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It’s about time!

28 May

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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