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Monthly Archives: December 2012

Lazy Mayans, burnt tongues and Christmas chaos.

Well, since you’re currently reading this post, you too have survived the most recent end of the world-apocalyptic prediction. Yup, those Mayans were sure on the ball; maybe they were procrastinators and ran out of time (ha-ha) to finish their calendar? Could be a plausible explanation. Not like anyone else has ever put things off until the last minute and turned out a crappy final product. So there, the Mayans were not wrong, they were just lazy…the world according to Dave!

Anyway, it is the night before Christmas and the house is finally quiet. I guess it could be worse as I could have been at work today. Yes, I am officially on holidays, though the craziness of the last few days doesn’t make it seem like it. I was very glad when Friday rolled around last week as it meant the end of a very long haul that started in September. It is typically a very fun day for obvious reasons; we teachers probably like it more than the kids!

In the last number of years it has become tradition for me to cook pancakes for my period one class to reward them for their efforts with the city Christmas cheer campaign. Although it is a bit of work on my part, I know they appreciate it (I normally make pancakes from scratch, but that’s not possible in this case). Hopefully I can keep this up for the next 15 years!

Now the only black spot on that day was another food related incident with my Grade 12’s. They got me again! As we prepared to leave the class for the annual Christmas assembly, one my students casually offered me a jelly bean. I really had to try it. I thought, “It’s a jelly bean, it can’t be that bad!” As I bit into it, I was immediately greeted by the taste of…orange. Perfect right? Unfortunately that was suddenly replaced by a searing sensation on my tongue. I had just eaten an Ass Kickin’ jelly bean, wonderfully flavoured with habanero peppers. My God! Fool me once shame on you, fool me twice…

So as I’ve already mentioned, the last few days have been a bit hectic, but since tomorrow is Christmas, I’m hoping that things will slow down in a few days. Today we had the family over for dinner and of course it was non-stop excitement. My wonderfully wife did a big chunk of the heavy lifting so it could have been worse for me. The boys are tucked in for the night and Santa is on his way. Time to relax a bit!

Once things settle down, I hope to spend time working on some railway stuff. I’ve decided to put the Historical Society on the back-burner for a week or two so I can get to a few things that I’ve neglected for a while. One of my principle tasks is to get some writing done on the Leeblain article.

I did spend quite a bit of time last night working on it last night. It actually felt really good to immerse myself into some research and writing again. Leeblain is one of those great what if’s in the story of the railway. Over the last few years I’ve spent quite a bit of time there and I often find myself looking around trying to envision what that spot would have looked like had the railway succeeded and the town grown into the metropolis that it was supposed to be. Certainly it would have transformed the Gunflint Lake area.

Tonight I read my son Ethan the “Polar Express” as his bedtime story. I wrote about this topic a year ago and I can remember my words regarding trains rolling along the line in winter. Tonight my thoughts were of Leeblain, and what it would have looked like nearly 120 years ago. What was Christmas like there in 1893? The optimism for great things must have been palpable. The experience of celebrating this event at a station/hotel in such a remote location must have been memorable, although if it was as cold as it is right now (-22C with the wind) it would not have been very toasty.

Leeblain, August 2012.

Leeblain, August 2012.

Anyway, I’m pretty pooped so I think it’s time to wrap it up. Big day tomorrow…can’t wait to see what Santa brought me! More great thoughts next week. Until then…Merry Christmas!

 
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Posted by on December 24, 2012 in History, Miscellaneous, Research, Writing

 

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Hip history and chocolate potato chips!

So last week as I entered my Grade 12 history class I was greeted by one of my students who presented me with a Pringles potato chip. Hiding the can from me, she told me to “taste it!” I’m usually very leery about requests to taste or smell unknown things for obvious reasons, but I decided to trust her judgement as I’ve never met a potato chip I didn’t like (well, with the exception of dill pickle). Taking the plunge, I was immediately greeted by the strangest combination of flavours I’ve ever experienced. I thought I tasted what seemed like peppermint and chocolate…weird. Turns out that Pringles has released some new flavours for the holidays, including white chocolate and peppermint; not something I’ll be running to the store for!

Anyway, the special edition chips tell us that Christmas is rapidly approaching. The man in the big red suit arrives in exactly one week! It’s hard to believe that it is almost here. It seems like yesterday that it was September and the school year was just starting. Where does the time go? Maybe the saying is true, “time flies when you’re having fun!” I wouldn’t necessarily say it was all fun, but certainly it was memorable.

It has once again been a very busy week on all fronts, especially with work. I am desperately trying to clear up as much marking as I can before we head into the break. My main priority is to finish marking the Gr.12 Independent Studies that I promised would be back by Friday. I also have a bunch of other things that I doubt will be done before Friday and on Thursday all three of my classes are writing tests. So I guess I’ll have a pile of marking to do over the break that I probably won’t get all through.

Speaking of work to do over the holidays, I know I’ll be spending some time going through clips and putting together our annual football highlight video. Come January players from this year’s team will be visiting our feeder school Pope John Paul II to do some recruiting. I guess I’ll have my work cut out for me!

It is also a very busy time for our boys with all the pre-Christmas activities. I spent the afternoon today with my youngest Noah at one of the local farms, Gammondale. They do a real good job making things fun and exciting for these young kids. Too bad they were not able to do the sleigh ride because of the lack of snow. Yes, once again pretty much all of the snow has disappeared due to warm temperatures! Unless we get some snowfall in the next few days (which is not in the forecast), we will have that brown Christmas I spoke of a few weeks ago.

Now with the approach of that much anticipated two weeks off, one of my primary goals (on top of all the other things I just wrote about and then some) is to do some work on my Leeblain article. It seems like eons since I last looked at it (November 4th according to my computer). I really want to get it done so I can have my contact at the Thunder Bay Historical Society take a look at it and give me some feedback. With Christmas close to the beginning of the break, I should be able to squeeze in some time here and there.

Handcar on the PAD&W, date unknown (Shelley Simon).

Handcar on the PAD&W, date unknown (Shelley Simon).

Work is continuing to progress on the Silver Mountain Historical Society. The last week has been filled with many little projects associated with the start-up and incorporation of this organization. We are hoping to have an executive meeting early in the New Year to complete and file the incorporation papers.

Ready for the incorporaton meeting, December 2012.

Ready for the incorporaton meeting, December 2012.

Yesterday I posted the first of what will be many blog entries describing the latest news from the society on our WordPress site. It seems if I am rapidly becoming a social media junky. Between the two blogs, several Facebook groups and pages, as well as four Twitter accounts, I feel as if this is like a fulltime job. However in this electronic age, it is absolutely critical to tap every medium possible. One of our goals is to reach out to our youth, and as a teacher I know that you need to speak their language and utilize all the latest technology. Welcome to a new era, where history can be hip and cool!

Shelley Simon and myself speaking at the SMHS, December 2012.

Shelley Simon and I speaking at the SMHS, December 2012.

On a final note, work is progressing on my personal project to preserve the railway in the North-Gunflint Lake area. Today I received an email from my contact in the Ministry of Tourism, Culture and Sport. Apparently gears are turning at the government level and hopefully everyone involved will be able to sit down and discuss where to proceed next. This certainly gives me reason for some optimism. I know that things like this take time, but at least we are moving in the right direction.

Anyway, it’s time to go…marking beckons! Next week’s blog will be a day early due to Christmas. Until then…

 
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Posted by on December 18, 2012 in History, Miscellaneous, Research, Writing

 

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Visions of what???

According to the poem, I am supposed to have visions of sugar-plums dancing through my head. I know that is from “Twas the Night Before Christmas,” but close enough. And what the hell is a sugar-plum anyway? According to our friends at Google, it is a type of dragée candy. Learn something new every day! Anyway, there are certainly no candy images floating through my head. If there was, maybe I wouldn’t have a headache. No, despite the season, my thoughts are focussed on other things. The sugar-plums have been replaced by marking, meetings and railways…par for the course right? All these things do nothing but exacerbate the sense of burnout that I’m feeling right now. How many more sleeps?

So Christmas is exactly 2 weeks away. The brown blah I wrote about last week has been replaced by a new blanket of snow, at least making it feel right. The house is fully decorated and ready for the season. Most of the shopping has been done and there are only a few things left to do. I guess it is now a waiting game, which is always interesting with a couple little boys in the house. They are certainly chopping at the bit for the big guy to arrive. We’ll see what he has in store this year!

To answer my previous question, there are only 8 more sleeps before the break. Thank God…my brain capacity is dwindling by the minute! I know I write a lot about it, but it seems as if every year the burnout gets more pronounced. Maybe it’s got something to do with the fact that I have way to many things going on (hence the lack of sugar plums). I tend to stress about things, which is not usually a good thing to do. I know that relaxation is important (and healthy), but I’m the type whose brain is always chewing on something. School is definitely one of those things. I had to laugh when I read my post from a year ago and wrote Santa for a marking elf. He never did send one, so maybe I should ask again!

This past week was again a very busy time on the railway front. Sunday was the incorporation meeting for the Silver Mountain Historical Society so there was a million and one things to do. Even though the event has passed, there are still many things swirling in my mind. The meeting itself went really well despite some bad weather.

The weather forecast called for snow on Sunday, so as I prepared to gather my stuff and head out to Silver Mountain I was a bit concerned at how that would affect the turn out. I’m sure we did lose some people due to the slippery roads, but the amount of folks that did show up was very positive. There was close to 30 people in attendance, and coupled with those that came to the previous event, we have over 60 names registered with the society!

Silver Mountain Station, December 2012.

Silver Mountain Station, December 2012.

I was the main presenter at the meeting, on top of speaking about the railway and our goal to preserve the North-Gunflint Lake corridor, particularly the ghost town of Leeblain. Other information was presented by my co-host Shelley Simon, who spoke about efforts to erect a historic plaque at Silver Mountain (like the PAD&W plaque in Hymers) and repair the Silver Mountain Cemetery. All this and we haven’t even really started!

PAD&W Historic Plaque, Hymers, May 2012.

PAD&W Historic Plaque, Hymers, May 2012.

To proceed with our incorporation process, a society executive had to be chosen. I was nominated and acclaimed as Vice-President. I certainly appreciate the selection, but I am also very nervous. There are just so many things involved and many of us have never done anything like this. Thankfully we have some members from the Thunder Bay Historical Museum Society who will be guiding us through this process.

I guess my biggest fears stem from the fact that I am unsure how this will affect my free time. Between work, family and coaching, my time is fairly limited. I still want to pursue my research of the railway and especially the fieldwork aspect of it. Hopefully I can find a way to tie everything in together. To compound things, I decided to start a blog for the society as well, The Silver Express (not really sold on the title, but I can always change it). Oh by the way, if you haven’t noticed, I changed the title of this bog too. I thought it was a bit more creative than “Padwrr.”

Anyway, I guess I should get rolling as I have marking to do; big shocker! Hopefully by next week I’ll have some pics of the society meeting. Until then…

 
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Posted by on December 11, 2012 in History, Miscellaneous, Writing

 

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Dreaming of a brown Christmas?

So the $64,000 question is where did all the snow go? Last week I wrote about the big dump of snow we received quite suddenly; fast forward a week and it’s gone just as fast. The abnormally warm temperatures we experienced over the last few days is the obvious culprit…we don’t usually get +8C in December. There’s no global warming right? Anyway, the big downside to all of this is that we’ve returned to that dreary, blah landscape of brown. I’m not the biggest fan of winter, but I must admit that things do look better covered in white. And besides, snow just puts me more in the Christmas mood, especially since the big day is only three weeks away!

So, other the lack of a white blanket in Thunder Bay, what’s new Dave? Well, to quote my usual response, “same ole’ crap!” Not that life is that uninteresting or negative, it’s just that I’m tired. No, not the I need a nap tired, but just that I’m a bit burnt tired. Time for a breather…a break if you will. And coincidentally enough Christmas break is just around the corner (well, 13 days from now to be exact)! As I’ve mentioned on several occasions already, I am definitely looking forward to the vacation. Things are not entirely sane right now and it will be nice to have a few less things on my plate.

What is it keeping my so busy you ask? The most obvious answer to that question is work. Despite my desire for a respite, I still have a job to do. This is usually the time of the semester that my marking tends to pile up and my illness a few weeks back did nothing but exacerbate the situation. I am behind! Marking is like this never-ending battle (well, it technically does end at the close of a semester); just when you seem to have gotten yourself caught up, you’re almost instantaneously swamped again. I guess I have another 15 years of treading water…cheers to me!

Anywho, the craziness with work has made it a bit of a challenge to get through all my railway related projects. My free time has once again, like it has been the last number of weeks, been dominated by preparations for the Silver Mountain Historical Society incorporation. Things are a little more real now since the 9th is this weekend. There is still so much to do! I think Shelley and I have nailed down the agenda, and now I’ve begun work on the actual presentation. I have part of the slideshow done for the meeting, and I’ve started work on a video for one of our principal priorities, the preservation of the North-Gunflint Lake corridor.

As the date approaches I am becoming increasingly nervous. Preparation is not the concern; as a teacher, I learned a long time ago that preparation is a critical element in the success or failure of anything. I think it’s just who I am. As a bit of a perfectionist, I do put a lot of pressure on myself when it comes to things like this…I just want things to come off as good as possible. I get the same way before football games…I routinely have to trot off to the port-a-potty on the field even though I went before we left the school. I’m sure I’ll be fine, but guaranteed the butterflies will be swirling before I start.

All the preparations for the meeting over the last few weeks has not taken every minute of my time, as I have found a few spare moments to do some other things as well. I did manage to get another vintage video up on YouTube, this time of the area around the Gravel Lakes. The Gravel Lakes are a chain of four lakes stretching for 2.5km from Sun Hill to Gravel Lake Station (mile 52); they are one of the most “interesting” sections of the railway. When I say “interesting” I am obvious being very facetious, as the Gravel Lakes are probably one of the worst pieces of grade on the entire line.

Rail bed, Gravel Lake I, July 2010.

Rail bed, Gravel Lake I, July 2010.

Rail bed, Gravel Lake II, July 2010.

Rail bed, Gravel Lake II, July 2010.

This entire stretch lies just at, or even below the water level of the lakes. It could be that the level of the lakes has risen in the past 120 years, but most likely the grade has settled into the swampy, muskeg topography of the area. If you’re not familiar with muskeg, just give it a Google. In his book “The National Dream,” noted author Pierre Berton wrote of the challenges of building railways through the Canadian Shield. He stated that many times entire sections of seemingly solid line had to be re-laid as they had settled into the muskeg; one had to be done seven times!

Ties, Gravel Lake II, July 2010.

Ties, Gravel Lake II, July 2010.

I first walked this section back in 1994, and was completely horrified (maybe that’s a bit strong) by what I found. I even got lost at one point, as I could not believe that it was the railway winding its way submerged through the last lake; it in fact was! I returned in 1997 to grab some video (I could have sworn I was there in ’95) and found that the water levels had receded somewhat. This is the footage I posted to YouTube.

Rail bed with ties, Gravel Lake III, July 2010.

Rail bed with ties, Gravel Lake III, July 2010.

I was back in the area two years ago in the summer of 2010. This section is interesting in the fact that because it is rather swampy, not many people have travelled it since the rails were removed. There are stories floating around of the locomotive engineers setting the engine on a slow speed and walking beside it on a particularly bad area because there was a tendency to derail. There are others of the train men becoming adept at coaxing the train back on the tracks because it would derail so often. I swear these legends speak about the Gravel Lakes!

Rail bed, Gravel Lake IV, July 2010.

Rail bed, Gravel Lake IV, July 2010.

Anyway, my journey a few years ago was to gather GPS data for the grade as it is difficult to plot its location due to the settling. I found that the water levels were even lower than in previous years, revealing things such as ties that I had never seen before. Many of the ties still had spikes in them! I would imagine that after sitting in the ground for so long, and the area being so wet, that they just left them in place. I took many pictures, but sadly I did not have my video camera with me. Therefore I will be returning to the Gravel Lakes to do just that, maybe even this summer.

Ties with spikes, Gravel Lake IV, July 2010.

Ties with spikes, Gravel Lake IV, July 2010.

Anyway, time to call it quits. I’ll definitely have a lot to say after Sunday’s meeting. Until then…

 
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Posted by on December 4, 2012 in History, Miscellaneous, Research, Writing

 

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