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Happy Frigid Year?

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

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

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

Camp in winter, January 2018.

Late December/early January weather.

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

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

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

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

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

My wheelhouse, January 2018.

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

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

 

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And so it continues…

*Sigh* It seems like the more things change the more they stay the same. In my last post I wrote about how bloody cold it was and how tired I was of the weather. Well, guess what? Yup, it’s the same ‘ole story three weeks later. Yes, we did get a little reprieve in there, but come on! This has definitely been the crappiest winter I can remember. Now don’t get me wrong, I did sign up for this (as in I decided to live here), but there’s got to be a limit to it. It hasn’t been as cold as it was at the beginning of the month, but -41C is still flippin’ cold. We better have a kick-ass spring and summer to make up for all the BS we’ve been putting up with. Rant off!

So it’s almost the end of January and that means the end of another semester and the start of a new one. I finished marking all my exams and submitted my reports, so I’m done with the first half of the year. Yay! It’s not that I didn’t like my classes, but after 5 months it’s time for a change; new kids, new classes. A new semester always energizes you a bit, like a breath of fresh air in your sails. Second semester also means that we’re on the downward slide toward June and the end of the school year. Geez, it just keeps going by faster and faster every year!

One of the most exciting parts of moving into February is that we are inching ever closer to the March break Europe trip. One of the students stopped by room last week and said that when we started the countdown it was like 500 and something days before departure. Wow, time has certainly flown by! I am very anxious to go, but as the group leader I always have that bit of nervousness that accompanies a big event like this. The reality I guess is starting to set in. It’s probably just me though, just like I get nervous before every football game. In any case, our EF backpacks and trip water bottles have arrived, so all the little pieces are starting to fall into place. 35 days until we leave!

The craptastic weather we’ve been experiencing over the last month has certainly put a big damper on any outdoor activities one would expect to do in winter. So far I’ve only made it up the mountain twice since Christmas, and haven’t gotten out the last few weekends (see the reason above). I’m hoping that the -14C they are calling for Saturday is warm enough to get out and about, since Sunday is Superbowl Sunday and you know what that means! Yup, it’s time for the annual Superbowl party and I have a million things to do to get ready. It would be nice to squeeze in a little fresh air before I spend the day on Sunday cleaning up and preparing food. This is the first time in a while that I am not cheering for a particular team, since I actually like both Denver and Seattle. Maybe there will be some real football weather for this year’s edition ie. snow and cold!

Snow-obscured Loch Lomond, January 2014.

Snow-obscured Loch Lomond, January 2014.

So I actually have some things to report on the railway front for a change. I have some really exciting news to talk about, but I’ll save that for last. However it started me thinking about writing another article on a railway related topic, so I did spend time doing some research over the weekend. I’d like to write about the Gunflint and Lake Superior Railroad, which was a little logging line built by the Pigeon River Lumber Company in 1903. It connected to the PAD&W at Gunflint Lake and was in operation until 1909. It was very unique in that it was an American railroad that had no connection to any other American railroad; its only link was north through Canada. Very odd indeed.

The president of the G&LS was one Daniel J. Arpin of Wisconsin and I’ve been trying to track down a photo of him for some time. That led me off on a search for the gentlemen who manned the Canadian customs house at Gunflint between 1903 and 1909, Thomas Roberts and Peter Chausse. I’ve mentioned on several occasions that I love to do this type of investigation and see what I can come up with. It can be very frustrating at times, but also great when you make a big discovery. Most of my time was spent trying to scrounge up some pictures, which was fairly unsuccessful. But you never know though, maybe a breakthrough will come at some point.

While I was on the topic of the G&LS, I moved into looking at some maps of the area. Hiking the G&LS is on my agenda for this year, weather permitting, since I haven’t really looked at the Minnesota portion since 1997. It`s really too bad the amazing wood trestle near Bridal Falls is gone, as it was quite the sight to see (it burned in the 2007 Ham Lake Fire and had to be dynamited to put out the fire smoldering inside the logs). When I did walk the railway all those years ago, I did not follow the whole length of the line. The question I need to answer is where did it go from there. Documents suggest that the railway ran down to Crab Lake and then possibly a mile east to Whisker Lake. To help me locate the route, I turned to Lidar.

Gunflint & Lake Superior RR map, International Boundary Commission Map (1929).

Gunflint & Lake Superior RR map, International Boundary Commission Survey (1929).

Top of the G&LS log trestle, August 1997.

Top of the G&LS log trestle, August 1997.

G&LS log trestle, August 1997.

G&LS log trestle, August 1997.

G&LS log trestle, August 1997.

G&LS log trestle, August 1997.

G&LS log trestle during the Ham Lake Fire, May 2007. (T. Kaffine)

G&LS log trestle during the Ham Lake Fire, May 2007. (T. Kaffine)

Remains of the G&LS log trestle, August 2011.

Remains of the G&LS log trestle, August 2011.

Lidar is a remote sensing technology that uses lasers to collect elevation and other data from the ground. It is very useful at finding old railway grades, especially where embankments and cuttings were made as they stand out in the ground around it. It`s not always perfect, especially in wet or low areas where the grade has settled into the ground, but it`s better that nothing. Hopefully it has given me a few clues as to where to look for the G&LS south of Bridal Falls; I guess we`ll find out in the fall when I`m planning to go there!

Lidar image, Gunflint Lake.

Lidar image, Gunflint Lake.

By far the most exciting news from the past week was the publication of my article on Leeblain. Yes, I am now officially an author and historian! It is amazing to see my work in print and out there so people can read what I’ve discovered. Unfortunately things are not all roses though; part of my article is missing from the 2013 edition of Papers & Records. After a bit of digging, we were able to determine that a little technical glitch omitted the last third of my article. However, the Thunder Bay Historical Museum Society has graciously agreed to reprint it in their 2015 issue. Better late than never and maybe if they like my G&LS article, I’ll have two entries for the book!

Leeblain article, Papers & Records.

Leeblain article, Papers & Records.

Anyway, it’s time to run. I’ll be back in the next few weeks with more news…maybe the weather will have warmed up by that time. Until then…

 
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Posted by on January 30, 2014 in Hiking, History, Railway, Research, Travel, Writing

 

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Oh, December…

Yep, December…what a fickle mistress you are! You can be warm and inviting, or frigid and heartless. Which one will you be this year? Sometimes you can’t make up your mind (though it seems like you are leaning a particular way), much like your name. Even though you are the last month of the year, we really know your name means otherwise. Despite all of this, I still do appreciate you; well, maybe without the double-digit negative temperatures! You bring with you a season of giving, happiness and holidays. And beyond that, comes a new year, an opportunity for renewal and new hope. So here’s to you and what may come!

So here we are in December…and none too soon. As you can tell, I haven’t really gotten back into the routine of writing; things are still pretty busy. This is unfortunately only my third post since July! My schedule is a bit better than it was, so most of the explanation behind my lack of writing is laziness, though I can say there is a bit of burnout as well. A lot has gone on since my last rant, so I’ll attempt to fill in the blanks here with as much brevity as possible.

I guess for starters, football season has been over for a month. It was another very successful campaign for our team, though we wished it would have ended differently. We finished third in the regular season, and upset the number two team in the semi-finals. So for the second time in three years, we advanced to the SSSAA (Superior Secondary Schools Athletic Association) Junior Football championship. Our competition would be our sister school, the St. Ignatius Falcons. The boys played hard, but unfortunately our season-long injury situation caught up with us (5 starters were out) and we fell 7-0.

Now you may be asking what I’m doing with all the extra time I have. Well, obviously it’s not writing! For the most part, the last several weeks have been about catching up on everything that had gone on the back-burner since September. It’s been a bit of a struggle, but I’m slowly making some headway, especially with my marking. I’m hoping to have pretty much all of my outstanding assignments cleared up before we break for Christmas.

One of the things that has been keeping me hopping is the preparations for our March break trip to Europe. We depart in 85 days! It’s hard to believe it’s coming up that quick. I know the kids are getting pretty excited, and though there’s some stress associated with the planning, I’m eager to go as well. I did manage to convince my wife to come along, even though she’s a very nervous flyer. It will be nice to share the experience with her.

The railway front has been fairly quiet as of late. With football and everything else going on, there hasn’t been a lot of time to devote to it. I did fit in a presentation a few weeks back to one of the local Gyro clubs, but that’s about it. Probably the biggest news is the forthcoming publication of my first article on the town of Leeblain. It just went to print last week, so hopefully I’ll have copies in my hands by the end of the month. Obviously I’m pretty excited to see the culmination of a lot of hard work!

I would imagine that the next few weeks will be about catching up on posting some of the pictures and video that I shot over the summer and fall and never was able to post on the net. I can’t believe that I’ve fallen that far behind. I did however receive some great photos via email. J.T. (James Thomas) Greer was a logging contractor that established a cutting operation along the railway during the winter of 1915-1916. His work along North and Gunflint Lakes during this period is an interesting chapter in the history of the railway. Several famous photos were taken of the train stuck in the snow on Iron Range Hill (the steepest grade on the line-2%) on its way to North Lake. I was sent two photos of this event from a relative of J.T. Greer; they make an awesome addition to my collection.

Stuck in the snow, Iron Range Hill, 1915-1916. (M. Wilson)

Stuck in the snow, Iron Range Hill, 1915-1916. (M. Wilson)

Stuck in the snow, Iron Range Hill, 1915-1916. (M. Wilson)

Stuck in the snow, Iron Range Hill, 1915-1916. (M. Wilson)

Anyway, it’s time to get rolling. As I mentioned in my intro, it seems as though December has made up its mind as to which way it is going. In the last week we’ve received a few big dumps of snow and now the temperature has dropped considerably (-40C with the wind at night). It certainly makes for an interesting start to winter. I’ll have more updates in the coming weeks. Until then…

Early winter snow, December 2013.

Early winter snow, December 2013.

 
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Posted by on December 11, 2013 in History, Miscellaneous, Railway, Writing

 

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So this is what Siberia feels like

If you’re old enough, you might remember hearing references being made to Siberia i.e. being sent to Siberia, or how cold it was in Siberia. Since I was born in the 70’s, I certainly have vivid recollections its mention. The Cold War was on and the Russians were the bad guys; I heard all about how they sent people to prison in Siberia and they never came back (or maybe that was just my mom threatening me). Since I had never been there, all I could do was envision what it was like. I imagined a cold, forbidding place, far removed from any vestiges of civilization. Today reminded me a lot of those younger days, but that’s a story for later.

So here we are in the last few days of classes before exams, which start on Thursday. I still haven’t completely caught up on my marking, but I’m getting there. Unfortunately I’ll be back to square one with three sets of exams and two sets of culminating activities to mark soon enough. Oh well, I guess that’s why they pay me the big bucks right?

The crazy thing in all of this is that the next semester has not started yet and it’s lining up to be even busier, at least in the beginning. I already have four days that I’m out of the classroom in February alone. One is for eLearning orientation (yes, I am doing an online class), one is for open house, another is for a department head meeting and the last is for our trip to the Glazier coaching clinic in Minneapolis (yes, we’re going back this year). I generally hate to be out of the classroom; it does mess with the continuity and it is more work for me to be away than to be there. However, most of it has to do with the fact that I am complete control freak with my classes and I like to do things my way!

Anyway, you’re probably wondering what’s with the title. If you guess I was alluding to the weather, you are correct. Remember a few weeks ago when it was +7C and rained? Ya, well that’s a distant memory. The last several days have been some of the coldest I’ve ever experienced; there might have been colder, but I don’t remember. Without a doubt it’s the coldest it’s ever been since I got married. How bad it is? Well I’ll tell ya.

So it started snowing on Friday…finally! And thank God for that, because things could have gotten ugly without any snow cover on the ground. It snowed all day Saturday and stopped in the evening. Sunday was pretty chilly, which made snow blowing the driveway quite wonderful. However, the worst was yet to come!

Falling snow, January 2013.

Falling snow, January 2013.

Yesterday was cold, damn cold. When I left work to pick up the kids, my truck almost didn’t start. It had been sitting in the parking lot exposed to the sub -30C wind-chill all day. On the second try it went, but felt like a block of ice the entire drive. The thermometer never moved from -28C and it was 3:30 in the afternoon! The temperature continued to drop, and by the time I went to bed it was -38C with the wind.

One of my morning routines immediately after getting up is to check the outside temperature (the wireless sensor is on the northwest side of the house). I was shocked to see it display -37.2C, by far the coldest I’ve ever recorded at my house in 10 years (it bottomed out at -37.8 by 7:00). When I got to work, the wind-chill was sitting at -45C! That’s kinda one of those unfathomable numbers…I may have stated earlier today that it was “stupid” cold. Funny thing is that it does even come close to breaking the all-time record, which was set at -41.1C. Brrrr!

Early morning temperature, January 2013.

Early morning temperature, January 2013.

-45 with the wind, January 2013.

-45 with the wind, January 2013.

Well, all this frigid weather means that there’s a lot of time spent inside, and that gave me chance to do some extra railway stuff. Most of it involved research, but I did do a little work in preparation for my upcoming presentation at Gunflint Lodge. The event has been confirmed for February 9th at 7:30pm (CST) at the Gunflint Lodge Conference Center. I’m pretty excited about the presentation and especially that I get to go to Gunflint to do it. Now I just need to convince my wife to come with me and enjoy a little break from the kids!

It had been a while since I stuck my nose in the computer and did some railway stuff other than writing. I always love the rush I get when I’m on the hunt…you’re still talking about historical research right Dave? Yup, and call me a nerd, but I find it exciting! Whether I’m out in the field or following a trail on the computer, nothing beats trying to locate the next clue. This is why this project is so amazing; I never get tired of discovering new things. It will be a sad day when I finish all my research.

Anyway, there have been a lot of great revelations. I’m not sure what started it all, but I did spend a lot of time looking at things on ancestry.ca. That site has been absolutely phenomenal for my line of work. Well worth the money. I think it started with my thinking about Leeblain, and specifically the customs house that operated at the eastern end of Gunflint Lake from 1903 to 1909. I looked up the two gentlemen who ran it, then moved on to Archie Bishop who owned a sawmill on North Lake circa 1911.

Somehow or other I ended up with a census record showing that certain key railway people were all boarding together in Port Arthur in 1891 (Alex Middleton, Richard Hazelwood and Ross Thompson). That then led me into a search of these gentlemen and then some. It was at this point I made interesting discovery.

George Middleton (Alexander’s brother), was a primary contractor of the railway along with prominent area politician James Conmee. While the railway was being constructed, the contractors had control of the line, and so Alexander served two terms as president (and chief engineer) in 1890 to 1891. He was eventually succeeded in his role as chief engineer by Richard Hazelwood. Hazelwood as it turns out, thanks to Ancestry, is George’s brother-in-law. Nothing like a bit of nepotism!

My next mission is to try and track down pictures of these people, which doesn’t look to be an easy task. Maybe Ancestry will come to the rescue again…fingers crossed! Speaking of pictures, I just received three pictures I ordered from Library and Archives Canada today. One is of a locomotive, which may help in solving our engine mystery. The others show a construction camp and workers loading logs; now I’ve got more work to do trying to figure out where they were taken!

Anyway, time to finish my marking. Hopefully be next week it will be a tad bit warmer. Until then…

 
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Posted by on January 22, 2013 in History, Miscellaneous, Railway, Research, Writing

 

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Who came up with that one?

So I actually Googled Auld Lang Syne as for years I’ve always wondered what the heck it meant. “Old long since” or “long, long ago”…who would have thunk it? I didn’t know it was based on a Robbie Burns poem either. Then again I’m not up on my 18th century Scottish literature; I should get on that. While I’m at it, I’ll finish all those books on my reading list and write a bunch of history articles!

All kidding aside, it is a new year. Welcome to 2013! Let’s hope that the thirteenth year of this new millennium is a good one. I know that I have a lot to be thankful for and I really want this to be another great year. However, like everyone else out there, my first big challenge for the next few weeks is going to be not writing the date “2012” on everything!

Once again my New Years was low-key, but that’s to be expected with young kids in the house. We had some friends and their kids over, ate the traditional Chinese food dinner and let the kids stay up to 10 o’clock. Certainly makes for some nicely wired children! It’s all good though; I can barely make it to midnight, let alone party the night away like when I was 21. After just celebrating my (ugh) 39th birthday, I’ll have to content myself with little victories!

The past week has been very relaxing and enjoyable. I forgot how nice it is not to go to work! Christmas Day was a bit chaotic, but that’s to be expected. The kids tried to wake up at 5am, so we had to remind them that 7:00 was the approved time; too bad I couldn’t fall back asleep after that. My wife and I usually don’t exchange gifts for Christmas, but fortunately the boys had some things that I could play with too. We decided to buy them an Xbox Kinect this year as we thought it was a system that would get them moving and was family friendly. It is funny how sore you can get playing interactive boxing against a 5 year old!

The only sour note has been the weather. It was so mild before Christmas that this little cold snap we’ve been experiencing is a bit disconcerting. I must be getting soft though, because it wasn’t even that cold; minus 20 is not really that cold! The biggest problem is that the cold temperatures, coupled with the lack of snow, really takes away a lot of outdoor options. We wanted to go tobogganing yesterday afternoon, but it was just way too cold with the wind chill. Things are supposed to warm up a bit (-6ish) in the next few days and we’re supposed to get some more snow. I really hope it happens so we can start doing our traditional weekend walks up the mountain.

Trail, Norwester Mountains, December 2012.

Trail, Norwester Mountains, December 2012.

With all the free time I’ve had over the break I was able to get a lot of railway related work done. I even did some research! I can’t remember what I was looking for, but I happened to come across an old map which has been a great source of information. I written on many occasions how the digitization of information has transformed historical research and I cannot say enough good things about it.

The information on the website stated it was from 1926, but on the date on the map was 1917. It shows the area of Lake and Cook Counties in northeastern Minnesota, as well as portions of the Canadian border area, so it is of huge value to me. I was able get some great information from it, both for my research and for my efforts with the Silver Mountain Historical Society.

This map is part of the collection held at the Cook County Historical Museum in Grand Marais, Minnesota. The museum is one of the institutions that has been very helpful to me over the years. My first contact with the CCHM was back in 1997 and then director Pat Zankman. Pat and I spent a lot of time pouring over old documents and sharing information. I had not been to the museum in over ten years when I met Pat there this past July; it was great to catch up with her and see what was new in their collections and displays. I would certainly recommend a visit next time you’re through Grand Marais.

Cook County Museum, July 2012.

Cook County Museum, July 2012.

Most of my railway time however was devoted to work on my Leeblain article. I actually was able to do a lot of writing…I’ve very proud of myself. Even though I still have quite a bit to go, I added another four and a half pages of information and I’m up to about 3400 words! The biggest challenge by far has been to decide what to include and what to leave out, as this is just an essay and not a book. It is very tough though, as you want to make sure everything makes sense. In any case I am getting a ton of experience with writing, formatting and documenting historic papers; it will certainly serve me well in the future. Now I have to figure out how to make a cool looking homemade map!

Anyway, I think it’s time to wrap things up…I have an article to finish! I’m going to try and enjoy the rest of the week before its back to work next week. Until then…Happy New Years!

 
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Posted by on January 1, 2013 in Hiking, History, Miscellaneous, Research, Writing

 

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