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Category Archives: Research

Powering through the doubt

We have all felt it. You may not be feeling it now, but it is there. Nagging. Gnawing. Festering. To not feel it is to be not human; it is unescapable. Some feel it more than others…some are better at hiding it than others. Some thrive on it, while others are consumed by it. It is one little word, but it can massive repercussions. I have felt a lot of it lately, but I’m determined that it not get the best of me.

Hey kids, it’s been a while. It’s hard to believe my last post was a month and a half ago. I had very good intentions of posting weeks ago, but life kept getting in the way…I hate when that happens. Anyway, I am still alive, though insanely busy, but what else is new right? Well, I guess there is a lot that is “new,” which is why I am so busy.

So what’s keeping me occupied you ask? The usual I guess; work, family, breathing, research…the usual stuff. School has definitely been the big one of late. We are a month into the new semester and it feels like I’ve been at it forever. It’s hard to believe we’re almost at March break, though I’m not sure it has all been fun. The last few days in particular have been rough, with open house, an early release day and interim reports. Thank Jesus for the break!

One of the things keeping me occupied at school has been the upcoming trip to Europe. In just over a month, we will be departing on our exciting tour of Europe for the 100th anniversary of the Battle of Vimy Ridge. The trip will take us to several places in the Netherlands, Belgium and France. The planning for the trip began almost 3 years ago, and it’s hard to believe it’s almost upon us. Yesterday our fancy tour jackets arrived from EF, and today I was contacted by our Tour Director Jason (he’ll be the guy taking us around). The kids are getting very excited for the journey, and so am I, though tempered with the stress that comes with it. I’ll be sharing more information in my pre-departure post.

On the steps of the Vimy Memorial, March 2014.

On the steps of the Vimy Memorial, March 2014.

It’s funny that our last tour, back in March of 2014, was a welcome relief from the awful weather we were experiencing that year. This time it’s not really an issue. Actually, the weather has been pretty good for Thunder Bay standards; it has been very mild, at times even crazy warm, like +8C, +10C. Even today, which is one the colder days we’ve had recently, was -8C. So I’m not complaining, unless we pay for this some how in the summer.

Things have been very busy on the railway front over the past few months. When I last wrote, I was a few days away from a major presentation at the Thunder Bay Museum. I was very worried about how it would go, but despite my fears, it was fantastic. I played to a full house! I didn’t actually count all the people that were there, but it had to be over 40. We had to keep fetching more and more chairs to accommodate all the people. As far as I could tell, the crowd really enjoyed the lecture and hopefully it will lead to interest in the Pigeon River Lumber Company and the Gunflint & Lake Superior Railroad when I finish my book.

Now speaking of the book, I am still plugging away at it. As of today, I have completed the better part of 5 of the planned 9 to 10 chapters, which is a decent amount of work. It hasn’t always been easy; there have been times that I really have struggled getting words down on the screen. Writers block? I can’t be entirely sure, as I’ve never written a book before. Some of it, as the title of this post reflects, is a bit of self-doubt. I really wonder at times if it is interesting, makes sense or is even readable. I think my research is sound, I’m just worried if I’m doing a good job putting it together. Lots doubts and questions. However, I’ve come this far and I can’t let that deter me. Sometimes you just must put your head down, power through and hope for the best. I guess I’ll have to see what people think when I’m all done.

Anyway, I should get rolling. Thursday is usually one of my writing nights, so I’d like to get a bit of work done before it’s time for bed. I’ll be back with more news and updates soon, likely before I leave on the trip. Until then…

 
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Posted by on March 2, 2017 in History, Railway, Research, Travel, Writing

 

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The Scary First Step…

Space, the final frontier. These are the voyages…oops, wrong blog! Or is it? Not very many people have gone into space, but most us have done what was described in the opening of Star Trek-venturing into the unknown. And while not quite on the same plane as space exploration, our personal journeys are no less imposing and challenging. As well, these personal experiences can generate just as much angst and stress. But we know that without these experiences, we would not grow and mature as people.

Hey, welcome to 2017 kids! It’s a new year, with new challenges and new opportunities. As usual, things are no less busy than they were in 2016. The school semester is winding down, so there are always a million things going on. Next week we will be into exams and soon thereafter we’ll start all over again with a new semester. Hopefully I’ll be able to manage all the stress without burning out too much.

One of the things that is keep me busy of late is planning our upcoming school trip to Europe. If you read this blog regularly, you’ll know that I’ll be leading 23 students to the Netherlands, Belgium and France for the 100th anniversary commemorations of the Battle of Vimy Ridge in April. We’ve been planning this for nearly 3 years now and it’s hard to believe it’s almost here. I just received our flight information, which makes it all too real. Things are going to get a little crazier as we move closer to our date of departure. You can read more about the trip here.

Beny-sur-Mer Canadian War Cemetery, March 2014.

Beny-sur-Mer Canadian War Cemetery, March 2014.

I guess I would be remiss if I didn’t say something about the weather, which is one of my usual things to rant about. So how has the weather been Dave? Well, how about crazy as usual? It’s all over the place, ranging from low of -30C last week, to highs above 0 this week. Hey, I’m not complaining, but it makes it awfully difficult to get to use to things when there are thirty degree swings in temperature. No climate change huh?

In a break with what has been happening over the past few months, I have done a lot of work on the railway front recently. My goal for the new year was to begin writing my planned book on the Gunflint & Lake Superior Railroad. I’ve never written a book before; the closest I’ve ever come was my recent article on Leeblain for the Thunder Bay Historical Museum Society’s Papers and Records (which, by the way, is now available online). The whole idea is very scary and very intimidating. I am very much out of my element…research is definitely my forte.

Surprisingly, despite my fears, things have gone relatively well. In just over a week of writing, I’ve managed to complete about a chapter and a half. Now, this is not saying that I’m the next Ernest Hemingway and there are Pulitzer Prizes in my future. All I can do my best and hope it turns out well. I have a lot more to write, plus I still have some research and field work to complete. Then I have to convince someone, hopefully the TBHMS, to publish it. I’m not sure when I’ll be finished, but I already have another project lined up.

Speaking of the Gunflint & Lake Superior, I’ll have to take a break from my writing next week to deliver a lecture at the Thunder Bay Museum on this topic. It will be the Canadian debut of this presentation and there appears to be a number of people planning to attend. Hopefully it will generate interest in the book and facilitate its publication.

Anyway, I better go. It’s still early and I can get some more writing done. I’ll be back in a few weeks with all the latest news. Until then…

 
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Posted by on January 18, 2017 in History, Railway, Research, Writing

 

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The weather is certainly frightful!

Is frightful the correct metaphor? Maybe. Probably the more appropriate term would be weird, or possibly inconsistent. What about unpredictable or erratic? Eccentric? Illogical? Not sure how those terms mesh with the opening lines of the song; “Oh the weather outside is erratic?” However, I think those represent the situation much better. Why you ask? Well, you know that you’re gonna have to keep reading.

Hey, it’s Christmas break kids. Actually, it’s Christmas Day today, so Merry Christmas! It doesn’t quite feel like feel like it though, since our school year took us right up to the 23rd before vacation started. More than anything, it’s nice to be off as it’s been a very tiring few weeks. With the late timing, it means that we’ll have a whole week after New Years. I guess that it is fortuitous, as I have a literal mountain of marking that needs to be done before we go back. Bah humbug!

So I as I sit here and write this, we are bracing for a potentially large dump of snow. They are calling for high winds and possibly freezing rain. Yay! As I mentioned in the intro, the weather has been a complete mess the last month. In my previous post, I wrote how it was +17C on Sunday, which was followed by a winter storm less than a week later. A few weeks after that, it was so mild that we received 80mm of rain that washed all the snow away and caused flooding. Then the temperatures dropped for a whole week with windchills in the -20s and -30s. The last few days we’ve been hovering around 0C; there’s no global warming right?

December 2016 Temperatures.

December 2016 Temperatures.

With the two-week break from work, I am hoping to get some work done on the railway front. I haven’t been able to do much recently with everything that has been going on. I have managed a little research, but nothing too strenuous. Those efforts have yielded some excellent results though, namely the discovery of a photo of what purports to be the Pigeon River Lumber Company (PRLC) mill in Fort William circa 1900-1901. If it is in fact the PRLC mill in Fort William, it had to be taken between late 1900 and early 1902 as the company left the old Graham and Horne Lumber site in the spring of 1902 for a new location in Port Arthur.

Pigeon River Lumber Company Mill, Fort William, ON c. 1900

Pigeon River Lumber Company Mill, Fort William, ON c. 1900

In the coming months, my goal is to begin work on what I hope will be a book on the PRLC and the Gunflint & Lake Superior Railroad. My research on this topic is winding down and it is time to start putting information into words. I am very nervous though, as writing is not my forte compared with research. I did manage to do a decent job on my last foray into academia, so I have the utmost confidence in myself. However, that was just an essay and not a full-fledged book. This is literally a step into the unknown and maybe that is what is the source of my apprehension.

On January 24th I’ll be giving my first lecture of 2017 at the Thunder Bay Museum. I have been looking forward to this presentation for quite some time, as it will the Thunder Bay premier for this intriguing chapter of local history. Hopefully it will also generate interest in the Gunflint & Lake Superior Railroad ahead of my writing sessions. You can read more about this topic here.

Anyway, I better go. I still have a turkey hangover and need a serious nap. I’ll be back soon enough with the latest news. Until then…

 
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Posted by on December 25, 2016 in History, Railway, Research

 

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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 IV: You get what you ask for!

Ask and you shall receive right? Yup, it’s funny how things tend to go that way, except when you ask for a million bucks! It’s usually the more simplistic things that we get simply by asking. The real question though is whether we want it or not; or better yet, does everyone want it or not. To use the adage, what is good for the goose isn’t always good for the gander. Cryptic? Please, read on.

So here we are in July and summer is upon us. The kids are on holidays, and things are good (well, except one thing but you’ll have to read the next paragraph). It’s too bad that it’s already the middle of the month and the days are just flying by…thankfully I’m making each one count. We’ve been sending most of them at camp, which I know the kids appreciate. I grew up spending most of my summers at camp and it helped make me the person that I am.

Well, I guess it would not be a typical post without a rant about the weather and boy do I have a rant. Remember the title? Ya, especially the part about getting what you ask for? So what’s the problem Dave? You see, in about the middle of May, people around here were complaining how dry it was and how we needed rain. What do you think happened? Yup, we got rain…a lot of rain. How much rain you ask? A crap load! We set a new record for the wettest June in history here in Thunder Bay with just under 200mm of precipitation coming down.

This has had a huge effect on me, more specifically on my railway work. It’s hard to get out hiking when the ground is so saturated. How wet is it? Well, let’s put it in perspective. Most of my hiking takes me to the boundary waters, so I usually monitor the weather station at Seagull, just west of Gunflint Lake. Since my last hike at the end of May, 250mm of rain has fallen. That amount is the same as the cumulative total at this time last year, compared to 390mm and counting this year. Sometimes people just need to keep their pie hole shut!

You know who else needs a punch in the face? Climate change deniers that’s who. The amount, duration and intensity of the precipitation we have received is a clear indicator to me that climate change is alive and well. Our weather patterns are so bizarre and are nothing that I have experienced in my forty something years. Every time I think we’ve turned a corner and things will dry out and get back to normal, there is another big dump of rain. The ground is so wet that the water does not soak in but rather sits there for days. My backyard has not dried out yet, and it’s been 5 or 6 times that I’ve been left with huge puddles of water in all the low spots. Grrrr!

Backyard flooding, July 2016.

Backyard flooding, July 2016.

With all of this rain we’ve received and my inability to go hiking, it’s left me a lot of time to spend out at camp as I mentioned. And it’s not that there’s a shortage of things to do out there. The better part of the last four weeks have been taken up with removing the old dock that was built circa. 1995, and replacing it with a new structure. For good measure, I also threw in a swimming raft for the kids, which has turned out to be a big hit. It was a lot of hard work, and the bugs ate me alive the entire time (thanks to the rain), but I’m pretty proud of the finished products. Carpentry is something that I really enjoy and I’m becoming more proficient at it as I get older.

Camp morning, June 2016.

Camp morning, June 2016.

Completed dock, July 2016.

Completed dock, July 2016.

The work isn’t done however. My wife Jo-Anne has been focussing on the inside of the camp, adding new curtains and a fresh coats of paint. I still have a ton of cleaning up to do outside, that is after I redo part of the basement walkout with stone. It will take us several years to get things where we want them, but it will get there.

With everything going on, things have been very quiet on the railway front. As I mentioned already, hiking is out of the question since the ground is so wet and many low areas are inundated with water. I’m hoping to get out in August, that is if the weather cooperates and allows things to dry out a bit. I’d really like to try and follow the route of the Gunflint & Lake Superior along Crab Lake. I guess I’ll just have to play the wait and see game.

In the next few weeks I am going to have to put a bit more time into the railway as I have a number of important events coming up. In just under a month I’ll be at the Chik-Wauk Museum doing my first ever full-length presentation on the Gunflint & Lake Superior Railroad. That means I have a lot of work to do to get the slideshow ready for August 14th.

Speaking of August 14th, my presentation for the Northern Great Plains History Conference is also due that day. This is probably the biggest history conference in the northern Great Plains area and I’m excited to be a part of it. I’m also rather nervous. For me this is the big leagues, a conference full of university professors and well-published authors. I’m just a high school history teacher and a part-time historian who is rather new to all of this. I am sure I’ll be okay, but there will be definitely be a lot of butterflies beforehand!

Anyway, I think it’s time to go. I’ll try to be back soon…hopefully there will be something to new talk about in the near future. Until then…

 
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Posted by on July 12, 2016 in History, Railway, Research

 

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Dave’s Outdoor Adventures-Episode III: The Cruise Control Aversion

It’s something that some us use quite frequently, while others do not. At one time it was regarded as a luxury, a piece of technology that a few had while the majority did not. Today however, it has become a standard component in automotive offerings, so much so that it is often overlooked. Yes, I’m talking about cruise control. Huh? Yup, that little collection of buttons located somewhere near your vehicle steering wheel, subject to the variations of makes and models. Why am I talking about this you ask? Well, it seems to me that some people out there have forgotten that this technology exists; I guess we’re too worried about Bluetooth connections, LCD screens and in-car wifi to remember about something so trivial. Still confused? Yes, you’re probably wondering what my point in all of this is, but rest assured, as always, I will explain myself.

So 2600km and many hours of driving later I have returned ladies and gentlemen. The vacation is over; well, at least part of it is…I’m still on leave however. It’s amazing how much distance you can cover in a short period of time. Probably the best example was on the return trip, when we had to cross the entire state of Wisconsin from Beloit to Superior, all 600km of it. It took the better part of 5 hours to complete that leg of the 1000km trek home. It’s surprising how sitting in a vehicle that long can completely wipe you out. I definitely would not make a good long-haul truck driver!

So when we last left off I had arrived in La Crosse, Wisconsin on the first leg of our trip. The whole purpose of visiting La Crosse was to examine files belonging to Pigeon River Lumber Company Vice-President Frank Hixon, housed in the archives of the University of Wisconsin-La Crosse. There was palpable mix of excitement and apprehension before my visit; I couldn’t wait to see what I find but I was also worried that the volume of information would overwhelm me.

I had quite a number of email exchanges with the staff of the Special Collections Center at the Murphy Resource Library well in advance of my arrival. They had graciously examined many of the files in the Hixon records, so I knew that this would not just be a wild goose chase. The archives did not open until 9:30, so I had plenty of time to make sure I arrived on time.

Murphy Library, La Crosse, WI, June 2016.

Murphy Library, La Crosse, WI, June 2016.

Archives, Murphy Library, June 2016.

Archives, Murphy Library, June 2016.

The first files I planned to investigate were financial records belonging to the PRLC. While it turned out that most were for the years after 1909 (the year that the logging operation at Gunflint concluded), there were a number that fell into the appropriate timeframe. These documents gave concise information on the financial situation of the company, as well as the importance of the Gunflint operation to the PRLC.

From there I began an examination of Hixon’s letterbooks. These books, similar in nature to the Arpin Papers, contained copies of all Hixon’s outgoing letters to his many contacts and business partners. I was hoping that they would shed some light on the end of the Gunflint logging efforts, since the Arpin Papers do not go past April 1908. I found exactly the information I was looking for.

After looking through the 1908-1909 letterbook, I moved on to the unbound correspondence from the same period. Essentially these folders contained all the incoming letters that Hixon received, which proved to be even more useful than the letterbooks; they were a gold mine of information. Letters from President D.J. Arpin and Secretary/Treasurer William Scott, in addition to copies relating to company business, shed a tremendous amount of light on the day-to-day operations of the PRLC.

By focussing on the periods where there were gaps in the Arpin Papers coverage, and utilizing the assistance of my wonderful wife, I was able to make substantial headway in my examination of the records. When all was said and done, I had gathered over 600 photographs various documents in the collection. The haul of information made the time and expense of the visit to La Crosse well worthwhile.

Hixon Letterbook, June 2016.

Hixon Letterbook, June 2016.

PRLC Letterhead, June 2016.

PRLC Letterhead, June 2016.

When I initially planned the trip to La Crosse, I had figured that two days would allow me to make a full examination of all the files. Later on, I became convinced that a return visit was inevitable given the amount of information in the archives. Surprising, I was able to complete everything in one day.

I found La Crosse to be a beautiful town, and despite my good knowledge of geography, I did not realize that it lay on the banks of the mighty Mississippi. However, with my work completed, Jo-Anne decided that we should leave a day early and therefore have more time in Chicago. This was done, and early on Tuesday morning we began the four-hour drive to the Windy City.

Mighty Mississippi, La Crosse, WI, June 2016.

Mighty Mississippi, La Crosse, WI, June 2016.

Like the drive to La Crosse, I thought the journey across Wisconsin was equally as picturesque. Four hours and a bunch of change later, we were in Chicago. Neither my wife nor I had ever been to the Land of Lincoln before, so it was going to be a whole new experience. In the end, it was great; the only blemish, the damn toll highways. I’ve been on them before, but nowhere near that many. The real frustration comes when you miss one (or a couple…long story) and need to pay them later on. Apparently it’s quite easy. Just go on the web and pay online; the part they leave out is that it doesn’t work for non-US residents! What a pain!

So the extra time we had would allow us to explore the city in a bit more detail. Unfortunately we were staying in the suburbs, closer to where the National Archives were located. Thankfully we were able to determine that Rock Island District Metra line would take us right into the heart of the city in less than an hour. So, with oh so much irony, I rode the train into downtown. And what did I do along the way? I took pictures of some of the old stations along the line! I am very impressed that they were able to preserve all of these historic stations. While it appears that many are no longer in use, it is amazing to witness their unique architectural style…they don’t build things that way anymore.

Oak Forest Metra Station, June 2016.

Oak Forest Metra Station, June 2016.

115th Street Metra Station, June 2016.

115th Street Metra Station, June 2016.

99th Street Metra Station, June 2016.

99th Street Metra Station, June 2016.

91st Street Metra Station, June 2016.

91st Street Metra Station, June 2016.

To help us explore the city better, we purchased a get on, get off bus tour for the day. The first thing we had to do was walk though, from the La Salle Street Station two and a half kilometres to the Hard Rock Café on Ontario Street where the tour departed from. Our first stop after embarking on the bus was the Willis Tower, which many still know as the Sears Tower. The Skydeck at the tower gives an impressive view of the city and surrounding area, though the highlight is going out onto “The Ledge.” While I have walked, apprehensively albeit, on the glass floor of the CN Tower, nothing prepares you for the experience of stepping out into a glass box 1353 feet above the ground. Have I ever mentioned that I’m terrified of heights? And not only did I do it once, but twice, since Jo-Anne wanted to get the “official” picture as well.

chicago, June 2016.

Chicago, June 2016.

The "Ledge," Willis Tower, June 2016.

The “Ledge,” Willis Tower, June 2016.

The rest of the bus ride was great, including a stop at the Field Museum near the waterfront. We concluded the tour by disembarking near the Hancock Tower, at the northern end of the famous “Magnificent Mile.” We then made our way along Michigan Avenue toward the train station, stopping for some deep-dish pizza at Giordano’s before heading back to the hotel.

Field Museum, June 2016.

Field Museum, June 2016.

Giordano's Pizza, June 2016.

Giordano’s Pizza, June 2016.

The second part of my research adventure took place on Thursday morning with a visit to the National Archives and Records Administration repository in Chicago. Unlike the La Crosse archives, I was quite unsure what I would find at the NARA facility; I was rolling the dice here. What I was after were any records pertaining to the US customs house located at Gunflint Lake. Government records have yielded information on the agent, salary and duties collected for the Canadian customs house at Leeblain. However, US records only list the agent and salary; I was hoping that I could fill in the gap in Chicago.

Unfortunately my search that day was over very quickly. The documents in their collection primarily dealt with the vessel traffic in the port of Duluth. While the staff rendered their utmost assistance, this search is going to require a bit more digging to determine if this information is available.

Friday and Saturday were both spent downtown again, this time in some blistering temperatures. A heat wave had embraced the Midwest states, pushing the mercury in Chicago, even near Lake Michigan, above the 40C mark with the humidity. While I appreciated the fact that it was hot, it was not the ideal weather to be plodding the streets of Chicago in. We logged more than 25km over the two days and I must have sweated out several pounds of perspiration. The worst was during our architectural boat tour of the city, where I felt like I was going to pass out with the sun beating mercilessly down on us as we plied the shade less waters of the Chicago River.

Chicago River, June 2016.

Chicago River, June 2016.

Chicago River, June 2016.

Chicago River, June 2016.

All good things must come to an end, so on Sunday we left for home. During the drive I began to think about something that has bothered me every time I have taken road trips over the years, and is the inspiration for the title of this post; why do people hate cruise control? Am I being completely anal-retentive and unreasonable? It’s a no-brainer to me; you get on the highway, set your cruise control and away you go! It makes me mental to be behind someone on the road and have their speed fluctuate, sometimes quite wildly. Speed up, slow down and repeat. The best however, is playing tag with people on divided highways. You go by them, only to have them blow past you a few minutes later and then invariably you catch and pass them once again further down the road. I passed the same car from Maryland three times on the way home.

I’ve also noticed a propensity for this behaviour south of the border (mind you, I have done more trips there in recent years). Do Americans hate cruise control that much? Does my Canadian nature and mild OCD make me desire order and uniformity over chaos? Is it un-American to use cruise control? Maybe some people feel it unconstitutional, a slap in the face of freedom like wearing a motorcycle helmet (I really don’t get that). It could be that they’re afraid the government will revoke the second amendment if they use it. Obviously I’m being quite facetious here (or am I?), but it’s just something that catches my attention (and nerves) every time I hit the road.

Anyway, I best wrap things up. I have a plethora of things that require my attention. I’ll be back soon enough with the all the latest revelations. Until then…

 
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Posted by on June 18, 2016 in History, Railway, Research, Travel

 

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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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