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Category Archives: Writing

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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The best birthday present ever!

The best birthday present ever!

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

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

Mid-month snow, December 2018.

View from the mountain, December 2018.

View from the mountain, December 2018.

View from the mountain, December 2018.

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

Snowstorm, December 2018.

After the storm, December 2018.

After the storm, December 2018.

After the storm, December 2018.

After the storm, December 2018.

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

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

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

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

 

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Well, it only took 16 years!

Well, it only took 16 years!

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

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

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

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

2018 SSSAA Championship final score, November 2018.

2018 SSSAA Champion captains, November 2018.

2018 SSSAA Champions, November 2018.

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

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

Late Fall, November 2018.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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Here comes the sun!

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

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

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

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

Early spring at camp, March 2018.

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

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

Building foundation, Camp 8?, May 2017.

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

Corduroy Trestle, August 1997.

Corduroy Trestle, August 1997.

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

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

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

 

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Watch what you wish for!

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

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

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

Fresh snowfall, February 2018.

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

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

Murphy Library, La Crosse, WI, June 2016.

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

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

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

 

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Happy Frigid Year?

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

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

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

Camp in winter, January 2018.

Late December/early January weather.

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

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

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

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

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

My wheelhouse, January 2018.

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

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

 

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