RSS

Long walks and battle scars!

No, I didn’t walk 500 miles, but I did wear boots…rubber boots that is. I did walk like a man, but definitely not like an Egyptian. It was very hot outside, so I may have well been walking on the sun. It wasn’t after midnight, and I definitely did not walk in a line. See what I’m doing here? Do ya? I know you do.

I’m back kids! I’m sounding a little chipper right now, but if you’ve looked at a calendar lately you’ll know that this isn’t a great time of the year. Yup, it’s almost time to go back to work. Sigh. We can’t stop time, so it is inevitable that the end of August comes around. I’ve already started back into parts of the routine; going in to work, prepping for football, getting materials ready, yada, yada, yada. I’m exhausted after two days and I’m not even officially back…it’s going to be a rough start-up.

I just returned from a family vacation the other day and I’m still in that “I need a vacation from the vacation mode,” which might explain why I feel tired. Jo-Anne and I took the boys to Minneapolis and Wisconsin Dells. In Minnie we made our first visit to Valleyfair, which was great, but not quite the same as Wonderland. The boys enjoyed all the attractions, especially the coasters; dad, not so much.

The second part of the trip took us to the The Dells for the first time. The “Water Park Capital” certainly has a lot of waterparks. We got our fill of water rides, coasters and go carts. The boys’ favourite spot was definitely the wave pool at Mount Olympus called “Poseidon’s Rage.” Every two minutes a gigantic wave comes rolling through the pool; we positioned ourselves at the 3 foot level where the wave would break, pummel us with water and send us flying backward. We spent hours in there and I may have left with a slight concussion.

So since I was away for a bit, I haven’t had railway time lately. However, I did manage to get some in before our trip south of the border. If you remember, I had a presentation scheduled at the Chik-Wauk Museum for August 14th. This was going to be my first full-length lecture on the Gunflint & Lake Superior Railroad, so I was pretty excited. It went well, but the turn out was a bit disappointing. Unfortunately there were several other events coinciding with it that contributed to the lack of bodies in the seats. The good news is that I’m going to be back there next summer with the same presentation and hopefully a bigger audience.

Because I had to go there for the presentation, I decided that I would take the opportunity to do some field work at Gunflint. I booked a night with John and Rose at the Cross River Lodge so we could hike the next day before heading home. What would be different for this hike was the fact that I had a larger entourage; in addition to the boys, my wife joined us as well (with a lot of prodding). I was hopefully going to trace the route of the G&LS along the north shore of Crab Lake, if luck was on my side.

After a nice ride across the lake, we beached the boat south of Bridal Falls. From there we walked to the top of the falls, about 700 metres, which was made a little more difficult by a number of trees knocked down on the trail by recent storms. There we split up, with Jo-Anne and the boys continuing east along the Border Route Trail for 1500 metres to where it intersects with the Crab Lake Trail. They would then take the latter trail south for 900 metres and await my arrival.

In the meantime, I would follow parts of the railroad grade south for 800 metres until I reached Crab Lake. From there, the meeting point at the east end of the lake was more than a kilometre away, the temperature was climbing and there was not a stitch of wind. I had no idea how difficult the walk would be and what the bush looked like.

Turns out, it was quite the mess. The last time I walked the railroad grade in the summer it nearly killed me (not literally)…this time was pretty close. The tall grass made it very difficult to see where you were stepping and there was a lot to trip over. The area was burned by the 2007 Ham Lake Fire and there was already a ton of deadfall on ground. Recent storms pushed many dead, burned trees over, making some areas a nightmare to negotiate.

Thankfully I had success in my goal of following the grade. I did find several spikes and one fishplate along the way, as well as a few examples of rock work beside the lake. There were a few spots where I could not find any traces, but in general I was able to get the route down. I did cut the hike a bit short at the east end of the lake as I was completely exhausted and I could literally feel my hamstrings tightening up on me (walking over all the deadfall tends to do that). I’ll have to try and get that part done at some other time, maybe next year.

Railroad grade along Crab Lake, August 2016.

Railroad grade along Crab Lake, August 2016.

Spike at Crab Lake, August 2016.

Spike at Crab Lake, August 2016.

Railroad grade along Crab Lake, August 2016.

Railroad grade along Crab Lake, August 2016.

Fishplate at Crab Lake, August 2016.

Fishplate at Crab Lake, August 2016.

Railroad grade along Crab Lake, August 2016.

Railroad grade along Crab Lake, August 2016.

Railroad grade along Crab Lake, August 2016.

Railroad grade along Crab Lake, August 2016.

I had kept in radio contact with the family the entire way, so they were waiting for me when I was done. At our reunion, I was greeted by the sight of my wife with a large, bloody gash on her forehead. Apparently she had an unfortunate encounter with a dead tree branch, earning herself a nice cut, or better yet, a “battlescar.” Hey, did I mention that battlescar was my nickname when I was in the army reserves? Obviously a play on my last name, I thought it was an appropriate term for her boo boo.

Hiking injury, August 2016.

Hiking injury, August 2016.

The walk back was tough as we battled through the stifling 31C heat. However it was compensated by the beautiful panorama that we passed beside on the trail. It would be great to visit that spot in the fall as the leaves changed colour; I’ll have to keep this in mind for the future. It was a very productive hike and I am excited to get back to Gunflint in October for another round of field work.

Panorama of Gunflint and North Lakes, August 2016.

Panorama of Gunflint and North Lakes, August 2016.

My next big event to look forward to is the Northern Great Plains History Coneference in St. Cloud, MN on September 17th. I think I’m ready, but my brain so isn’t there right now…too much school stuff to think about. I am sure I’ll be good to go when the time comes, but it all adds to my anxiety. It is going to be a quick trip as well; I leave after school on Friday for the six hour drive to St. Cloud. Hopefully I don’t get in too late, because the presentation is at 9am (cst) after which I need to head back home. What a whirlwind visit!

Anyway, I better go. Way to many things to do right now. I’ll be back in the near future, probably after the trip to St. Cloud. Until then…

 
Leave a comment

Posted by on August 30, 2016 in Hiking, History, Railway, Travel

 

Tags: , , , , , , ,

Dave’s Outdoor Adventures-Episode V: The weather incongruity

Have you ever studied statistics? You know, the math stuff, where they deal with probability among others (I know they are separate disciplines, but dependent on each other)? Thankfully I never had to; my wife Jo-Anne, the math teacher, is likely thinking the same thing. Math was certainly not my thing, which is why I became a history teacher. Anyway, it’s always interesting to look at the chances something will happen. Usually there is algorithm that will explain it all. However, there are matters that cannot be reduced to or rationalized by a mathematical equation. Such is life though, and it’s what keeps our world interesting. You’re confused right? Perfect.

So, here we are in August. Summer is unfortunately flying by way too quickly! It will be back to work soon…sigh. Anyway, as I have since I went on leave in February, I am doing my best to make each day count. I’ve managed to get a lot accomplished and will continue to do so for the next three weeks.

As you might have guessed (or maybe not), my cryptic introduction dealt with nothing other than the weather. I normally don’t pass up an opportunity to complain about it, usually because it’s irritating me. It’s funny, the older I get, the crankier I become…just yesterday there was a meme on Facebook that said “The older I get, the more I identify with Red Foreman.” How true. Anyway, this time I actually can’t complain; the weather lately has been decent.

After record-breaking rainfall in June, and a continuation of that at the beginning of July, things have calmed down in the last few weeks. The temperatures have gone up, at times it’s been very hot, and it has not really rained. Actually, today was the first prolonged precipitation we had, though it depends where you were. We probably had about 10mm here at camp, but there was only 3mm at Gunflint. The ground has dried out considerably, and I’m going to try a hike in the next few days. So from one extreme to another!

Now speaking of camp, I’ve still been spending a lot of time there, maybe even while I write this. I’ve completed all the construction work for this year, so my efforts have been dedicated to general yard clean-up, which is going to last for several years! As I mentioned the weather has been great, so the family and I have spent a lot of time in the lake enjoying the warm water. Let’s hope it lasts.

Camp sunset, July 2016.

Camp sunset, July 2016.

Camp sunset, July 2016.

Camp sunset, July 2016.

Camp morning, August 2016.

Camp morning, August 2016.

Even though I have not been out in the field in quite a while, I have managed to squeeze in some railway work lately (well, maybe it’s more than just squeeze). A few weeks back I paid a quick visit to the library to view some obituaries on microfilm that I came across by accident. As it turns out, I made an important discovery. Thomas I. Roberts was the Canadian customs sub-collector at Gunflint from 1902 to 1907. I had always wondered why he left the job; I guess he did with good reason, since he sadly died of cancer. It was an important breakthrough, and maybe it will help me track down a photograph of him.

Much of my railway time has been devoted to preparing for a pair of upcoming presentations. This coming Sunday, August 14th, I’ll be speaking at the Chik-Wauk Museum about the Gunflint & Lake Superior Railroad. This is going to be my first full-length lecture on this topic so I am a bit nervous. It appears there are quite a number of people interested, so hopefully there will be a good turnout at the Chik-Wauk’s new Nature Center.

I’ve also had to prepare for my co-presentation on John Paulson, which will take place at the Northern Great Plains History Conference in September. My slideshow has been submitted to the session chair and I’ve booked the hotel in St. Cloud, MN. I must say that I am very apprehensive about this conference. I’m just a high school history teacher who does research on the side, and I will be in the company of many historians and academics. I think I will be fine, but there is a bit of fear of the unknown.

As I mentioned earlier, I am planning my first hike in months for Monday. I will be at Gunflint for the presentation at the Chik-Wauk, I decided to spend the night with John and Rose at the Cross River Lodge. I will be attempting to locate the grade of the Gunflint & Lake Superior along Crab Lake, which I was unable to do earlier in the summer due to the rain. I think the weather will cooperate and let me complete this important piece of fieldwork.

Anyway, I better get rolling. I’ll try to post next week after the presentation and hike. Until then…

 
Leave a comment

Posted by on August 11, 2016 in Hiking, History, Railway, Research

 

Tags: , , , , , , ,

Dave’s Outdoor Adventures-Episode IV: You get what you ask for!

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

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

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

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

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

Backyard flooding, July 2016.

Backyard flooding, July 2016.

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

Camp morning, June 2016.

Camp morning, June 2016.

Completed dock, July 2016.

Completed dock, July 2016.

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

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

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

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

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

 
2 Comments

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

 

Tags: , , , , , , ,

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

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

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

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

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

Murphy Library, La Crosse, WI, June 2016.

Murphy Library, La Crosse, WI, June 2016.

Archives, Murphy Library, June 2016.

Archives, Murphy Library, June 2016.

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

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

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

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

Hixon Letterbook, June 2016.

Hixon Letterbook, June 2016.

PRLC Letterhead, June 2016.

PRLC Letterhead, June 2016.

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

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

Mighty Mississippi, La Crosse, WI, June 2016.

Mighty Mississippi, La Crosse, WI, June 2016.

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

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

Oak Forest Metra Station, June 2016.

Oak Forest Metra Station, June 2016.

115th Street Metra Station, June 2016.

115th Street Metra Station, June 2016.

99th Street Metra Station, June 2016.

99th Street Metra Station, June 2016.

91st Street Metra Station, June 2016.

91st Street Metra Station, June 2016.

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

chicago, June 2016.

Chicago, June 2016.

The "Ledge," Willis Tower, June 2016.

The “Ledge,” Willis Tower, June 2016.

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

Field Museum, June 2016.

Field Museum, June 2016.

Giordano's Pizza, June 2016.

Giordano’s Pizza, June 2016.

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

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

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

Chicago River, June 2016.

Chicago River, June 2016.

Chicago River, June 2016.

Chicago River, June 2016.

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

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

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

 
1 Comment

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

 

Tags: , , , , , , , , ,

Dave’s Outdoor Adventures-Episode II: The Itinerant Chronicler

Did you know that I was a famous columnist at one time? Well, maybe famous is a bit of an over-exaggeration; let’s say well known. Okay, maybe that’s a stretch too, but I’m sure at least a few people read my work. So, what paper did you write for Dave? Globe and Mail? National Post? New York Times? Ummm, not quite. Chronicle-Journal? Unfortunately not. Try the Lakehead University Argus. Come again? Yup, you read it right; I wrote a weekly column at my alma mater, Lakehead, during my final year of university. See, I told you I was famous! The name of said column…you guessed it, Dave’s Outdoor Adventures. I was outdoorsy and a writer even way back then! For even more nostalgia, I was going to call this post “Episode II: Electric Boogaloo” (how many of you can remember that far back to know what I’m talking about?).

Well, here we are in June…the leave is almost over (yes, I am not counting July and August since that is normal time off). It’s kind of sad. Unfortunately all good things must come to an end. As I’ve mentioned on several occasions already, I have made the time count though. I’ve managed to get a lot done around the house and now my focus is going to shift to camp, that is when I get back from my trip.

June means a return to football, even though I am on sabbatical. I spent two lunch hours last week speaking first to Grade 9s at St. Pats and then to Grade 8s at Pope John Paul (our feeder school) about our program. In preparation for that, I was stuck to the computer for several days putting together this year’s edition of our recruiting video. Next year I need to make sure I start it well ahead of time so it’s not such a rush!

In the final few days in May I did manage to get out for my second hike of the year, probably the last for a bit until I get things taken care of at camp. My plan was to repeat a hike I had done last year, this time with a better plan and a secondary agenda. My journey would take me to Crab Lake, via the Border Route Trail access spur near Loon Lake.

It’s about a 3km hike from where you park to the trail intersection between Crab and Whisker Lakes. First, I was going to try and locate portions of the grade of the Gunflint and Lake Superior Railroad and determine if in fact it had come as far as the eastern end of Crab Lake and continued on along Whisker Lake. In 2015 I had focussed my search along a road that had been put in during the late 1920s or early 1930s (possibly on top of the railroad grade) and is now part of the hiking trail.

Crab Lake trail, May 2016.

Crab Lake trail, May 2016.

Crab Lake, May 2016.

Crab Lake, May 2016.

Whisker Lake, May 2016.

Whisker Lake, May 2016.

I knew from my search last year that this one time road did not look right, especially as there were too many undulations, even for a logging railroad. I swept it for about 300 metres in an eastward direction, finally determining that there was nothing to be found. I had always suspected that the grade was along the shore of the lake and with the lake drier than last year, I decided to take a look.

Within 40 metres I had found what I was looking for, actually quite by chance. My metal detector picked up a “hit,” but it was coming back at around 7 inches below the ground; from past experience I knew that any traces of the railroad tend to be closer to the surface, usually within an inch or so. Turns out, the location was above a small overturned stump. When I looked underneath it, I made the big discovery-a spike sitting right there. I had located the grade. From that point I made my way east along the shore for about 200 metres, finding more spikes and even a piece of fishplate in the process. Later I found more spikes, another fishplate and some coal near the west end of the lake.

Spike, May 2016.

Spike, May 2016.

G&LS grade, May 2016.

G&LS grade, May 2016.

Spike and fishplate, May 2016.

Spike and fishplate, May 2016.

Coal, May 2016.

Coal, May 2016.

The other part of the trip involved trying to locate a second logging camp belonging to the Pigeon River Lumber Company. I found documentation pointing to the existence of this camp back in March, and I was given a rough idea of where I could look from a spot discovered by Superior National Forest archaeologist Lee Johnson in 2007.

While I will not reveal the exact location, I did find the remains of what could have been a logging camp more than 100 years ago. The site was littered with tin cans of all types, and the best evidence, from my perspective anyway, was the discovery of several small barrel hoops. This leads me to believe that this was probably an early 20th century site as wooden barrels would have not been used in the 1930s. I also turned up a few nails a short distance away. An exact confirmation is pending; I have another location I want to check out next year to make sure I’m as close to sure as I can be.

Cans, May 2016.

Cans, May 2016.

Cans and barrel hoops, May 2016.

Cans and barrel hoops, May 2016.

So I am writing this from a hotel in La Crosse, Wisconsin, which means that I am on the first leg of my long-awaited research trip to the US. I’ll be spending a few days here in La Crosse before moving on to Chicago. I don’t have as much to do there, so my wife and I will be spending most of our time in the Windy City being tourists.

It’s almost 8 hours from Thunder Bay to La Crosse, and since we had to leave after noon due to a previous commitment, we got here in the evening. The drive down was quite interesting. Everything was fine until we passed Grand Marais; then we were subjected to short, periodic bursts of torrential rain, so hard at times it was difficult to see the road. Then as we approached Two Harbors, we received a severe thunderstorm warning for the Duluth-Superior area. Apparently there were winds reported up to 60 miles per hour and a potential for damaging hail. Thankfully none of that appeared.

The last time I drove through parts of Wisconsin it was 1977 and I was 3 years old…so it’s been a while. I rather enjoyed the scenery, as it is quite different than I am accustomed to in Northern Ontario. We managed to make really good time on the Interstate between Superior and Eau Claire. Along the way, I spotted some really nice rail-trail paralleling parts of I-53. It made me think a lot about the PAD&W and how it’s a shame that there are not more parts of it that have become trail. However, it has been nearly 80 years since it’s abandonment and in many places there is way too much infrastructure to repair to make it viable.

After a stop for some food in Rice Lake, we proceeded to Eau Claire where we left the Interstate for Highway 93, which winds its way 130km from there to La Crosse. I found this part the most intriguing, for it really gives you a glimpse of rural America. And besides, the rolling hills, farms and deciduous forests were well worth the 55mph speed limit. Too bad we won’t be passing back through it on our way to Chicago.

Highway 93 near Arcadia, WI, June 2016.

Highway 93 near Arcadia, WI, June 2016.

Anyway, I better get rolling. I’m off to the archives soon. I’ll have a full debrief of the trip when I return home. Until then…

 

 
Leave a comment

Posted by on June 6, 2016 in Hiking, History, Railway, Research, Travel

 

Tags: , , , , , , , , ,

Dave’s Outdoor Adventures

Picture it. Three intrepid explorers, probing the wilderness of the Canadian Shield while battling the elements and conditions. It is a test of wills and endurance; a modern version of the Revenant if you will. Makes for an interesting story does it? Come on! Did you forget who’s writing this? It’s more like a dumbass dad and his two sons blundering around in the outdoors all the while being swarmed by hordes of blackflies. Sound intriguing now? Wait until I tell you the while story!

So here we are nearing the end of May? Where did the time go? Time does move faster when you’re on vacation. I have been making good use of every moment though: I can say that I’m almost too busy. There are way too many things to do, inspite of the fact that I am on sabbatical. What have I been up to you ask?

Well, if you recall from my last post, I was a few days away from a trip to Toronto and my brother’s wedding. As you can imagine, that week flew by in a heartbeat. It was a great time, but insanely busy. It was an honour for my family to part of this event, and if I do say so we quite a good looking bunch all dressed up. We also had some family visiting from Italy, so some time was spent showing them around the city, which is ironic since I was a tourist too.

Part of my plan for this visit to the provincial capital was to sneak away for a few hours and look at some files at the Archives of Ontario. It was quite an interesting mix; a map, some photos and an Order in Council. What I thought would take me a morning took me less than an hour to get through. The map answered a few questions and the photos were very pretty cool, having been taken during a highway survey along the railway right-of-way in 1930. There were shots of Mackies, the rail line and narrows between Little and Big Gunflint Lakes.

The Orders in Council, there were actually two, provided the biggest challenge of the day. I first had to locate the docket number from a microfilm in the reading room. I thought it would take me forever, but mercifully I happened on the right page after a short search. Then I had to request copies of them and then have them emailed to me. Both documents, dated 1900 and 1903 respectively, related to the Pigeon River Lumber Company receiving permission to do business in the Province of Ontario. Not anything I didn’t know, but important information nonetheless.

Since returning from TO, I’ve kept my nose to the grindstone with projects around the house. Our office is almost done-it’s just waiting for a final coat of paint on the door and then the installation of the pocket door latch. My wife then decided that she needed to do something about the lack of counter space at camp; cue Pintrest…again! So we’ve been looking for a while for the right dresser that could be converted into a kitchen cart. Turns out, we had one right here. It’s taken a little bit of work, and a few bucks, but when it’s done it should look pretty good. We ordered a countertop for it today and its paint transformation will begin tomorrow. I’ll post some pics when it’s done.

Now speaking of camp (yes, camp…let’s not have this conversation again), we have been spending a bit more time out there as we move toward summer. This winter we inherited the camp from my wife’s parents and we’ve been doing clean-up work and some upgrades. Last Friday we brought a new fridge out to supplement the original tiny 11 cubic foot one that was way too small for our needs. We were back on Sunday to Monday cutting down a big pine tree in the yard that was slowly dying. Using the chainsaw made me feel very outdoorsy, though I did learn an important lesson; don’t cut pine trees without long pants on. Really, I should have been wearing long pants from a safety perspective, but it was bloody hot on Sunday and I was trying to keep cool. What I ended up with however, was sap stuck to my legs and leg hair. Rubbing alcohol usually gets it out, but since we didn’t have any out there, I tried a bit of vodka. While my logic seemed sound, the execution left a lot to be desired. Second lesson learned!

Sandwiched in between those visits to camp, was my first hike of the year. Yes, I finally got out there after months of talking about it and boy was it a doosy! I think you might have gotten that impression by my introduction, but I guess I should elaborate.

The plan for my first piece of field work of the season was to travel to the east end of Gunflint Lake, staying on the Canadian side of the border. Since I was staying north of the international divide, I thought it would be easier to get there via North Lake than travelling into Minnesota and directly into Gunflint Lake. The drive is a bit shorter, though it probably works out to be the same since the boat ride is much longer. Speaking of which, getting to Gunflint from North Lake is a bit of a challenge, as you have to cross not only North Lake, but then Little North and then Little Gunflint before you reach Big Gunflint, a distance of nearly 11 kilometres.

We arrived at North Lake by 9am and quickly had the boat in the water. The first thing we noticed, or rather was impressed upon us, was the clouds of blackflies in the air. It was unbelievable how bad they were. If you’ve never had to deal with blackflies before, count yourself lucky. Anyway, within a short amount of time we were zipping across the fairly calm waters of North Lake and were making good time.

North Lake, May 2016.

North Lake, May 2016.

The first trail of the journey comes when you enter the narrow channel separating North from Little North. With Ontario on one side and Minnesota on the other, the waterway is less than 70 metres wide at points. At its end, when you enter Little North, it drops to 25 metres and is very shallow, necessitating a cautious approach. You can pick up speed on Little North, but it’s only over a kilometre to the portage to Little Gunflint and there are rocks in the water, so you need to be careful.

The watercourse that separates Little North from Little Gunflint is extremely narrow and runs for about 50 metres. It is little more than a creek, and due to it’s location over the continental divide, its waters run west, eventually making their way into Hudson’s Bay. The creek itself appears to have been modified by human hands, most likely in 1892 during the construction of the railway. From our best understanding, the engineers laid down a small marine railroad on the Minnesota side of the narrows, which, using a small cart and capstan, were able to haul boats and supplies from one lake to the other. It was maintained by locals until the early ‘70s, but now sits as a stark reminder of the labours of centuries ago.

Railroad Portage, May 2016.

Railroad Portage, May 2016.

I’ve been through the creek when there was less than a foot of water in it; this time, given the fact that it is spring and there was an attempt by a beaver to dam it, several feet of fast-flowing water courses its length. It made for a crazy, bumpy and somewhat concerning journey downstream. Little Gunflint was much less dramatic, though there are several rocky and shallow sections that require a slower speed.

My course of action for the visit was to walk the 400 metres of the Gunflint & Lake Superior in Ontario (technically it was only branch of the Canadian Northern since the G&LS started in Minnesota) and explore the location of the Canadian customs houses near the grade. The land in this area is actually privately owned so I had to check with the new owner to do this work.

I’ve walked the Ontario portion of the G&LS grade many times before, the first time was back in 1994. However, I’ve never been there without leaves (or many leaves), so I was curious what I’d see. It was pretty warm as you moved away from the lake, and of course the blackflies were swarming anytime you stopped. I didn’t take us long to get to the PAD&W grade and then start working our way back. We came across a neat pile of spikes, which made me wonder if it was done when the rails were being removed or later.

PAD&W-G&LS junction,, May 2016.

PAD&W-G&LS junction,, May 2016.

Spikes, May 2016.

Spikes, May 2016.

Little-Big Gunflint Narrows, May 2016.

Little-Big Gunflint Narrows, May 2016.

When we returned to the beach, the boys decided it was lunchtime and I pulled out the metal detector to see what I could turn up. My first area to explore was the point of land where the two lakes meet and where the G&LS crossed into Minnesota. I wasn’t really holding out hope of finding anything, but as it turns out I made a critical discovery (actually two).

If you read this blog on a regular basis you’ll know that one of goal of my field work on the G&LS is to discover how far the telegraph line extended along the line. Last year I found a coil of wire on the Little Gunflint, though I could not find any evidence near the junction of the two railways. After turning up a long-lost tent peg, I uncovered a 50+ cm length of what I believe to be telegraph wire (I didn’t excavate the whole thing). Working off of that, I found another section of wire several metres further back on the grade. So I think I can say with some certainty that the line at least crossed into Minnesota.

Telegraph wire, May 2016.

Telegraph wire, May 2016.

After that, I turned my attention a little way up the beach to the north to where two buildings were once located; I presume that they were once the Canadian customs houses while the railroad was in operation. I’ve never really explored this site before, so I was curious what I would turn up. The detector immediately lit up and I could see several depressions in the ground. I’m not a trained archaeologist, nor do I want disturb any potentially important artefacts in the ground, so I treaded very lightly. I picked one spot and carefully dug down several inches to see what was there. What I had stumbled upon was either a garbage pile or a fire pit. There many nails of various sizes, assorted bits of metal and iron, pieces of glass and even a spent rifle cartridge (.30-30 I think). Some of the glass appeared to be fused together, which is why I thought it might be a fire pit. After photographing the items, I returned them to the ground; hopefully I can get some real archaeologists to the site to do the job properly.

Customs items, May 2016.

Customs items, May 2016.

All in all it was a successful trip, but the fun didn’t really start until the ride back. When we reached the aforementioned Railroad Portage, I then realized the challenge it would be trying to get the boat upstream into Little North. I thought I could pull it along the shore but the current was having nothing of it. Even jumping into the frigid, waist deep water to try to move it along did not help. It was going to be tough.

My next move was to lose some weigh, which meant putting my youngest, Noah, ashore. He became quite upset, convinced that we were going to be stuck there. Unfortunately that didn’t help much; the current was still pushing the boat back and on to the rocks. I was getting tired, the blackflies were eating us alive, and my oldest, Ethan, was even getting a bit rattled. It wasn’t until I decided to use the anchor rope to secure the boat farther upstream that we started to make progress. It took us more than 30 minutes, a ton of exertion and a bunch of bruises to get through. I learned a valuable lesson that day; never go though that creek in the spring…and I have all the blackfly bites to prove it.

Stuck in the creek, May 2016.

Stuck in the creek, May 2016.

I told the boys on the final leg of the boat ride back that they would remember days like this one many years from now. The more eventual trips with my dad are the ones that stick out in my mind. They can look back with fondness on all the stupid stuff their dad got them into, even though at the moment it didn’t seem so humorous. Honestly I was a bit concerned for a few moments myself, but hey, a little excitement makes life that more interesting. I’m sure there will be more well though-out moments in the future.

Anyway, it’s time to get rolling. Ironically, I’m off again for my next hike tomorrow morning. This time there is no boating involved, just more walking. I’ll be in Minnesota, hiking the Border Route Trail near Crab Lake. Hopefully it will be just as productive as the one I just described. I’ll be back again next week with all the details.Until then…

 
1 Comment

Posted by on May 26, 2016 in Hiking, History, Railway, Research, Travel

 

Tags: , , , , , ,

If they don’t find you handsome…

They should find you smart? Reliable? Funny? Come Dave, tell us! What, you couldn’t think of any other adjectives? I’ll give you a hint; it’s from a TV show. Still stuck? Maybe you aren’t Canadian, because most people who live in the top half of North America would know it. Need another clue? The guy who quoted it was the King of Plaid, the man who introduced duct tape as the handy-man’s secret weapon. If you didn’t recognize Red Green from The Red Green Show, you need to watch some syndicated TV. The program was a parody of other shows, notably home improvement ones, and the most memorable quote from Red himself was, “If the women don’t find you handsome, they should at least find you handy!” Consider yourself educated.

So here we are in May; it’s kinda one of those good thing bad thing situations, this year anyway. Why what do you mean Dave? Well, I’m very happy that it is now May and we’re that much closer to summer, but that also means my leave is going by very quickly. Sigh. Thankfully I’ve been enjoying every minute of it.

Now, one of the things that has brought immense joy to me is the weather. I know I gripe a lot about it, but when you have as long as a winter as we do, I think there is a good excuse. Anyway, conditions have done a complete one-eighty since my last post; it’s like someone finally remember to flick the switch and turn the heat on. The snow went away very quickly, the ice has left the lakes and the grass is starting to turn green. Hallelujah!

April 2016.

April 2016.

The only blemish on this otherwise great situation is my health. No, I’m not dying, but there was a point that I felt like I was. What is ironic is that you often have a short memory; it was at this time last year I was complaining how sick I was. Thanks to our friends at Facebook and their handy “You have memories to look back on” feature, I looked at my post from April 2015 and read about how awfully afflicted I was. Talk about déjà vu!

One thing that has me feeling better though is the fact that our school trip to Europe is less than a year away. Wow, it’s hard to believe it’s coming up that fast! While there has been some ongoing planning, things will start to get more hectic in the fall. I know I have been on similar trips twice already, but this is the big one. The commemoration of the 100th anniversary of the Battle of Vimy Ridge will be one of the most important events in recent Canadian history. Estimates put the number of people who will be attending in the 10,000 plus range. It will be an amazing experience.

Despite being somewhat handicapped by whatever plague I mean virus I contracted, I have not stopped making effective use of my time off. There are a lot of projects that need to be completed around the house and there is a ton of work to do out at camp. The ones at camp will have to wait until we get closer to summer, but we did get a bit of a head start last week. Meanwhile at home, a lot of my efforts have been dedicated to completing our basement office.

Camp, April 2016.

Camp, April 2016.

Back in March, Jo-Anne and I finally installed some bookshelves we ordered from Ikea, which allowed us to empty some boxes of books that had been in storage for many years. The next step was to try and hide two big, ugly filing cabinets that need to be in the room; some spray paint and some fancy wheeled platforms I whipped up took care of that while still allowed them to be moved around. The desk was going to be another story.

My wife spends time browsing Pintrest for ideas (shocking), and she came up with the plan of using kitchen cabinets and a simple countertop to make a desk. We were going to buy pre-finished cabinets, but then we came across a truckload sale of unfinished ones at Home Depot. The trick was that I now had to add panels to the sides and then stain and seal them. I really enjoy carpentry, and I’m getting pretty decent with fine detail work (except baseboards…I flipping HATE baseboards and trim). Anyway, things went great until it came time to stain. So I’ve learned that staining wood a very dark black-brown colour is not easy; it made me want to drink. I’ve put off the varnishing until I’m back from Toronto…I think I had enough stress for a while.

So with all of this time spent trying to be the next Bob Villa, I have not had a lot of time to work on any railway stuff. I also learned a long time ago that it is important to step away at times, take a break and come back refreshed. My last foray was about three weeks ago, when I made my last trip to the Thunder Bay Museum. While I did not uncover a whole lot of material, the quality made up for the lack of quantity; in actuality, my discovery was a game-changer.

Back about a month and half ago when I was transcribing letters from the Arpin Papers, I came across references to a “Camp 8,” which by all appearances was situated along the Gunflint and Lake Superior Railroad. It is commonly known that the principal camp of the Pigeon River Lumber Company was Camp 4, located on the southwest shore of Gunflint Lake. I wasn’t really sure what to think until a couple of things fell into place.

On my visit to Duluth during March break, I had chance to sit down with Lee Johnson, whom I’ve known for a number of years now. Lee is the head archaeologist for the Superior National Forest and during the course of our conversation, Lee described a site he located while battling the Ham Lake Fire in 2007. It sounded a lot like a camp of some sorts. The second piece came while searching the newspapers at the museum; I found an article that described “Camp 8” in the Gunflint Lake area. Hopefully I’ll be able to confirm a location in the next few months.

This week I’ll be departing from my brothers wedding in Toronto. I do have some research time scheduled for Thursday morning when I will be visiting the Archives of Ontario. I have three things to take a look at; one related to the PRLC and the two others are of the PAD&W. I’ll provide a full re-cap in my next post.

Anyway, I should get rolling…I need to finish packing and I have a busy day ahead. I’ll be back soon enough with the latest news. Until then…

 

 
Leave a comment

Posted by on May 3, 2016 in History, Railway, Research, Travel

 

Tags: , , , , , , , , ,