the bush. It took quite a while for my heart rate to recover from that!

Once I reached a point just northwest of Topper Lake, I proceeded south to where I thought the railroad grade would be. It was strictly a hunch; the previous year I had lost the line well to the west and hoped by starting further to the east I might luck out. Turns out, I did. Not far from the trail, the area was flooded by a large beaver pond, and fairly quickly I found the first trace of the railroad, a spike. That forced me into a tough decision; keep going west or try to see if there were more traces to the east. I decided on the latter.

Within a short distance I had located a couple of fishplates, which were used to join sections of rail together. Metres away, I made an amazing discovery; an axe blade. To find something like this away from any camp or settlement I would imagine is rare and it happened just by fluke. It made me wonder though, how did it end up there? Was it forgotten, abandoned…I’m sure if axes could talk! I so wanted to pick it up and get it to a museum, but I promised the guys at the Forest Service (these are Federal lands) that I would not remove anything.

Fishplates, G&LS Grade, May 2018.

G&LS Grade, May 2018.

Axe blade, G&LS Grade, May 2018.

Farther east, past the beaver dam, I located another couple pieces of fishplate and a mystery object. It was in the creek flowing into Topper Lake, so I root around in the mud to find it and when it emerged, I had no idea what it was. I figured it was something from a horse harness, which as it turns out, it was. Closer to the lake, I came across a coil of wire, which resembled some of the “telegraph wire” I encountered along the grade. This means the railroad grade actually corresponds with what is shown on a 1926 map of the area.

Horse harness piece, G&LS Grade, May 2018.

Turning around, I retraced my steps back to where I started and continued westward. I located another spike a hundred metres or so from my initial find, and that was it. From there it was a difficult slog more than 700 metres to where I had last found traces the previous year. It was a wet, swampy area, full of thick bush and deadfall, which made the going very challenging. On top of that, the temperature was climbing the whole time, so I was sweating like a hog and getting winded. It is at times like these that you wonder why you put yourself through this type of abuse. Like, why can’t I be normal and sit on my deck and drink like other people on their day off? Then I remember that conforming is boring!

Once I had re-acquired the grade, it was another few hundred metres to reach the site of Camp 8 (which I am pretty sure was renumbered Camp 11 in February 1908). I hoped to have a decent amount of time to explore the old logging camp, which has seen little human interference since it was used from circa 1906 to 1909. After my visit last year, and a quick examination by technicians from the US Forest Service a week later, I had a better idea of what was at the site.

My first goal was to try and pinpoint each structure. In 2017 I had found 3, and the Forest Service guys had located another 3; from some research I did, I believed there were 2 more, raising the total to 8 (which would match the same number at Camp 4 on Gunflint). I would then attempt to measure each structure and the distance between them. This was rather tricky to do by myself, but I think I did an okay job.

So I was able to determine, at least in my mind, that there were in fact 8 structures. There are 5 located just north of the grade, 4 of which are fairly large. The two westernmost are approximately 33 ft. x 52 ft. and are situated close together. Their berms are not well pronounced and they are 50 ft. away from the other buildings, so I am assuming that these might be the horse stables. According to statistics, there were 19 teams of horses working at the camp in the winter of 1908.

The next three southern structures are about 20 ft. from each other, with two larger ones bookending a small one and have very well defined berms. Both larger buildings are approximately 35 ft. x 60 ft., though the eastern one has a 20 ft. x 20 ft. section on the back. The middle building of the three is considerably smaller at 24 ft. x 26 ft. If I had to guess, I would say that they are, from west to east, the bunkhouse, van (office) and cook house. The only way to know in any certainty is to do some excavations inside the berms. The same 1908 data quoted previously states that there were 55 men living at the camp.

PRLC Statistics, February 1908.

That leaves 3 structures just to the north. One, off by itself between the stables and bunkhouse, would in my estimation, be the blacksmith shop. I don’t have any definitive evidence, but my assumption is based on the debris located close by. The two other buildings are close to each other and are north of the bunkhouse and van. One is very small, 12 ft. x 14 ft. and has a deep hole in the centre of the berms; there can be no doubt that this is the outhouse. The other is slightly larger, but its purpose is a mystery. Again, the only way to make a determination would be to dig, but that not a decision I can make.

Outhouse, Camp 8 PRLC, May 2018.

Outhouse, Camp 8 PRLC, May 2018.

Glassware & pot, Camp 8 PRLC, May 2018.

Building foundation, Camp 8 PRLC, May 2018.

I wish I could have lingered longer, but I had a long walk back to my truck and a 2.5-hour drive home. It was 24C and I could feel the exhaustion setting in. I am planning to go back next May and devote the whole time to exploring the camp. Hopefully the archaeologists from the USFS can join me so there can be a more thorough exploration. I certainly have the knowledge of what was in a logging camp, but I lack the train eye and background to understand everything I see on the ground. My fingers are crossed that we can make it happen.

Anyway, it’s time to go. With all the craziness, it might be a while before I’m back. Hopefully I’ll have more news to report. Until then…

 
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Posted by on May 14, 2018 in Hiking, History, Railway

 

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