One hundred and twenty years ago tomorrow, the Gunflint and Lake Superior Railroad (G&LS) was incorporated in the State of Minnesota. Owned by the Pigeon River Lumber Company, a Wisconsin business headquartered in Port Arthur (Thunder Bay), Ontario, the logging line was built to harvest timber along the southwest shore of Gunflint Lake and adjacent areas in the northeast part of the state.
The G&LS was in operation between 1902 and 1909 and branched off the Canadian Northern Railway Duluth Extension (originally the Port Arthur, Duluth & Western) at Milepost 79. It was likely the most unusual railroad in all of North America as it was an American line, but had no terminus in the US and its only access was via Canada. All the timber harvested in Minnesota was shipped to the company’s mill in Port Arthur for processing.
Today there are vestiges of the line still visible, but they are rapidly disappearing. The photos, taken between 1997 and 2016, along with the map (which shows the area in 1911), covers the initial few miles of the line as passes from Ontario across the international boundary into Minnesota. Corduroyed logs, some rails and even a line shaft from a Shay locomotive litter the route. The most amazing remnant of the line was a massive corduroyed log trestle on the south shore of the lake beside the Crab River, which helped it climb the massive ridges in the area. Unfortunately the trestle was burned in a 2007 fire and the following winter the Forest Service was forced to dynamite it to extinguish the smoldering embers inside.
The story of the Paulson Mine, located in the western part of Cook County, Minnesota, has captivated people for many years. Touted as one of the great mining projects of the era, its failure in the early 1890s had a devastating impact on local economies spanning both sides of the border. For years afterwards, many attempts were made to restart the mine, all of which ended with the same result.
Video of the former railway grade and station at North Lake, ON. North Lake was one of the original stations on the PAD&W line when it opened in 1893. It later saw the additions of a section house, turning wye and coal bunker. The turning wye and coal bunker were constructed prior to 1902 and the station was added in 1907.
Video of the former railway grade and station at North Lake, ON. North Lake was one of the original stations on the PAD&W line when it opened in 1893. It later saw the additions of a section house, turning wye and coal bunker. The station remains shown in the video was built by Canadian Northern Railway in 1907 and was one of their Third-Class stations. It was abandoned in 1923 and was still standing into the 1970s.
See the 1997 video for comparison (links in the video).
I hope you’ve been enjoying the live presentations on YouTube. If you have, or haven’t taken them in, the next one is ready to go!
Please join me tonight (Tuesday, May 5) at 7pm EST for Leeblain: The Ghost Town of Gunflint. It is an intriguing story of optimism and failure that revolves around the PAD&W Railway and the Paulson Mine in the pre-1900 Boundary Waters. There are many twists and “what ifs” in this obscure piece of area history.
Please click on the link below for more information.
Still looking for things to do during the COVID-19 situation? Why not join me for my next live presentation?
On Tuesday, April 21 at 7pm EST I’ll be presenting Rails into the Wilderness: The Port Arthur, Duluth & Western Railway. Hear where the story all starts with in this classic presentation. Learn about the early history of the PAD&W, the struggle to get the line constructed and how it all fell apart so quickly. This talk will feature a number of period and modern photographs.
Looking for something to do during the COVID-19 situation? Why not join me for a talk on a fascinating piece of area history?
Tonight, April 7th, I’ll be presenting Gunflint & Lake Superior: Ontario’s Private American Railroad live on YouTube. This is a very unique and obscure story that spans the two countries that share the Boundary Waters. The presentation contains some great information, as well as numerous period and modern photos. Click on the link below for more details.
Please join me if you can and feel feel to share this link with anyone who may be interested. The live stream starts at 7pm Eastern time.
In honour of the 115th anniversary of its completion, and the 12th anniversary of its demise, we revisit the Gunflint Corduroy Trestle.
This amazing structure was built in the winter of 1904-1905 by the Pigeon River Lumber Company for their logging railroad, the Gunflint & Lake Superior. To climb the ridges south of the lake, the company built a very crude trestle by corduroying logs and topping it with gravel. Just over 250 feet long, the elevation increases 25 feet in that distance, creating a brutal 10% grade. It was probably one of the most unusual railroad trestles in all of North America.
Later that year they purchased a Shay locomotive (SN-683) to work this section of the line.
Sadly, the trestle was lost in 2008. The year before it was engulfed by the Ham Lake Fire and the logs smoldered for months. The USFS was forced to dynamite the structure to extinguish the fire. I’m glad I was able to see it before its demise and shoot this footage. My apologies for the shaky recording; I was very young, rather excited and there was no stabilization!