Monthly Archives: June 2012

Farewell and Adieu

Well, there are no Spanish ladies around, but I can hear the proverbial fat lady warming up. In case you haven’t guessed it, this is the final week of classes for the year and I’m just a wee bit excited. It’s not that I don’t like my job, but as I’ve mentioned in previous weeks, it is time for a break. I’m tired. I just need some time away from the building, without the stress and just relax. This is not to say that I’m going to do nothing for the next two months, far from it, but I just need to recharge the battery.

On that note, there are still a few days left and a bunch of stuff to do. There is still one exam left to go (for me anyway) and I have a bunch of projects to mark. By Thursday it will be all good and I can put things on cruise control. The end of the year is somewhat sad though, as I say goodbye to the students from this year. This is especially true for the graduates. I’ve known some of these young adults for four years (if they played football), and some have been in my classes three years in a row. It is amazing to watch them grow, mature and move on to the next phase in their life. Reminds me that I’m getting old though, as I graduated from the very same building exactly 20 years ago. Class of 1992; wow, where has the time gone? How quickly time flies by. I sometimes wonder where all my former classmates are? Some are still friends; some I work with; some I see glimpses of their lives on Facebook. There are the few that you just don’t know.

Anyway, enough with the memory lane crap. So what’s new on the railway? Well, not a whole lot. We unfortunately got another dump of rain last week, which is perfect since things were just starting to dry out from the last one. It ruined the last day of our annual spring football camp, which is the best one by the way. I always love playing a bit of ball with the kids, and I know they like to see what the old guys can do. I guess we should count ourselves lucky though, since we only got 50mm of rain, not like our sister city to the south, Duluth, Minnesota. They were walloped with 250mm, which is more than double what we received in our big storm. I really feel for people there, since there was a hell of a lot of damage that was done. I wonder when this crazy weather is going to settle down?

Last week I did receive some encouraging news however regarding Gunflint Lake. On Wednesday I received a long-awaited response from my local MLA (Member of Legislative Assembly of Ontario). Bill Mauro’s office told me that they are looking into the matter and will get back to me when more information is available. Then on Thursday I received another email, this time from the local Archeology Review Officer for the Ontario Government. He acknownledged that there are some valuable historic artifacts in the area and they do need to be protected. The information will be forwarded to the appropriate government agencies so if and when an application for development is made, it will trigger a proper review. We’ll see where things go from there.

Magnetic Lake, with Gunflint Narrows and Gunflint Lake in the background, August 2008.

All this talk of Gunflint Lake has made me excited to get back to hiking. Next week I’ll be able to get into the bush; I think I’ll finish the examination of the Wolfe Siding to Mackies section that I didn’t get to a few weeks back. However, what has really got me going is Gunflint. Since the road down to the lake on the Canadian side has been repaired, I am contemplating getting out there in a few weeks. I last did this route back in 2008, and it was one crazy drive; maybe with the road in better shape it won’t be so bad. I am going to be on Gunflint in August, but I figure if I can get out there before that trip, it will take some pressure off of me.

I’m really curious to see what shape the road is in too; the only unfortunate part is that it will take me more than 2.5 hours to get there, since it is almost 150km

Rock cut, Gunflint Lake, August 2008.

away. The temptation is too much to resist though! I’ll save Leeblain for August, and concentrate on covering the stretch from there to Gunflint Narrows, which is an 8km round trip. I can properly document the rock cuts on my GPS (which I didn’t really do in 2008) and take video to post on YouTube (didn’t start the railway videos until mid-2010). Let’s hope the weather holds!

Speaking of video, and I’ll wrap up with this, I decided to add a little spice to my hiking videos. Just happened to catch a video from BWCACAST, which had a neat little intro to it, so figured that I could do that too! I contacted a former student who is in the multimedia program at Confederation College. He agreed to help out and I’m eagerly anticipating the completion of this cool intro clip. I’ll be sure to post the link when I get the first new video up!

Anyway, time to shut it down for this week. I might be late on next week’s post, just so no one thinks I’m dead or anything. Until then…

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Posted by on June 25, 2012 in Hiking, Miscellaneous, Research, Writing


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Who gets a cold in June?

Obviously me! I feel like the proverbial bag of poop. I could feel it coming on Friday as I was heading back from the states. I was feeling it on Saturday and I spent a chunk of Sunday morning lying on the couch unable to breathe through my congested sinuses. Today it is in my throat and lungs; I can’t catch my breath and my throat is on fire. I’m dying, but I dragged my butt to work.

So where did I get this lovely virus from? Clearly I have no idea, but I can bet that my boys might have something to do with it. They generally tend to bring home every germ imaginable from school. How I got it and they didn’t it is beyond me, but I guess it’s better now than when summer vacation starts. Certainly the crazy weather we’ve been having doesn’t help. Last Monday I wrote that it was 25C in the morning; the next day it was only 5C. I hope these wild swings settle down into a somewhat normal pattern soon. Unfortunately that doesn’t seem like that will happen anytime soon, since they are calling for another big dump of rain and tonight we even had a tornado warning!

Speaking of vacation, this week marks the final week of classes for the semester and the school year. Exams begin on Friday and then it will be downhill from there. There is still a lot to do before then though, if I make it. Today was the first day of our annual spring football camp and it was rough. I had zero energy and though I did a lot of delegating (the head coach can do that), I still had to do a bit of running. I thought I was going to keel over! My lack of physical fitness coupled with my chest congestion made things very interesting. Hopefully I feel better by Wednesday since we’re having a little scrimmage and the coaches usually play. I don’t want to look like the decrepit old man!

As for the railway, it has actually been a very busy week. In my last post I wrote about my frustration regarding the most famous locomotive on the railway, the Black Auntie. I had sent away for a photo that was supposed to be the Black Auntie, but what I had received was not it. Or so I thought. Almost immediately after I made this proclamation I began to re-consider my decision. The next day I was looking through my files for something when I came across a document regarding the sale of the railway in 1899. It stated that locomotive #1 was a “Rogers” type locomotive with an 8 wheel arrangement (most likely a 4-4-0). This is the locomotive depicted in the photo; thus a new mystery in the history of the railway is born.

On the topic of mysteries, my biggest railway news for the week is related to a mystery of sorts. On Friday I travelled to the Minnesota side of Gunflint Lake to do some examination of the grade near the fabled Paulson Mine. The last few years I have used my one personal day (a paid floater day if you wish) to hike the railway. Can you say obsessed?

I first visited this area back in 1998, before the 1999 blowdown and 2007 Ham Lake fire. Those two events radically transformed the landscape of what is known as the Boundary Waters Canoe Area, which lies inside the Superior National Forest. I returned a second time in 2010 and again in 2011, and between the three trips I was able to investigate almost the entire length of the railway and the iron mines. There was one exception though, the area around the second switchback. In ’98 it was rough terrain and high water that stopped me; in 2010 and 2011 it was a lack of time. But I guess I should explain what it is I am referring to.

US Topographic Map, 1904.

The railway crossed into the United States over the Gunflint Narrows and after blasting its way along the shore of Gunflint Lake, it followed the valley of the Cross River. After progressing 5 kilometres, the railway was then confronted with a serious problem. The Paulson Mine lay some 200 feet above the valley and shrouded by several high ridges. The only answer was to construct several switchbacks or zig zags which allowed the trains to ascend the steep hills with minimal use of tunnelling or rock work. In my first three visits I was able to trace the route of the first switchback, but the second was proving troublesome. I was hoping that this trip would answer all my questions.

Joining me for this adventure was my 7 year old son Ethan, and we departed home around 7:45 EST. The drive to our departure point would take about 2 hours and 45 minutes, but for this trip I decided to follow the GPS and take the “short” route. Instead of driving to the town of Grand Marais and the turning northwest on the Gunflint Trail, the GPS advised me to take County Road 14 to Trout Lake Road, then on to the Trail. The detour shaved about 15 to 20 minutes off the journey, but led my through the middle of nowhere of Cook County (I was a bit worried about where I was going). When we arrived at the Kekekabic Trailhead I was a bit concerned as my truck thermometer was showing 20C at 10:30! Shortly after we began our 2km walk to the second switchback.

The railway grade lies somewhere below this lake.

Following the 2007 fire, the US Forest Service created a new hiking route on top of portions of the railway and the existing Kekekabic Trail. The Centennial Trail runs west for approximately 2km before it leaves the “Kek” and turns southeast. Along this north leg of the trail can be found five test pits, holes of various depths (15 to 25 feet) used to ascertain the quality of the iron in the area. A short distance later, on the south shore of an unnamed lake, can be found the famous Paulson Mine. The next lake along the route lay close to our destination and running through the lake can be discerned what would appear to be part of the grade. Unfortunately the railway lies beneath several feet of water created by a beaver dam which has flooded the area (it appears that the engineers blasted a channel to drain the lake when they built the line).

Mine shaft, June 2012.

As we left the Kek, our first stop was at a mine shaft located beside the trail. It is apparently 75 feet deep and one can see the timbers that lined the sides of the shaft. This would lend some evidence that it was an actual shaft rather than a test pit. Beside the hole lies a vast heap of tailings, red with oxidation.

We then left the trail and headed cross-country to the site of a rock cut on the opposite side of the ridge. The water was higher than it was in 2010 and we had to skirt the cut until we reached drier ground. We moved about 30 metres northwest where it appeared that the

Rock cut, June 2012.

grade ended and we would start our investigation. Unfortunately my search was handicapped by a technological glitch; all the waypoints in my GPS somehow vanished. I had pre-loaded some likely targets for the continuation of the grade beyond what appeared to be a trestle, but without that data I was walking blind.

We made our way back to the trail and headed west on the Kek to where it appeared the grade continued. Unfortunately my search was frustrated by the missing data and the poor visibility in the forest growth (with the rain the bush is particularly lush). We headed back 230 metres to the small lake hoping to see some traces of the railway, but it was of no use. Without the reference point of the railway through the lake, it is near impossible to determine where the line travels. I plan to return in the fall after the leaves are down and hopefully that will make a difference.

Test pit 3, June 2012.

Attempting to beat the rising temperatures, Ethan and I took the trail back east, stopping briefly at test pit 3 to eat lunch. Ethan seemed quite interested in the test pits so I showed him all five. I promised to take him to the Paulson Mine when he was a bit older and able to handle the difficult terrain.

After the hike, I wanted to make two quick stops. In August I will be making a presentation at the Chik-Wauk Museum near the end of the Gunflint Trail and I thought it would be beneficial to actually visit the museum before then. Recently opened in a former lodge, the museum is quite nice inside, combining history and nature in one location. While there I had the opportunity to chat with Ada Igoe, who is the site manager and the one who invited me to speak there. It certainly makes me excited for the presentation and I am eagerly looking forward to August.

Chik-Wauk Museum, June 2012.

From Chik-Wauk we travelled back east to the Cross River Lodge. I will be staying there after the August presentation and weather permitting, I will be completing some field work on Gunflint Lake. I was hoping to chat with the owner John, but he unfortunately had to return to Missouri the day before. I did have a good conversation with his wife Rose and their employee Doug. I think Ethan enjoyed the lodge and we both looking forward to our August trip.

Anyway, this blog has gone on way too long and I need to get some rest. More news next week! Until then…


Posted by on June 18, 2012 in Hiking, Miscellaneous, Research, Writing


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Man it’s hot!

So this morning when I woke up, I was startled by what I saw on the thermometer; the number staring back at me was 25C. I had to take a second look and couldn’t believe what I was seeing. No wonder I had a terrible sleep! That is a very unusual temperature for this time of the year, especially given that the projected low on Wednesday morning is supposed to be 4C. I guess I shouldn’t complain though, since on more than one occasion I’ve bemoaned the cold weather we often get here.

The only unfortunate part of this whole scenario is that these warm temperatures have a very adverse effect on my workplace. Though it has seen many additions over the years, the oldest part of our school is more than 70 years old. The ventilation isn’t that great and our climate doesn’t warrant the installation of air conditioning. That all equals a very (very) stuffy classroom! By 1 o’clock the sweat was rolling down my forehead as I attempted to finish my lesson for that period. Thankfully there are only eight teachings days left before exams, so hopefully I won’t succumb to heat exhaustion before then.

On the railway front, things have been progressing in fits and starts as usual.

The Greeting by Brian Nieminen 1993.

This past week I received some much anticipated mail from Library and Archives Canada. Back around Christmas time I was contacted by local artist Brian Nieminen regarding the railway. Brian has had a long history with the railway; in 1993 to mark the 100th anniversary of the opening of the line, he created a painting of the railway entitled “The Greeting…the Old Pee Dee.” Since then Brian has wanted to paint an image of the most famous locomotive on the line, the Black Auntie.

The Black Auntie was the first locomotive purchased by the railway, and it was a small wood-burning 0-4-0 tender (for those of you who are interested in that stuff). She was nicknamed the “Black Auntie” as apparently there was an image of a black (can I use that, or is African-Canadian more appropriate?) madame from Port Arthur carved on her firebox door. There is currently only one known image of Black Auntie, taken while carrying passengers on an excursion during construction in 1891.

September 1891 excursion to Sand Lake.

In our conversations, Brian explained that he has held off on the painting for so long because he wanted to make sure it was done as accurately as possible. In particular he was curious to know if the image was on the front of the boiler, or on the cab firebox. My response was that I only knew of the one image, but that in the course of my research I came across an image at the archives that was titled “Port Arthur, Duluth & Western Ry. #1 at Port Arthur nicknamed Black Aunty.” Several weeks ago I decided to bite the bullet and send in a request for a digital copy of that photograph.

What arrived last Thursday was an image of a PAD&W locomotive alright, but not the Black Auntie. Immediately I recognized that this engine was a type 4-4-0, which would make it engine number 2 or 3. After reading through the specifications (I’m no train expert), I would have to say it is probably number 3, the “Lady Walton.” I immediately emailed Brian to tell him the disappointing news; I would love to see his vision of a painting of the Black Auntie crossing the bridge into Minnesota!

Turning wye at Mackies (Hymers Museum).

This past week wasn’t all disappointment however. With the warmer temperatures, the bush has dried out somewhat and that gave me an opportunity to do a bit of hiking on Saturday. I decided since the ground is still wet and the rivers and creeks a bit high, that I would go to Whitefish Lake since it is a fairly dry area. I had not really hiked this area a lot over the years, primarily because the railway runs right beside the road and there is generally not much to see. However, in my quest to gather GPS data on the whole line, I did want to mark a very prominent feature, which was a turning wye just east of Mackies.

For this adventure I was going to be joined by an old buddy, Terry, who had hiked the railway with me many moons ago. The only unfortunate part of the day was the fact that it had rained the night before, making the journey a rather wet one. We started near the Mackies Trestle (which burned in 1923) and headed east. The going was very difficult as it was more heavily grown in than I anticipated, made worse as everything was wet and slippery.

Wye screen shot.

After slugging along for about 1600 metres, I decided that we would forgo the remaining 800 metres. I had wanted to investigate the remains of a bridge over a small creek, but we were thoroughly soaked and tired from climbing over the deadfall on the rail bed. On our way back, I wanted to follow the legs of the “wye.” Resembling an inverted Y, the purpose of this track was to allow the trains to turn around. This wye had probably been installed after the Mackies trestle had burned in 1923, and the trains could no longer travel to North Lake

Junction of wye legs, Mackies 2012.

and use the turn wye there. The total length of the wye was about 500 metres, and unfortunately it was just as overgrown as the rest of the section.

As we made our way back to our starting point, we took a few minutes to examine a rare find on the line, a telegraph pole. The insulators were probably long gone, though Terry did find a shard of an insulator nearby.

That essentially ended the hike, but before wrapping things up, I showed Terry the remains of the east abutment of the Mackies trestle. I am very anxious to re-visit this section, as I

Telegraph Pole, Mackies 2012.

know there are some vehicles hiding in the brush nearby. These trucks were used the McKechnie Logging Company to transport logs from Round Lake to Mackies after the trestle burned. I think I’ll save this hike for the fall when the leaves are down and more things will be visible.

My last comments for this week offer some potentially positive news. A few weeks ago I wrote about the pending development at Gunflint Lake. Today at work I received a phone call from MPP Michael Gravelle’s office. My email did not fall on deaf ears and the Minister of Natural Resources’ office is looking into the matter. Hopefully I will receive more information in the coming weeks.

Anyway, enough for now; I need to do a few things before I call it a day. I’ll be back with more ramblings next week. Until then…

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Posted by on June 11, 2012 in Hiking, Miscellaneous, Research, Writing


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Are we there yet?

No, we are not on a vacation to Kansas with Toto, but we are certainly in need of a break! I’m done! Kaput! Toast! (I could go on with the metaphors) It seems as though no matter how much sleep I get, I still wake up feeling tired. There are way too many things swirling in my head that will only go away once the school year is done. Now I know what you’re saying, poor teachers, it must be rough having the whole summer off! Well, truth be told, this occupation is getting harder to do all the time.

Once the weather begins to turn warm in April, this whole idea of “teaching” becomes much tougher to do. The nice temperatures bring with them thoughts of summer and the kids begin to lose their focus. It is now June 4th and we have completely lost them! They have no attention span, trying to do work is like pulling teeth and the senior kids just don’t show up; June is like a good month/bad month. Therefore June 29th can’t come soon enough!

I must admit though that I do have an ulterior motive; summer means that I will have time to do what I want, namely hiking the railway. Unfortunately the bush it still wet from last week’s rain, so I can’t really get out. The city continues to be in a state of emergency, since our water treatment plant is still out of action. More than a thousand homes were flooded by the rain, and I really feel for those people. I hope that things get back to normal as soon as possible.

Gravel Lake Station, June 2012.

I did get out for another drive this week, mostly to complete my task from the last drive. Moving beyond Nolalu, I marked Hillside, Silver Mountain, Whitefish, Wolfe Siding (Suomi), Mackies and Gravel Lake on Facebook. Being out there made me want to be hiking so bad; maybe I have a bit of an addiction! Or it could be that I love being in the outdoors and it gives me the peace and quiet I crave. I never really hiked a lot of the line along Whitefish Lake and my curiosity has been peaked. This area is fairly high and dry, so I might be able to get out next week.

One of my stops was at the Silver Mountain Station, one of the few remaining buildings on the line. It was built circa 1911, replacing an existing log structure and is an identical copy of the station that once stood at North Lake. For many years it has been an iconic landmark on the corner of Highways 588 and 593. During the railway era, it was home at one point to Dorothea Mitchell, the famous Lady Lumberjack. The book on her adventures makes for a very interesting read, not only chronicling some of the history of the area, but also of the life of a female entrepreneur in a frontier wilderness.

Silver Mountain Station, June 2012.

Today the station is a restaurant, recently acquired by chef and baker Shelley Simon. I had a quick chat with her on Saturday, but I need to stop by again this summer and sink my teeth into a PD burger. If you’re in the neighbourhood (or even if you’re not…the drive through the Whitefish Valley is beautiful) be sure to stop in for some great food and hospitality!

Last week I wrote about my concern for the potential development near the ghost town of Leeblain. Unfortunately I did not receive any replies to my emails, which is a bit frustrating. I know that it has only been a week, and that people have other business to attend to, but I had hoped to hear at least something. Maybe I’m used to my profession and things just operate differently. In my line of work, I’m expected to reply to messages/emails as soon as possible. Then again, I’m responsible to parents for their child’s education, so maybe there’s a bit more urgency in that!

My last news for this week is very good news. I’ve written about my planned talk at the Chik-Wauk Museum scheduled for August 5th, but I’ve managed to land something closer to home. On Friday I paid a visit to one of my old stomping grounds, the Duke Hunt Museum. Located just outside Thunder Bay in the Municipality of Oliver-Paipoonge, it will always be known to me by its old name, the Paipoonge Museum. I first visited this great little gem back in 1997 and I spent many a day there in years past. I was privileged to be able to give a few lectures at the museum back in the late 90’s.

It had been quite a while since I visited the museum, especially given that it was recently relocated to a former school just down the road. The director is a great lady by the name of Lois Garrity and it was nice to sit down and catch up with her. Our conversation naturally turned to railway and we reminisced about the presentations I had done all those years ago. It was then that Lois said, “Hey, it been a long time since you spoke about the railway, are you interested in doing it again?” To be honest, I was hoping that she would ask. Needless to say I jumped at the idea and we were able to pin down a date. So on July 25th I will make my return to the lecture world and I could not be more excited. I love to research and hike the railway, but I probably like talking about it even more!

Anyway, enough yapping for now; I’m sure I’ll have more news and things to say next week. Until then…

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Posted by on June 4, 2012 in Hiking, Miscellaneous, Research, Writing


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