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Europe 2019 Day 4

Oy vey Kids! So if this part of the blog makes utterly no sense, please accept my profound apologies; my cognitive level is somewhere between zero and non-existent. What my brain is passing off as relatively coherent thoughts could be just a random collection of gibberish on the computer screen-I may have seen this scenario a few times during my teaching career. Oops, did I say that out loud? Sorry, my bad. Happy thoughts, happy thoughts…

Anyway, it’s Tuesday and I’m completely exhausted. But hey, who needs sleep right? I remember telling myself that at points in my life, like when I was in the army, when my kids were newborns (I still don’t know how my wife did it) and a few others I probably have forgotten. For a history teacher, I do have a short memory; I may have written the exact same words, well, more or less, on the last trip when I couldn’t sleep. Should have got my own room. Smothering a snoring roommate is still a crime over here right? Asking for a friend.

Okey dokey, we’re now on the train to Amsterdam. It was quite the odyssey getting out of the hotel and to the train station. The hotel was supposed to have a bagged breakfast ready for us, but something got messed up and that went out the window. We were told to grab something quick from the breakfast buffet and then jump on the bus. I took us about an hour to get to the station, where we had time to buy more food for the ride. I picked up a couple chicken schnitzel sandwiches and even got to try out some German. Too bad we’re leaving as I was just starting to feel comfortable with some basic words and phrases.

The train will take us to Apeldoorn and we should be there about 2pm. I guess we’ll have an opportunity to see the countryside, relax and hopefully sleep. I never been on a train before, and I’m sure this is a new experience for many of our students. I’m sure it’s a great way to see parts of Europe. Anyway, time to get some shuteye.

Scenes from the train, March 2019.

Scenes from the train, March 2019.

Scenes from the train, March 2019.

Alright, it’s now noon and we’re northwest of Münster near the German-Dutch border. That means we have another 2 hours before we arrive in Apeldoorn. I did manage to get some rest, which we won’t call sleep as I don’t think I really did. I do feel a bit better, but I could use some proper nighttime sleep. We’ll see what tonight brings.

I ate both of my chicken schnitzel sandwiches, which were delicious, but had very messy crusty buns. The sun was out for a while, then it clouded over and now it’s trying to peek out again. Hopefully it holds until we get to the cemetery at Groesbeek. The kids seem to be enjoying the opportunity to relax, sleep or just hang out; it’s quite the smooth way to travel. I even played a little Nintendo Switch with some of the boys, but I did as poorly as I thought I would.

Scenes from the train, March 2019.

Scenes from the train, March 2019.

Scenes from the train, March 2019.

So we’re now on our bus leaving Apeldoorn and heading toward Groesbeek. The train ride was great, but it was getting rather stuffy on board, so it nice to have some fresh air. The bus we are now on will be our home base for the next five days, until we reach Paris. Our driver is a Dutch fellow named Tish (I hope I spelled that right). The drive is about 60km, so we have a bit more time to relax.

We’re back on the bus, on our way to Amsterdam. We first visited the Liberation Museum in Groesbeek, where we learned about the battles around the town, such Operation Market Garden and the Rhine Offensives. There was a very heavy Canadian involvement, especially the battles for the Rhine in early 1945.

Liberation Museum, Groesbeek, March 2019.

Liberation Museum, Groesbeek, March 2019.

Groesbeek, March 2019.

From there, it was a short two minute drive to the Groesbeek Canadian War Cemetery. Over 2600 Canadians are buried there, most killed in those battles along the Rhine. The cemetery is unusual, as most of the men died in Germany, but because the commander of the 1st Canadian Army refused to have any of his men buried on German soil, they were moved across the border to the Netherlands. Among those interred there are Sergeant Aubrey Cosens of the Queen’s Own Rifles, who was awarded a posthumous Victoria Cross for his actions in February, 1945 and Lieutenant Colonel Jeff Nicklin of the 1st Canadian Parachute Battalion, who was killed in the opening moments of Operation Varsity. Nicklin was a former member of the Winnipeg Blue Bombers.

Groesbeek Canadian War Cemetery, March 2019.

Groesbeek Canadian War Cemetery, March 2019.

Groesbeek Canadian War Cemetery, March 2019.

Grave of Sgt. Cosens VC, Groesbeek Canadian War Cemetery, March 2019.

Grave of Lt. Col. Nicklin, Groesbeek Canadian War Cemetery, March 2019.

Grave of L. Cpl. Hooper, Groesbeek Canadian War Cemetery, March 2019.

Okay, we’re on the road for the final leg. We stopped for dinner at a place called La Place in Enspijk. It was not a scheduled stop, as EF didn’t have a set restaurant for the meal. Sebastian gave us some options, and that EF would give us 15€ to spend. Turns out, we made a great choice. This restaurant was a buffet-style establishment that makes your entree while you wait. I had salmon with some type of sauce, fries, salad and bread with garlic butter. All for 17.30€, so it only really cost me 2.30€…nice!

Okay, so it’s time for bed. We are at our hotel, the kids are tucked in and we getting ready for lights out too. This hotel is pretty good, though the rooms are small…the kids are gonna be cosy! Anyway, I need to TRY and get some sleep; I’m not holding my breath. We’re heading out at 8:30 tomorrow, so we get to sleep in an extra hour. Yay! Until then…

 
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Posted by on March 12, 2019 in History, Travel

 

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Europe 2019 Day 3

Hey Kids…ugh! I don’t if I’m better or more exhausted. I’m sitting here staring at the screen trying to decide if I’m actually conscious, or if I’m in a quasi zombie state; me thinks the latter. I signed up for this right? Sure, why not spend your week off doing the same thing you do every other week of the year, just 24 hours a day? It will be fun they said…

I did sleep, if you can call it that. The more pertinent question is regarding the duration and quality of that sleep. You know when you’re so tired you can’t sleep? I was falling asleep on the train ride back to the hotel, yet of course I was restless when I got to bed. It doesn’t help that my roomie can wake the dead with his snoring and falls asleep immediately, leaving me to lie awake and contemplate my life choices (see above). If the past trip is any indicator, I’ll eventually become so tired that the snoring won’t bother me.

So we’re going to be heading out shortly for our day’s adventures. I just came back from breakfast, which is always interesting in Europe. It’s kinda like roulette, as you’ll never know what the quality and quantity will be like. Today, it wasn’t bad; lots of breads, some meats, yogurt and a few other things. Overall, I give it a B.

Still have these in Berlin, March 2019.

Today we’re off for a tour of the city with a local guide. Hopefully the weather is a bit more cooperative. It’s not raining right now, so let’s hope that trend continues. The forecast for the rest of the trip doesn’t look very encouraging, but things can change quickly right?

Okay, so we’re on the bus to Sashsenhausen, which is about 45 minutes away. We had a good morning, though the rain has returned…just in time to be outside. Anyway, we picked up a local tour guide, Forrest, who happens to be an American, to take us around the city. We saw many of the local sights, and stopped at a few. The notable ones were sections of the Berlin Wall, which obviously was a physical reminder of the Cold War.

Berlin Wall, March 2019.

Berlin Wall, March 2019.

Battle scarred museum in Berlin, March 2019.

Berlin Cathedral, Match 2019

Flak Tower, March 2019.

We stopped at a shopping mall for lunch, and it was recommended that we try the Currywurst mïtt pommes, which is a fried Bradwurst covered with curry power and ketchup, with fries and mayonnaise sauce. I had my misgivings, since I’m not a huge fan of curry, but it was awesome. Definitely recommended!

Currywurst mïtt pommes, March 2019.

We’re back on the bus after our visit to Sachsenhausen. We are again tired, wet and chilled to the bone. As bad as we feel, I think the weather was a fitting tone for where we were. Sachsenhausen was one of the first concentration camps established, and the first to be laid out exactly to a plan. We had two guides for the tour, Forrest and another, Wouther. Forrest was our guide with the St. Pats group, and he did a amazing job explaining the history of the camp.

It started off fine, cold and damp, but dry. We learned about how this camp was mainly for political prisoners starting in 1936, but later both Soviet POW’s and Jewish civilians arrived as well. Some of the structures of the camp survive, while others are commemorated. We saw the main gatehouse, some of the barracks and the remains of the crematorium. It’s estimated that more than 200,000 people passed through the camp between 1936 and 1945, and roughly 35,000-40,000 died there, including 13,000 Soviet POW’s.

Halfway through the tour it began to snow, then escalated to a blizzard. The temperature was +3C, but it felt like -2. Soon the snow turned to pouring rain. I was very grateful I had an umbrella, but the whole time I imagined the poor prisoners held at the camp being worked hard in the same conditions, dressed on in one layer of clothing. I think the camp, the tour and the weather were all very sobering for students and teachers alike.

Main gate, Sachsenhausen concentration camp, March 2019.

Whew, back at the hotel. Wow, another busy day. So it took us a bit longer than we anticipated getting from Sachsenhausen back to Berlin. Normally it’s a 45 minute drive, but due to an accident on the Autobahn, it took us an hour longer. The whole delay was caused by a minor fender-bender involving a Smartcar…really? It did however give us extra nap time on the bus 😉

After arriving back at Alexanderplatz, we made our way to a local mall where we had dinner. I can’t remember the name of the place, but it was similar to the night before. Some sort of hamburger-ish thing with rice and some sauce, and coleslaw. Nothing spectacular, but palatable. Dessert was some yogurt with strawberry sauce, which I thought was good.

We left the restaurant and made our way to the train station. So, if the kids had never rode a train/subway before, boy they are well versed now. To get to our next event, a Cold War discussion, we had to take several different trains to get to Südstern. Our presenters, Peter and Emme, were residents of West and East Germany respectively. They described the rise and fall of the Berlin Wall and how it effected them. Afterwards, it was back on a couple different trains to get to the stop near our hotel, Grünbergallee.

Berlin Church, March 2019.

Cold War discussion, March 2019.

Now we’re back at the hotel getting ready for another busy day tomorrow. We have to be on the bus at 6:30 to get to the train station for 8:30. Then it’s a 5+ hour ride to Apeldoorn, Belgium. With that in mind, I better get going. I’ll be back early tomorrow morning at some point. Until then…

 
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Posted by on March 11, 2019 in History, Travel

 

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Europe 2019 Day 2

Hey kids, welcome to Day 2. Thanks to the miracle of air travel, we’re now on a different continent! Hello Europe! We’ve now touched the western coast Ireland, and are less than two hours from Munich. Yay! I just reached over my elbow partner Logan to snap a picture of dawn breaking. They never turn out as well as they look.

Chasing dawn off Ireland, March 2019.

So that was the good news, now for the bad news. Well, I can’t move my neck properly and I’m running on about two hours “sleep.” I guess if you can call the few hours of spine-crushing, contorted misery I just did sleep. However, I just realized something. I write much better and am way wittier operating on fumes. Or at least I think I do; we’ll see when I read this back at some point.

I think they’ll be serving breakfast soon. Hmmmm, what’s on that menu. It’s continental, so probably not much. I remember getting banana bread and water one time. Sounds about right. Anyway, I’ll be back once we’re on our flight to Berlin.

Alright, on our way to Berlin. Boy do I have a story for you! First, the rest of the flight to Munich was uneventful. I did call the banana bread breakfast. It was pretty good, though not chocolate chip banana bread good. Anyway, we landed on time and made our way off the plane as quickly as we could. That’s when the fun started.

As I mentioned earlier, I was worried about the time between our flights. If I thought Thunder Bay to Toronto was tight, fate said “hold my beer.” We only had about 50 minutes to get to our next flight, and there was a massive line at customs. I didn’t time it, but it took us more than 30 minutes to get through the queue. Then we had to take a shuttle to the gate, and literally run to make it there. What a gong show! When we finally got there, and thankfully they held the plane, one of the Lufthansa people said us “What took you so long? Your plane landed an hour ago!” Uh, we have to get off the plane and through customs. Hello!

Anyway, we’re on our way with everyone in tow. I don’t know about anyone else, but I need a shower. I am sweaty and gross! Problem is we can’t check into the hotel yet, so hopefully we can fresh up somewhere. I’m beat too. The running and stress take a lot out of you, oh and the lack of sleep too. Oh well, we’re in Europe instead of snowy Thunder Bay, so we’ll make the best of it.

In Berlin, March 2019.

Leaving the Berlin airport, March 2019.

Our method of transport for the day was the train, which I’m sure was an experience for some of our students. The only issue unfortunately was the weather. It started drizzling when we landed, and continued as we left the hotel. I did stop for a bit, but then came down even harder. Definitely not one of the best weather days I’ve had in Europe.

If you’re wondering where we went and what we saw, I’ll tell you. We took the train from our hotel, which is located in the southeast of the city, to the centre of old East Berlin, Alexanderplatz. Riding European public transit is so different than in Canada. Anyway, from Alexanderplatz, we did a walking tour of the area, stopping at many historic sites, including the Holocaust Memorial. My favourite was definitely the Brandenburg Gate, but sadly it was raining so hard that we didn’t linger very long. We all were hungry and cold, and really wanted some food and to get out of the rain.

Catholic Church, March 2019.

Konzerthaus Berlin, March 2019.

Holocaust Memorial, March 2019.

Brandenburg Gate, March 2019.

Dinner was at a restaurant called the Hopfingerbräu. The meal was meh; 3 sausage links, some sort of meatball shaped like a hamburger patty and some potato salad concoction. I ate the first two, but was disappointed like others were that the potato was cold and didn’t taste very good. Dessert was something akin to a black forest trifle which I thought was good, but then again I like Black Forest cake.

Anyway, I’m going to wrap things up as I’m sore and utterly exhausted. We have a busy day tomorrow and we might get snow flurries…seriously? I thought we left that crap behind! I need some shuteye, so I’ll be back in the morning. Until then…

 
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Posted by on March 10, 2019 in History, Travel

 

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Europe 2019 Day 1

Hey kids, today is the the day! I know this isn’t my usual introduction, but it is a special circumstance. This time tomorrow morning, we’ll be in Munich on our way to Berlin. For my part, there is a lot of nervous excitement. Even though this is my fourth trip, I still stress a bit about all the little details.

I just got back from a 4.5k walk with Luna; the morning couldn’t have been more beautiful. You can tell that spring is on the way. The temperature is near zero and the sun is shining brightly. I actually had to start stripping of some layers as I was overheating. They are calling for some snow today into tomorrow, but hopefully with mild temperatures next week it will go away quick and work on the mountains we already have.

Late winter morning, March 2019.

So I think I’m ready to go. Yesterday I checked everyone in and printed all the boarding passes. I’m pretty much packed with just a few minor things to tuck away. We’re meeting at the airport at 3pm, but our flight doesn’t leave until 5pm, so it’s like my old army days-hurry up and wait. Anyway, I’ll check in again once we’re on our way to Toronto.

Alright, so we’re in the air on our way to YYZ. Unfortunately we’re 15 minutes behind schedule, which isn’t a huge issue, but it means we only an hour between flights. We’re going to have to hustle to get to our next gate, which because of where we land at Terminal 1, is quite the hike. Wish us luck!

It was great to see the kids all excited as we waited to leave. Some have never been on a plane before, others have never gone this far. I can just imagine what an amazing experience this is for them. I think for the majority, this is the first time away from home without their parents. I’m trying to think about the time I travelled when I was in high school, what my emotions were, but sadly it was such a long time ago that I don’t remember those fine details.

Waiting for our flight, March 2019.

Waiting for our flight, March 2019.

Waiting for our flight, March 2019.

Waiting for our flight, March 2019.

Trip security, March 2019.

Somewhere over the lakes, March 2019.

Okay, we’re in the air and on our way to Munich. By the time we landed In Toronto and got off the plane, we had to rush like crazy to get to our gate. I knew the short time between flights was going to bite us, and it did. We made it okay, but the stress was not helpful. The flight is packed!

Now we left late, like 40 minutes late, so I have no idea how that is going to impact us when we arrive. According to our itinerary, we only had an hour to make our next flight, that is after clearing customs and security. I have a feeling we might not make our plane to Berlin; ugh, I hate all this rushing around! The pilot said we would be on time, so here’s hoping.

Well, they will be serving dinner soon, so maybe some food will soothe some of the frustration. I’m starving…I wonder what is on the menu? I guess it doesn’t matter, since by the time they get to us at the back, there won’t be any selection. Ah, the joys of steerage class!

Okay, so colour me surprised. Dinner was not too bad, and they had options when they got to me. Huh. Well, at least one thing went well. We had the option of chicken or pasta, so I took the chicken, which had some sort of cream sauce with potatoes and veggies. There was also potato salad I think, with bread and a brownie. Not five star, but it will definitely hold me over.

Anyway, I’m going to wrap things up. With the amazing power of technology, I can now post on the plane! Once that’s done, I’ll finish watching Bohemian Rapsody and then try and get some sleep. My next post will find us in the historic city of Berlin. Until then…

 

 
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Posted by on March 9, 2019 in History, Travel

 

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I want to fly away…

Well, not physically, because that’s impossible, but you get the idea. I would certainly love to go anywhere I please, at any time, but I’ll guess we’ll just have to leave that to Lenny. In any case, I am thankful I will be able to get away for a little while.

Hey, it’s March kids! That means we’re weeks away from “spring,” that is if it ever shows up. It obviously will, I’m just being facetious, but the point is that it can’t come soon enough. March also means that we’re on the downward slide in the school year, and before we know it, it will be June. Things are going well in that respect, just as usual, I’m quite busy.

Since I brought it up, I might as well talk about the weather, especially as I never do that! The weather has been, you know, not great. Better than it was in the last post, but still not what it should be. It’s still cold outside, but you can see that the seasons are changing. The days are getting longer, and even when it’s crisp, you can feel the warmth of the sun. According to the meteorologists, the temperature should start moderating this weekend and be above zero by next week. The only concern is that if it warms too quick, with all the snow we have, it might get a bit soggy .

Late winter snow, March 2019.

So I’m still plugging away on the railway front. Progress is slow but steady, and I am now approaching 50,000 words in the book. Chapter 13 is mostly complete, save for a few tweaks, so that just leaves 1, 10 and 14 that require some work. I should be able to finish Chapter 14 this spring, so with any luck I’ll be done everything by next winter. As I’ve described before, everything depends on when I can get to Toronto and get more detailed information on Camp 8.

Alright, so let’s fly away shall we? I am mere days away from another adventure in Europe. I described our journey in my last post, but now a few days out, it all seems very real. I know the kids are super excited, and they should be. I’ve been to most of these places before, save for Berlin and some parts of the Netherlands, but likely most have never been overseas. As a teacher, this is the best part for me, to see them experience the history and culture of another part of the world. The only thing that concerns me is the weather (ya, I know, shocker). Looking ahead, it seems that in contrast to some of our previous trips, the weather is not going to be 100% cooperative. Most days call for cloudy/showery conditions, which is not ideal, but we’ll have to make the best of it. Showers aren’t too bad, but if it decides to rain all day that will put a damper on things.

We now for the most part have our detailed itinerary. The one thing that amazes me is that even though I’ve been to some of places before, we always stay in a different town or part of the city. It gives you a different perspective on things and keeps it fresh. Also, after the last tour in 2017, which coincided with the 100th anniversary of Vimy Ridge, it will be nice with a lot less Canadian tourists running around. Many of the places we visited we quite busy, which made it hard to linger and get a real good look around. That was case with Vimy; while the ceremony was great to be a part of, we really didn’t have a chance to see the memorial or the park. I know my fellow chaperones are looking forward to the opportunity.

St. Pats group, April 2017.

If you’d like to follow us around (well, other than this blog), you can do so on social media: Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. Anyway, I better get going as there is still a ton to do before we leave. Right now I need to set up all the blog posts for the trip, so it’s easier to get everything going once the time comes. I’ll be back in a few days with the first post from the trip. Until then…

 
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Posted by on March 7, 2019 in History, Railway, Travel, 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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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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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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