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Monthly Archives: May 2013

It’s about time!

Yes, yes it was. Talk about venting months of frustration. You know, when you can’t wait to do something and it finally happens you’re so giddy with excitement that you cannot contain yourself? That was me on Saturday. And no, I’m not talking about doing yard work, ‘cause we all know my feeling on that subject (besides, that was Sunday’s agenda). It wasn’t a stroll in the park and I was pretty beat afterwards, but it was well worth it. No, I’m not some addict getting my fix, but then again I could be since I can’t wait to do it again. Not making sense? Obviously you’re not visiting this blog on a regular basis…read up!

So we’ve arrived at the end of May. There are only 17 days left before exams…yikes! That’s not a lot of time kids! There is still so much to do, and to top it off, I’m out of the classroom for 6.5 days in these last few weeks. Talk about craziness. How I am going to get everything done? I guess I will manage like always, but I’m really finding it hard to plow through all of my marking. Besides, no teacher is ever caught up on their marking…ever!

One of the things that is going to keep me busy over the next week is our annual spring football camp. Yesterday I travelled to our feeder school Pope John Paul II (or PJP) along with another coach and a few players to plug the camp to prospective Grade 8’s. It should be a good three days of football skills and fun. Hopefully we will be joined by a couple former Fighting Saints alumni who are currently playing university ball here in Canada; I think these young athletes will really enjoy the experience.

Things have been both quiet and busy on the railway front. I worked on a few small items for the historical society, though I do need to get cracking on the poster and website. The website is of particular importance, as it will be one of our main means of providing information to the public. We’re also planning to have a page for society membership, which hopefully will attract more people to our organization.

So the biggest news of the past week and the obvious title of this post, involves the hike I did on Saturday in Minnesota. It was so good to get out and do some hiking on the railway (actually, it was great to get out period). I had been looking forward to this outing for quite a while, really since my visit to Gunflint Lake in March (I’ve written about it so many times over the past month or so). Unfortunately I left my usual hiking partner Loki behind, but I was joined by my oldest son Ethan, as well as my friend and Cross River Lodge owner John Schloot.

After an uneventful 2.5 hour or so drive from Thunder Bay to Gunflint Lake, I stopped at the lodge to pick up John. From there we proceeded the approximately 5km to the southern trailhead of the Centennial Trail. Once we were ready, we headed back up the Round Lake Road (County Road 47) to where it intersects with the Gunflint Trail. It was there that we picked up the old railway grade, and proceeded to follow it for about 200m to the east (it eventually disappears under the Trail).

Grade near the Gunflint Trail, May 2013.

Grade near the Gunflint Trail, May 2013.

We then headed back to the west, retracing our steps until we crossed back over the Round Lake Rd. From there the grade skirts a ridge as it makes a large arc through a swamp and begins to climb the opposite ridge. The engineers did this as the railway needed to climb about 200 feet as it leaves the valley of the Cross River and heads toward the Paulson Mine. It also required an elaborate double trestle switchback to make the grade sufficiently low enough for the trains to negotiate the climb. One can actually see a rock embankment almost 100 feet above the swamp on the southern ridge of the valley.

Cutting, May 2013.

Cutting, May 2013.

Railway embankment on the ridge, May 2013.

Railway embankment on the ridge, May 2013.

It is rather interesting walking the round edge of the loop as it curves through the swamp. The grade has obviously settled into the ground, but beavers have conveniently used it as the base for a large dam. At the southern end of the curve, the line passes through what looks like a large hill, but what is in actuality an esker. From there the slope of the grade becomes very noticeable as the line ascends the ridge passing through several cuttings and rock cuts. The distance from the esker to the western side of the first trestle is 230m, while the rise is about 11.5m (38ft); that makes the slope near 5%. Craziness! I can’t image how the trains would get up that grade, but worse, how loaded ores cars could negotiate the decent and curve.

Swamp loop, May 2013.

Swamp loop, May 2013.

Esker cutting, May 2013.

Esker cutting, May 2013.

At the eastern end of the ridge, the engineers were confronted with a valley opening to the north directly in their path. The simple solution was to build a 150 foot trestle across the expanse, but they would have to cross this valley a second time. From the east side of the trestle, the railway skirted around to the south side of the ridge for 250m, passing through a very large rock cut. Previously overgrown, this area has now been cleared by the US Forest Service and will probably become part of the Centennial Trail. Eventually the grade merges with the Round Lake Rd next to the Cross River.

Lower rock cut, May 2013.

Lower rock cut, May 2013.

At this point was located a switchback, which meant that the train now changed to another track and reversed its path along the ridge at a higher elevation. The grade continues for another 200m, through another large rock cut until it reaches the valley once again and crosses a second 150 foot trestle. Portions of this upper line have also been cleared and we made an interesting discovering. Previously obscured by the brush and part of what I assumed was the grade, was an immensely large pile of blasted rock lying between the upper and lower lines. Likely taken from the two rock cuts, it is a bit of a mystery as to why this pile was created and left in that spot. My best guess is that it would eventually have been used to replace the wooden trestles with rock embankments.

Rock pile, May 2013.

Rock pile, May 2013.

Upper rock cut, May 2013.

Upper rock cut, May 2013.

One of my goals of the hike was to shoot some new video of the area, and in particular, with John’s help, film the double trestles from the far sides. It must have been something to see those wooden structures one on top of the other on the side of the ridge (I’d love to find someone who can do some sort of drawing or CGI of what it would have looked like). My attempt was partially successful; I sort of underestimated how much forest growth was in the area. The upper trestle turned out okay, but at the lower one I was obscured by the trees. I was able to get enough footage to create two videos which have already made it to YouTube (Part I & Part II).

Loop and switchback in Minnesota.

Loop and switchback in Minnesota.

After concluding our very enjoyable “walk” through the bush, we headed back to the lodge to drop John off. Ever the gracious host, John invited us in to share some lunch and conversation with him and his wife Rose. I know he really enjoyed the hike, and I hope to get to visit him in the summer. If I can wrangle it, I’d like to spend a few days at the lodge in the fall and hike the Gunflint and Lake Superior Railroad. We’ll have to see how things play out at that time.

After saying goodbye to John and Rose, Ethan and I drove the 17km farther up the Gunflint Trail to the Chik-Wauk Museum. It’s a very beautiful old building (it used to be a lodge) and has some great historical displays. I did have an ulterior motive however, which was to drop off one of my railway posters to the museum director Ada. Gotta sell the website right? From there it was back to Grand Marais, dinner and then home. We rolled into the driveway at about 7:45, which made it almost a 12 hour round-trip. Boy was I pooped, and so was Ethan; he uncharacteristically slept in until 8:30 the next morning!

I’m really hoping to get out again this weekend. I’d like to go to North Lake with both of the boys and see if we can find ourselves more telegraph poles and maybe some insulators like we did last year. Right now Mother Nature doesn’t look like she’s going to cooperate however, but things seem to change very quickly around here. Let’s hope for the best.

Anyway, time to get rolling. With any luck I’ll have more adventures to talk about next week. Until then…

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Posted by on May 28, 2013 in Hiking, History, Miscellaneous, Railway, Writing

 

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Mother nature sucks, but lunch was epic!

Cryptic? Of course; you wouldn’t expect any less of me! I think the title pretty much sums up the state of affairs around here. It has been a crazy, depressing and frustrating past seven days…I’ll try to express it all in words!

So I might as well start off with the crappy part, namely…wait for it…you probably know it already…the weather! Yes, the weather. The stupid freakin’ weather. If I talk about it anymore, people will start to think I have some serious issues (maybe I do-I did say Mother Nature sucks). I can’t help it though, it’s really starting to make me (and everyone else) rather crazy. What is driving most of this angst is that I cannot go out and do what I want to do, which is hike.

So if you read this blog with any regularity you’ll know that I’ve been dying to get out hiking for the past month. First it was the cold, then snow, and now rain. Obviously I did not get to do my planned hike in Minnesota for the long weekend; I unfortunately spent it cooped up in the house all 3 days (well, accept for a few hours on Saturday morning). Remember this time last year when we had that biblical flood? Well, let me tell you a story!

So the forecast called for some rain this weekend, which here in Canada is the traditional start of the summer camping/outdoor season. Then the rain was upgraded to a lot of rain; then it was a flood. Talk about déjà vu! We had a huge deluge last May 28th, and they were talking about rain in the same proportions. So it rained most of Saturday, Sunday and off and on Monday. I thought it was over, but we’ve gotten another big dump of rain today. Fortunately there has not been the widespread flooding that we had last year, but are some flooded areas and road closures. I’m not sure of the exact count, but we’ve had something like 70-80mm of rain so far…I guess hiking in this area is out for a while.

Backyard flooding, May 2013.

Backyard flooding, May 2013.

Backyard flooding, May 2013.

Backyard flooding, May 2013.

Anyway, now that we’ve passed the May long weekend we’re on the downward slide toward the end of the school year. It’s going to be a crazy, hectic 23 days. Teaching, football and graduation will make it all interesting. On top of all of that, I have 6.5 days that I’ll be out of the classroom for various workshops; that’s more than a quarter of the remaining time. Insanity! I will do my best to keep my feet firmly planted.

Now one of things that will help is that our crew at work will try to squeeze in one more epic lunch before the end. Yes, you heard it, an epic lunch (hence the title). This is something we came up with last year and we have continued the tradition of excellence. What is it you ask? Well, it’s what it says, lunches of epic proportions. It was mostly inspired by the YouTube videos of Epic Mealtime. So we try and find culinary challenges to complete, which are usually not always to healthiest choices, but it makes for good time and company. So far we’ve done the 6 foot sub, 3-65” pizzas, Taco Time tacos and burritos, Chinese chicken balls and bonbons, chicken wings and the McDonald’s triple double (double Big Mac, quarter-pounder & cheeseburger). What’s next? Some dirty bird (aka KFC)?

The challenge revealed, May 2013.

The challenge revealed, May 2013.

About to dig in, May 2013.

About to dig in, May 2013.

Things have been very busy on the railway front, mostly with the historical society. We had a board meeting last week to plot our strategy for the upcoming months. A lot good stuff is coming up for the summer. At the beginning of July there will be a Horseback Riding event with proceeds going to the society. In August, the Silver Mountain Station will be hosting the 2nd Annual History Day, which brings together local historians and writers and allows people to learn more about the history of the area.

We’re also starting our first ever membership drive, which we hope attracts more people to the society. To help publicize our efforts, our website is undergoing a major overhaul, and we’re having an advertising poster created (much like the one for the railway). It’s a pretty exciting time, and we hope that society grows and prospers. Be sure to join us if you’re interesting in preserving history!

So as I mentioned earlier, my plans to go hiking last weekend were derailed by the weather. I am hoping to try again this weekend. It might be a bit wet, so for the first time ever I may have wear my stylish rubber boots in the bush. Let’s hope it’s not too bad. I am very glad however that my oldest son, Ethan, has decided to join me. It’s awesome that I can share my love of the outdoors and history with my boys, and teach them to appreciate what we have around us. My youngest, Noah, will soon be six and I imagine he will be joining us on longer hikes soon enough.

Anyway, time to roll; lots of stuff to do in a short week. Hopefully I will have good news to report next week. Until then…

 
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Posted by on May 21, 2013 in Hiking, History, Miscellaneous, Railway, Writing

 

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The waiting is the hardest part!

Yes, I do know the irony. And no, I wasn’t trying to be smart like I normally am. I’m not really a fan of Tom Petty anyway; the boys and I have really been into The Who lately 😉 But the point is true regardless…I hate waiting. Seriously! But unfortunately it is a huge part of life. What bothers me the most is when there is a big hurry to get something done (or that you perceive there is a big hurry) and then you end up waiting. Like the old army adage “Hurry up and wait.” I’ve certainly been doing a lot of waiting lately and it is driving me nuts. What am I waiting for pray tell? Read on and find out!

So today is the 14th of May…craziness! Already halfway through May and it seems like we just started the month. School will be over before I know it and so many things left to do. This is one of those good/bad waiting things. I’m definitely looking forward to summer (never said that before), but there’s a lot of stuff to do before then. The break will certainly be appreciated!

One of the things keeping me busy is football. Yes, we’ve been down this road before-football is now an almost year-round sport. I spent Friday night at a clinic delivered by the coaches from the University of Minnesota-Duluth. For several years we had travelled down to Duluth to the player’s camp they do at the end of June, but lately our school schedule has prevented us from doing so. To bridge the gap, the coaches have been coming up to work with the kids over a weekend (they did a session for the coaches for the first time this year). Coach Weise and his staff were and continue to be a great bunch of guys (though it did make me laugh every time the defensive coordinator talked about having 11 guys on the field).

Today we had a meeting to promote our spring camp to our Grade 9’s. Pretty decent turnout, but we hope to pick up a more kids. We’ll be visiting our feeder school Pope John Paul II in a few weeks to deliver the message to the Grade 8’s who plan to come to St. Patrick in the fall. I love doing it all, but it makes for a much busier schedule.

So things have been busy again with the historical society. I’ve been patiently waiting (maybe not patiently) for a few things to fall into place with one of our projects, but success has been somewhat elusive. I’m starting to find out how frustrating these things can be, and no matter how much you try you cannot make them go any faster. Here’s to hoping that it gets better in the near future.

We have a board meeting on Thursday and I hope I’ve got everything ready to on my end. Big topics of conversation are going to be our membership drive to attract new folks to our organization and also an upcoming overhaul to our website. I have a former student working on it, the same one who did my site for the railway. This will be a great way to help promote the society and the work we are doing. I also have another former student working on a poster for us; he did one for the railway and it turned out awesome. Can’t wait to see what he does on this one!

b's poster

Obviously the biggest highlight of the forthcoming week is going to be my planned hike in Minnesota. I am dying to get out walking on the railway, but alas the weather may have the final say…grrrrrr! The forecast was for sun on Saturday, but now it appears there will be rain. I hope things change before then as I do not want to postpone for another week because…

So my hike will take me along the railway about 3.5km west of Gunflint Lake. I was in the area last fall, but I have not looked at this piece specifically since 2011. That year was the first time I walked the portion the line where it leaves the Gunflint Trail/Cross River and forms a switchback on its way to the Paulson Mine. On that occasion I discovered that there were two large trestles on either side of the switchback instead of just one. I want to re-photograph the line and get some better video of this very interesting section. Come on Mother Nature, lend a guy a hand!

Cutting, Minnesota, May 2011.

Cutting, Minnesota, May 2011.

Cutting, Minnesota, May 2011.

Cutting, Minnesota, May 2011.

Rock cut, Minnesota, May 2011.

Rock cut, Minnesota, May 2011.

Anyway, time to go. Hopefully I’ll be back next week with some good news and experiences from Minnesota (or crabby because it rained all weekend). Until then…

 
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Posted by on May 14, 2013 in Hiking, History, Miscellaneous, Railway, Writing

 

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You’d think I’d have figured it out!

So sometimes I astound myself by how dumb I am. It’s really amazing, since I’m a reasonably intelligent, nearly 40 year old guy who graduated from university and has spent the last 15 years educating young people. And it’s not as if I’m one of those book smart, common sense dumb people either…I’m pretty astute (or I’d like to think so). So why do I do the things I do? Why do I go and jinx things? I guess in this case it was the exuberant optimism born of months of pent-up frustration. Huh, say again? Please, read on.

Last week I made the mistake of raving about how spring had arrived and how I didn’t care if we got any more snow since winter was now over. Bad mistake! Yes, a week ago I was in shorts and the weather was gorgeous. Unfortunately it didn’t last and we got a lovely dump of 15cm of snow on Thursday. So, again, we had to start all over again with the whole melting thing. The last few days have been very warm (nearly 20C) and we’ve recovered and then some. Now, I don’t want to go and jinx things again; we are supposed to get some precipitation later in the week, but I imagine that it will be rain. The only downside to this warm weather is that it reminds me that I have a lot to do outside, and everyone knows how much I love yardwork!

Snowfall at work, May 2013.

Snowfall at work, May 2013.

Thursday the 2nd, May 2013.

Thursday the 2nd, May 2013.

Monday the 6th, May 2013.

Monday the 6th, May 2013.

So now that we’ve entered the month of May, school is beginning to wind down for another year. Only six weeks left! Surprisingly I do not feel the same burnout that I was experiencing in previous weeks…a weather boost? Could be; I’d venture to say that the sunny, warm weather has made everyone a tad bit happier.

Last Thursday I held the first meeting in quite a while for our Europe 2014 travel group. It was nice to get together with the kids again, and to see their excitement for a trip that is now exactly 10 months away. Working in conjunction with my colleagues at our sister school St. Ignatius, the students will be responsible for a little light research before we leave. We are planning to visit several cemeteries on the trip (Bergen-op-Zoom, Beny-sur-Mer and Bretteville-sur-Laize among others) and they will be honouring a particular soldier interred at that location. Just a little way we can pay our respects to those who fought and died for our country.

As has been the norm for the past little while, things have been very busy with the Silver Mountain (and Area) Historical Society. We have a board meeting coming up on the 16th, and there is so much to do in preparation. I spent a lot of my time trying to make contact with and arrange some partnerships with some other like-minded groups and societies. Through my friend John Schloot I think we’ve secured an in with the Gunflint Trail Historical Society (GTHS), who are our neighbouring organization to the south and with whom we share some mutual history. A similar group is the Cook County Historical Society (CCHS) in Grand Marais, but I have yet to hear back from them.

Last week while surfing posts on Facebook, I came across a link that intrigued me. On the Friends of the Boundary Waters page (whom I have followed for some time), there was a post about a conference here in Thunder Bay. The meeting was held by an organization known as the Heart of the Continent (HOCP), which is a bi-national forum that brings together people/groups interested in preserving the natural and cultural heritage of the area. Obviously I missed the conference, but it spurred me to contact both HOCP and the Friends of the Boundary Water. I just received replies from both groups today and I hope this is the start of some important partnerships.

So as I sit here on my deck and write on this beautiful evening (I actually had to retreat inside as I could not see the screen), my attention turns to the warming weather and the prospect of going hiking once again. Next weekend is the Victoria Day long weekend here in Canada, and if the weather holds, I plan to spend at least a day of it travelling to Minnesota to hike the railway. What a way to show my patriotism to the monarchy on the former queen’s birthday…travel to what once was a British territory that rebelled against colonial rule! *Shrugs shoulders* I’m praying the ground will have dried up sufficiently to make my trip worthwhile. Fingers are crossed!

Anyway, I think it’s time to wrap up. Hopefully I will not have to come back next week and eat my words again…I’m growing rather full. Until then…

 
 

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