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Dreaming of a brown Christmas?

04 Dec

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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