Refrigerator door? Is that a bad thing? Are we worried about the milk or something else spoiling? I know, it’s one of your ridiculous metaphors, but pertaining to what exactly? Well, if you’re a regular reader, you’ll know exactly what it refers to. So, what does Dave routinely write about, well other than the railway? Hmmmmm…
Welcome to fall kids! While fall is one of my favourite times of the year, as you know, it is one of the craziest. I cannot believe we are already halfway through October; what a blur. Work is extremely busy as usual and between that and family life, there isn’t a lot of time to breathe. As our kids get older, their schedules get more hectic, like everyday hectic. Gee, isn’t parenthood a blast?
One of the things keeping us hopping is minor football. Since the boys play in different divisions (peewee and bantam), they play on different days (Wednesdays versus Saturdays) and therefore have different practice schedules. That means we are going everyday of the week, especially with playoffs coming up. And all of that is on top of high school football, which is now entering week five. Thankfully I have a fantastic wife who makes it all work.
Unfortunately, the only negative has been weather. Yes, I’m back on the weather train. Maybe I cursed it in my last post when I said that it had been great, which it was. Sadly, that changed in a real hurry…it’s like someone flicked a switch or opened the fridge door. The first part of September was awesome but the last three weeks have been downright miserable. It has been rainy and cold nearly everyday. At times the temperatures have been 10 degrees below normal and we’ve had like 150mm rain during that time. Maybe we’ve been spoiled the last number of years with gorgeous weather in the fall and this is nature’s way of reminding us that it isn’t roses all the time.
Last weekend was Thanksgiving Day long weekend, which meant that the boys and I made our usual trip to Gunflint Lake for a well-deserved break from the grind. This was the sixth year we would spend the weekend with our friends John and Rose at the Cross River Lodge for some boys time and field work. We had been blessed the previous five years with fantastic weather, but alas our luck ran out. There was no respite from the gloomy weather, which included early fall snowfall.
We left home on Friday morning, a bit later that usual as it was raining but that rain was supposed to stop by mid-morning. On our way to the border we experienced some snow, which was just a harbinger of things to come. By the time we arrived in Grand Marais, where we stopped for some supplies, the precipitation had stopped. While there we noticed vehicles with a significant amount of snow on their exterior, which made us wonder what it would be like at Gunflint. As we drove up the Gunflint Trail we found out. At the mid-trail point, we could see that more than 10cm of snow had accumulated on the ground. As we drove, Ethan commented to me that it was ironic that we were driving through snow while towing a boat. Thankfully Gunflint was on the edge of the storm system and only received a dusting of snow.
With some snow on the ground and very windy conditions, we decided not to head out that day. That gave me some time to relax, plan the hikes for the next few days and get ready for that evening’s presentation. As I had the two previous years, I would be doing a little lecture at the lodge on an aspect of the area history. This year it was Leeblain, the ghost town on the Ontario side of Gunflint Lake whose story was intertwined with that of the railway.
The next morning, we headed out on what was a foggy, misty morning. It was quite chilly, especially on the boat ride across the lake. The ground was wet from all the rain and snow that had come down, but it could have been worse had the summer not been so dry. Our first stop was Bridal Falls, or least the trail that takes you to it. Last year I had planned to shoot some video at the site of the former corduroy trestle of the Gunflint and Lake Superior Railroad beside the falls, but the batteries on my wireless microphone were dead. We managed to get that footage this time, as well as record the rock cut above it with Ethan’s GoPro.
From there we travelled 3km northeast to where the G&LS crossed a small creek just south of the international boundary. I had been there on several occasions before, but just like the corduroy trestle, I wanted to get some footage with the wireless microphone. On the approaches to the creek, we realized just how low the lake levels were. Parts of the shore I never seen before were exposed and water depth dropped to less than a foot. It was not easy to maneuver the boat around in that environment, but I managed. In the process, I made a neat discovery. Back in 2011, I was sent the image of a rail car brake wheel taken at the crossing by some of the guys from the US Forest Service. With the low water levels, I found the wheel as well, shocked that there was quite a length of shaft attached to it.
Our next stop was to the south at the site of Camp 4, which was the first of two logging camps belonging to the Pigeon River Lumber Company. Some of the areas logged by the company east of Camp 4 were several kilometres away, and I wanted to see if a spur had been built eastward from the main line. While my search came up empty for now, I did make some neat discoveries. I turned up a few horseshoes, and what I thought was a blacksmith hammer. As it turns out, it was a hammer, but not what I thought it was. After putting it up on social media, it turns out it was a snow knocker, a hammer used to remove snow and ice from the bottom of horse’s hooves, and there were many horses used for these logging operations.
On our way back to the lodge, we made a slight detour to the Gunflint Narrows, as the low lake levels caught my attention. I’ve been to the Narrows on many occasions in the past, but I don’t think I’ve seen the rocks and bridge remains that exposed before. We didn’t linger long, but I did manage to snap a few photos from my phone.
After breakfast on Sunday we left the lodge, this time by truck, for the day’s work. Our destination that day was parking lot for the Crab Lake Spur of the Border Route Trail near Loon Lake. The boys and I would make the long trek to the site of Camp 8, the second logging camp of the PRLC. After re-discovering it back in 2017, I had last visited the camp back in May. I had spent some time then taking measurements and photographs of the eight structures and debris there. The plan was have the boys help me take more detailed measurements that would help pinpoint the exact location of the structures.
Although it was not sunny, it was a bit warmer that day and the walk along the trail was pleasant. Fall is a beautiful time of the year to be on the Boundary Waters and this was no exception. My only regret is that opportunities to experience this are very fleeting.
Getting to Camp 8 requires quite a bit of “bushwhacking,” which was not particularly easy given the deadfall in the bush and the fact that it was still wet. Just after 11am we arrived at the camp and after a quick look at one of the debris fields, we started taking measurements. Ideally, I would love to have a sub-metre accuracy GPS, but the cost of such a device makes it prohibitive. I tried doing it the old-fashioned way, triangulating two structures to a central reference point. It didn’t really work out the way I thought it would, but it was worth the try.
I spent the remainder of time taking more photographs and recording the structures with my son’s GoPro. I though the wide-angle view of the GoPro would give a better perspective but unfortunately, I was only able to record six of the eight buildings as the battery died before I could get to what I believe are the two stables at the site. I’d like to go back next spring and finish the job, and maybe I can get my hands on one of those GPS to get all the data I need. The best discovery of the day was what I thought was part of a horse bridle near the southern wall of one of the stables. Turns out it is a bit, which helps to confirm my theory. Hopefully I can get some experts from the USFS in there at some point to do more detailed explorations.
It was sad to head back home on the Monday, but I already booked our return visit for next year. Interestingly, the hikes I did at Gunflint was not the only railway related work I’ve done recently. If you read my previous post, my visit to La Crosse brought up some important leads, especially regarding the early history of the PRLC. This has led me to many new discoveries regarding the company and even other, earlier, attempts to log the Pigeon River. I’ll write more about these in my next post.
Anyway, it’s time to go. I’ll be back soon, likely when football is over and I have more time to breathe. Until then…