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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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It’s been that long?

Have you ever been doing something, anything and suddenly become aware that a long period of time has gone by without even noticing? Like say years. Years Dave? Yup, years. So what has prompted this line of thought you ask? Well, it was actually something I saw on Facebook. There were a number of posts a few days ago regarding an event that occurred in 2007, which was a very significant year for me for a bunch of reasons. Confused? Please, read on.

Welcome to May kids! Speaking of time flying by…wow, where did the year go? In any case, I’m back to my usual posts after all the travelling related ones I did last month. May means that the school year is almost over and it’s getting to that crazy time with a million things going on. I’m trying to get my classes all planned out to the end of the year, mark, prep for football spring camp…wow. Sometimes I wonder how I manage to juggle all of this stuff at the same time, and that’s in addition to everything going on at home. Oh well, it will be summer holidays soon enough and some even better news arrived last week. My wife and I have been approved for another semester leave starting in February 2022. Yay!

I guess I would be remiss in not mentioning the weather. I know, I always gripe about the weather, but this time it’s for real. Up until a few weeks ago, it had been a gorgeous spring. And then the wheels fell off. It started with quite a bit of rain one day, then some snow and then a massive ice storm. Ice storm? Yes, you read it right, ice storm. In April? Yup, and it was so bad the schools and the city were shut down for two days. Craziness! The last time that happened was in 1996, when I was still in university. The snow and ice melted quickly and things are relatively back to normal, but that made things around here a rather soggy for a while.

Ice storm, April 2017.

Ice storm, April 2017.

Alright, so I should rewind the clock 10 years and discuss what happened way back in 2007. I don’t think I’ll ever forget that year for a number of reasons, some good and some bad. In July, my wife and I welcomed our second son, Noah, which obviously was one of the happiest days of my life. Sadly, only a few days later, my dad lost a very short battle with cancer. It’s extremely difficult to describe the overwhelming emotions you feel when confronted by joy and tragedy all at the same time. However, the passing of my dad helped push me back into my railway research and field work which at the time had been on the back-burner for a number of years. I guess it was my way of honouring him by making the most of every moment that I have. My dad loved the outdoors, and being in the fresh air brings back a lot of memories of our time together. I also have a living reminder of him in Noah, as he shares so many personality traits with his grandfather.

Another event that took place in 2007 was one that I overlooked at the time. That year the bush was very dry after several years of relatively dry conditions. Back in 1999 there was a massive windstorm that hit our area, a derecho, which toppled millions of trees in the border areas. The lack of moisture and all those trees turned some places into a tinderbox. The spark came in early May, when a human caused fire broke out at Ham Lake, approximately 3 km southwest of Gunflint Lake. When it was finally extinguished, it had burned over 30,000 hectares on both sides of the border.

My first visit to the burned areas took place a year later, when I went to Gunflint Lake for the first time since 2000. It was also my first time driving to the Canadian side of the lake, coming down from Northern Lights Lake. It was quite the harrowing journey, as the road was in in terrible shape and a burned culvert over a deep stream had been replaced with a rather sketchy alternative. The burn zone was quite extensive, and without the trees the true character of the “Shield Country” (Canadian Shield) was visible. However, I was able to see a lot of things that had previously been hidden in the foliage. I wish I had explored more than year when all the vegetation has just starting to grow back.

Gunflint Lake, August 2008.

PAD&W grade, Gunflint Lake, August 2008.

Beach at Leeblain, August 2008.

PAD&W grade, Leeblain, August 2008.

PAD&W rock cut, Gunflint Lake, August 2008.

One positive thing that came of the fire was the construction of the Centennial Trail in Minnesota. Portions of the railway in the area had been exposed by the fire, along with a number of the mining sites that had been worked back in the early 1890s by John Paulson and his associates. The US Forest Service decided to convert portions of the grade into a trail, along with interpretive stops at key railway and mining features. It opened in the fall of 2009 and I was able to visit it in the summer of 2010. It was my first trip to that area since my initial exploration in 1998. It was a very different place after the blowdown and fire; however, I was able to see many new things, such some of the test pits I missed the first time.

Akeley Lake Shaft, August 2010.

Mine shaft, August 2010.

PAD&W rock cut, August 2010.

PAD&W rock cut, August 2010.

PAD&W rock cut, August 2010.

Sadly there were some negative consequences to the fire as well. Areas that were previously hidden and relatively free from human interference were now much more accessible. Places that had been neatly tucked under the umbrella of trees were now exposed and becoming overrun with new vegetation. Some physical traces of the railway and mining operation, particularly those made of wood, were unfortunately consumed in the conflagration.

The biggest victim of the flames was one of the most important and well-known historic sites in the area; the corduroyed wood trestle on Gunflint Lake. I’ve mentioned this spot before, as it was one of the greatest legacies of the Gunflint and Lake Superior Railroad. It was constructed sometime around 1904-1905 and was used by the railroad to climb the very steep ridge on the south side of Gunflint Lake.

The elevation change from where the railroad passes Camp 4 on the lake (1543 ft.) to where it crests the ridge is nearly 200 feet. Logging lines typically did not want to expend large amounts of capital on construction as they are generally temporary in nature. Therefore, the Pigeon River Lumber Company had to build something that was cheap but functional; the structure they designed was simple yet ingenious. They began the ascent nearly a kilometre to the east, just south of Camp 4 by climbing a ridge that parallels the lake. Upon reaching the Crab River, which spills over the big ridge to form Bridal Falls, the line turned south. A lengthy rock cut was blasted alongside the river the lower the grade, but there was still a sizable chasm that needed to be spanned. Rather than build a trestle or rock embankment, the engineers simply stacked logs (presumably non-valuable species) in a corduroy fashion until they had the correct angle and topped it gravel. The grade was atrocious, somewhere from six to ten percent (two percent is considered bad for a railroad), which necessitated the use of a special Shay locomotive to negotiate it. However, it was a sight to behold; a narrow embankment of logs, little more than ten feet wide, towering some twenty to twenty-five feet above the ground and covering more than four hundred feet.

G&LS Corduroy Trestle, August 1997.

G&LS Corduroy Trestle, August 1997.

G&LS Corduroy Trestle, August 1997.

I saw the corduroy trestle during my first visit to the G&LS back in 1997 and was amazed at how well it had aged. I am glad that I had the opportunity and that I documented it as well (watch the video here). The 1999 blowdown caused some damage to it, but it was the fire that sealed its fate. It ripped through the area, scorching some spots and leaving others untouched. The corduroyed logs caught fire, the flames smoldering deep inside the stack of logs for months afterwards. The Forest Service hoped the winter would extinguish the embers, but it continued to flare, even buried in snow (read a story here). There was no other option than to dynamite the structure to put out the last vestiges of the fire; the great corduroy trestle which had endured for more than 100 years (and no doubt would still be around) was forever lost.

Corduroy Trestle burns, Ham Lake Fire, May 2007. (T. Kaffine/USFS)

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

With all the excitement of the past month, I haven’t really had any time to do railway stuff. I can’t remember the last time I even looked at the one of the chapters of the book. In any case, it’s almost hiking season, which has me excited. I’m scheduled to go out next week, so hopefully the weather cooperates until then and the ground continues to dry up. It’s always a gamble going out at this time of the year; it’s the best time to see things in the bush, but it still can be a bit wet. I’m hoping that I can finish locating the route of the G&LS as it winds it’s way south of Gunflint Lake. It’s a long and difficult hike, so my fingers are crossed that everything goes well.

Anyway, it’s time to go. I’ll be back in a few weeks with details from the hike. Until then…

 
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Posted by on May 10, 2017 in Hiking, History, Railway

 

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The Indiana Jones emulation

Most people can recognize it from the first few iconic bars of the theme song. Some of us have even pictured ourselves as the lead character, flying across the globe in search of epic buried treasure and all the while fighting hordes of bad guys. Let’s not forget landing the beautiful leading lady too! This series of movies certainly brought the field of archaeology into the public eye and all the exciting events that go along with it. I mean come on, who wouldn’t want to find the Ark of the Covenant or the Holy Grail? And it’s not like Hollywood ever lies or embellishes things right?

Hey, welcome to November kids! I know I sound like a broken record, but man does time fly by; two months gone in a heartbeat. And guess what? Any guesses? Give up? If you didn’t say that I’m tired, sick and burnt out, you don’t know anything about me. So the reason for all your tribulations Dave? Uh, work…duh! There are way too many things going on; marking, a new course, extra curriculars and the list goes on. It doesn’t help that coming back to all of this is tough after having been off for seven months this year.

So besides work, what’s been keeping me busy you ask? Well, it is fall, so the correct answer would be football. Minor ended a few weeks ago with both boys losing in the semifinals, but I have yet to recover from the insanity of coaching two teams. This week was playoff time in high school, and we played on Thursday night. We had an opportunity to redeem our regular season loss to Hammarskjold and advance to the city finals. However, it was not to be; the boys fought hard but came up short in the end. I’m going to miss working with some of the characters we had over the last couple of years, but I’m also excited to continue coaching the talented Grade 9s we have.

Since I mentioned extra curriculars earlier, I do have a big one coming up later this year. I’ve written on several occasions in the past about my upcoming trip to Europe. In April, myself and two other teachers will be leading 23 students from our school to tour the Netherlands, Belgium and France. The highlight will be our participation in the 100th Anniversary commemorations of the Battle of Vimy Ridge. The planning for this trip began two years ago and now that we are less than 6 months away, work has kicked into high gear. Our next endeavor is to organize the school’s Remembrance Day services coming up in just over a week.

So with everything going on, I have had zero time to work on any railway related stuff. Once football wraps up I’ll be back at it, but for now I just don’t have the energy. I thought of trying to get out for a hike this weekend as it’s supposed to absolutely gorgeous, but there’s too many things to do.We’ll see in the coming weeks if the weather holds. Now speaking of hiking, the last bit of railway work I did involved my annual Thanksgiving visit to Gunflint. It was a productive visit, but the weather wasn’t as cooperative as in past years.

We left early on Friday morning for the roundabout drive to Gunflint. After a brief stop in Grand Marais we arrived at the Cross River Lodge around 10am local time. Unfortunately it had rained the night before and the bush was very wet, which wrecked our plans for the day. However our hosts and friends, John and Rose, had an idea to keep me busy in the meantime.

Rainbow over Gunflint Lake, October 2016.

Rainbow over Gunflint Lake, October 2016.

If you recall I was at Gunflint in the summer to do a presentation at the Chik-Wauk Museum on the Gunflint & Lake Superior Railroad. Due to a number of scheduling conflicts, the turnout was not as great as for previous events. With that in mind, John asked if I would be interested in doing an impromptu presentation at the lodge for some of their neighbours and guests. I never pass an opportunity to talk about the railway, so I gladly accepted. I was a bit nervous, but thankfully I had a presentation on my laptop to work off of and the packed house was very appreciative.

Amazingly, I didn’t come away from this lecture empty handed either. One of the guests that evening was Gunflint resident Sharlene LeTourneau. I had spoken to her many years ago and learned that she was the daughter of Peggy Heston, who operated Heston’s Lodge on the lake for many years. At the time I had asked her about a photo that appeared in Willis Raff’s book “Pioneers in the Wilderness,” which chronicled the history of Cook County, MN. In it is the only known photo of the railway at Gunflint Lake and had been provided by Peggy. She said she would look into it, and low and behold, she presented me with the photograph. I was completely blown away and grateful for this amazing piece of railway history.

Handcar, Gunflint Lake, circa 1910.

Handcar, Gunflint Lake, circa 1910.

The next morning dawned brigher and somewhat sunny, though cold and very windy. After breakfast, we left for the other side of the lake. The west wind was blowing down the length of the lake, and even hugging the southern shore did not afford us much respite. It was one of my roughest experiences on the lake, the bow of the boat plowing into every trough and spraying us with the chilly water. Our goal for the day would be to follow the railroad grade south of Bridal Falls, in an area where I did a rather spotty job the year before.

Once above the falls, we followed the grade south through an open area as it passed alongside the Crab River. Just inside the first treeline, we made an interesting and potentially important discovery. As a brief rainshower pelted us, we located a pile of what appeared to be telegraph wire on the west side of the grade. Was the line run past Camp 4 all the way to Camp 8? Maybe next year I can turn up more wire to confirm this hypothesis.

Telegraph wire, October 2016.

Telegraph wire, October 2016.

Continuing south, we left the wooded section and entered another open stretch. Here we located corduroyed logs in the high grass, obviously laid there to support the grade above it as it crossed this low, wet area. From there it was on into another treeline as the grade turned southeast and then east paralleling the river.

We found many physical traces of the railroad, from spikes and fishplates to rock cuts and cutting work. I already knew the route the line had taken, but this was just further confirmation of this notion and now I had precise GPS coordinates to back it up. Shortly thereafter we arrived at our turnaround point and headed back toward the boat. On the way we made another neat discovery near the telegraph wire; the problem is that I have no idea what it is. Ethan suggested that it might be a piece off of a sleigh.

GLS Cutting, October 2016.

GLS Cutting, October 2016.

Mystery object, October 2016.

Mystery object, October 2016.

Crab River, October 2016.

Crab River, October 2016.

Sunday morning was very nice, with clear skies and little wind. The temperature however hovered around -4C and fog hung in patches over the lake; it made for a pretty yet chilly ride across Gunflint. Our agenda for the day was to trace the grade of the railroad north from Camp 4 (to fill in a missing piece from the previous year) and explore more of the area south of the camp.

Foggy morning on Gunflint, October 2016.

Foggy morning on Gunflint, October 2016.

The grade north of the camp was already in rough shape from the 1999 blowdown and 2007 fire; however this spring the area was hit by several intense windstorms that toppled even more trees. To get to where we needed to go, I figured that walking along the shore would be the most expedient route. Turns out it was. It was a bit tricky get from the shore to the grade, but the boys and I did manage to. Once on it, we followed the line north to where I thought I needed to get to; I later realized that I did not get as far north as I needed to, so I will have to revisit this again next year.

Our explorations of the camp proved to be more rewarding. We discovered what appeared to be several coils of telegraph wire north of the northern most building, further reinforcing the idea that the communication line did in fact stretch this far. However, it was what we uncovered to the south that intrigued me the most.

Last year the boys and I had located some artifacts south of the camp and I wanted to see what else was there; our discoveries far exceeded my expectations. Sweeping with my metal detector, and being careful not to disturb the area, it was one hit after another. I located a lot of items in a 200 metre stretch including wire, spikes, chain, a whole assortment of metal objects, one glass bottle stopper and quite a bit of coal and slag. It certainly points to a location that was alive with activity during the early 1900s.

Bottle stopper?, October 2016.

Bottle stopper?, October 2016.

Metal objects, October 2016.

Metal objects, October 2016.

Metal object, October 2016.

Metal object, October 2016.

I am really hoping that the US Forest Service can get some archaeological work going again at the site of Camp 4 (and maybe Camp 8 too). There is so much more than this place can tell us; I am just one guy, not a trained archaeologist and I don’t really have the authority to do more than locate items on the surface. Real archaeology is not glamorous or always exciting, but it’s an important tool for us to understand the story of our past. Hey, and I do have a trade mark hat that I wear 😉

Anyway, time to go. I have a lot of things to catch up on in the rest of my life. I’ll be back as soon as it can with the latest updates. Until then…

 
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Posted by on November 5, 2016 in Hiking, History, Railway, Travel

 

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It was only a matter of time!

Don’t you just love when you know something is going to happen? I’m not really talking about déjà vu or anything like that, but just this sense that there is inevitability to a situation? We’ve all been there. In my case, it’s a ritual for this time of year…because it invariably happens every year. There’s always this glimmer of hope that maybe you’ve dodged the proverbial bullet for a change, but alas it is not meant to be. It’s been occurring now for such a long time that the only remedy to the situation is to change my patterns, which will not happen in the foreseeable future. So I guess I’ll just have to deal with it!

Well, it’s October kids. Is it just me, or does time go by faster the older you get? I can’t seem to keep up anymore. A month of school has blown by in a heartbeat. It was certainly tough to get back into the routine of work after being off for so long, but I guess it’s like riding a bike…18 years of experience also helps too! I am thoroughly back into the swing of things and boy is it insane. Every year I say it can’t get any worse and it seems like it does. Pretty soon it will just be time to have a heart attack and be done with it. Just kidding!

As usual, one of the main causes of my lunacy is football. It really has me burnt out…seriously! Ethan and Noah are both playing again this year and of course their schedules do not sync; I have not been home before 8:00 in weeks. When Ethan plays on Tuesdays, it is 10:00. As well, I am coaching Noah’s team and doing a lot more than I ever have, namely running the offense. I have never coach offense before in my life! Both of their teams are struggling a bit, but it’s more about the participation and experience than the wins and losses. The high school team is doing well, just having picked up our second win of the season. Before I know it, football will all be over and a distant memory.

With all of this craziness I have not had any time to do any railway work, until now I guess. A few weeks back I travelled, on a rather psychotic timeframe I might add, to Saint Cloud, MN for the Northern Great Plains History Conference. I kinda of underestimated how far Saint Cloud is away. I left work at 1:30 (12:30cst) and drove pretty much straight for 6.5 hours. I met up with my co-presenter Lori for a few hours before heading off to bed. I woke up, did the presentation for a couple of hours (which went great), had lunch and then drove 6.5 hours home. I was a wee bit tired after all of that. Oh well, it was a great experience, and I was able to snap a few photos of a cool abandoned railway along the way!

Great Northern RR stone bridge, South Fork, MN, September, 2016.

Great Northern RR stone bridge, South Fork, MN, September, 2016.

Great Northern RR, South Fork, MN, September, 2016.

Great Northern RR, South Fork, MN, September, 2016.

Besides being burnt out, I can feel myself running down. Some form of the plague has been making the rounds at school and a lot kids have come down with it, including a good chunk of the football team. Right now I feel very tired and am bit stuffy, but it hasn’t yet developed into a full-blown cold. I pray that it doesn’t happen, but my luck isn’t usually that good. Guaranteed it will hit me at some point soon…I can’t wait.

So I’m currently in my room at the Cross River Lodge as it Canadian Thanksgiving weekend and as usual, I’m here at Gunflint for some field work. It’s always great to be here with the boys and visit with John and Rose. Besides, I really needed some time away from everything.

Now since I mentioned presentations, I actually just finished doing one. I arrived here this morning and unfortunately the weather was not very cooperative. It rained until about 10:00, and then it was really windy and cold, so I had to scratch today’s visit to the Gunflint & Lake Superior. Since I was just hanging around, John asked me if I wanted to do a little chat about the railway. I don’t really like to talk much, so it was a tough sell on his part (cue the eye roll). He made some phone calls and by 5:30 there was about 30-40 people assembled to listen to me ramble on about the PAD&W. For an impromptu affair, it went really well. The best part was that I received a fantastic gift; a photo of the railway at Gunflint Lake circa 1910 that I had been wanting to get for quite some time. It was a nice end to the evening.

The plan for tomorrow is to head across the lake to Bridal Falls and hike along a portion of the G&LS that I examined last year. I was not able to spend a lot of time along this section of the railroad, so hopefully I’ll be able to finish everything up and maybe find something interesting while I’m at it. My fingers are crossed that I won’t be too rough on the lake; the wind was pretty wicked today.

Anyway, I better get to bed. I’ll be back as soon as I can with a full recap of the trip and my discoveries. Until then…

 
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Posted by on October 7, 2016 in Hiking, History, Railway, Travel

 

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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…

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

Camp sunset, July 2016.

Camp sunset, July 2016.

Camp sunset, July 2016.

Camp sunset, July 2016.

Camp morning, August 2016.

Camp morning, August 2016.

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

Crab Lake trail, May 2016.

Crab Lake trail, May 2016.

Crab Lake, May 2016.

Crab Lake, May 2016.

Whisker Lake, May 2016.

Whisker Lake, May 2016.

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

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

Spike, May 2016.

Spike, May 2016.

G&LS grade, May 2016.

G&LS grade, May 2016.

Spike and fishplate, May 2016.

Spike and fishplate, May 2016.

Coal, May 2016.

Coal, May 2016.

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

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

Cans, May 2016.

Cans, May 2016.

Cans and barrel hoops, May 2016.

Cans and barrel hoops, May 2016.

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

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

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

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

Highway 93 near Arcadia, WI, June 2016.

Highway 93 near Arcadia, WI, June 2016.

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

 

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

 

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