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Category Archives: Research

It’s spring, but I’m stuck inside…

It’s spring, but I’m stuck inside…

Honestly, I really struggled on how to start this post. As a history teacher, I always talk to my students about those dramatic events that occur during our lifetime, the ones where we always remember where we were when they happened, or have the visuals ingrained in our minds. I have several of my own; 1986 Challenger tragedy, the fall of the Berlin Wall and 9/11. Well, it’s 2020 and here we are again. I know years from now I’ll remember exactly where I was, just where I am right now…sitting on my couch!

Well kids, I’m back…I wish it was under better circumstances. It is a very challenging time in the world, and I find it difficult to manage the tone of this post. I want to try and keep things upbeat though, as there is enough negative news around. The last few week have been a bizarre and surreal whirlwind of events that no one saw coming. Just before school shutdown, one of the last things I taught my Grade 10 class was about the Spanish Flu, the last time the world experienced a pandemic on this scale. The irony is not lost on me.

It’s now April and I’ve been away from school since the 13th of March. It seemed as though one-minute things were fine and the next we were told the schools would remain closed for two weeks after the March break. Now, that closure has been extended until May. And during that time the COVID-19 exploded across parts of the world. Since schools have been closed for the foreseeable future, we have been thrust into this crazy situation of trying to teach everything online. I taught a geography course online for a few years, but this is nothing anywhere close to the same thing. It is going to be a very interesting few months as we figure out how to salvage some semblance of the school year.

So here I sit, parked on my couch like millions of other people around the world. I, like many of you out there, really struggle to make sense of all of this. As I described earlier, the world has not seen a health situation like this in 100 years, and such uncertainty since World War II. There’s not much we can do, but follow the advice of the medical professionals, including staying at home and watch our physical distancing. I guess it gives some of us time to spend with our families, work on projects and pray for those experiencing the worst of this pandemic.

For now, anyway, the only saving grace has been the weather. The weather? Ya, I know, I’m actually saying something positive about it for a change. February was pretty good, though the first part of March was rather crappy. However, surprisingly, since we’ve been told to stay home, the weather has mostly been pleasant. I’ve been trying to take advantage of it, going for hikes (which I’ll talk about later), daily walks and bike rides; I guess I’m not really stuck inside am I? In any case, I went out and bought a new bike, which was inspired by buying one for Ethan’s birthday. I guess I was rather due, since my old bike was purchased in 1996! We’ve also gone to camp, which we will be doing more of as the snow receeds.

Spring thaw, March 2020.

Spring thaw, April 2020.

Camp, March 2020.

Camp, March 2020.

Mount McRae, March 2020.

Mount McRae, March 2020.

Since I have extra time now (well, in between doing schoolwork and projects around the house), I’ve been trying to do as much as I can on my book. The only bad thing is that COVID-19 likely will throw some of my plans for a huge loop. I was supposed to head down to Gunflint for field work in early May with the archaeologists from the US Forest Service, work we were originally to start on in October, but it snowed. Now the border is closed, and we’re told to stay home. Ugh! It’s like the history gods don’t want me to finish this off. Hopefully things clear up by the summer and we can set something up for then.

I’m also supposed to be in Toronto in early July to visit my brother and his wife, and at the same time do research at the Archives of Ontario. That might also be in jeopardy too; it’s all going to depend on how this pandemic plays out. In the meantime, I’ve been trying do little tweaks and edits where I can. I did get some documents from the Minnesota Secretary of State, but my requests with the Wisconsin Historical Society and Library and Archives Canada will need to be followed up on once this mess is all over. I did take some time to sort through and re-file most of the documents I used on the book. Boy did I kill a lot of trees!

Book files, March 2020.

Book files, March 2020.

Book files, March 2020.

While I am waiting to finish off the last parts of the book, I’ve started in on a new project. I know, colour you shocked! We’ll, it all started very innocuously. Back in February I got an email from the Cook County Historical Society regarding an inquiry someone made on the Palatine Mining and Development Company. This outfit was from Chicago and made up of Polish-American businessmen who wanted to open up the old Paulson Mine in the early 1920s. I passed along some of what I knew, but the request piqued my interest. So, next thing I know I’m scouring the internet for more information on the company and the people that ran it. Then I’m sending emails to the Illinois and Arizona Secretaries of State for documents. No, this won’t be another book, but likely an article for the Thunder Bay Historical Museum Society.

To help pass the time and also practice physical distancing, I decided that I should do some early spring hiking. I don’t really go out during the winter, since it isn’t easy to get around in the snow and things that I want to see are generally obscured. However, I figured what else do I have do and it might brighten someone’s day who can’t get out. So, the first hike I did was a few weeks back and I went to Stanley, where the PAD&W crossed the Kaministiquia River at Milepost 20 and the 1920s era bridge is still there. There was still a lot of snow, but it felt good to get out and look around. You can watch the video I shot here.

Stanley, Ontario, March 2020.

Harstone Railway Bridge, March 2020.

Harstone Railway Bridge, March 2020.

Last week I travelled much further out, to Milepost 59 and a place called Iron Range Hill. About seven years ago I was sent some pictures that were taken of the railway during the winter of 1915-1916. It shows a train stuck in the snow on the hill, which probably has the heaviest grade on the line at over two percent. The railway had to climb from 1541 feet above sea level at Sandstone Lake to 1690 feet at the top of the hill in just over a mile; the incline in the grade is very noticeable. Thankfully people use part of the old grade as a snowmobile trail, which made it much easier to get around. Otherwise, the snow was past my knees! You can watch the video I shot here.

Iron Range Hill, March 2020.

Iron Range Hill, March 2020.

Iron Range Hill, March 2020.

Iron Range Hill, March 2020.

Yesterday I went out in that same area, just a little more to the east at Gravel Lake Station, Milepost 52. It wasn’t a very long hike, but I knew it would be a challenge since there would be no snowmobile trail. There was a pretty solid crust of snow, but I still needed my snowshoes to get around. Gravel Lake Station lies at the end of a chain of four lakes known as the Gravel Lakes. This stretch of the railway is very bad, with the grade having sunk down in the swampy, muskeg terrain. I’ve been through there a few times in the past, the last time in 2010, so I thought I’d take a look in the winter. I hopefully plan to get back there in the fall and walk the entire 2.5km section. Anyway, you can watch the video I shot here.

Gravel Lake Station, April 2020.

Gravel Lake Station, April 2020.

Gravel Lake Station, April 2020.

Gravel Lake Station, April 2020.

Unfortunately, I’ve decided to shutdown the hikes for a few weeks. The Government of Ontario has asked people to limit non-essential travel to help flatten the COVID-19 curve; I know I’m not going anywhere with any people, but I still feel I should adhere to what we are being asked to do. Besides, soon the bush will be wet and not pleasant to hike through until it dries out. To help fill the time, I decided to try putting some of the lectures I do online. The first one will take place on Tuesday, April 7 at 7pm Eastern time. The talk will be on the Gunflint & Lake Superior Railroad, the subject of my book. Just click on the link below and it will take you to the live video:

Gunflint & Lake Superior: Ontario’s Private American Railroad

Anyway, I better move along; there are a ton of things to do around here. Please stay safe during this challenging time. I’ll try to be back in a month, hopefully when I can start hiking again. I already have a bunch planned in my head! Until then…

 
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Posted by on April 6, 2020 in History, Railway, Research, Writing

 

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I didn’t know it would take this long!

I didn’t know it would take this long!

Have you ever started on something and thought “this is a piece of cake; I’ll be done in no time”? We’ve all be there before, right? Sometimes the task is small, you know, like making dinner or cleaning the house; other times, it’s a big, complex project like renovating a room or say writing a book. Wait, what? Writing a book? Who casually writes a book? Haha, I guess the percentages of people doing renos is much higher than people writing a book. Are there bonus points for doing both? Asking for a friend.

Hey kids, I’m (finally) back. I know I said in my last post I’d be back before Christmas and well, it’s now the end of January. My bad? I guess it’s the difference between aspirations and reality. I really did intend to post before Christmas and then, as usual, life gets in the way. Hey, I’m busy guy…I’m writing a book and doing some renovations. Okay, I’ll be honest, there isn’t a ton of work with the renos, but I have been doing a lot of work on the book. That’s a topic for later though.

So, if it’s the end of January, that means I’m in a bit of a down time. What does that mean? Well, it means that the first semester is almost over and we’re gearing up for the second half of the year. The good news is that, as JBJ would say, “we’re halfway there;” bad news is that there is still half a year to go. Oh well, we’re on what I call the downward slide. Second semester always goes faster, the days are getting longer, and winter will, eventually, be over. Yay!

Speaking of the weather, no post would be complete without some mention (or rant) about it. Funny thing is that there isn’t too much to complain about. The winter so far, fingers crossed, hasn’t been too bad. We haven’t had very many cold days, and it’s been fairly mild at times. The only issue is that we’ve had quite a bit of snow; according to the data there is officially 35cm of snow on the ground, but some areas are reporting upwards of 80cm. I’d say my house is somewhere in between, probably around 60cm. I’m getting rather tired of cleaning snow, but I decided to live here right?

Winter snowfall, January 2020.

Winter snowfall, January 2020.

Winter snowfall, January 2020.

Alright, so what’s going on with this book Dave? Well, a lot actually…thanks for asking. When we last left off, I mentioned that I would be starting to write again soon. And write I did, maybe not necessarily by word count, but certainly in reorganization and revising. When I started this project back in 2014, never in a million years did I think I’d be at it 6 years later (and counting). This was supposed to be a short paper, like my first published work on the ghost town of Leeblain. Boy did it ever blow up! The scary thing is that I’m just supposed to be writing, not digging up new information. However, since I’ve never done this before, I have no idea of how it works.

If you’re wondering why I’m still gleaning the interwebs for information, it has come out of the fact that I’ve had to re-jiggle my chapters slightly and add to what I wanted to discuss in the book. I must admit I’m not really sad or upset about this; I love doing research. I enjoy the thrill of the hunt and testing my ability to find new material. It can be very frustrating, tedious and expensive. I’ve requested documents from the Minnesota Historical Society, and Library and Archives Canada, plus from the Wisconsin Historical Society if they can turn anything up. I have no idea what I’ve spent on this project in these six years, but it’s now in the thousands. Ya, I know, I’m crazy.

Piles of documents, January 2020.

Now speaking of expenses, I still have two trips (or more) that I need to undertake to finish this odyssey. The first is to Toronto, where I will need to visit the Archives of Ontario to find information about timber licenses and the incorporation of a company, the Arrow River & Tributaries Boom & Slide. My wife has bought tickets to see Bon Jovi on July 10th, so it will be somewhere around that time. Thankfully my brother lives in Toronto, so we have a place to stay while we’re there. Hopefully I can find all the material I need.

My second trip is one that I’ve discussed several times in the past and was actually supposed to happen in October. If you read my last post, I always travel to Gunflint for Canadian Thanksgiving with the boys. One of the big goals for the trip, one which I was very excited for, was the planned visit to Camp 8 with USFS archaeologist Greg Heide. Unfortunately, it snowed that weekend, which forced us to postpone until this spring. May cannot come soon enough! It is so important to the book to get some professional exploration of the site, which has already and might continue to provide a treasure trove of information. Hopefully the weather cooperates this time!

Anyway, I better get moving; there are always a million things to do around here. I’ll be back as soon as I can with the latest updates. Until then…

 
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Posted by on January 31, 2020 in History, Railway, Research, Writing

 

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I’ve been here a long time!

I’ve been here a long time!

It amazes me how fast time goes by. Do you ever pause and go “it’s been that long?” You know, when you feel you just started something the other day, whatever it is, and it’s actually been years or decades? It definitely has a way of making you feel old, especially when you add up all the years.

Hey kids, it’s only February…ugh! Ya, it’s not a particularly optimistic start, but it’s been a long few months. Since it is the second month of 2019, it means that we’ve started the new semester. That puts us that much closer to end of the school year, which is great, but I’m really tired. I can’t muster the enthusiasm right now. It’s not that there anything particularly wrong, just a general malaise. The classes are good, but there’s seems to be a lot on my plate right now. I’m sure it will look up soon enough.

On a related note, this month I am celebrating my 20th anniversary as a full-time teacher. Yup, I was hired back in February 1999…I just can’t believe how quickly those years have flown by! Twenty years is a long time, a quarter of most people’s lives; I guess I am officially old. What makes it even more incredible, is that I work at the same high school I attended. I started there in 1988 (my Grade 9 year was at the same school, just in a different building…long story) and continued for the next 4 years. I did a placement there while in teachers college, and then returned on a contract in the fall of 1998. So what it all means, which I pointed out to my students, was that I’ve spent nearly 25 of the past 30 years in the same building. I’ve literally never left high school!

One of the things that has contributed to my sour mood is the weather. Yup, I’m back on the weather train again. If you read my last post, things were decent until the end of December. We had a big storm that I detailed in that post, and then things seemed to be okay for a week or so. That’s when things went off the proverbial rails (pardon the pun). The temperatures plunged to into the ridiculous range, where it was even difficult to leave the house. Then it got warmer, but the snows returned, resulting in copious amounts of the white stuff on the ground. I don’t think we’ve had this much snow in five years. At camp, there is even more snow, more than I remember in 2014. Shovelling a path to the house left something resembling the front-line trenches of WWI. Stupid Polar Vortex and climate change!

Winter snowfall, February 2019.

Polar Vortex temperatures, January 2019.

Camp snow, February 2019.

So in less than a month I will be able to hopefully escape this situation with another trip to Europe. This will be my fourth trip with students from the school and I am really looking forward to it. Right now it might not appear that way, as I am struggling to get all the last little details taken care of. This excursion, known as From Vimy to Juno: History of Canada in the World Wars, will take our group to similar places that we’ve been in the past, such as Amsterdam, Ypres, Vimy, Juno Beach and Paris. The exception this time will be a couple days in Berlin, including a visit to Sachsenhausen concentration camp, and the eastern part of the Netherlands. We will be paying tribute to fallen soldiers at the Groesbeek and Beny sur Mer Canadian War Cemeteries. As I the past, I will be hijacking the blog to chronicle our journey.

Despite all the craziness, I have been very busy on the railway front (though I have been on a little break for the past week). Working diligently for the past two months, I’m trying to get as much of my book done as possible, which has gone in fits and starts. Writing is not always easy; sometimes the biggest challenge is not the actual words themselves, but organizing all the information, especially when you realize you’re missing some information. I’ve had to do some additional research, and I’m also going to have to go to Toronto to look through some files at the Archives of Ontario…again. This is on top of further archaeological efforts at the site of Camp 8 in Minnesota, hopefully with the assistance of the US Forest Service.

In any case, I’m now over 46,000 words organized into 14 chapters. Most chapters are done, save for some minor tweaks, while 1, 10, 13 and 14 still need varying degrees of work. The last two should be done in the coming months, while the first requires the material from the archives and ten is the chapter on Camp 8. With any luck it will be completed at this time next year, but that hinges on what happens with the field work. I am quite adamant about including detailed information about one of the best preserved logging camps in Minnesota, but obtaining assistance from the USFS is out of my hands and might require me to wait until they have the time and funds.

Book work, February 2019.

Well, it’s time to move along. I’ll be back in early March, right before I leave for Europe, hopefully in a better mood. Until then…

 

 
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Posted by on February 17, 2019 in History, Railway, Research, Travel, Writing

 

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The best birthday present ever!

The best birthday present ever!

You know, when you reach a certain age you don’t really look forward to birthdays anymore. There are no important milestones left, only ones that remind you that you are getting old. Despite all of that, it is nice to spend time with family and at least try to celebrate. Maybe you’ll even get lucky and get an unexpected gift. Boy did I get one this year!

It’s Christmas vacation kids! What a welcome break in the midst of chaos. I really needed the holiday…it was a bit of burnout city for me. The kids were pretty much finished too. By this time of the year they have no focus or attention and trying to get them to do anything is nearly impossible. One week has already flown by, but it with Christmas out of the way things are a little less hectic.

Mid-month snow, December 2018.

View from the mountain, December 2018.

View from the mountain, December 2018.

View from the mountain, December 2018.

So, I can’t not write this blog without making a comment about the weather, which surprisingly has been fairly subdued. Well, until a few days ago that is. Up until the 27th, we didn’t have a lot of snow and it’s been mild. They predicted a major snowstorm for right after Christmas and this time they weren’t wrong; it was quite the dump! We received more than 30cm of the white stuff and of course the temperature dropped the next day. That left me the best birthday present of all time-two hours of snow blowing in the freezing cold. Happy birthday Dave…

Snowstorm, December 2018.

After the storm, December 2018.

After the storm, December 2018.

After the storm, December 2018.

After the storm, December 2018.

With the respite from work, it means that I do have some time to devote to railway work. I did manage to make to get over to the Lakehead University Library just before the break to look up a few books. After going through the information from one of them over, I had to go and get it again. This time, I made the shorter trip the Brodie Street branch of the Thunder Bay Public Library who also had a copy of the book. That then prompted an examination of some microfilm, which didn’t quite yield the results I was looking for (both of the good quality viewing machines were being used). So, I went back a few days ago and was able to find the newspaper article I was l after. That’s a lot of time in the library!

I’ve also begun writing again. As I described in my last post, there is a bit of work left to do on the book, mostly finishing the last couple chapters and tweaking a few others. There is a chapter that will have to wait until after summer, that being the one that describes the second logging camp, Camp 8/11. Hopefully I’ll have an opportunity to make a more detailed examination of the site, with some luck in the company of some experts. That means I hope to have all the writing done by next winter, which means this odyssey will have encompassed the last 6 years of my life. Do all books take this long? Well, I guess I can answer my own question by saying “yes,” since I’ve been working on the PD for the past 24 years and I’ve written only one chapter!

Anyway, I better move along. This is obviously the last post of 2018, so here’s to another great year in 2019. I’ll be back soon with the latest news and exciting developments. Until then…

 
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Posted by on December 31, 2018 in History, Railway, Research, Writing

 

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Well, it only took 16 years!

Well, it only took 16 years!

They, or at least someone at some point, said patience is a virtue. Well, if that’s true, I could be the poster child for that. It’s also been said that it’s not the destination but the journey getting there; it’s definitely been a long journey! I have however enjoyed every moment of this particular journey and those who I have shared it with. The reality of our world is that sometimes we have to wait for good things to happen and it certainly makes you appreciate it even more.

Hey, I’m back kids! I know, it’s been a while, but as usual, I’ve been a tad busy. In case you weren’t aware, I do have a job and a life. Too busy to write a blog? Well, ya, it does take time out of your life even though it’s just “writing.” And as anyone who writes will tell you, sometimes you try but it’s not working, the proverbial “moment striking you.” Anyway, what’s keeping me busy you ask? Well, what isn’t? We’ve passed the halfway point of the school semester, and no matter how much I get done, I’m always behind on my marking. Oh the life of a teacher. This week is the last of November, which means there is only four weeks until Christmas break. What a blur things have been…I don’t even know what to ask Santa for!

Besides school, I was particularly busy with football. The minor season ended in late October, with both boys making the finals with their respective teams. Unfortunately, they were both on the wrong side of very close games. However, they both played well in the fall and grew a lot as players and teammates, which makes dad proud. After 7 years, Ethan played his last minor football game as he will be joining dad at high school in September.

As for the high school campaign, our team finished in top spot with a 5 and 1 record, the first time that has happened in a long time. We won our semi-final game quite convincingly, and booked a spot in the finals, our first trip there since 2014. We would be taking on our cross-town rivals, the St. Ignatius Falcons, who we beat twice in the regular season. We scored first, and went into half with a 7-0 lead. By the fourth quarter we were up 21-7, but unfortunately we let them score late to make it close. Our defence came up big though, intercepting their last gasp pass attempt.

2018 SSSAA Championship final score, November 2018.

2018 SSSAA Champion captains, November 2018.

2018 SSSAA Champions, November 2018.

Our program had not won a Junior championship since 2002, a drought of 16 years. We had four previous trips to the final, but sadly could not come away with a win, losing two of those games by one score. It definitely plays into your psyche, as at times you question your abilities as a coach. However, we were very lucky to have an amazing group of young men who were extremely dedicated and willing to work hard all season long. I am glad they were able to come away with the title and I could help them cement their place in school history. With a solid crew coming back and a strong incoming group, hopefully we don’t have to wait another 16 years!

Since it’s November, it means that we’re on the verge of winter. Not like it hasn’t been “winter” for awhile; if you read my last post you’ll know it already snowed in early October. The weather hasn’t really improved since then. We’ve had some good days, but we’ve also had some rainy, snowy and bitterly cold days as well. I have no idea what this winter will be like as Mother Nature doesn’t seem to know herself. We had a bit of snow until a few days ago, and then it warmed up to +6C and it all melted. Who knows if we’ll have a brown or white Christmas this year.

Late Fall, November 2018.

So with everything going on, you’d imagine that I have not had a ton of time to work on railway stuff of late. On the contrary however, I have been a bit busy. In my last post I mentioned that I’ve been working on some research related to the early history of the Pigeon River Lumber Company and that has continued unabated.

When I was in La Crosse, Wisconsin in August, I was able to probe some of the interactions between the principal investors in the PRLC, well before the company was even formed. That led me into the tangled history of the early logging along the Pigeon River, making many interesting discoveries. If you don’t know, this is where I excel or it’s “in my wheelhouse.” I love the thrill and challenge of historical research, confident I can find exactly what I’m looking for.

What have I found you ask? Well, apparently there was an attempt to log the Pigeon River area well before the late 1890s, which ended in quite the controversy. Later, extensive work was done by the Ontario government to encourage/assist the later logging operations, which amounted to thousands of dollars. And then there is the matter of when exactly did D.J. Arpin, William Scott and the others become involved in the Pigeon River, which appears to be well a number of years before the company was formed in 1900.

While these discoveries have been huge, there have been some frustrations, namely tracking down all the information I require. It looks like I might have to do travelling again; places like the Cook County Museum is easily done, while the Archives of Ontario in Toronto might require a bit more effort.

With the Christmas break on the horizon, it means that I will be back to writing soon enough. There is still a lot to accomplish, and I hopefully I can get most of the book done by spring. The laundry list is quite extensive; complete/revise the first chapter, add the information from 1906 and complete the last couple chapters. This doesn’t even include anything about Camp 8/11, which I cannot finish until I wrap-up all the field work there next summer. However, for some reason, I am rather apprehensive regarding this session of writing and I’m not sure why. Maybe it is because I’m getting to the end and there is some finality to it all. I think though, it is because I’ve left the more difficult sections for last and I am worried about getting them right. Whatever the case, I’ll do my best to get it done.

Anyway, it’s time to go. I’ll probably be back before the holidays with a few thoughts before the close of the year. Until then…

 
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Posted by on November 26, 2018 in History, Railway, Research, Writing

 

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Hey, who opened the refrigerator door?

Hey, who opened the refrigerator door?

Refrigerator door? Is that a bad thing? Are we worried about the milk or something else spoiling? I know, it’s one of your ridiculous metaphors, but pertaining to what exactly? Well, if you’re a regular reader, you’ll know exactly what it refers to. So, what does Dave routinely write about, well other than the railway? Hmmmmm…

Welcome to fall kids! While fall is one of my favourite times of the year, as you know, it is one of the craziest. I cannot believe we are already halfway through October; what a blur. Work is extremely busy as usual and between that and family life, there isn’t a lot of time to breathe. As our kids get older, their schedules get more hectic, like everyday hectic. Gee, isn’t parenthood a blast?

One of the things keeping us hopping is minor football. Since the boys play in different divisions (peewee and bantam), they play on different days (Wednesdays versus Saturdays) and therefore have different practice schedules. That means we are going everyday of the week, especially with playoffs coming up. And all of that is on top of high school football, which is now entering week five. Thankfully I have a fantastic wife who makes it all work.

Unfortunately, the only negative has been weather. Yes, I’m back on the weather train. Maybe I cursed it in my last post when I said that it had been great, which it was. Sadly, that changed in a real hurry…it’s like someone flicked a switch or opened the fridge door. The first part of September was awesome but the last three weeks have been downright miserable. It has been rainy and cold nearly everyday. At times the temperatures have been 10 degrees below normal and we’ve had like 150mm rain during that time. Maybe we’ve been spoiled the last number of years with gorgeous weather in the fall and this is nature’s way of reminding us that it isn’t roses all the time.

Last weekend was Thanksgiving Day long weekend, which meant that the boys and I made our usual trip to Gunflint Lake for a well-deserved break from the grind. This was the sixth year we would spend the weekend with our friends John and Rose at the Cross River Lodge for some boys time and field work. We had been blessed the previous five years with fantastic weather, but alas our luck ran out. There was no respite from the gloomy weather, which included early fall snowfall.

We left home on Friday morning, a bit later that usual as it was raining but that rain was supposed to stop by mid-morning. On our way to the border we experienced some snow, which was just a harbinger of things to come. By the time we arrived in Grand Marais, where we stopped for some supplies, the precipitation had stopped. While there we noticed vehicles with a significant amount of snow on their exterior, which made us wonder what it would be like at Gunflint. As we drove up the Gunflint Trail we found out. At the mid-trail point, we could see that more than 10cm of snow had accumulated on the ground. As we drove, Ethan commented to me that it was ironic that we were driving through snow while towing a boat. Thankfully Gunflint was on the edge of the storm system and only received a dusting of snow.

Gunflint Lake snow, October 2018.

With some snow on the ground and very windy conditions, we decided not to head out that day. That gave me some time to relax, plan the hikes for the next few days and get ready for that evening’s presentation. As I had the two previous years, I would be doing a little lecture at the lodge on an aspect of the area history. This year it was Leeblain, the ghost town on the Ontario side of Gunflint Lake whose story was intertwined with that of the railway.

The next morning, we headed out on what was a foggy, misty morning. It was quite chilly, especially on the boat ride across the lake. The ground was wet from all the rain and snow that had come down, but it could have been worse had the summer not been so dry. Our first stop was Bridal Falls, or least the trail that takes you to it. Last year I had planned to shoot some video at the site of the former corduroy trestle of the Gunflint and Lake Superior Railroad beside the falls, but the batteries on my wireless microphone were dead. We managed to get that footage this time, as well as record the rock cut above it with Ethan’s GoPro.

Bridal Falls, October 2018.

From there we travelled 3km northeast to where the G&LS crossed a small creek just south of the international boundary. I had been there on several occasions before, but just like the corduroy trestle, I wanted to get some footage with the wireless microphone. On the approaches to the creek, we realized just how low the lake levels were. Parts of the shore I never seen before were exposed and water depth dropped to less than a foot. It was not easy to maneuver the boat around in that environment, but I managed. In the process, I made a neat discovery. Back in 2011, I was sent the image of a rail car brake wheel taken at the crossing by some of the guys from the US Forest Service. With the low water levels, I found the wheel as well, shocked that there was quite a length of shaft attached to it.

Hand brake wheel, Gunflint Lake, October 2018.

Hand brake wheel, Gunflint Lake, October 2018.

Our next stop was to the south at the site of Camp 4, which was the first of two logging camps belonging to the Pigeon River Lumber Company. Some of the areas logged by the company east of Camp 4 were several kilometres away, and I wanted to see if a spur had been built eastward from the main line. While my search came up empty for now, I did make some neat discoveries. I turned up a few horseshoes, and what I thought was a blacksmith hammer. As it turns out, it was a hammer, but not what I thought it was. After putting it up on social media, it turns out it was a snow knocker, a hammer used to remove snow and ice from the bottom of horse’s hooves, and there were many horses used for these logging operations.

Horseshoe, Camp 4, October 2018.

Horse snow knocker, Camp 4, October 2018.

On our way back to the lodge, we made a slight detour to the Gunflint Narrows, as the low lake levels caught my attention. I’ve been to the Narrows on many occasions in the past, but I don’t think I’ve seen the rocks and bridge remains that exposed before. We didn’t linger long, but I did manage to snap a few photos from my phone.

Gunflint Narrows, October 2018.

Gunflint Narrows, October 2018.

After breakfast on Sunday we left the lodge, this time by truck, for the day’s work. Our destination that day was parking lot for the Crab Lake Spur of the Border Route Trail near Loon Lake. The boys and I would make the long trek to the site of Camp 8, the second logging camp of the PRLC. After re-discovering it back in 2017, I had last visited the camp back in May. I had spent some time then taking measurements and photographs of the eight structures and debris there. The plan was have the boys help me take more detailed measurements that would help pinpoint the exact location of the structures.

Although it was not sunny, it was a bit warmer that day and the walk along the trail was pleasant. Fall is a beautiful time of the year to be on the Boundary Waters and this was no exception. My only regret is that opportunities to experience this are very fleeting.

Crab Lake, October 2018.

Crab Lake, October 2018.

Crab Lake, October 2018.

Crab Lake, October 2018.

Whisker Lake, October 2018.

Whisker Lake, October 2018.

Getting to Camp 8 requires quite a bit of “bushwhacking,” which was not particularly easy given the deadfall in the bush and the fact that it was still wet. Just after 11am we arrived at the camp and after a quick look at one of the debris fields, we started taking measurements. Ideally, I would love to have a sub-metre accuracy GPS, but the cost of such a device makes it prohibitive. I tried doing it the old-fashioned way, triangulating two structures to a central reference point. It didn’t really work out the way I thought it would, but it was worth the try.

I spent the remainder of time taking more photographs and recording the structures with my son’s GoPro. I though the wide-angle view of the GoPro would give a better perspective but unfortunately, I was only able to record six of the eight buildings as the battery died before I could get to what I believe are the two stables at the site. I’d like to go back next spring and finish the job, and maybe I can get my hands on one of those GPS to get all the data I need. The best discovery of the day was what I thought was part of a horse bridle near the southern wall of one of the stables. Turns out it is a bit, which helps to confirm my theory. Hopefully I can get some experts from the USFS in there at some point to do more detailed explorations.

Building foundation, Camp 8, October 2018.

Building foundation, Camp 8, October 2018.

Bridle bit, Camp 8, October 2018.

It was sad to head back home on the Monday, but I already booked our return visit for next year. Interestingly, the hikes I did at Gunflint was not the only railway related work I’ve done recently. If you read my previous post, my visit to La Crosse brought up some important leads, especially regarding the early history of the PRLC. This has led me to many new discoveries regarding the company and even other, earlier, attempts to log the Pigeon River. I’ll write more about these in my next post.

Anyway, it’s time to go. I’ll be back soon, likely when football is over and I have more time to breathe. Until then…

 
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Posted by on October 7, 2018 in Hiking, History, Railway, Research

 

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How can I be tired already?

The simple answer is yes, yes you can be tired Dave. But after only 4 days back at work? Yup, you sure can…it doesn’t matter if it’s 4 days, 4 weeks or 4 months. However, you know what would make the fatigue more epic? How about throwing a cold on top of it? Ya, that sounds like a great idea, because nothing makes the situation better like a stuffy, snotty nose, a sore, burning throat and horking up phlegm. Yes folks, the last few days have been absolutely fantastic!

It’s September and I’m back kids! It may seem that it has started as well as a train wreck, but in reality, it’s pretty good. It’s just hard to go from being on vacation for two months to extreme craziness in a few days. The worst part is that it has just become even worse as the boys’ football season has started up. I know, poor hard done by teacher complaining about how busy things are after a summer off. I get it, but that doesn’t make it any easier. I really feel like poop.

If it’s September, it means that summer is over; well, not officially but close enough. I wrote in my previous post back in July that the weather had been good and that is how it continued. This summer was one of the best we’ve seen in recent memory. We didn’t spend as much time at camp in August as we did in July, as the boys had football practices 3 days a week. Nonetheless, we were able to make the most of the time we were there.

Sunset at camp, August 2018.

Calm morning at camp, August 2018.

Last camp sunset, August 2018.

So as I mentioned, I began football early this year. The boys wanted to play summer ball again, especially Noah who missed the tournament last year and the entire fall season after suffering a very unfortunate concussion in practice. The only issue this time around was the format of the tournament, which changed venues from last year. On the Saturday, the teams were supposed to play some squads from Orono, MN, which is just west of the Twin Cities. A week or so before we left, we were informed that things had changed for a third time. Orono had been invited to play in a jamboree style exhibition and they stipulated that the organizers had to invite the Thunder Bay Minor teams too. The best part, the games would be played at US Bank Stadium, home of the Minnesota Vikings. The players (and the coaches too) were beyond excited as it is not very often that you get a chance to play in an NFL stadium.

The games were to be played on August 25th and 26th, so we left Thunder Bay on the 22nd. Our journey began with a one day detour to La Crosse, Wisconsin (which I’ll discuss later). I really enjoy La Crosse as it is a beautiful city, though we didn’t really see too much of it. The next day we headed to Minneapolis and I decided that instead of taking the interstate, we would take the more scenic Highway 61 along the banks of the Mississippi. It was worth the extra 20-25 minutes it added to the trip, as the views along the river were fantastic! Once in Minnie, we were able to spend a couple days shopping and relaxing before the boys had to play.

Scenery near Arcadia, WI, August 2018.

Mississippi sunset, La Crosse, WI, August 2018.

Lake Pepin, MN, August 2018.

On Friday night, the Vikings were hosting the Seattle Seahawks for a pre-season game, so we decided to take it in. Neither myself nor the boys had ever been to an NFL game, so it was going to be a very exciting experience. Our seats were in row 3 in the endzone, which gave us a fantastic view of parts of the game. You can view some of the great video I shot here.

US Bank Stadium, August 2018.

Seahawks vs. VIkings, August 2018.

The experience at US Bank Stadium was awesome. The stadium is both huge and small at the same time, if that makes sense (the stadiums look so much bigger on TV). The kids had a blast and I’m sure they won’t soon forget this opportunity. The only downside was that it was a warm day and there was no air moving inside the stadium; by late afternoon it was like a sauna inside there.

US Bank Football Jamboree, August 2018.

Field level at US Bank Stadium, August 2018.

Field level at US Bank Stadium, August 2018.

So unlike my last post, there has been a bit of movement on the railway front. In early August I paid a visit to the Lakehead University Library to do some research. I first had to find a few books that would help me fill in some missing areas in my book. I later had an appointment at the university archives, which held some files related to the Pigeon River Lumber Company (PRLC). These documents were from a much later period than I am working on, but I thought there might be a few tibits that might help me out. I didn’t find anything explosive (which I did in the States), but there were a few useful things.

PRLC fonds at the Lakehead University Archives, August 2018.

As I mentioned earlier, our trip to the States included a brief visit to La Crosse, WI. Now you might be wondering what is in La Crosse, but if you read this blog regularly, you’ll know that I’ve been there before. La Crosse was the hometown of PRLC vice-president Frank Hixon, and the Murphy Library at the University of Wisconsin-La Crosse holds his very extensive personal records. During my June 2016 trip I compiled a veritable gold mine of information, but I inadvertently missed records from the fall of 1905. Hence the return.

Murphy Library, August 2018.

Working very quickly in the limited time I had, I was able to gather all the documents I required from the fall of 1905. I had decided, before I left, that I would look at some other records if there was time. I wanted to review those from 1909, when logging operations concluded at Gunflint, to see if I missed anything. I also wanted to look and see if I could find anything important from the 1897 to 1899 periods, before the PRLC was formed. In the end, my discoveries were extremely important.

Hixon Papers at the Murphy Library, La Crosse, WI, August 2018.

One letter from 1905 helped affix a date to the construction of the wood trestle alongside the Crab River. Others pointed to some internal turmoil in the company following Herman Finger’s departure from the board. Some of the 1909 records helped clarify and confuse what I already knew about the Gunflint operation. And finally, pre-1900 records gave me a better understanding of how the company was formed and where I should look for additional sources of information. In the end, the materials I uncovered were all critical pieces for my research.

Anyway. it time to get going. I’ll be back in mid-October, as I have my usual field work scheduled for the Canadian Thanksgiving weekend at Gunflint. I’ll have all the information and news from that visit. Until then…

 
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Posted by on September 11, 2018 in History, Railway, Research, Travel

 

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