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Monthly Archives: June 2016

Dave’s Outdoor Adventures-Episode III: The Cruise Control Aversion

It’s something that some us use quite frequently, while others do not. At one time it was regarded as a luxury, a piece of technology that a few had while the majority did not. Today however, it has become a standard component in automotive offerings, so much so that it is often overlooked. Yes, I’m talking about cruise control. Huh? Yup, that little collection of buttons located somewhere near your vehicle steering wheel, subject to the variations of makes and models. Why am I talking about this you ask? Well, it seems to me that some people out there have forgotten that this technology exists; I guess we’re too worried about Bluetooth connections, LCD screens and in-car wifi to remember about something so trivial. Still confused? Yes, you’re probably wondering what my point in all of this is, but rest assured, as always, I will explain myself.

So 2600km and many hours of driving later I have returned ladies and gentlemen. The vacation is over; well, at least part of it is…I’m still on leave however. It’s amazing how much distance you can cover in a short period of time. Probably the best example was on the return trip, when we had to cross the entire state of Wisconsin from Beloit to Superior, all 600km of it. It took the better part of 5 hours to complete that leg of the 1000km trek home. It’s surprising how sitting in a vehicle that long can completely wipe you out. I definitely would not make a good long-haul truck driver!

So when we last left off I had arrived in La Crosse, Wisconsin on the first leg of our trip. The whole purpose of visiting La Crosse was to examine files belonging to Pigeon River Lumber Company Vice-President Frank Hixon, housed in the archives of the University of Wisconsin-La Crosse. There was palpable mix of excitement and apprehension before my visit; I couldn’t wait to see what I find but I was also worried that the volume of information would overwhelm me.

I had quite a number of email exchanges with the staff of the Special Collections Center at the Murphy Resource Library well in advance of my arrival. They had graciously examined many of the files in the Hixon records, so I knew that this would not just be a wild goose chase. The archives did not open until 9:30, so I had plenty of time to make sure I arrived on time.

Murphy Library, La Crosse, WI, June 2016.

Murphy Library, La Crosse, WI, June 2016.

Archives, Murphy Library, June 2016.

Archives, Murphy Library, June 2016.

The first files I planned to investigate were financial records belonging to the PRLC. While it turned out that most were for the years after 1909 (the year that the logging operation at Gunflint concluded), there were a number that fell into the appropriate timeframe. These documents gave concise information on the financial situation of the company, as well as the importance of the Gunflint operation to the PRLC.

From there I began an examination of Hixon’s letterbooks. These books, similar in nature to the Arpin Papers, contained copies of all Hixon’s outgoing letters to his many contacts and business partners. I was hoping that they would shed some light on the end of the Gunflint logging efforts, since the Arpin Papers do not go past April 1908. I found exactly the information I was looking for.

After looking through the 1908-1909 letterbook, I moved on to the unbound correspondence from the same period. Essentially these folders contained all the incoming letters that Hixon received, which proved to be even more useful than the letterbooks; they were a gold mine of information. Letters from President D.J. Arpin and Secretary/Treasurer William Scott, in addition to copies relating to company business, shed a tremendous amount of light on the day-to-day operations of the PRLC.

By focussing on the periods where there were gaps in the Arpin Papers coverage, and utilizing the assistance of my wonderful wife, I was able to make substantial headway in my examination of the records. When all was said and done, I had gathered over 600 photographs various documents in the collection. The haul of information made the time and expense of the visit to La Crosse well worthwhile.

Hixon Letterbook, June 2016.

Hixon Letterbook, June 2016.

PRLC Letterhead, June 2016.

PRLC Letterhead, June 2016.

When I initially planned the trip to La Crosse, I had figured that two days would allow me to make a full examination of all the files. Later on, I became convinced that a return visit was inevitable given the amount of information in the archives. Surprising, I was able to complete everything in one day.

I found La Crosse to be a beautiful town, and despite my good knowledge of geography, I did not realize that it lay on the banks of the mighty Mississippi. However, with my work completed, Jo-Anne decided that we should leave a day early and therefore have more time in Chicago. This was done, and early on Tuesday morning we began the four-hour drive to the Windy City.

Mighty Mississippi, La Crosse, WI, June 2016.

Mighty Mississippi, La Crosse, WI, June 2016.

Like the drive to La Crosse, I thought the journey across Wisconsin was equally as picturesque. Four hours and a bunch of change later, we were in Chicago. Neither my wife nor I had ever been to the Land of Lincoln before, so it was going to be a whole new experience. In the end, it was great; the only blemish, the damn toll highways. I’ve been on them before, but nowhere near that many. The real frustration comes when you miss one (or a couple…long story) and need to pay them later on. Apparently it’s quite easy. Just go on the web and pay online; the part they leave out is that it doesn’t work for non-US residents! What a pain!

So the extra time we had would allow us to explore the city in a bit more detail. Unfortunately we were staying in the suburbs, closer to where the National Archives were located. Thankfully we were able to determine that Rock Island District Metra line would take us right into the heart of the city in less than an hour. So, with oh so much irony, I rode the train into downtown. And what did I do along the way? I took pictures of some of the old stations along the line! I am very impressed that they were able to preserve all of these historic stations. While it appears that many are no longer in use, it is amazing to witness their unique architectural style…they don’t build things that way anymore.

Oak Forest Metra Station, June 2016.

Oak Forest Metra Station, June 2016.

115th Street Metra Station, June 2016.

115th Street Metra Station, June 2016.

99th Street Metra Station, June 2016.

99th Street Metra Station, June 2016.

91st Street Metra Station, June 2016.

91st Street Metra Station, June 2016.

To help us explore the city better, we purchased a get on, get off bus tour for the day. The first thing we had to do was walk though, from the La Salle Street Station two and a half kilometres to the Hard Rock Café on Ontario Street where the tour departed from. Our first stop after embarking on the bus was the Willis Tower, which many still know as the Sears Tower. The Skydeck at the tower gives an impressive view of the city and surrounding area, though the highlight is going out onto “The Ledge.” While I have walked, apprehensively albeit, on the glass floor of the CN Tower, nothing prepares you for the experience of stepping out into a glass box 1353 feet above the ground. Have I ever mentioned that I’m terrified of heights? And not only did I do it once, but twice, since Jo-Anne wanted to get the “official” picture as well.

chicago, June 2016.

Chicago, June 2016.

The "Ledge," Willis Tower, June 2016.

The “Ledge,” Willis Tower, June 2016.

The rest of the bus ride was great, including a stop at the Field Museum near the waterfront. We concluded the tour by disembarking near the Hancock Tower, at the northern end of the famous “Magnificent Mile.” We then made our way along Michigan Avenue toward the train station, stopping for some deep-dish pizza at Giordano’s before heading back to the hotel.

Field Museum, June 2016.

Field Museum, June 2016.

Giordano's Pizza, June 2016.

Giordano’s Pizza, June 2016.

The second part of my research adventure took place on Thursday morning with a visit to the National Archives and Records Administration repository in Chicago. Unlike the La Crosse archives, I was quite unsure what I would find at the NARA facility; I was rolling the dice here. What I was after were any records pertaining to the US customs house located at Gunflint Lake. Government records have yielded information on the agent, salary and duties collected for the Canadian customs house at Leeblain. However, US records only list the agent and salary; I was hoping that I could fill in the gap in Chicago.

Unfortunately my search that day was over very quickly. The documents in their collection primarily dealt with the vessel traffic in the port of Duluth. While the staff rendered their utmost assistance, this search is going to require a bit more digging to determine if this information is available.

Friday and Saturday were both spent downtown again, this time in some blistering temperatures. A heat wave had embraced the Midwest states, pushing the mercury in Chicago, even near Lake Michigan, above the 40C mark with the humidity. While I appreciated the fact that it was hot, it was not the ideal weather to be plodding the streets of Chicago in. We logged more than 25km over the two days and I must have sweated out several pounds of perspiration. The worst was during our architectural boat tour of the city, where I felt like I was going to pass out with the sun beating mercilessly down on us as we plied the shade less waters of the Chicago River.

Chicago River, June 2016.

Chicago River, June 2016.

Chicago River, June 2016.

Chicago River, June 2016.

All good things must come to an end, so on Sunday we left for home. During the drive I began to think about something that has bothered me every time I have taken road trips over the years, and is the inspiration for the title of this post; why do people hate cruise control? Am I being completely anal-retentive and unreasonable? It’s a no-brainer to me; you get on the highway, set your cruise control and away you go! It makes me mental to be behind someone on the road and have their speed fluctuate, sometimes quite wildly. Speed up, slow down and repeat. The best however, is playing tag with people on divided highways. You go by them, only to have them blow past you a few minutes later and then invariably you catch and pass them once again further down the road. I passed the same car from Maryland three times on the way home.

I’ve also noticed a propensity for this behaviour south of the border (mind you, I have done more trips there in recent years). Do Americans hate cruise control that much? Does my Canadian nature and mild OCD make me desire order and uniformity over chaos? Is it un-American to use cruise control? Maybe some people feel it unconstitutional, a slap in the face of freedom like wearing a motorcycle helmet (I really don’t get that). It could be that they’re afraid the government will revoke the second amendment if they use it. Obviously I’m being quite facetious here (or am I?), but it’s just something that catches my attention (and nerves) every time I hit the road.

Anyway, I best wrap things up. I have a plethora of things that require my attention. I’ll be back soon enough with the all the latest revelations. Until then…

 
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Posted by on June 18, 2016 in History, Railway, Research, Travel

 

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Dave’s Outdoor Adventures-Episode II: The Itinerant Chronicler

Did you know that I was a famous columnist at one time? Well, maybe famous is a bit of an over-exaggeration; let’s say well known. Okay, maybe that’s a stretch too, but I’m sure at least a few people read my work. So, what paper did you write for Dave? Globe and Mail? National Post? New York Times? Ummm, not quite. Chronicle-Journal? Unfortunately not. Try the Lakehead University Argus. Come again? Yup, you read it right; I wrote a weekly column at my alma mater, Lakehead, during my final year of university. See, I told you I was famous! The name of said column…you guessed it, Dave’s Outdoor Adventures. I was outdoorsy and a writer even way back then! For even more nostalgia, I was going to call this post “Episode II: Electric Boogaloo” (how many of you can remember that far back to know what I’m talking about?).

Well, here we are in June…the leave is almost over (yes, I am not counting July and August since that is normal time off). It’s kind of sad. Unfortunately all good things must come to an end. As I’ve mentioned on several occasions already, I have made the time count though. I’ve managed to get a lot done around the house and now my focus is going to shift to camp, that is when I get back from my trip.

June means a return to football, even though I am on sabbatical. I spent two lunch hours last week speaking first to Grade 9s at St. Pats and then to Grade 8s at Pope John Paul (our feeder school) about our program. In preparation for that, I was stuck to the computer for several days putting together this year’s edition of our recruiting video. Next year I need to make sure I start it well ahead of time so it’s not such a rush!

In the final few days in May I did manage to get out for my second hike of the year, probably the last for a bit until I get things taken care of at camp. My plan was to repeat a hike I had done last year, this time with a better plan and a secondary agenda. My journey would take me to Crab Lake, via the Border Route Trail access spur near Loon Lake.

It’s about a 3km hike from where you park to the trail intersection between Crab and Whisker Lakes. First, I was going to try and locate portions of the grade of the Gunflint and Lake Superior Railroad and determine if in fact it had come as far as the eastern end of Crab Lake and continued on along Whisker Lake. In 2015 I had focussed my search along a road that had been put in during the late 1920s or early 1930s (possibly on top of the railroad grade) and is now part of the hiking trail.

Crab Lake trail, May 2016.

Crab Lake trail, May 2016.

Crab Lake, May 2016.

Crab Lake, May 2016.

Whisker Lake, May 2016.

Whisker Lake, May 2016.

I knew from my search last year that this one time road did not look right, especially as there were too many undulations, even for a logging railroad. I swept it for about 300 metres in an eastward direction, finally determining that there was nothing to be found. I had always suspected that the grade was along the shore of the lake and with the lake drier than last year, I decided to take a look.

Within 40 metres I had found what I was looking for, actually quite by chance. My metal detector picked up a “hit,” but it was coming back at around 7 inches below the ground; from past experience I knew that any traces of the railroad tend to be closer to the surface, usually within an inch or so. Turns out, the location was above a small overturned stump. When I looked underneath it, I made the big discovery-a spike sitting right there. I had located the grade. From that point I made my way east along the shore for about 200 metres, finding more spikes and even a piece of fishplate in the process. Later I found more spikes, another fishplate and some coal near the west end of the lake.

Spike, May 2016.

Spike, May 2016.

G&LS grade, May 2016.

G&LS grade, May 2016.

Spike and fishplate, May 2016.

Spike and fishplate, May 2016.

Coal, May 2016.

Coal, May 2016.

The other part of the trip involved trying to locate a second logging camp belonging to the Pigeon River Lumber Company. I found documentation pointing to the existence of this camp back in March, and I was given a rough idea of where I could look from a spot discovered by Superior National Forest archaeologist Lee Johnson in 2007.

While I will not reveal the exact location, I did find the remains of what could have been a logging camp more than 100 years ago. The site was littered with tin cans of all types, and the best evidence, from my perspective anyway, was the discovery of several small barrel hoops. This leads me to believe that this was probably an early 20th century site as wooden barrels would have not been used in the 1930s. I also turned up a few nails a short distance away. An exact confirmation is pending; I have another location I want to check out next year to make sure I’m as close to sure as I can be.

Cans, May 2016.

Cans, May 2016.

Cans and barrel hoops, May 2016.

Cans and barrel hoops, May 2016.

So I am writing this from a hotel in La Crosse, Wisconsin, which means that I am on the first leg of my long-awaited research trip to the US. I’ll be spending a few days here in La Crosse before moving on to Chicago. I don’t have as much to do there, so my wife and I will be spending most of our time in the Windy City being tourists.

It’s almost 8 hours from Thunder Bay to La Crosse, and since we had to leave after noon due to a previous commitment, we got here in the evening. The drive down was quite interesting. Everything was fine until we passed Grand Marais; then we were subjected to short, periodic bursts of torrential rain, so hard at times it was difficult to see the road. Then as we approached Two Harbors, we received a severe thunderstorm warning for the Duluth-Superior area. Apparently there were winds reported up to 60 miles per hour and a potential for damaging hail. Thankfully none of that appeared.

The last time I drove through parts of Wisconsin it was 1977 and I was 3 years old…so it’s been a while. I rather enjoyed the scenery, as it is quite different than I am accustomed to in Northern Ontario. We managed to make really good time on the Interstate between Superior and Eau Claire. Along the way, I spotted some really nice rail-trail paralleling parts of I-53. It made me think a lot about the PAD&W and how it’s a shame that there are not more parts of it that have become trail. However, it has been nearly 80 years since it’s abandonment and in many places there is way too much infrastructure to repair to make it viable.

After a stop for some food in Rice Lake, we proceeded to Eau Claire where we left the Interstate for Highway 93, which winds its way 130km from there to La Crosse. I found this part the most intriguing, for it really gives you a glimpse of rural America. And besides, the rolling hills, farms and deciduous forests were well worth the 55mph speed limit. Too bad we won’t be passing back through it on our way to Chicago.

Highway 93 near Arcadia, WI, June 2016.

Highway 93 near Arcadia, WI, June 2016.

Anyway, I better get rolling. I’m off to the archives soon. I’ll have a full debrief of the trip when I return home. Until then…

 

 
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Posted by on June 6, 2016 in Hiking, History, Railway, Research, Travel

 

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