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Category Archives: Writing

Here comes the sun!

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

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

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

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

Early spring at camp, March 2018.

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

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

Building foundation, Camp 8?, May 2017.

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

Corduroy Trestle, August 1997.

Corduroy Trestle, August 1997.

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

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

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

 

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Watch what you wish for!

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

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

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

Fresh snowfall, February 2018.

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

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

Murphy Library, La Crosse, WI, June 2016.

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

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

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

 

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Happy Frigid Year?

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

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

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

Camp in winter, January 2018.

Late December/early January weather.

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

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

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

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

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

My wheelhouse, January 2018.

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

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

 

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It’s been 20 years?

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

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

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

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

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

Early snow, October 2017.

Frigid football practice, October 2017.

Snow at camp, November 2017.

A scattering of snow, November 2017.

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

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

Steam and Thunder in the Timber

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

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

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

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

 

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Goodbye old friend…

We have all been there. We have all had to say goodbye in our lives; many times, it’s a temporary good bye…sometimes it’s a forever goodbye. It’s never easy whatever the case, but certainly the forever kind leave an indelible mark on our soul. We are impacted by the departure, but also by the memories we shared with those that are leaving. It is a part of life that we cannot change or stop; the best we can do is make the most of the time that we are given.

Welcome to summer kids! I know it’s been a really long time since I last posted, but I’ve been busy. Another school year has come and gone and now I’m reveling in the glory of summer vacation. The month of June was nuts and I’m glad to finally start to de-stress. This is not to say that I’m sitting around doing nothing, but having that mental weight lifted is a huge relief. I can’t believe though that a week and a half has already gone by, but who’s counting?

The only downer of late has been the weather. Shocked? Me, rant about the weather? Never! Seriously though, the mother nature is really ticking me off (I so wanted to use a different metaphor, but this is a family-friendly blog). After that ice storm in April, things have not been the same. June was an absolute disaster and the beginning of July has been much of the same. Maybe disaster is a bit harsh, but I am so tired of this crap. The weather has been so unsettled; we just can’t seem to get any consistency. It seems as though every second day we get precipitation. I really hope we turn a corner soon and get a bit more “summer” like conditions soon.

One of the reasons I’m so irked by the weather is that I have been spending most of my time at camp. I feel bad for the boys since spending time indoors is not what you want to be doing, and our summer is so short to begin with. My time has been consumed with a fairly large project, which is the construction of a new storage shed. I’ve never built a shed before, but last year I had never built a dock before either. It’s going well, though I put in some long hours this past weekend and I am still feeling the after effects. I may have over did it as well, as my tennis elbow is flaring up again and it’s quite annoying. Hopefully I’ll have the door and shingles on it this week, so then I can slow the pace of construction down.

Camp, July 2017.

Storm clouds at camp, July 2017.

With all the excitement going on, my railway work has taken a big backseat. The only thing that I’ve done is begun the process of overhauling my web-based information. I’ve had an online presence for the railway for almost 10 years now, and launched padwrr.ca six years ago. That site has become a bit dated, but since I’m not very proficient in web design, I decided that the easiest thing to do is to migrate all that info on to this page. Therefore, you’ll notice several new tabs at the top, which marks the start of the process. There’s still a lot of work to do, so it will be a while before it’s all complete. Please bear with me.

Probably the biggest piece of news is my upcoming lecture on the 23rd. I will be making my fourth appearance at the Chik-Wauk Museum for a presentation on the Gunflint & Lake Superior Railroad, which will be very similar to the one that I did this past January at the Thunder Bay Museum. I hope it generates a lot of interest south of the border as well, since this topic encompasses the history of both countries. With my hike back in May, I have quite a bit of new information to discuss. If you’re looking for something to do in a couple weeks, why not take a drive up the Gunflint Trail to have a listen.

While I’m there, I decided to spend the night and take the opportunity to do some field work. I haven’t quite made up my mind as to what I want to do, but I guess I’ll have to fairly soon. I’m either going out on Gunflint Lake and shoot some video or make a return visit to what I believe to be the site of Camp 8. I need to do both, but it will really depend on what I think is the higher priority. It also might rest of whether I have the family with me or not. I’ll let you know in a few weeks.

So, back to the title, which refers to saying goodbye. Recently, I too had to say goodbye to an old friend, one who has been a big part of my railway research over the past number of years and has been featured in this blog. Thirteen years ago my wife and I adopted a dog, the first dog I ever owned. Rather quickly, Loki became one of our family and a loyal companion; he came with me on almost all of my railway hikes until he was hobbled by old age. Last October he was diagnosed with a tumor and the vet gave him months to live. We knew we were on borrowed time and made sure we enjoyed what time we had left with him. He made it another 8 months. Right up to the end, Loki was still soldiering on, including coming to camp. Unfortunately we had to let go of him on June 26th. I guess it’s fitting that in a few days it will be the 10th anniversary of the passing of my father, who obviously had a profound impact on my life as well. They both loved the outdoors, so I truly hope they have found each other and are enjoying a long walk together.

Loki, July 2004.

Anyway, I need to move along. As I mentioned, I’ll be back in a few weeks to report on how the presentation and field work went. Until then…

 
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Posted by on July 11, 2017 in Hiking, History, Railway, Writing

 

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I’ve been working on a railroad…and I got lost!

I was going to title this post “How to get lost in the bush and other exciting stuff…Part II” in honour of the last time I got lost hiking, but I thought this sounded better. If you read that post, I didn’t really get lost, I just went slightly astray. This time there was a bit more consternation though, as I was quite a distance from any civilization and I had been walking for a very long time. I do tend to go for long walks, don’t I? And I don’t really do any normal hiking either for that matter, which is probably why I get lost in the first place. I see a pattern emerging here…do you?

So, we’ve arrived at the end of May kids; the year continues to fly by! It’s hard to believe that in a month school will be over. Craziness! Unfortunately, there is so much to do between now and then I can barely wrap my head around it. In fact, I don’t even really want to think about it either. It makes me depressed. The kids have already checked out, so it’s like pulling teeth to try to get them to do anything, and that makes me even more exhausted. I guess like every other year, this too shall pass.

No blog post would ever be complete without me saying something about the weather. Talk about a dog’s breakfast! The temperatures and conditions have been all over the place, almost like the proverbial box of chocolates, you’ll never know what you get. As I write I’m sitting on my couch at camp watching a slight drizzle fall…it’s supposed to be mostly sunny and only a 25% chance of rain. Yesterday was gorgeous, one of the best days so far this spring. However, the blackflies were atrocious! Like I mean underneath your sunglasses, in your nose, in your ears, swallowing more than I’d care to atrocious. I have not seen them this bad in quite some time. I toughed it out most of the day, but it was not fun. The boys and I couldn’t even have a fire last night, as no one wanted to stay outside in that mess.

It’s a good thing that I decided to go for my first railway hike of the year last weekend, because thankfully (or mercifully) there were no blackflies to found. I had a great time, though I may have pushed myself a little too hard, which I’ll explain later. My plan was to continue following the grade of the Gunflint & Lake Superior eastward from Crab Lake, hopefully to its terminus, wherever that was. To accomplish this, I decided to spend a night with John and Rose at the Cross River Lodge, which would allow me to get an early start on the hike. It was a nice night and I got to spend some time chatting with the other guests.

Rising fairly early, I started my hike around 0800 (Central time). It was going to be a long one; it was nearly 3 kilometres to my starting point, a then I would have another 3 kilometres to my turn around point. By 0900 I had reached the western end of Whisker Lake, a short distance from where I had ended my hike the previous year and went over a part of a section I missed last time, making a big discovery. I had determined that a telegraph line had been run to Camp 4, but last year I found evidence that it may have gone further. At that west side of Whisker, I found another section of wire, but where did it go?

After making my way to my previous end point, it was another 600 metres to the east end of the lake. Along the way I uncovered many spikes, a few fishplates and a large coil of wire. That section, for the most part, went pretty smooth, or what passes for smooth in this line of work. Unfortunately, things were going to get way more difficult for the next 2 kilometres I hoped to cover.

Spike, Whisker Lake, May 2017.

Wire, Whisker Lake, May 2017.

Fishplate, Whisker Lake, May 2017.

Grade, Whisker Lake, May 2017.

Grade, Whisker Lake, May 2017.

Fishplate, Whisker Lake, May 2017.

Wire, Whisker Lake, May 2017.

The first 4 kilometres or 2.5 miles of the Gunflint & Lake Superior grade is well pronounced and easy to follow. Once it passes the top of the ridge south of Gunflint Lake, things become much less discernible. Using an old and inaccurate 1926 map of Cook County, I theorized that the railroad followed the Crab River south to Crab Lake and then turned eastward. The banks of the river and shore of Crab and Whisker Lakes gave me a reasonable area to work with to locate the grade. However, once past Whisker Lake, things became very dicey.

Logging railroads were well-known for their methods of construction, especially given their temporary nature. Rails were often thrown down in the most expedient location, with little grading work, since they would be removed once all the timber had been harvested. This is what I had to deal with. Away from the shore of the lake, I had no idea where the railroad went. I was reduced to zigzagging back and forth, hoping for a lucky hit on the metal detector. And to make matters worse, the vegetation changed significantly, as I moved away from the area that had been burned by the 2007 Ham Lake Fire.

It’s interesting how we (or in this case I), build up an idea of what an area will look like before we get there. I guess in my mind I envisioned towering trees and an easy stroll through the bush. There are two problems with that idea; one, the PRLC cut down all the towering trees, which is why I’m doing all this research. Duh! Two, this is the Canadian Shield, and it is messy in the bush. On top of the “messiness” is the fact that I was in an area that is partly swamp, so it can be rather wet and sloppy. So, it was not an easy stroll.

As I moved eastward, I found that hits came in batches. I’d walk 80-90 metres and then find some stuff, in this case strands of wire and spikes. Then it was another 100 metres or so before I found a spike and wire, in a spot so grown in that I could barely move. After 250 metres and some thought that I might be lost, I started finding spikes and wire again. This continued for another 450 metres before I completely lost the trail and I guess lost myself. Somehow, I got my bearings messed up and instead of continuing east, I ended up 100 metres south. It took me a bit to get myself pointed in the right direction and back on track.

Grade, Whisker Lake, May 2017.

Grade, Whisker Lake, May 2017.

Grade, Whisker Lake, May 2017.

Grade, Whisker Lake, May 2017.

I walked, or rather stumbled on for another kilometre before I pulled the plug on the hike; I had been at it for hours and exhaustion was starting to set in. I had gone into the water above my boots early in the hike (a “booter” as we would say where I grew up) and when it happened a second time, in a nasty muck hole, it was the proverbial straw that broke the camels back. Besides, it was getting late and I had a long walk back my truck. By the time I made it back it was 1500 and I had walked some 14 kilometres; I was sore and tired.

My physical state was mitigated by the great discovery I made. Since last year I had known of the existence of another logging camp, Camp 8, along the Gunflint & Lake Superior. I thought I had located it last year, but I there was this nagging feeling that what I found was not quite right. As I was hiking along the railroad, I came across a debris field near the grade that caught my attention. The first things I located were a spike and a fishplate using the metal detector; as I looked around I noticed that there were quite a number of items lying close by. This included a section of pipe, a light gauge rail, buckets, other chunks of metal, coal, slag, ceramic insulators and a snuff jar. The snuff jar was an interesting find, as the folks from the US Forest Service found the exact same jar at Camp 4 back in 2011. Close to the jar, I found an intact bottle of Davis Vegetable Painkiller, which was first patented by Perry Davis in 1845 (more info here and here). Right beside it was what appeared to be a chunk of metal, but in reality was the blade from a double bit axe. What a cool find!

Ceramic insulators, Camp 8?, May 2017.

Snuff jar, Camp 8?, May 2017.

Davis bottle and axe blade, Camp 8?, May 2017.

Based on what I found, I knew that these items are not randomly strewn about the railroad; something had to be close by. A short distance away I found another debris field, which included more buckets, wire and cable, a lantern, a shovel, and quite a number of barrel hoops. Then I saw it. At first my eye was draw to what appeared to be a berm rising up from the ground, then I noticed there was there remains of a log wall sitting on that berm. The berm appeared to made of stone, and the northern corners still had logs resting on them. It was a very large structure (I didn’t think to estimate a size) and contained metal and sawn lumber remains within the berms. As I moved around, I located what I believed were the foundations of another two structures, both smaller than the first. Both had more sawn lumber inside, while one contained sections of what appeared to be stove pipe. There could be more foundations and more debris in the area, but I did not want to disturb the site and I did not have a lot of time to linger.

Barrel hoops, Camp 8?, May 2017.

Lantern, Camp 8?, May 2017.

Building foundation, Camp 8?, May 2017.

Building foundation, Camp 8?, May 2017.

Building foundation, Camp 8?, May 2017.

Sawn lumber, Camp 8?, May 2017.

As you can tell, I’m being very short on details and coy about its location. While I was there, it was my impression that the site has not seen any visitors in quite some time, I would assume because of its location. It appears relatively undisturbed, which could be a boon to my research (on top of what I already discovered). In my discussions with the archaeologists from Superior National Forest, they have no records of this site. It’s also a rarity, since almost every other logging camp inside the 16,000 square kilometre national forest has long been picked over, including Camp 4. I really hope the Forest Service guys let me tag along when they decide to explore what I hope turns out to be Camp 8.

Anyway, I better move along. I hope to get out hiking again in a few weeks, but that will depend on the weather. I’d like to do some explorations on North Lake and I’ll pass along the details if and when it happens. Until then…

 
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Posted by on May 29, 2017 in Hiking, History, Railway, Writing

 

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Vimy 2017-Reflections

The challenge of history is to recover the past and introduce it to the present-David Thelen

Do you ever wonder how these quotes become famous quotes? Do people set out to generate them, or are there people sitting around waiting for them to be said? Is there a committee that decides what is or isn’t a good quote? Who votes on them…is there a quotes academy? Okay, okay, I’m obviously being very facetious. The whole point of the quote from Thelen, who is an American History professor (I had to Google it), is that teaching history is not easy. One of the best ways to do it, is to have people experience it firsthand.

Well, it’s hard to believe that it has already been a week and a half since we returned from the trip. But I guess time moves just as fast when you’re not on a trip as it does when you are. We were very busy on the trip and it’s been even crazier now trying to catch up on everything while we were away. I’ve never missed 7 days of work before and I sure paid for it. There was a whole stack of marking I needed to get through, especially since midterm marks were due. I’m mostly caught up now, but I’m glad I hopefully won’t be missing that much school again in the future.

My return to real life and work was made that much more challenging by how jet lagged and exhausted I felt when we returned. I know, I know, poor me! I did get the gears from a lot of people who read this blog during the trip and asked me about how tired I was. How tired were you Dave? Really tired? The reality is I was tired…that’s why I wrote it. Duh. I realize I was in Europe and not at work, but these excursions are not your run-of-the-mill let’s jump on a plane and see some stuff type of vacation. First, I am the group leader and ultimately responsible for the 23 students we had with us. That is a tad bit stressful; when you’re teaching, the kids go home to their parents at the end of the day and you’re not on duty 24/7. Secondly, these trips are very busy and they try to pack in as many things as they can. So ya, I was up some days at 0500 and getting to bed, albeit because I was working on this blog, after midnight. I did try to nap some on the bus, but I like to see some of the sights and don’t want to sleep it all away.

In any case, it was a great trip. The kids really enjoyed themselves and hopefully learned a lot more about the history and culture of the world. I can honestly say, even though this was my third trip, that I learned a lot too. Even though the three trips were relatively similar, and there were some repetitive things, you experience new stuff. Amsterdam and Paris are so big, that there is so much still to discover. Besides those two places, we’ve never stayed in the same city twice, which is amazing. I have now seen Rouen, Amiens, Valenciennes, Colombiers-sur-Seulles, Lille and Honfleur. Each has it’s unique features, architecture, history and culture. In my personal opinion, while Paris is an amazing city, I much prefer the those smaller cities for their distinct charm and character. Maybe someday I’ll be able to explore them at a much more leisurely pace.

The whole crew in Honfleur, April 2017.

One of the things people often ask me is what was my most memorable memory or moment from the trip. That is always a difficult question, as there are so many. If I have to pick something, I would have to say it’s not one thing in particular, but rather watching the reactions of the kids. I mentioned before it’s a huge step for many of them, and for most their first experience with European culture. It’s akin to what I’ve experienced with my own kids, just they’re not mine…that sense of awe and wonder. It’s heartening to hear them talk about coming back and exploring more of the great places we visited. I was also blessed to be able to travel with a great group of chaperones, who shared my excitement and my stresses. I’m already looking forward to our next adventure! Our EF Tour Director, Jason, was the icing on the cake. His professionalism, easy-going manner and silky-smooth commentary put everyone at ease. The kids loved him and still talk about how great he was.

St. Patrick crew, April 2017.

So what about the bad Dave? I guess I can say there was really only one bad experience that I had. I thought the whole Vimy commemoration was good, though as I already described, more festive than I anticipated, especially compared to the 95th anniversary. I guess that will happen when there’s 25,000 people and lots of VIPs there. I thought the early part of the day was well planned and went very smoothly, but not the second half. I don’t think they (they being Veterans Affairs Canada, who were in charge of the event) anticipated the impact of having so many people squished into such a small area would mean.

In retrospect, we did have it easier than some groups, but it wasn’t all smooth sailing. It only took us about 1.5 hours to get through the line to the shuttle buses, but no one thought to put any facilities in the assembly areas (or at least ours in Lens) so people could go to the bathroom. The poor employees at the MacDonald’s beside the parking lot must have had a rough day. At the memorial, I thought there should have been people directing traffic and making sure some areas did not get too congested. The fenced in area on the front side of the monument became so packed you could not move, and there were nowhere enough toilets for all the people (I tried going at one point, but couldn’t find the end of the line). Many stopped drinking water, which was not a good thing on such a warm day, so they wouldn’t have to go (myself included).

The exfil (to use the military term for exfiltration) from the site was an absolute gong show. People near the front began streaming up and over the monument to get out, while those at the back, including us, were trapped because they would not open gate to the main entrance. It seems as though transporting some of the minor VIPs took precedence over the thousands of people who had been baking in the sun for hours. Someone or some people broke down a portion of the fence and there was a mad rush for the opening. It was utter pandemonium! It was fortunate no one was trampled, but it was a nightmare trying to keep the group together. The scary part was realizing, as we surged along with the crowd, that we were walking through a part of the site that is off-limits due to UXO. Yes, people (myself included) were walking through fields with unexploded munitions in them! They don’t even cut the grass in those areas, but rather use goats to keep the vegetation down due to their lower ground pressure.

Thankfully we had told the kids where to go to catch the shuttle back to the assembly areas. It was insane, but we managed to get most of the kids rounded up in one big group, with one chaperone and a few students slightly separated. Getting on the shuttle created a lot of anxiety and some tears, but by 2030 we were all on our bus, Big Green, and heading back to Lille. We didn’t find out until later that it took some groups until midnight to make it back to the assembly areas. That’s nuts! Anyway, we got everyone out and I don’t think we’ll be involved in an event like that again. But it will be something that we all remember for the rest of our lives. Alright, so that was only four paragraphs of ranting!

From a personal perspective, my only issue, as it always has been, is leaving my family behind. I know my boys missed me, and it does put a lot on my wife, especially since I was gone for 11 days. I certainly appreciate everything she did during that time. If there is one positive to my absence, it has generated a lot of interest in the boys to see these places as well. I have promised them I will take them on a tour when they get to St. Pats.

All griping aside, I would do it all again in a heartbeat. While the Vimy ceremony wasn’t as solemn as I anticipated, there were many opportunities for us to have an intimate view of history. The place that probably generated the most reflection and emotion was the Bretteville-sur-Laize Cemetery in Cintheaux, south of Caen. I think a lot of it had to do with the fact that we were relatively alone there, as opposed to the tens or even hundreds of people at the other places we visited. When it touches close and becomes personal, the impact of the history is much greater.

Newfoundland Memorial, Beaumont Hamel, April 2017.

Bretteville-sur-Laize Canadian War Cemetery, April 2017.

Now speaking of which, we are planning to do it all again, hopefully in two years. We would like to change it up a bit, maybe see a few new places in the process. We’ve submitted our application to go during March break of 2019, but haven’t settled on an exact tour yet. One option would take us to Berlin, some different parts of the Netherlands and then Vimy, Normandy and Paris. The second is a complete break, focusing on the Italian battlefields. We’re leaning towards one, but we’ll make a final decision once the paperwork is (hopefully) approved. Wherever we go, it will be an amazing experience for the kids just like every other trip.

Anyway, it’s time to wrap this up. Now that things are getting back to normal, I’ll be back with my usual blog posts soon enough. Until then…

 
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Posted by on April 25, 2017 in History, Travel, Writing

 

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