Twenty years; for me, it amounts to half of my lifetime. Wow! I spent some time searching the internet looking for a quote to accurately describe my thoughts on this journey but I couldn’t find anything that fit. I guess that is a sign that I need to come up with something on my own; unfortunately I’m not really a master of the profound. Maybe I just need to speak from the heart, to say what I’m really thinking. However, that is usually easier said than done. I’ll give it a try in any case…but you’ll have to wait for it.
So, what’s new and exciting Dave? Well, here we are on the cusp of May and I’m still complaining about the weather. Yup, I went there. This has been quite the on-going saga with me (and everyone else for that matter) for the last year, but who can blame me. This winter does not want to end. It is so utterly depressing I cannot stand it any longer. The temperatures over the last month have warmed up a bit, but just as we seem to get ahead with the melting of the snow, we get blasted with another storm. This has happened three times in the last month-I’ve put together a nice little montage of photos to show you our progress, or lack thereof. I really hope that this it for snow; I and everyone else just wants to put this miserable winter behind us and hopefully move on to some warmer temperatures!
So with the arrival of May, we are now down to our last two months of the school year. It keeps getting faster and faster every year…it’s just a big blur! The worst part about it is there is so much to do in a little bit of time. You can never seem to get ahead on your marking, exams will be coming up in June and we will be starting to timetable for next year very shortly. On top of that there is a ton of football stuff coming up, such as spring camps and our trip to Duluth for the UMD team camp. Craziness!
Things have been fairly active on the railway front of late. As we move toward summer, planning has begun on our agenda for the historical society. We held our Annual General Meeting at the end of March, and we have a board meeting coming up next week. Planning for our flagship event, History Day, will be commencing at the meeting. There has been some discussion about moving the day into the fall, but my personal preference is to leave it where it is (I’m too busy in September). I’m sure we’ll get it all sorted out so we can start publicizing it as soon as possible.
Another reason why I’m anxious for the snow to go away and things to dry up is that I am itching to get out on the railway. I have a lot of field work planned this year and the sooner I can get out the better; besides, I just bought a new video camera and I’m dying to get things recorded in 1080p! First on my agenda is a visit to Minnesota to get some video of the grade before the trees leaf out. I also want to do the same with the Canadian portion of the Gunflint and Lake Superior Railroad before things get too green as well. In addition to day hikes, I’ve already booked two trips to Minnesota for the summer and fall; hopefully the weather cooperates with me.
So I actually have an ulterior motive for the July trip to Minnesota (well, besides visiting with my friend John at the Cross River Lodge), which is that I’ve been booked for another lecture at the Chik-Wauk Museum. If you remember I spoke there back in August 2012 and they’ve asked me to come back. I’m pretty excited; there was a great turn-out last time and I’m hoping it will be the same this time. If you’re in the area July 20th, you might want to stop by!
Alright, I guess this is the point at which I should explain the whole title thing, right? So here goes. In April 1994 a young guy was just finishing his second year of university and decided to satisfy a long-standing curiosity about a little know railway. What was supposed to be a short trip to the library to find a book to read became multiple trips and then became an odyssey once he realized that there were no books to be found. For some reason this railway seemed to fit all of his interests; history, the outdoors, research and a love of exploration. I was all of 20 years old.
In those early days there was very little information about the Port Arthur, Duluth and Western Railway, or Pee Dee (PD) Railway as it was often referred to as. There were a few maps, some relatively recent newspaper articles and a number of old photos. They all began to slowly form into the story of a long-forgotten railway. Eventually the visits to the library led to trips to Thunder Bay Museum and the files of one Clifford Brown.
Cliff Brown had recently passed away in 1991, but he had dedicated a large portion of the latter part of his life to unravelling the story of the railway. Many knew him as Mr. Pee Dee and were very aware of his work and presentations. His file at the museum was filled with old newspaper clippings, letters of correspondence and many personal notes. They were a huge source of information and provided many helpful insights into where to look for more information.
Besides rooting through archives and information, I really wanted to go out and explore the railway. My first experience with the PAD&W had been four years earlier in 1990 on my first ever moose hunting trip at North Lake. I had never been to this area before, and the property on the lake had only recently been purchased by friends of the family. I very quickly became enamored with the area, especially with all the discussion and mention of a “railway” that had once gone by. Walking the old grade and finding spikes and the remains of old buildings really intrigued me; I wanted to know more.
I found many old maps in the library, but looking at a map and determining where exactly the railway had been after been abandoned for 56 years was another matter. In some cases it was fairly simple, but in others it was a really challenging. You have to remember that the internet was just starting out, there were no Google maps or GPS and nature is very quick to take back what is hers. I was determined to trace the entire railway before I had to head back to school in September.
I spent a lot of time that summer slogging through rivers, getting eaten alive by bugs and often getting temporarily lost as I struggled to follow a grade that was now obscured by brush, washed out by floods, settled into swamps or rendered impassible by long burned out bridges. It was an ordeal at times to say the least. My journey that year culminated in a 3 day journey to probe the most remote area of the railway, the stretch west of Trestle Bay on North Lake all the way to the Gunflint Narrows. However I’ll save that story for the next post!
Anyway, I need to get rolling. Stay tuned for Part II of this retrospective coming shortly. Until then…