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Category Archives: History

Tag, you’re it!

Who’s it? You’re it. Or is it me? I don’t know anymore, I think I lost track. I guess it doesn’t matter, since it’s not a real game of tag anyway. Well, why does someone need to be it if it’s not real? It complicated. Complicated? Yes, complicated. Just as complicated as pushing a small button on your steering wheel or column. Huh? You’re not making any sense Dave, you’re way too confusing. Exactly my point! This is how I felt on my recent road trip to Minneapolis, as I played the proverbial game of tag with people who refuse to use their cruise control. Speed up, slow down. I pass them, they pass me and then repeat. Why do people not want to use this piece of technology? Are they that enthralled with pushing the gas pedal continuously? It’s not like I haven’t complained about this before. I guess it’s all too logical.

Welcome to May kids…thank Jesus for that! Boy are things stupid busy right now. The last month was an absolute blur, which I’ll talk about a little later. I can’t believe there is only 8 weeks left of school. Not that it’s a bad thing, as I am quite looking forward to summer, but the pace of things is brutal. There is still so much to do and there is so little time left. I’m getting tired just thinking about it all.

One of the things keeping me hopping is football. Football? It’s May. Yup it is, but that doesn’t stop things though. This year, instead of the usual skills and drills, Thunder Bay Minor decided to run a flag football league. The one hour practices/games run Mondays and Wednesdays, and both of the boys are participating. I’m coaching Noah’s team and helping out with Ethan’s when they are short, so there’s no slacking. I’ve also had to take some certification classes, one of which is done and the other is coming up this weekend. No wonder April is flying by!

Thankfully, after a cold start to April, the weather has begun to turn. It now definitely feels like spring. Most of the snow is gone in town and things are starting to dry up. With all the cold weather we had, it will take some time for the frost to come out of the ground, but it’s just a matter of time. Many of the lakes are still frozen over, and a lot of people are hoping it goes before the fishing opener on the Victoria Day long weekend. As long as things stay relatively dry so I can get out hiking in a few weeks, I’ll be happy.

Spring, May 2018.

One of the reasons I’ve been so busy is that I’ve been out of town a lot. Our board decided to send me, our principal, vice-principal and a number of the teachers in my department to a conference in Vancouver. I’d never been there before, so Jo-Anne decided to join me and we left a few days early so we could see some of the sights of the city before the conference started. We left early on a Saturday morning, 5am to be exact, which was way too early, and arrived in Vancouver by 10:00 local time via Toronto.

Foothills of the Rockies, April 2018.

We had most of the day Saturday to explore, which took us from the downtown to Granville Island. It was an interesting place to visit and see some of the local shops and markets. On Sunday, we did a hop on, hop off bus tour with some of our colleagues. Our first stop was Gastown, which is one of the oldest parts of the city. It was neat to see some of the older buildings as well as the Steam Clock, which is one of the few operating steam clocks in the world.

False Creek, Vancouver, April 2018.

Setting out on our own, Jo-Anne and I jumped back on the bus to Stanley Park. We stepped off near HMCS Discovery and proceeded to walk over 6km around the perimeter of the park to Third Beach. What a beautiful place! I took a lot of pictures and it was amazing to experience this amazing part of Vancouver. At Third Beach we hopped back on the bus and rode all the way back to Gastown, which was only a short walk to our hotel.

Lions Gate Bridge, April 2018.

Siwash Rock, April 2018.

The conference ran Monday to Wednesday, though we had to leave early on Wednesday to catch our flights back home. The conference was on NPDL, which stands for New Pedagogies for Deep Learning, a global initiative that involves teachers in many countries such as Canada, the US and Australia. We began working on this concept in September, and it involved our school and several of our elementary schools. It is designed to enhance learning by providing more student voice, and co-constructing goals and activities. It was great to see what other schools and teachers are doing in their classrooms and to meet educators from all over the world.

High over the Border Lakes, April 2018.

A week after we returned, we were back on the road again, this time driving to Minneapolis (and playing tag with all the people who hate their cruise control). My wife is a huge Bon Jovi fan, so I promised to accompany her to the concert. I had been to 3 previous concerts with her, during one of which I got to shake Jon Bon Jovi’s hand…it was definitely more of a life moment for Jo-Anne than for me. Anyway, this time we would be sitting 4 rows back from the stage, which would be the closest either one of us have been. It was good, but I was certainly not emotionally spent like my wife, although I could not hear out of my right ear from her continual screaming during the concert. The things we do for our spouses!

Bon Jovi, Xcel Energy Center, April 2018.

Needless to say, with all of the things going on lately, I haven’t had much time to devote to railway work. I did manage to squeeze in a presentation on the railway last week at the Rosslyn Community Centre. It’s been quite a while since I did anything strictly related to the PAD&W (it’s all been Pigeon River Lumber lately), so it felt good to get back to talking about the railway. I played to a full house and the crowd was very interested to hear about the early history of the PAD&W. Soon enough I’ll be gearing up for the next presentation which will be in July at the Chik-Wauk Museum.

Since it’s May, it means that I’m only a few weeks away from my first field work of the year. I’ll be heading down to Gunflint right before the Victoria Day long weekend to complete my explorations of the Gunflint & Lake Superior and Camp 8. Hopefully the weather cooperates and I’ll be able to get everything I want to done. Fingers are crossed!

Anyway, I better get moving. I’ll be back in a few weeks with a full report of my hike. Until then…

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Posted by on May 4, 2018 in History, Railway, Travel

 

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Here comes the sun!

I bet right now the words to the Beatles’ song is running through your head. No? Well, maybe it’s a generational thing. In any case, that’s not what I’m talking about. So, what exactly am I referring to you ask? It’s a history reference, right? You know, history teacher, Dark Ages, Western Europe emerging from the “darkness” after the fall of the Roman Empire. That would be a big no; nice try though, and bonus points for making it about history. As usual, you’ll just have to keep going to get the real answer.

It’s spring kids! Well, on paper anyway. April is just around the corner, which means the school year is really flying by. This coming month is going to be crazy busy, which I am/am not looking forward to. Don’t get me wrong, there is going to be some great stuff, such as a conference in Vancouver, which I’ve never been to before, but that also means it’s going to be a struggle to keep up with things. The kids start some spring activities, flag football and baseball, which coupled with another trip out-of-town to Minneapolis, will make for some interesting times.

In my last post, I wrote about the next trip to Europe coming up in a year. After a lot of effort, we have been able to fill all the student spots on the trip, and even have a few on a waiting list. We have a good group of kids and I’m really looking forward to help them explore some of the sights, culture and history of a different continent. I’m sure before I know it, we’ll be on our way there!

So it is technically spring, which means some days it feels like it and others it doesn’t. For once I can’t really complain about the weather, as it has been relatively decent this past month after a really crappy February. The temperatures have been about average and the snow is disappearing slowly and steadily. I looks like we might have a bit chillier start to April, but the writing is on the wall and as long as we get some good dosages of sun, I’ll be happy.

Early spring at camp, March 2018.

March continued to be a busy month for railway work. I managed to get more writing done on the Gunflint & Lake Superior book, which definitely makes me happy. I have now completed the better part of the first 12 chapters and just have some additional information to add to them. I’ve started Chapter 13, which is the second last, which means I will not have too much to do next winter to finish it all up. The last time I totalled the word count I was over 36,000, an amazing amount for an amateur like me. As I described in my last post, I have some field work to complete this summer and need to review a few things in the archives to wrap up.

Speaking of field work, I am ready to start gearing up for another season of hiking and exploring. Right now I only have two trips planned; one coming up in May and my usual Thanksgiving weekend one in October. For the one coming up in May, the plan is to finish locating the grade of the G&LS, hopefully to definitely give it an exact length. This was something I was not able to do last year. Also, I want to spend some time exploring the logging camp I discovered last May, which I believe was Camp 8 (which I think was renumbered to Camp 11 at some point) of the Pigeon River Lumber Company. I am really hoping that some of the US Forest Service guys can join me for this one, for while I know the technical/historical stuff about logging camps, I am not a trained archaeologist and am not really sure of what I am looking at on the ground. Also, they have the authority to touch/dig/remove items from the ground, which I do not. I really need this information to help complete that section of my book and hopefully tell the story of this unique operation.

Building foundation, Camp 8?, May 2017.

This month marks a sad anniversary, for it was 10 years ago that this area lost one of its most important historic treasures. To climb the ridges south of Gunflint Lake, the G&LS had to build a structure that was both practical and inexpensive. The “corduroy trestle” they constructed was one of the most unique rail structures to be found and was legendary in the area. It was used for many years as part of hiking and recreational trails after rails were removed circa 1915. I first saw it in 1997 and was awestruck, which you can clearly hear in the video I made. In 1999, the trestle was damaged by a large windstorm that hit the Boundary Waters and then was burned by the 2007 Ham Lake Fire. The flames penetrated deep into the structure and continued to smolder for months afterwards. In March 2008, the US Forest Service was forced to use dynamite to extinguish the fire. It’s too bad it is gone, for it was an amazing piece of engineering, but I am glad I was able to save it on video for everyone to see. You can view the video here.

Corduroy Trestle, August 1997.

Corduroy Trestle, August 1997.

Article from the Cook County News-Herald on the trestle, March 2008.

Anyway, I better get going. I’ll try to get back before the end of April with the latest updates. Until then…

 
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Posted by on March 30, 2018 in History, Railway, Research, Travel, Writing

 

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Watch what you wish for!

We’ve all heard of it. It’s the best way to describe how what goes around, comes around. And we all know how Karma has a tendency to be…you know. No, we don’t know Dave; please describe. Well, this is a family friendly blog, so I hope you understand what I’m referring to. How about a word that refers to things being unpleasant? Catch my drift now? In any case, you need to be careful what you wish for because not only can it come true, you can get something worse!

Wow, it’s hard to believe it’s almost March kids! It didn’t seem that long ago I was working on my last post. Time has just flown by! One semester finished, we had exams and are already a month into second semester. My new classes are good and that definitely helps. In a couple weeks it will be March break and things will pick up more speed from there. Before we know it, the year will be done!

So, the weather. Well, no post would be complete without a nice long gripe about that. The last time I wrote I was complaining about how cold it was; guess what? It’s warmed up, but in the last week, we’ve received three big dumps of snow. Yay, I love spending hours cleaning it all up! To make it all better, my mom was out of town during that time, so I had to go and clean her snow too. Ugh! Why do I have to open my big mouth? I know that’s a redundant question, but sometimes I think out loud (or on paper in the case). I guess as the saying goes, if we didn’t complain about the weather, we’d have nothing to complain about. In any case, today was +5C and the temperatures are supposed to be around the freezing mark for at least the next couple of weeks, so hopefully it will make a dent in all the snow we received.

Fresh snowfall, February 2018.

As we move into March, it means that we’re approaching the one-year mark until I lead another trip to Europe. We did some recruiting in the fall, and there is another parent meeting tomorrow. Hopefully we can fill out all the remaining spots we have available. I am really excited for this excursion, for while we are visiting some places I’ve already been to, there are a number of new spots to explore, including Berlin and parts of the Netherlands. You can read more about the trip here.

In the last couple of months, I’ve spent a lot of time working on railway related stuff. Most of it has been devoted to my book, but there have been a few other things that have come up. It looks like I’ve picked up a couple of speaking engagements, one in April locally and another at the Chik-Wauk Museum in July. Check the events page for more details. I’ve also begun plotting my adventures for when the snow is gone. I will be heading down to Gunflint in May, and I’m trying to decide if I want to do some work after my lecture in July. Two years ago, I was in La Crosse, Wisconsin to examine the files of Frank Hixon, vice-president of the PRLC. It now looks like I need to go back to look over a few things to fill out my research; I just need to figure out how I’m going to get there.

Murphy Library, La Crosse, WI, June 2016.

Back in January, I reported that I had resumed writing my book on the Gunflint & Lake Superior Railroad. At the time, I had finished chapter six and begun chapter seven; after two months laborious work, I am now on chapter eleven of a planned fourteen. Some of the previous chapters are not 100 percent complete, as they require information from field work or the aforementioned research trip, but I think I’ve made good progress. The biggest challenge is the constant re-organization of information and chapters, so things flow properly and make sense to the reader. I have no idea if this book reads well or is even interesting; once I get most of it done next winter I’ll have some people look it over to get their thoughts. Fingers crossed that it all pans out!

Anyway, it’s time to move on. I need to get back to my writing. I’ll be back soon enough with the latest updates. Until then…

 
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Posted by on February 27, 2018 in History, Research, Travel, Writing

 

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Happy Frigid Year?

Do you ever wonder why people live where they do? Ya, I know, we can’t really control the place of our birth or where our parents raise us, but it’s interesting nonetheless. Some families have been in the same place for generations, others may have recently moved to a new place and others bounce around regularly. I’ve been in the same place all my life, but my parents were immigrants from Italy. But why here? In my dad’s case, it was all about family, but what about others? Some people hear about our winters and go “why the heck?” like those internet memes that ask, “why do I live where the wind hurts my face?” On the other hand, some places have really nasty insects and animals and I say “ah, no,” just like the internet memes. Fascinating isn’t it?

Happy New Years kids! Hopefully 2018 will be a productive and exciting year. The Christmas break has been a great reprieve and very relaxing. Santa, as usual, was extremely generous to our family. The only thing hanging over my head is the pile of marking that I am struggling to get through before I return to work on Monday. It is very difficult to not procrastinate when all you want to do is anything not work related. So goes the battle!

The only issue during the break has been the detestable weather. What, me, complain about the weather…never! Holy frick it’s been cold! Not the coldest I’ve seen, but the warmest it’s been in the last two weeks is -14C; when you consider that balmy, something is wrong. Nothing like it was this time last year! I guess it could be worse, but it just sucks when you can’t really leave the house because it’s so cold outside. We did a few things, including going to camp for a few hours, but we spent a lot of time indoors. The only thing that makes me feel better is that simply looking at a weather map will tell you that many other people are sharing our misery. Hopefully dealing with this Arctic air mass now will translate into a warmer summer.

Camp in winter, January 2018.

Late December/early January weather.

The family and I decided, despite the cold, to take a little mini-vacation to Duluth. It was rather impromptu, but it was nice to get away for a couple days. While I was there, I stopped in to Barnes and Noble to pick up a book that I had heard about a little while ago. It was a bit expensive at $40US, but it is a hardcover with a lot of amazing photos. Based on the journals and photographs of Howard Greene, it features a visit to one of the Pigeon River Lumber Company’s Minnesota camps in 1914.

Border Country: The Northwoods Canoe Journals of Howard Greene, 1906–1916

So, the only positive side effect of being stuck inside for extended periods has that there has been plenty of time to devote to railway work. I guess in that way the weather was a blessing, as there is a lot of work to do.

If you haven’t heard, I’m writing a book; I’ve probably said it a lot lately. It’s pretty ambitious endeavour, considering the most I’ve ever written is a 3000-word history article. So far, I’ve completed six chapters totalling over 20000 words; that’s a sizeable jump. Scary thing is that I have about 5 more chapters to go. I wrote the better part of those initial six chapters last year, and after an almost one-year hiatus, I’m back at it.

I spent quite a bit of time finishing chapter six and starting chapter 7, but it has been a difficult slog. As the book progresses, there is a lot more going on, which requires much more sorting and organization (and re-organizing) of information and chapters. I am hoping that in the next few months I can get most of the book finished. I know there are going to tweaks to be made, especially after I complete more field work this year. I also have a sneaky suspicion that I am going to have to make another trip to Grand Marais to re-examine the Arpin Papers at the Cook County Museum.

My wheelhouse, January 2018.

Anyway, it’s time to move on. Since I’ve been so busy lately, there will be a lot to say soon enough…check back soon. Until then…

 
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Posted by on January 6, 2018 in History, Railway, Research, Writing

 

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It’s been 20 years?

Do you ever sit back and wonder where the heck time went? You know, like one day you’re single, hanging out at the university bar and the next you’re 40 something years old with a wife, kids and a million adult responsibilities? It’s like you blink and a good chunk of your life flies by. I think it’s most evident in your job, your career if you choose to call it that. One day you’re a bright-eyed, eager rookie and then next you’re a grey-haired old guy teaching kids whose parents are younger than you.

Welcome to December kids! Speaking of time flying by, it’s hard to believe that Christmas is three weeks away. It’s already been a month since football season ended, which occurred on a disappointing note. We finished third yet again, but it was great to work with another awesome group of players. Unfortunately the boys weren’t successful either, both of their teams falling in the finals, Noah’s in quite dramatic fashion. I guess there’s always next year!

Since we’ve reached December, that means things are winding down as we approach the Christmas break. The Thanksgiving to Christmas period is a long stretch and it’s nice to have some time to recharge before the end of the semester. I found this fall really physically tiring, but that’s probably because I am getting old. Thankfully I’ve remained relatively healthy, that was until yesterday. I could just feel it coming on, and sure enough this morning I awoke stuffy and with sore throat. I guess better now than at Christmas.

So speaking of work, this past month marked a special milestone for me. I officially began my teaching career with the Thunder Bay Catholic District School Board in November 1997, just over a year after graduating from university. That means I’ve been teaching for over 20 years! I really have a hard time fathoming that it’s been that long. which is why I feel like it’s all been a huge blur. I don’t feel like I’m old enough to have been teaching all those years, until I look at my grey facial hair and remember I’m turning 44 in a few weeks. It’s been an amazing experience though, and I feel privileged to have had the opportunity to teach some great students over the years. 

As you’re well aware, no blog post would be complete without some mention of the weather. Honestly though, I don’t have much to say. After a rather lousy summer and fall, including some early snow and cold, things have been okay of late. The forecasters are calling for a snowy and cold winter, but so far we have not seen much of that (fingers crossed). If we don’t get more snow, it will be a pretty brown Christmas. The past week has been unseasonably mild and I hope that trend continues. I know I am just fooling myself, but one can dream right?

Early snow, October 2017.

Frigid football practice, October 2017.

Snow at camp, November 2017.

A scattering of snow, November 2017.

Now that I have a bit more time on my hands, I have had more of an opportunity to resume my railway work. It’s been a combination of research, revising and editing. That probably doesn’t make a lot of sense, so I’ll explain.

As you may or may not be aware, depending on how regularly you read this blog, I am immersed in writing a book. I began researching material for this project more than 3 years ago and I started the writing process this past January. I really thought I was done most of the research, with just a few loose ends to tie up so I could finish writing. Being new to this whole book writing thing however, I’ve learned that you’re never really done research. As you write, there are always new leads that you uncover, or topics that require further elaboration or clarification, so you’re always looking into things. Just last week I received a book I purchased on forest railroads and it led me to a whole new source of information. It can all be exhausting!

Steam and Thunder in the Timber

Revising and editing are elements that are continually evolving as well. If you’re digging up new material, guaranteed you’re changing your plan of attack. The aforementioned book I received provided me with a ton of new information, which forced me to go back to reexamine the contents of my chapters and tweak the details. I don’t know what other authors do, so maybe it’s just me. I am a bit of a perfectionist, so I could be taking things too far. I don’t know; all I can do is what feel right for me.

Besides the research and revising, I plan to get back to full-scale writing, which will most likely occur during the Christmas break. If I can get another big chunk of writing done this winter, I will only have some minor details to fill in after the spring and fall season of field work. Well, that’s plan anyway; we all know that things don’t always work out the way intend them too in most cases. I’ll let you know how things are going in a few months.

Anyway, it’s time to go. I’ll try to get back before Christmas

 
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Posted by on December 1, 2017 in History, Railway, Research, Writing

 

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Next time remember the batteries!

Nietzsche once said, “Without forgetting it is quite impossible to live at all.” True, but he must have written that in reference to other people’s forgetfulness, for no one in their right mind would say that when they themselves have forgotten. Most people would have said something akin to “ah, for God sake,” maybe replacing “God” with a few more colourful adjectives for good measure. The reality is folks that forgetting sucks, especially when you think you’ve got it all planned out or you’re a long way from home. Maybe it’s just a sign that you’re getting old or possibly providence telling you to quit while you’re ahead. In any case, it can really dampen anyone’s day or party!

Hey, it’s October kids! I know I have not written in awhile, a long while, two months to be exact, but I’ve been busy. You know the routine already, right? Work, family, football…the usual craziness. It gets faster, busier and more exhausting every year; maybe I am getting too old for this crap. Thankfully some of it is winding down, but that’s a story for another paragraph. My classes are good, but I have larger numbers than I’ve seen in recent years. It makes marking a bit more onerous with all those extra assignments, but I guess that’s why they pay me those big bucks.

So what else is exciting Dave? Well, it wouldn’t be a proper blog post without some gripe about the weather. The weather…sucks! Is that to the point enough? It’s been a crappy year in the regard. It’s been a wet fall, at least in September, especially compared to previous falls. It has been reasonably warm though, until this week that is. It’s amazing how it can turn on a dime; 15C one day and then feeling like -4C the next. They are predicting a cold and snowy winter, so I guess we’ll have to see how that plays out. Hopefully it won’t be as bad as they say. Today was about as miserable as it comes; wet and cold. Areas west of the city got a lot of snow while it just rained here all day. Football practice was fantastic! It’s supposed to turn to snow tonight, so it might be a snowy Halloween for the kids.

Now speaking of football, as usual, it’s my biggest preoccupation of the fall. Things are going well, but I find myself more drained than normal. Probably that getting old thing again. Thankfully I have great coaches around me to ease the burden. Our high school team finished third and is gearing up to play in the semi-finals on Sunday. We are taking on our cross-town rivals, St. Ignatius, and we hope we can avenge a previous loss we suffered to them a few weeks ago. Both Ethan and Noah’s team are in the finals on Saturday, which is very exciting. Unfortunately Noah has not played all season due to a concussion he suffered in the summer so it’s been a tough time for him. But with all the new information out there regarding this issue, it was best to err on the side of caution and take our time getting him back into sports.

As football winds down, something else has jumped into the spotlight in recent weeks. Although it was not that long ago that we were in Europe for our last school excursion, we have already started planning the next one. We will be heading back during March break of 2019 on a tour similar to the ones we’ve done in the past. This one, called from Vimy to Juno, will take us to many of the same places we’ve been before, with the exception of Berlin. I’m very excited to visit a new place to experience some different culture and sights. We met with the students back in September and just had a meeting with parents yesterday. Within the next few weeks they will start enrolling and the real planning can begin. Only 498 days to go!

As has been the case in the last few months, it been pretty quiet on the railway front. I’ve been just so busy that there is, at times, barely enough time to eat and breathe, let alone do any railway work. The lone exception to this was my annual trip to Gunflint was the boys on Canadian Thanksgiving weekend. I was very anxious for the opportunity to go, to get away from things for a few days, do some field work and maybe most importantly, spend some time with the boys. Fall is so crazy that I don’t see them as much as I should.

Our adventure started bright and early on Friday morning. As I have done in the past, I took a personal day to extend the weekend a bit and get as much time there as possible. We loaded up the truck and boat, and after a brief stop for some food in Grand Marais, we arrived at the Cross River Lodge by mid-morning. Our room was not ready yet, so we took the opportunity to get the boat in the water and do a little work on the east side of the lake.

It was a gorgeous day, warm with very little wind…probably one of the best fall days I’ve experienced on the lake. My plan was to shoot some video at the narrows between Gunflint and Little Gunflint Lake, something I had wanted to do in the summer but I forgot my wireless microphone. Even though it was a nice day, I had to wade through the water in the channel that separates the two lakes and man was it cold. Talk about waking you up! My oldest, Ethan, joked that he should have recorded me in the water as well, as it was quite hilarious.

While we were in the area, I decided to shoot a little video of the site of the US Customs houses on the US side of the channel. I did make a dumb decision to leave my crocs on while I did it, which was it retrospect a bad call. They were wet from being in the water and I nearly killed myself a half-dozen times while I walked around through the bush, video camera in hand. I guess it added a little excitement to the day!

Gunflint Little Gunflint Narrows, October 2017.

On our way back to the lodge we stopped along the north side of the lake where the PAD&W runs right beside the shore. The blue sky and fall colours made for some fantastic photos, even with my iPhone. I had no idea why I didn’t take out my real camera and take some shots. We spent some time near the spot I call the “Retaining Wall” which contains cribbing work done by the railway engineers 125 years ago. It’s still in amazing shape for its age and I am always fascinated each time I am there. I figured I’d record a bit while I had the camera out and add it to my collection for the day. You can view all the completed videos here, here and here.

Railway grade, Gunflint Lake, October 2017.

Retaining Wall, Gunflint Lake, October 2017.

Gunflint Narrows, October 2017.

Once we were back at the lodge and settled in, my next task was to prepare for the evenings events. If you recall, during my visit the previous year, I was asked to do an impromptu presentation on the railway. Afterwards, I told John and Rose that I would gladly do it again, but this time I would prepare myself a bit more. During my summer visit we discussed the idea and agreed it would be great to do it again. Since I had the opportunity to plan ahead, I decided to do a topic that I had not really spoken about before. A few of my presentations at Gunflint had alluded to John Paulson, the driving figure behind the mining efforts in the area in the early 1890s and the namesake of the Paulson Mine, but I had not elaborated much. With that in mind, I decided to dedicate my whole presentation to this somewhat mysterious man.  

I played to another packed house and the presentation was very well received. I also had a chance to meet some new people and connect with a number of familiar ones. I hope that this topic will form the basis of a lecture I plan to do at the Chik-Wauk Museum in a few years.

Our plan for Saturday morning involved some explorations of the Gunflint and Lake Superior in an area I had visited a few times before. We would ditch the boat for the day as our starting point was more readily accessible by road than by water. We would travel along the Crab Lake Extension of the Border Route Trail to where it intersects Crab and Whisker Lakes to look a few sites in that area. I was really apprehensive about how it would go, since it had been much wetter than in previous years and the ground could potentially be very soggy.

It’s about a 3 kilometre walk to the location, mostly along the south shore of Crab Lake. It was as I feared a bit wet, but better than I had expected. My first task was to trace a section of the railway grade along Whisker Lake, in an area I had missed on several previous visits. That was accomplished without much trouble, at which point I directed my attention to the grade along the east side of Crab Lake. In this case I was thwarted a bit by the water level on the lake, but I did make a few important discoveries. Our day was concluded by a nice meal at the Gunflint Lodge and a some down time back at Cross River.

Border Route Trail, October 2017.

Whisker Lake, October 2017.

Cylinder?, October 2017.

Pocket knife, October 2017.

Border Route Trail, October 2017.

Sunset, Gunflint Lake, October 2017.

Sunset, Gunflint Lake, October 2017.

Sunday took us back on the lake and to an area we had visited many times before. The calm waters of Friday were gone and it was quite a bumpy ride with the westerly wind blowing down the length of the lake. Having to reduce our speed made the journey a tad bit longer, but soon enough we were heading south on the trail toward Bridal Falls. The agenda for the day was to investigate a possible bridge spanning the Crab River where it is fed by the waters from Crab Lake. During my presentation at the Chik-Wauk Museum in the summer, a local resident had mentioned the possibility to me and I was determined to see if it was in fact true.

Like the previous day, I was concerned about the water levels near the railway grade as it winds it way southward from the falls to Crab Lake. As it turns out, where I thought it would be wet was dry and vice versa. I had noticed last year that it appeared as though a beaver had constructed a dam where a portion of the river widens into a small lake about 200 metres north of Crab Lake. That turned out to be true and it was a bit challenging trying to make our way around the lake., but once past there it was fine and we proceeded to the mouth of the river.

It was a bit challenging trying to get across the river as a beaver had built yet another dam at the mouth, and that was my first clue that the “bridge” may not have been what it appeared. Walking across the dam and examining the area around it I found no evidence that there was a bridge spanning the river, just the dam and a number of fallen logs. On the west side of the river, I swept the shoreline for approximately 100 metres and found no traces of a railway line, just some old beer cans. I guess that put that idea to rest, but I should have taken a photo of the phantom “bridge.”

With that part of the day done and feeling somewhat deflated at not finding any bridge remains, I decided to lift my spirits by shooting some video at the site of the former corduroy trestle that ran alongside Bridal falls. When we arrived there I began to unpack my gear and set the camera up to prepare to record. It was at that point I realized that I had left the wireless microphone on during Friday’s shooting and the battery was now dead. After scouring my tactical vest for a spare battery (I have a number of AA batteries for the GPS, but not a single AAA battery needed for the microphone) I proceeded to verbally berate myself for a) leaving the microphone on and b) failing to bring a spare battery. I had contemplated it before we left the lodge, but I figured I would only need the system for a few minutes and therefore not need a spare. Dummy! I have since placed several extra AAA batteries in my vest beside those AA ones so it does not happen again. To ease yet another disappointment, I took some time to take photos of Bridal Falls.

Mystery object, October 2017.

Bridal Falls, October 2017.

Bridal Falls, October 2017.

Bridal Falls, October 2017.

It’s always sad when I have to leave Gunflint as I really enjoy visiting there. I guess I’ll have to wait until May to get back. Hopefully my next trip will be more productive from a railway standpoint, but I think any time I get there it’s good for my stress levels. Next year’s plans involve more exploration of the Gunflint and Lake Superior, and in particular Camp 8. In the meantime, I’ll have more time to do some writing on my book when football is over. Hopefully I can get most of it done and just work on some of the loose ends once I get more field work done.

Anyway, I’ve babbled on too long so it’s time to get moving. I’ll be back soon, hopefully sooner than these last two posts. I’m sure there will be a lot to talk about in the next little while. Until then…

 
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Posted by on October 26, 2017 in Hiking, History, Railway, Research

 

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If they don’t find you handsome, Part II

If you read this blog regularly, you’ll know that the phrase concludes by saying that “they should at least find you handy.” That might be true, but your assuming I’m not handsome. I can say with some degree of certainty I’m no ____________ (insert attractive guy), but I’m definitely better looking than Red Green for sure. I guess it depends on what your definition of handsome is; are middle-aged, bald dads your type? We’re a petty large demographic, so I’m sure we have our fans.

Well, summer vacation is almost over kids. I really need to write more regularly, as the last time I posted, it had just started. What can I say, I’ve been very busy, but what’s new? Speaking of that, I did acquire a new toy last month. With the kids getting older and therefore bigger, we had a need for a more powerful boat for our water activities. After a bit of looking around, we replaced our 1991, 14-foot 25 HP boat with a 2012/2016, 16-foot 60 HP model. Boy does it really move, but too bad our lake isn’t big enough to really stretch its legs. It’s an Evinrude E-Tec as well, so I love the fact that I no longer have to mix gas to put in the tank!

Sadly, our summer hasn’t been what I expected it to be. The conditions and temperatures have improved, but things are just as unsettled as they were in June and early July. There have been some really nice days, but unfortunately, they are interspersed with some really crappy ones. It is certainly not the warm, dry summer we had last year. But a bad day at camp is better than a good day at work, right? All I can hope is that things settle down for the fall.

Calm morning at camp, July 2017.

Sunset at camp, August 2017.

So, you’re probably wondering what was keeping me busy this summer and what the title was all about. Well, I’ve written in the past how I’ve done some construction/carpentry work and how I rather enjoy it. Last year I finished our basement office, built a kitchen island for camp as well as a new dock. I thought I did a pretty decent job on those; this year it was a shed. For many years we realized that we needed more storage space, but I had never built anything close to a shed. It took me from the end of June until this weekend to finish it, working whenever I had time. There were many first for me with this project; framing a building, shingles, soffit and fascia and siding. It isn’t the best shed ever built, but it turned out pretty good and was a huge learning experience.

New shed, August 2017.

With the end of August approaching, a new school year is on the horizon. I’m obviously not excited about heading back, but I guess that is life. I’ve already started part of my fall routine however. Noah begged us to let him play summer football, and since he was, we signed Ethan up as well. And of course, I was asked to help coach. It wasn’t easy getting back into the saddle this soon, but it’s like riding a bike. The tournament is coming up this weekend in Princeton, MN and hopefully both teams will do well.

When I last wrote, I was preparing to head to Gunflint for a presentation and hopefully some field work. Well, one of those things turned out the way it was supposed to. Last year I did my first presentation at the Chik-Wauk Museum on the Gunflint & Lake Superior Railroad. Unfortunately, due to a scheduling conflict, the crowd was not as large as they have been in the past. After chatting with the museum director, Bonnie Schudy, we decided to do it again this year on a less busy date.

There was a full house for the lecture and having done the same presentation on two previous occasions, I felt very comfortable with the material. Those in attendance we very appreciative and had a lot of questions at the end. As it turns out, I gained two very valuable pieces of information from the presentation. The first, which occurred right after the event, was when one of the audience members told me about a trestle/bridge they had seen along the G&LS route. I had not come across it in my travels, and it lends credence to fact that there were other branches to this line. I will be checking out this site during my October visit to the area.

Audience at the Chik-Wauk Museum, July 2017.

The other breakthrough came a few weeks after. For many years I have been searching for a photo of William Scott Jr., who was one of the founders of the Pigeon River Lumber Company and a well-known person in the Lakehead from his arrival in 1900 until his death in 1939. My efforts to locate an image of him had all come up empty. Fortunately, one of the audience members thought of me when they attended a presentation on the Outlaw Bridge a week later in Grand Marais. As it turns out, the Thunder Bay Museum did have a picture of him all along, just not an individual portrait. I am certainly grateful that these people were looking out for me!

After the presentation, we (the family and I) had a chance to relax at the Cross River Lodge and have a nice dinner at the Gunflint Bistro. I was a beautiful evening, so we took the opportunity to explore a little of Gunflint and Magnetic Lakes. The plan was to spend the night and do some field work the next day, but unfortunately, I forgot a piece of video equipment that I needed, so my plans went out the window. We went out on the lake anyway, more so because it was a nice morning and I really want to try out the boat on the big lake. She really flies!

Cliffs at Magnetic Lake, July 2017.

Sunrise at Gunflint, July 2017.

While I was out there I thought I’d try out the fish finder and better explore an area of the railway on the north shore of Gunflint I call the “Retaining Wall.” Building the PAD&W along the shore of Gunflint was very difficult, mostly due to the uncompromising geography of the Canadian Shield. In spots, such as this one, the grade had to be blasted right out of the shore of the lake, which resulted in trains passing precipitously between the rock face and the lake. The engineers had to construct a retaining wall in this spot to keep the grade from sliding into the lake. Most of it is still there, some 125 years later. The water is about 10-15 feet deep next to the shore, but quickly drops past 100 feet within a short distance. It amazes me every time I see it and I shot a little video which you can view here.

Well, I think it’s time to wrap things up. I’m not sure when I’ll be back again, since the beginning of the school year is rather hectic. Most likely I’ll have a few things to say before my annual Thanksgiving trip to Gunflint in early October. Until then…

 
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Posted by on August 22, 2017 in Hiking, History, Railway

 

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