Well, not literally, but it felt like it. You could imagine the headline though, “Moose gives man heart attack!” Not that I want to joke about something like that; first, because heart attacks are not something to joke about and second, I guarantee you, it’s happened before. Probably in Canada…I might just Google it. Anyway, I’m sure it took a few years off my life!
Wow, its almost June kids! That means school will be over in month, so another year bites the dust. Unfortunately there is still a ton of stuff to do between now and then, so much that I don’t want to even think about it. This is on top of everything going on at home. Football is over, but Noah’s baseball is in full swing, which occupies 3-4 nights a week. I’ve also spent the last few weekends at camp, as there are quite a number of things to do there. It never ends!
Fortunately the weather is cooperating. Up until a few days ago, we haven’t seen very much rain. We still need more, as it is still very dry. It’s been the nicest spring we’ve had in a number of years, especially compared to last year. I hope it continues, and we have a warm summer. Last summer was okay, but it wasn’t particularly warm by any stretch. I guess we’ll just have to see what happens.
Even though things are crazy, I was finally able to some railway work done. I had been looking forward to my first hike of the year from quite a while, and it was critical for my research on the Gunflint & Lake Superior Railroad. I decided this year to plan my hike for the Friday before the Victoria Day long-weekend, which would give me the whole weekend to go to camp.
So I headed down to Gunflint on Thursday after work. With everything going on lately, it was nice to not think about it for a while. I’ve always thought of the North-Gunflint area as one of my happy places, somewhere I can decompress. It was also nice to visit my good friends John and Rose at the Cross River Lodge…it’s like a home away from home.
The goal of the hike was two-fold; finish locating the grade of the G&LS and explore more of Camp 8. It was a beautiful morning, and I had a long walk ahead of me. From the parking area, it was a 6km walk to where I would start my work. As I walked east along the Border Route Trail, I could already feel the heat building and I knew it would be a very challenging day. It was about two-thirds of the way to my destination that it happened.
I was in a hurry to get to my starting location, so I was walking quite quickly along the trail. And then I heard it…the distinctive “crack” of a branch breaking. Small animals don’t break branches like that, so my mind starting racing; bear? Proceeding slowly forward, my heart stopped when a large moose wheeled about 25 feet in front of me and took off through the bush. It took quite a while for my heart rate to recover from that!
Once I reached a point just northwest of Topper Lake, I proceeded south to where I thought the railroad grade would be. It was strictly a hunch; the previous year I had lost the line well to the west and hoped by starting further to the east I might luck out. Turns out, I did. Not far from the trail, the area was flooded by a large beaver pond, and fairly quickly I found the first trace of the railroad, a spike. That forced me into a tough decision; keep going west or try to see if there were more traces to the east. I decided on the latter.
Within a short distance I had located a couple of fishplates, which were used to join sections of rail together. Metres away, I made an amazing discovery; an axe blade. To find something like this away from any camp or settlement I would imagine is rare and it happened just by fluke. It made me wonder though, how did it end up there? Was it forgotten, abandoned…I’m sure if axes could talk! I so wanted to pick it up and get it to a museum, but I promised the guys at the Forest Service (these are Federal lands) that I would not remove anything.
Farther east, past the beaver dam, I located another couple pieces of fishplate and a mystery object. It was in the creek flowing into Topper Lake, so I root around in the mud to find it and when it emerged, I had no idea what it was. I figured it was something from a horse harness, which as it turns out, it was. Closer to the lake, I came across a coil of wire, which resembled some of the “telegraph wire” I encountered along the grade. This means the railroad grade actually corresponds with what is shown on a 1926 map of the area.
Turning around, I retraced my steps back to where I started and continued westward. I located another spike a hundred metres or so from my initial find, and that was it. From there it was a difficult slog more than 700 metres to where I had last found traces the previous year. It was a wet, swampy area, full of thick bush and deadfall, which made the going very challenging. On top of that, the temperature was climbing the whole time, so I was sweating like a hog and getting winded. It is at times like these that you wonder why you put yourself through this type of abuse. Like, why can’t I be normal and sit on my deck and drink like other people on their day off? Then I remember that conforming is boring!
Once I had re-acquired the grade, it was another few hundred metres to reach the site of Camp 8 (which I am pretty sure was renumbered Camp 11 in February 1908). I hoped to have a decent amount of time to explore the old logging camp, which has seen little human interference since it was used from circa 1906 to 1909. After my visit last year, and a quick examination by technicians from the US Forest Service a week later, I had a better idea of what was at the site.
My first goal was to try and pinpoint each structure. In 2017 I had found 3, and the Forest Service guys had located another 3; from some research I did, I believed there were 2 more, raising the total to 8 (which would match the same number at Camp 4 on Gunflint). I would then attempt to measure each structure and the distance between them. This was rather tricky to do by myself, but I think I did an okay job.
So I was able to determine, at least in my mind, that there were in fact 8 structures. There are 5 located just north of the grade, 4 of which are fairly large. The two westernmost are approximately 33 ft. x 52 ft. and are situated close together. Their berms are not well pronounced and they are 50 ft. away from the other buildings, so I am assuming that these might be the horse stables. According to statistics, there were 19 teams of horses working at the camp in the winter of 1908.
The next three southern structures are about 20 ft. from each other, with two larger ones bookending a small one and have very well defined berms. Both larger buildings are approximately 35 ft. x 60 ft., though the eastern one has a 20 ft. x 20 ft. section on the back. The middle building of the three is considerably smaller at 24 ft. x 26 ft. If I had to guess, I would say that they are, from west to east, the bunkhouse, van (office) and cook house. The only way to know in any certainty is to do some excavations inside the berms. The same 1908 data quoted previously states that there were 55 men living at the camp.
That leaves 3 structures just to the north. One, off by itself between the stables and bunkhouse, would in my estimation, be the blacksmith shop. I don’t have any definitive evidence, but my assumption is based on the debris located close by. The two other buildings are close to each other and are north of the bunkhouse and van. One is very small, 12 ft. x 14 ft. and has a deep hole in the centre of the berms; there can be no doubt that this is the outhouse. The other is slightly larger, but its purpose is a mystery. Again, the only way to make a determination would be to dig, but that not a decision I can make.
I wish I could have lingered longer, but I had a long walk back to my truck and a 2.5-hour drive home. It was 24C and I could feel the exhaustion setting in. I am planning to go back next May and devote the whole time to exploring the camp. Hopefully the archaeologists from the USFS can join me so there can be a more thorough exploration. I certainly have the knowledge of what was in a logging camp, but I lack the train eye and background to understand everything I see on the ground. My fingers are crossed that we can make it happen.
Anyway, it’s time to go. With all the craziness, it might be a while before I’m back. Hopefully I’ll have more news to report. Until then…