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Category Archives: Hiking

How to shred your legs the easy way

Oh, did you come here looking for leg workout information? Ya, well you’re in the wrong place my friend. But you mentioned shredding your legs didn’t you? Yes I did, but you didn’t think I was being figurative did you? I was being quite literal; when I say shredding your legs, I mean precisely that. Say what Dave? Yup, I mean beat the crap of them until you can’t lift them, abuse them until you’re cramping up in agony shredding. Why the hell would anyone do that you ask? Well, you’ll need to keep reading to find out.

So here we are at the end of November; where did the month go? That means we’re less than a month away from Christmas…craziness! Before I know it ole’ St. Nick will be coming down the chimney with his bag full of gifts. Unfortunately there is still a ton of things that need to get done before that day, particularly with work. I still haven’t caught up on all my marking from football season and I know it will take a big push to ensure I don’t have too much to take home over the break.

Now speaking of Christmas, I think this year we’ll have a white one for sure. Last year it was in serious doubt, only saved by a few dumps within days of the big event. Our weather has once again been very bizarre. The first half of November was gorgeous, with temperatures many times in the double digits. It was so good, I decided to go on a hike along the railway in the middle of the month. The temperature reached 16C and I was soaked in sweat by the time I was done. Just ridiculous for November! However, it was not to last. That hike was on Sunday and by Friday we were on the receiving end of a winter storm. The temperature dropped in the next few days and it was -17C with the wind. Oh Mother Nature, you are a cruel mistress!

November 2016 Temperatures

November 2016 Temperatures

November 18, 2016

November 18, 2016

Well since I mentioned it, I guess I should talk a little about my recent hike along the railway. My railway work has been on the back burner lately, so I was really itching the do something. The weather was fantastic, and the fall had been fairly dry, so I thought why not give it a shot. I have a few areas that I’ve wanted to re-hike in the fall, when the leaves are down and it is much easier to see things. I picked the area around Hillside, which is located between Nolalu and Silver Mountain. Here the railway winds its way along the Beaver (Dam) Creek, crossing it 12 times. Because it’s not easy to get to, there are many remains of the bridges to be found.

My first visit to this area occurred back in that inaugural year of my research on the railway in 1994; I was absolutely stunned by all the remains of the bridges I found. Without Google and any decent maps, I had no idea that the railway had crossed the Beaver Creek 12 times in this 4km section. In some spots, there were just cut-off pilings left, while in one in particular, all the bridge lacked was the decking. I went back to this area in 1995 and then again in 2010. I really wanted to record what was left of those bridges in HD video.

The railway stop at Hillside (milepost 36) was located west of Nolalu, where the railway left the Whitefish River and then travelled along the Beaver or Beaver Dam Creek towards Silver Mountain. In my previous hikes, I had not been able to locate the grade between Highway 588 and the first bridge. With all the leaves down, I picked it up very quickly. South of the road it passes through a nice, but very grown in cutting which lasts almost right to the first crossing.

Cutting, November 2016.

Cutting, November 2016.

When I arrived at the first bridge, I was a little shocked at the damage that had been done to the grade by recent floods. In 2011, 2012 and 2015 the area was hit by some pretty heavy rainfalls, which had washed away sections of the grade and left piles of debris near the bridge sites. You could also see that the water had damaged some of the bridge remains. Despite this, the low water allowed me to get a close examination of the piles.

Bridge I, November 2016.

Bridge I, November 2016.

One hundred metres to the south past another cutting lies what was left of bridge two. These remains had not suffered the same washout damage as the previous bridge, leaving the crossing and piles in excellent shape. This was in great contrast with bridge three, located 250m to the southwest. All that remains of this crossing are a few small piles on the south side of the creek…definitely in the worst condition of the 12 bridges.

Bridge II, November 2016.

Bridge II, November 2016.

As I travelled the 120m from bridge 3 to bridge 4, I came across a neat piece of the railway that I had not seen before. The PAD&W made extensive use of wooden box culverts along the line, a few of which are still functioning. In this case, I came across a large hole that had opened in the middle of the right-of-way. It appears as though the water still flows through it reasonably well, and the western side looks like it is in decent shape.

Culvert, November 2016.

Culvert, November 2016.

Bridge four is another great set of remains, and it this case, the flooding on the creek help to remove debris and growth away from the piles. While they have deteriorated over time, these piles are much more visible than they have been in the past. Past this point, the grade winds it way 160m to the next crossing. Once again this section has suffered a lot from the changing course of the creek and there are a few badly eroded sections. From evidence found at the bridge sites, it must have been a problem back then too. There were spots where rocks had been dumped beside the abutments and at bends to prevent the water damaging the grade.

Bridge IV, November 2016.

Bridge IV, November 2016.

The benefits of visiting this area in the fall was quite evident at bridge five. I can remember a lot of the remains of the piles being obscured by brush and trees. This was not the case this time, with the all of the piles as well as some metal objects being totally visible in the creek. It is interesting to note that a few of the piles, but not all, have been cut off close to the waterline. I wonder why it was done and when?

Bridge V, November 2016.

Bridge V, November 2016.

Bridge six is actually visible from five, as the distance is a scant 40m through yet another cutting. The remains at six are again very good, although clogged with a bit of debris and the northern side has suffered some erosion. I can’t quite remember what this crossing once looked like, but I certainly remember something that I came across in great quantities there.

Bridge VI, November 2016.

Bridge VI, November 2016.

Back in 1994 I became acquainted with the Thorn Apple or Hawthorn tree and what an introduction it was. Sporting 1-3cm thorns, I learned to give them a wide berth, but that wasn’t always possible. They are literally the most painful things I’ve had to deal with in my explorations of the railway. How painful? Well, if 2010 is any indication, extremely painful. That year I had two run-ins with them. The first ironically occurred on my last hike at Hillside, when I didn’t duck enough and ended up with a 1/8” of thorn embedded in my head. Ouch! You think that’s bad, it gets much worse.

Thorn apple, November 2016.

Thorn apple, November 2016.

Weeks later while hiking at Silver Creek (east of Hymers), I somehow was gored by one in the lower calf. Not only was I only halfway through the hike, so I had to hobble back in excruciating pain, but it took weeks for the thorn to work its way out. Turns out I was carrying a ½” fragment and it was such a relief to have it out.

The distance to bridge seven was a bit longer at 190m, but it did pass through a very long and pretty cutting. Hiding beside the grade was a telegraph pole (that I last saw in 1994), which was resting against a barbed-wire clad fence post. What purpose a fence served in that area is unknown, but things were quite different back then. The crossing itself was in decent shape, though again suffering a bit from erosion.

Cutting, November 2016.

Cutting, November 2016.

Beyond this bridge is yet another nice cutting, again harbouring a telegraph pole. This one still had the cross member attached and at least one peg, but I could not find any wire or an insulator. Bridge eight was at one time one of the better-preserved remains in this area, but time has not been kind to it. On the northern side was a nice of piles (or bents) with the top beam still intact. They are all gone now, with just the stubs of the piles remaining. I have no doubt that the floods are mostly responsible for its demise; I can see debris accumulating against it and then finally giving way. Too bad.

Telegraph pole, November 2016.

Telegraph pole, November 2016.

Bridge VIII, July 1995.

Bridge VIII, July 1995.

Bridge VIII, November 2016.

Bridge VIII, November 2016.

The line again passed through a pretty cutting as it travels the scant 40m to bridge nine. The remains here appear to be in decent shape, but it’s clear that the creek has shifted its course substantially. Here you can see more stonework and a scattering of metal objects such as tie plates. South of this crossing, the grade is badly eroded in several spots as it travels the 270m to the next bridge, though I did find a very long strand of telegraph wire.

Bridge IX, November 2016.

Bridge IX, November 2016.

When I first saw bridge ten in 1994, I was in complete awe. This was the bridge I mentioned earlier that was almost completely preserved, just lacking the decking between the abutments. There appeared to be one central set of piles or bents and it was in excellent shape. The reason for its longevity would seem to be the fact that it was located not on the creek, but rather over a seasonal stream that flows down from the ridge above and empties into the creek.

Bridge X, July 1995.

Bridge X, July 1995.

Sadly, bridge ten’s days are numbered. In the past 22 years, both diagonal cross members on the central piles have fallen off and the top beam is badly rotted. The northern abutment has been completely engulfed a large tree, while the southern one is hanging on. I’m glad that I’ve been to document it on several occasions and hopefully it will serve as a great historical record of the railway.

Bridge X, November 2016.

Bridge X, November 2016.

Bridge X, November 2016.

Bridge X, November 2016.

Bridge eleven and twelve are almost equaled spaced apart by nice cuttings, sitting 110m and 120m from the previous bridge respectively. Both are in good shape, though somewhat clogged with debris from the creek. Maybe due to the more remote location, the grade and bridges here have had less human interference over the year (it’s hard to believe that it’s 78 years since it last saw a train).

Bridge XI, November 2016.

Bridge XI, November 2016.

Bridge XII, November 2016.

Bridge XII, November 2016.

As I worked my way back, I could feel my legs beginning to tighten up. By that evening, I was in total agony. It had been a while since my last hike, so I was not in the shape I should have been. My hamstrings and adductors were cramping something fierce, to the point where I could not straighten them and were causing my legs to spasm. No pain, no gain right? In any case, you can view the 2010 footage from Hillside here, as well as the six-part 2016 footage here.

So now that hiking is done for the year, I can turn my attention back to research. My plan in the near future is to start writing parts of my planned book on the Gunflint & Lake Superior Railroad. I am very nervous, since my forte is decidedly research rather than writing. I guess we all have to face our fears and take the plunge at some point, so here’s hoping that it goes reasonably well.

Anyway, I need to move along. As usual there is a million things to get done. I’ll be back soon enough with the latest updates and dumb commentary. Until then…

 
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Posted by on November 28, 2016 in Hiking, History, Railway

 

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The Indiana Jones emulation

Most people can recognize it from the first few iconic bars of the theme song. Some of us have even pictured ourselves as the lead character, flying across the globe in search of epic buried treasure and all the while fighting hordes of bad guys. Let’s not forget landing the beautiful leading lady too! This series of movies certainly brought the field of archaeology into the public eye and all the exciting events that go along with it. I mean come on, who wouldn’t want to find the Ark of the Covenant or the Holy Grail? And it’s not like Hollywood ever lies or embellishes things right?

Hey, welcome to November kids! I know I sound like a broken record, but man does time fly by; two months gone in a heartbeat. And guess what? Any guesses? Give up? If you didn’t say that I’m tired, sick and burnt out, you don’t know anything about me. So the reason for all your tribulations Dave? Uh, work…duh! There are way too many things going on; marking, a new course, extra curriculars and the list goes on. It doesn’t help that coming back to all of this is tough after having been off for seven months this year.

So besides work, what’s been keeping me busy you ask? Well, it is fall, so the correct answer would be football. Minor ended a few weeks ago with both boys losing in the semifinals, but I have yet to recover from the insanity of coaching two teams. This week was playoff time in high school, and we played on Thursday night. We had an opportunity to redeem our regular season loss to Hammarskjold and advance to the city finals. However, it was not to be; the boys fought hard but came up short in the end. I’m going to miss working with some of the characters we had over the last couple of years, but I’m also excited to continue coaching the talented Grade 9s we have.

Since I mentioned extra curriculars earlier, I do have a big one coming up later this year. I’ve written on several occasions in the past about my upcoming trip to Europe. In April, myself and two other teachers will be leading 23 students from our school to tour the Netherlands, Belgium and France. The highlight will be our participation in the 100th Anniversary commemorations of the Battle of Vimy Ridge. The planning for this trip began two years ago and now that we are less than 6 months away, work has kicked into high gear. Our next endeavor is to organize the school’s Remembrance Day services coming up in just over a week.

So with everything going on, I have had zero time to work on any railway related stuff. Once football wraps up I’ll be back at it, but for now I just don’t have the energy. I thought of trying to get out for a hike this weekend as it’s supposed to absolutely gorgeous, but there’s too many things to do.We’ll see in the coming weeks if the weather holds. Now speaking of hiking, the last bit of railway work I did involved my annual Thanksgiving visit to Gunflint. It was a productive visit, but the weather wasn’t as cooperative as in past years.

We left early on Friday morning for the roundabout drive to Gunflint. After a brief stop in Grand Marais we arrived at the Cross River Lodge around 10am local time. Unfortunately it had rained the night before and the bush was very wet, which wrecked our plans for the day. However our hosts and friends, John and Rose, had an idea to keep me busy in the meantime.

Rainbow over Gunflint Lake, October 2016.

Rainbow over Gunflint Lake, October 2016.

If you recall I was at Gunflint in the summer to do a presentation at the Chik-Wauk Museum on the Gunflint & Lake Superior Railroad. Due to a number of scheduling conflicts, the turnout was not as great as for previous events. With that in mind, John asked if I would be interested in doing an impromptu presentation at the lodge for some of their neighbours and guests. I never pass an opportunity to talk about the railway, so I gladly accepted. I was a bit nervous, but thankfully I had a presentation on my laptop to work off of and the packed house was very appreciative.

Amazingly, I didn’t come away from this lecture empty handed either. One of the guests that evening was Gunflint resident Sharlene LeTourneau. I had spoken to her many years ago and learned that she was the daughter of Peggy Heston, who operated Heston’s Lodge on the lake for many years. At the time I had asked her about a photo that appeared in Willis Raff’s book “Pioneers in the Wilderness,” which chronicled the history of Cook County, MN. In it is the only known photo of the railway at Gunflint Lake and had been provided by Peggy. She said she would look into it, and low and behold, she presented me with the photograph. I was completely blown away and grateful for this amazing piece of railway history.

Handcar, Gunflint Lake, circa 1910.

Handcar, Gunflint Lake, circa 1910.

The next morning dawned brigher and somewhat sunny, though cold and very windy. After breakfast, we left for the other side of the lake. The west wind was blowing down the length of the lake, and even hugging the southern shore did not afford us much respite. It was one of my roughest experiences on the lake, the bow of the boat plowing into every trough and spraying us with the chilly water. Our goal for the day would be to follow the railroad grade south of Bridal Falls, in an area where I did a rather spotty job the year before.

Once above the falls, we followed the grade south through an open area as it passed alongside the Crab River. Just inside the first treeline, we made an interesting and potentially important discovery. As a brief rainshower pelted us, we located a pile of what appeared to be telegraph wire on the west side of the grade. Was the line run past Camp 4 all the way to Camp 8? Maybe next year I can turn up more wire to confirm this hypothesis.

Telegraph wire, October 2016.

Telegraph wire, October 2016.

Continuing south, we left the wooded section and entered another open stretch. Here we located corduroyed logs in the high grass, obviously laid there to support the grade above it as it crossed this low, wet area. From there it was on into another treeline as the grade turned southeast and then east paralleling the river.

We found many physical traces of the railroad, from spikes and fishplates to rock cuts and cutting work. I already knew the route the line had taken, but this was just further confirmation of this notion and now I had precise GPS coordinates to back it up. Shortly thereafter we arrived at our turnaround point and headed back toward the boat. On the way we made another neat discovery near the telegraph wire; the problem is that I have no idea what it is. Ethan suggested that it might be a piece off of a sleigh.

GLS Cutting, October 2016.

GLS Cutting, October 2016.

Mystery object, October 2016.

Mystery object, October 2016.

Crab River, October 2016.

Crab River, October 2016.

Sunday morning was very nice, with clear skies and little wind. The temperature however hovered around -4C and fog hung in patches over the lake; it made for a pretty yet chilly ride across Gunflint. Our agenda for the day was to trace the grade of the railroad north from Camp 4 (to fill in a missing piece from the previous year) and explore more of the area south of the camp.

Foggy morning on Gunflint, October 2016.

Foggy morning on Gunflint, October 2016.

The grade north of the camp was already in rough shape from the 1999 blowdown and 2007 fire; however this spring the area was hit by several intense windstorms that toppled even more trees. To get to where we needed to go, I figured that walking along the shore would be the most expedient route. Turns out it was. It was a bit tricky get from the shore to the grade, but the boys and I did manage to. Once on it, we followed the line north to where I thought I needed to get to; I later realized that I did not get as far north as I needed to, so I will have to revisit this again next year.

Our explorations of the camp proved to be more rewarding. We discovered what appeared to be several coils of telegraph wire north of the northern most building, further reinforcing the idea that the communication line did in fact stretch this far. However, it was what we uncovered to the south that intrigued me the most.

Last year the boys and I had located some artifacts south of the camp and I wanted to see what else was there; our discoveries far exceeded my expectations. Sweeping with my metal detector, and being careful not to disturb the area, it was one hit after another. I located a lot of items in a 200 metre stretch including wire, spikes, chain, a whole assortment of metal objects, one glass bottle stopper and quite a bit of coal and slag. It certainly points to a location that was alive with activity during the early 1900s.

Bottle stopper?, October 2016.

Bottle stopper?, October 2016.

Metal objects, October 2016.

Metal objects, October 2016.

Metal object, October 2016.

Metal object, October 2016.

I am really hoping that the US Forest Service can get some archaeological work going again at the site of Camp 4 (and maybe Camp 8 too). There is so much more than this place can tell us; I am just one guy, not a trained archaeologist and I don’t really have the authority to do more than locate items on the surface. Real archaeology is not glamorous or always exciting, but it’s an important tool for us to understand the story of our past. Hey, and I do have a trade mark hat that I wear😉

Anyway, time to go. I have a lot of things to catch up on in the rest of my life. I’ll be back as soon as it can with the latest updates. Until then…

 
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Posted by on November 5, 2016 in Hiking, History, Railway, Travel

 

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It was only a matter of time!

Don’t you just love when you know something is going to happen? I’m not really talking about déjà vu or anything like that, but just this sense that there is inevitability to a situation? We’ve all been there. In my case, it’s a ritual for this time of year…because it invariably happens every year. There’s always this glimmer of hope that maybe you’ve dodged the proverbial bullet for a change, but alas it is not meant to be. It’s been occurring now for such a long time that the only remedy to the situation is to change my patterns, which will not happen in the foreseeable future. So I guess I’ll just have to deal with it!

Well, it’s October kids. Is it just me, or does time go by faster the older you get? I can’t seem to keep up anymore. A month of school has blown by in a heartbeat. It was certainly tough to get back into the routine of work after being off for so long, but I guess it’s like riding a bike…18 years of experience also helps too! I am thoroughly back into the swing of things and boy is it insane. Every year I say it can’t get any worse and it seems like it does. Pretty soon it will just be time to have a heart attack and be done with it. Just kidding!

As usual, one of the main causes of my lunacy is football. It really has me burnt out…seriously! Ethan and Noah are both playing again this year and of course their schedules do not sync; I have not been home before 8:00 in weeks. When Ethan plays on Tuesdays, it is 10:00. As well, I am coaching Noah’s team and doing a lot more than I ever have, namely running the offense. I have never coach offense before in my life! Both of their teams are struggling a bit, but it’s more about the participation and experience than the wins and losses. The high school team is doing well, just having picked up our second win of the season. Before I know it, football will all be over and a distant memory.

With all of this craziness I have not had any time to do any railway work, until now I guess. A few weeks back I travelled, on a rather psychotic timeframe I might add, to Saint Cloud, MN for the Northern Great Plains History Conference. I kinda of underestimated how far Saint Cloud is away. I left work at 1:30 (12:30cst) and drove pretty much straight for 6.5 hours. I met up with my co-presenter Lori for a few hours before heading off to bed. I woke up, did the presentation for a couple of hours (which went great), had lunch and then drove 6.5 hours home. I was a wee bit tired after all of that. Oh well, it was a great experience, and I was able to snap a few photos of a cool abandoned railway along the way!

Great Northern RR stone bridge, South Fork, MN, September, 2016.

Great Northern RR stone bridge, South Fork, MN, September, 2016.

Great Northern RR, South Fork, MN, September, 2016.

Great Northern RR, South Fork, MN, September, 2016.

Besides being burnt out, I can feel myself running down. Some form of the plague has been making the rounds at school and a lot kids have come down with it, including a good chunk of the football team. Right now I feel very tired and am bit stuffy, but it hasn’t yet developed into a full-blown cold. I pray that it doesn’t happen, but my luck isn’t usually that good. Guaranteed it will hit me at some point soon…I can’t wait.

So I’m currently in my room at the Cross River Lodge as it Canadian Thanksgiving weekend and as usual, I’m here at Gunflint for some field work. It’s always great to be here with the boys and visit with John and Rose. Besides, I really needed some time away from everything.

Now since I mentioned presentations, I actually just finished doing one. I arrived here this morning and unfortunately the weather was not very cooperative. It rained until about 10:00, and then it was really windy and cold, so I had to scratch today’s visit to the Gunflint & Lake Superior. Since I was just hanging around, John asked me if I wanted to do a little chat about the railway. I don’t really like to talk much, so it was a tough sell on his part (cue the eye roll). He made some phone calls and by 5:30 there was about 30-40 people assembled to listen to me ramble on about the PAD&W. For an impromptu affair, it went really well. The best part was that I received a fantastic gift; a photo of the railway at Gunflint Lake circa 1910 that I had been wanting to get for quite some time. It was a nice end to the evening.

The plan for tomorrow is to head across the lake to Bridal Falls and hike along a portion of the G&LS that I examined last year. I was not able to spend a lot of time along this section of the railroad, so hopefully I’ll be able to finish everything up and maybe find something interesting while I’m at it. My fingers are crossed that I won’t be too rough on the lake; the wind was pretty wicked today.

Anyway, I better get to bed. I’ll be back as soon as I can with a full recap of the trip and my discoveries. Until then…

 
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Posted by on October 7, 2016 in Hiking, History, Railway, Travel

 

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Long walks and battle scars!

No, I didn’t walk 500 miles, but I did wear boots…rubber boots that is. I did walk like a man, but definitely not like an Egyptian. It was very hot outside, so I may have well been walking on the sun. It wasn’t after midnight, and I definitely did not walk in a line. See what I’m doing here? Do ya? I know you do.

I’m back kids! I’m sounding a little chipper right now, but if you’ve looked at a calendar lately you’ll know that this isn’t a great time of the year. Yup, it’s almost time to go back to work. Sigh. We can’t stop time, so it is inevitable that the end of August comes around. I’ve already started back into parts of the routine; going in to work, prepping for football, getting materials ready, yada, yada, yada. I’m exhausted after two days and I’m not even officially back…it’s going to be a rough start-up.

I just returned from a family vacation the other day and I’m still in that “I need a vacation from the vacation mode,” which might explain why I feel tired. Jo-Anne and I took the boys to Minneapolis and Wisconsin Dells. In Minnie we made our first visit to Valleyfair, which was great, but not quite the same as Wonderland. The boys enjoyed all the attractions, especially the coasters; dad, not so much.

The second part of the trip took us to the The Dells for the first time. The “Water Park Capital” certainly has a lot of waterparks. We got our fill of water rides, coasters and go carts. The boys’ favourite spot was definitely the wave pool at Mount Olympus called “Poseidon’s Rage.” Every two minutes a gigantic wave comes rolling through the pool; we positioned ourselves at the 3 foot level where the wave would break, pummel us with water and send us flying backward. We spent hours in there and I may have left with a slight concussion.

So since I was away for a bit, I haven’t had railway time lately. However, I did manage to get some in before our trip south of the border. If you remember, I had a presentation scheduled at the Chik-Wauk Museum for August 14th. This was going to be my first full-length lecture on the Gunflint & Lake Superior Railroad, so I was pretty excited. It went well, but the turn out was a bit disappointing. Unfortunately there were several other events coinciding with it that contributed to the lack of bodies in the seats. The good news is that I’m going to be back there next summer with the same presentation and hopefully a bigger audience.

Because I had to go there for the presentation, I decided that I would take the opportunity to do some field work at Gunflint. I booked a night with John and Rose at the Cross River Lodge so we could hike the next day before heading home. What would be different for this hike was the fact that I had a larger entourage; in addition to the boys, my wife joined us as well (with a lot of prodding). I was hopefully going to trace the route of the G&LS along the north shore of Crab Lake, if luck was on my side.

After a nice ride across the lake, we beached the boat south of Bridal Falls. From there we walked to the top of the falls, about 700 metres, which was made a little more difficult by a number of trees knocked down on the trail by recent storms. There we split up, with Jo-Anne and the boys continuing east along the Border Route Trail for 1500 metres to where it intersects with the Crab Lake Trail. They would then take the latter trail south for 900 metres and await my arrival.

In the meantime, I would follow parts of the railroad grade south for 800 metres until I reached Crab Lake. From there, the meeting point at the east end of the lake was more than a kilometre away, the temperature was climbing and there was not a stitch of wind. I had no idea how difficult the walk would be and what the bush looked like.

Turns out, it was quite the mess. The last time I walked the railroad grade in the summer it nearly killed me (not literally)…this time was pretty close. The tall grass made it very difficult to see where you were stepping and there was a lot to trip over. The area was burned by the 2007 Ham Lake Fire and there was already a ton of deadfall on ground. Recent storms pushed many dead, burned trees over, making some areas a nightmare to negotiate.

Thankfully I had success in my goal of following the grade. I did find several spikes and one fishplate along the way, as well as a few examples of rock work beside the lake. There were a few spots where I could not find any traces, but in general I was able to get the route down. I did cut the hike a bit short at the east end of the lake as I was completely exhausted and I could literally feel my hamstrings tightening up on me (walking over all the deadfall tends to do that). I’ll have to try and get that part done at some other time, maybe next year.

Railroad grade along Crab Lake, August 2016.

Railroad grade along Crab Lake, August 2016.

Spike at Crab Lake, August 2016.

Spike at Crab Lake, August 2016.

Railroad grade along Crab Lake, August 2016.

Railroad grade along Crab Lake, August 2016.

Fishplate at Crab Lake, August 2016.

Fishplate at Crab Lake, August 2016.

Railroad grade along Crab Lake, August 2016.

Railroad grade along Crab Lake, August 2016.

Railroad grade along Crab Lake, August 2016.

Railroad grade along Crab Lake, August 2016.

I had kept in radio contact with the family the entire way, so they were waiting for me when I was done. At our reunion, I was greeted by the sight of my wife with a large, bloody gash on her forehead. Apparently she had an unfortunate encounter with a dead tree branch, earning herself a nice cut, or better yet, a “battlescar.” Hey, did I mention that battlescar was my nickname when I was in the army reserves? Obviously a play on my last name, I thought it was an appropriate term for her boo boo.

Hiking injury, August 2016.

Hiking injury, August 2016.

The walk back was tough as we battled through the stifling 31C heat. However it was compensated by the beautiful panorama that we passed beside on the trail. It would be great to visit that spot in the fall as the leaves changed colour; I’ll have to keep this in mind for the future. It was a very productive hike and I am excited to get back to Gunflint in October for another round of field work.

Panorama of Gunflint and North Lakes, August 2016.

Panorama of Gunflint and North Lakes, August 2016.

My next big event to look forward to is the Northern Great Plains History Coneference in St. Cloud, MN on September 17th. I think I’m ready, but my brain so isn’t there right now…too much school stuff to think about. I am sure I’ll be good to go when the time comes, but it all adds to my anxiety. It is going to be a quick trip as well; I leave after school on Friday for the six hour drive to St. Cloud. Hopefully I don’t get in too late, because the presentation is at 9am (cst) after which I need to head back home. What a whirlwind visit!

Anyway, I better go. Way to many things to do right now. I’ll be back in the near future, probably after the trip to St. Cloud. Until then…

 
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Posted by on August 30, 2016 in Hiking, History, Railway, Travel

 

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Dave’s Outdoor Adventures-Episode V: The weather incongruity

Have you ever studied statistics? You know, the math stuff, where they deal with probability among others (I know they are separate disciplines, but dependent on each other)? Thankfully I never had to; my wife Jo-Anne, the math teacher, is likely thinking the same thing. Math was certainly not my thing, which is why I became a history teacher. Anyway, it’s always interesting to look at the chances something will happen. Usually there is algorithm that will explain it all. However, there are matters that cannot be reduced to or rationalized by a mathematical equation. Such is life though, and it’s what keeps our world interesting. You’re confused right? Perfect.

So, here we are in August. Summer is unfortunately flying by way too quickly! It will be back to work soon…sigh. Anyway, as I have since I went on leave in February, I am doing my best to make each day count. I’ve managed to get a lot accomplished and will continue to do so for the next three weeks.

As you might have guessed (or maybe not), my cryptic introduction dealt with nothing other than the weather. I normally don’t pass up an opportunity to complain about it, usually because it’s irritating me. It’s funny, the older I get, the crankier I become…just yesterday there was a meme on Facebook that said “The older I get, the more I identify with Red Foreman.” How true. Anyway, this time I actually can’t complain; the weather lately has been decent.

After record-breaking rainfall in June, and a continuation of that at the beginning of July, things have calmed down in the last few weeks. The temperatures have gone up, at times it’s been very hot, and it has not really rained. Actually, today was the first prolonged precipitation we had, though it depends where you were. We probably had about 10mm here at camp, but there was only 3mm at Gunflint. The ground has dried out considerably, and I’m going to try a hike in the next few days. So from one extreme to another!

Now speaking of camp, I’ve still been spending a lot of time there, maybe even while I write this. I’ve completed all the construction work for this year, so my efforts have been dedicated to general yard clean-up, which is going to last for several years! As I mentioned the weather has been great, so the family and I have spent a lot of time in the lake enjoying the warm water. Let’s hope it lasts.

Camp sunset, July 2016.

Camp sunset, July 2016.

Camp sunset, July 2016.

Camp sunset, July 2016.

Camp morning, August 2016.

Camp morning, August 2016.

Even though I have not been out in the field in quite a while, I have managed to squeeze in some railway work lately (well, maybe it’s more than just squeeze). A few weeks back I paid a quick visit to the library to view some obituaries on microfilm that I came across by accident. As it turns out, I made an important discovery. Thomas I. Roberts was the Canadian customs sub-collector at Gunflint from 1902 to 1907. I had always wondered why he left the job; I guess he did with good reason, since he sadly died of cancer. It was an important breakthrough, and maybe it will help me track down a photograph of him.

Much of my railway time has been devoted to preparing for a pair of upcoming presentations. This coming Sunday, August 14th, I’ll be speaking at the Chik-Wauk Museum about the Gunflint & Lake Superior Railroad. This is going to be my first full-length lecture on this topic so I am a bit nervous. It appears there are quite a number of people interested, so hopefully there will be a good turnout at the Chik-Wauk’s new Nature Center.

I’ve also had to prepare for my co-presentation on John Paulson, which will take place at the Northern Great Plains History Conference in September. My slideshow has been submitted to the session chair and I’ve booked the hotel in St. Cloud, MN. I must say that I am very apprehensive about this conference. I’m just a high school history teacher who does research on the side, and I will be in the company of many historians and academics. I think I will be fine, but there is a bit of fear of the unknown.

As I mentioned earlier, I am planning my first hike in months for Monday. I will be at Gunflint for the presentation at the Chik-Wauk, I decided to spend the night with John and Rose at the Cross River Lodge. I will be attempting to locate the grade of the Gunflint & Lake Superior along Crab Lake, which I was unable to do earlier in the summer due to the rain. I think the weather will cooperate and let me complete this important piece of fieldwork.

Anyway, I better get rolling. I’ll try to post next week after the presentation and hike. Until then…

 
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Posted by on August 11, 2016 in Hiking, History, Railway, Research

 

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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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Dave’s Outdoor Adventures

Picture it. Three intrepid explorers, probing the wilderness of the Canadian Shield while battling the elements and conditions. It is a test of wills and endurance; a modern version of the Revenant if you will. Makes for an interesting story does it? Come on! Did you forget who’s writing this? It’s more like a dumbass dad and his two sons blundering around in the outdoors all the while being swarmed by hordes of blackflies. Sound intriguing now? Wait until I tell you the while story!

So here we are nearing the end of May? Where did the time go? Time does move faster when you’re on vacation. I have been making good use of every moment though: I can say that I’m almost too busy. There are way too many things to do, inspite of the fact that I am on sabbatical. What have I been up to you ask?

Well, if you recall from my last post, I was a few days away from a trip to Toronto and my brother’s wedding. As you can imagine, that week flew by in a heartbeat. It was a great time, but insanely busy. It was an honour for my family to part of this event, and if I do say so we quite a good looking bunch all dressed up. We also had some family visiting from Italy, so some time was spent showing them around the city, which is ironic since I was a tourist too.

Part of my plan for this visit to the provincial capital was to sneak away for a few hours and look at some files at the Archives of Ontario. It was quite an interesting mix; a map, some photos and an Order in Council. What I thought would take me a morning took me less than an hour to get through. The map answered a few questions and the photos were very pretty cool, having been taken during a highway survey along the railway right-of-way in 1930. There were shots of Mackies, the rail line and narrows between Little and Big Gunflint Lakes.

The Orders in Council, there were actually two, provided the biggest challenge of the day. I first had to locate the docket number from a microfilm in the reading room. I thought it would take me forever, but mercifully I happened on the right page after a short search. Then I had to request copies of them and then have them emailed to me. Both documents, dated 1900 and 1903 respectively, related to the Pigeon River Lumber Company receiving permission to do business in the Province of Ontario. Not anything I didn’t know, but important information nonetheless.

Since returning from TO, I’ve kept my nose to the grindstone with projects around the house. Our office is almost done-it’s just waiting for a final coat of paint on the door and then the installation of the pocket door latch. My wife then decided that she needed to do something about the lack of counter space at camp; cue Pintrest…again! So we’ve been looking for a while for the right dresser that could be converted into a kitchen cart. Turns out, we had one right here. It’s taken a little bit of work, and a few bucks, but when it’s done it should look pretty good. We ordered a countertop for it today and its paint transformation will begin tomorrow. I’ll post some pics when it’s done.

Now speaking of camp (yes, camp…let’s not have this conversation again), we have been spending a bit more time out there as we move toward summer. This winter we inherited the camp from my wife’s parents and we’ve been doing clean-up work and some upgrades. Last Friday we brought a new fridge out to supplement the original tiny 11 cubic foot one that was way too small for our needs. We were back on Sunday to Monday cutting down a big pine tree in the yard that was slowly dying. Using the chainsaw made me feel very outdoorsy, though I did learn an important lesson; don’t cut pine trees without long pants on. Really, I should have been wearing long pants from a safety perspective, but it was bloody hot on Sunday and I was trying to keep cool. What I ended up with however, was sap stuck to my legs and leg hair. Rubbing alcohol usually gets it out, but since we didn’t have any out there, I tried a bit of vodka. While my logic seemed sound, the execution left a lot to be desired. Second lesson learned!

Sandwiched in between those visits to camp, was my first hike of the year. Yes, I finally got out there after months of talking about it and boy was it a doosy! I think you might have gotten that impression by my introduction, but I guess I should elaborate.

The plan for my first piece of field work of the season was to travel to the east end of Gunflint Lake, staying on the Canadian side of the border. Since I was staying north of the international divide, I thought it would be easier to get there via North Lake than travelling into Minnesota and directly into Gunflint Lake. The drive is a bit shorter, though it probably works out to be the same since the boat ride is much longer. Speaking of which, getting to Gunflint from North Lake is a bit of a challenge, as you have to cross not only North Lake, but then Little North and then Little Gunflint before you reach Big Gunflint, a distance of nearly 11 kilometres.

We arrived at North Lake by 9am and quickly had the boat in the water. The first thing we noticed, or rather was impressed upon us, was the clouds of blackflies in the air. It was unbelievable how bad they were. If you’ve never had to deal with blackflies before, count yourself lucky. Anyway, within a short amount of time we were zipping across the fairly calm waters of North Lake and were making good time.

North Lake, May 2016.

North Lake, May 2016.

The first trail of the journey comes when you enter the narrow channel separating North from Little North. With Ontario on one side and Minnesota on the other, the waterway is less than 70 metres wide at points. At its end, when you enter Little North, it drops to 25 metres and is very shallow, necessitating a cautious approach. You can pick up speed on Little North, but it’s only over a kilometre to the portage to Little Gunflint and there are rocks in the water, so you need to be careful.

The watercourse that separates Little North from Little Gunflint is extremely narrow and runs for about 50 metres. It is little more than a creek, and due to it’s location over the continental divide, its waters run west, eventually making their way into Hudson’s Bay. The creek itself appears to have been modified by human hands, most likely in 1892 during the construction of the railway. From our best understanding, the engineers laid down a small marine railroad on the Minnesota side of the narrows, which, using a small cart and capstan, were able to haul boats and supplies from one lake to the other. It was maintained by locals until the early ‘70s, but now sits as a stark reminder of the labours of centuries ago.

Railroad Portage, May 2016.

Railroad Portage, May 2016.

I’ve been through the creek when there was less than a foot of water in it; this time, given the fact that it is spring and there was an attempt by a beaver to dam it, several feet of fast-flowing water courses its length. It made for a crazy, bumpy and somewhat concerning journey downstream. Little Gunflint was much less dramatic, though there are several rocky and shallow sections that require a slower speed.

My course of action for the visit was to walk the 400 metres of the Gunflint & Lake Superior in Ontario (technically it was only branch of the Canadian Northern since the G&LS started in Minnesota) and explore the location of the Canadian customs houses near the grade. The land in this area is actually privately owned so I had to check with the new owner to do this work.

I’ve walked the Ontario portion of the G&LS grade many times before, the first time was back in 1994. However, I’ve never been there without leaves (or many leaves), so I was curious what I’d see. It was pretty warm as you moved away from the lake, and of course the blackflies were swarming anytime you stopped. I didn’t take us long to get to the PAD&W grade and then start working our way back. We came across a neat pile of spikes, which made me wonder if it was done when the rails were being removed or later.

PAD&W-G&LS junction,, May 2016.

PAD&W-G&LS junction,, May 2016.

Spikes, May 2016.

Spikes, May 2016.

Little-Big Gunflint Narrows, May 2016.

Little-Big Gunflint Narrows, May 2016.

When we returned to the beach, the boys decided it was lunchtime and I pulled out the metal detector to see what I could turn up. My first area to explore was the point of land where the two lakes meet and where the G&LS crossed into Minnesota. I wasn’t really holding out hope of finding anything, but as it turns out I made a critical discovery (actually two).

If you read this blog on a regular basis you’ll know that one of goal of my field work on the G&LS is to discover how far the telegraph line extended along the line. Last year I found a coil of wire on the Little Gunflint, though I could not find any evidence near the junction of the two railways. After turning up a long-lost tent peg, I uncovered a 50+ cm length of what I believe to be telegraph wire (I didn’t excavate the whole thing). Working off of that, I found another section of wire several metres further back on the grade. So I think I can say with some certainty that the line at least crossed into Minnesota.

Telegraph wire, May 2016.

Telegraph wire, May 2016.

After that, I turned my attention a little way up the beach to the north to where two buildings were once located; I presume that they were once the Canadian customs houses while the railroad was in operation. I’ve never really explored this site before, so I was curious what I would turn up. The detector immediately lit up and I could see several depressions in the ground. I’m not a trained archaeologist, nor do I want disturb any potentially important artefacts in the ground, so I treaded very lightly. I picked one spot and carefully dug down several inches to see what was there. What I had stumbled upon was either a garbage pile or a fire pit. There many nails of various sizes, assorted bits of metal and iron, pieces of glass and even a spent rifle cartridge (.30-30 I think). Some of the glass appeared to be fused together, which is why I thought it might be a fire pit. After photographing the items, I returned them to the ground; hopefully I can get some real archaeologists to the site to do the job properly.

Customs items, May 2016.

Customs items, May 2016.

All in all it was a successful trip, but the fun didn’t really start until the ride back. When we reached the aforementioned Railroad Portage, I then realized the challenge it would be trying to get the boat upstream into Little North. I thought I could pull it along the shore but the current was having nothing of it. Even jumping into the frigid, waist deep water to try to move it along did not help. It was going to be tough.

My next move was to lose some weigh, which meant putting my youngest, Noah, ashore. He became quite upset, convinced that we were going to be stuck there. Unfortunately that didn’t help much; the current was still pushing the boat back and on to the rocks. I was getting tired, the blackflies were eating us alive, and my oldest, Ethan, was even getting a bit rattled. It wasn’t until I decided to use the anchor rope to secure the boat farther upstream that we started to make progress. It took us more than 30 minutes, a ton of exertion and a bunch of bruises to get through. I learned a valuable lesson that day; never go though that creek in the spring…and I have all the blackfly bites to prove it.

Stuck in the creek, May 2016.

Stuck in the creek, May 2016.

I told the boys on the final leg of the boat ride back that they would remember days like this one many years from now. The more eventual trips with my dad are the ones that stick out in my mind. They can look back with fondness on all the stupid stuff their dad got them into, even though at the moment it didn’t seem so humorous. Honestly I was a bit concerned for a few moments myself, but hey, a little excitement makes life that more interesting. I’m sure there will be more well though-out moments in the future.

Anyway, it’s time to get rolling. Ironically, I’m off again for my next hike tomorrow morning. This time there is no boating involved, just more walking. I’ll be in Minnesota, hiking the Border Route Trail near Crab Lake. Hopefully it will be just as productive as the one I just described. I’ll be back again next week with all the details.Until then…

 
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Posted by on May 26, 2016 in Hiking, History, Railway, Research, Travel

 

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