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Stress is a bad thing right?

Stress [stres]- is a response to environmental pressures or demands (“stressors”), in particular when we feel they are a threat to our coping strategies or well-being. Well, the clinical definition certainly makes it appear a lot better than it actually is, but unfortunately, as we all know, it’s not. People everywhere are either thriving from it, managing it or floundering in it. And the worst kind, mental stress, just doesn’t go away very easily. Dealing with the stress in our lives can be one of the most important things we do.

So, on that gloomy note, what’s stressing you out Dave? Well, I guess the answer would be what isn’t stressing me out. I can tell you for one, it’s not the weather. We’ve officially made it to spring, which is a very good thing and for the most part, it’s been decent month. There’s been a few hiccups here and there, but I am really looking forward to the day all the snow goes, hopefully sooner than later.

Now, I usually complain how busy things are and how tired I am, but lately it has become nuts. The source of a lot of my anxiety is work, more so than usual. What’s the deal you ask? Partly the everyday stuff-classes, marking, you know. However, we are less than two weeks away from our trip to Europe and there are so many little (and big things to worry about).

We had our last parent meeting on Tuesday, and yesterday I spent almost half an hour Skyping with our Tour Director Jason on some details of the trip. We have a few more student meetings coming up before we leave and I need to start the process of packing. The “big stressor” though, is something that is completely out of my control. For security purposes, anyone attending the ceremony had to register with Veterans Affairs Canada who is running the event. We did have some issues with the registration process, but now only 2 of the 26 in our group have received the entry tickets. They were supposed to be sent out by the 21st, but apparently due to computer issues, they are delayed. The revised date in now early next week, which is cutting it close to our departure date. Once they all arrive, and I have them printed out, I will feel much better.

I must say that I am getting excited for our journey in spite of all the issues. The kids are getting very pumped up too, though I can imagine there are some nerves as well. For many, this will be their first trip away from home without their parents. For 11 days, I am “in loco parentis,” which makes me nervous! Amsterdam, Ypres, Vimy, Beaumont Hamel, Normandy and Paris…it’s all going to be great. Having visited many of these places before, I can’t really decide what is my favourite. If I had to choose though, I would certainly say Ypres; I specifically asked to visit the city after our stop at Tyne Cot Cemetery in Passchendaele. It is such a beautiful and historic place. As I have done in the past, I will attempt to blog everyday on the trip. I’ll also be posting updates to social media, so you can follow us on Facebook and Twitter as well.

EF Backpack and Jacket, March 2017.

With all of the school-related things going on, my railway work seems to be a bit of an afterthought. However, I’m still plugging away on the book, albeit more slowly. I have nearly six chapters done, totalling some 18,000+ words. As I have described before, it is a challenge at times. Sometimes I’m on a roll and the words just fly onto the pages. and other times I can stare at the screen and barely manage a few sentences. I think part of my struggle of late has been that the subjects of the chapters have become more complex, which requires me to spend more time revising and clarifying my outline. I just need to remind myself that there is not a huge rush and even Rome was not built in a day.

With the onset of spring, my thoughts have also drifted towards the upcoming hiking season. I still have a number of field work sessions that I need to complete, in particular my plan to locate the final pieces of the Gunflint & Lake Superior grade. I am scheduled to do this during the Victoria Day long weekend, which seems like a long-way away, but will be here before I know it. I do have a few others to complete, but this is the important one which will help my finalize details for the book. Hopefully the weather will cooperate and keep things fairly dry to let do what I need to do.

Anyway, I better get rolling. Lots of things to do. I’ll be back right before we leave for Europe with my final thoughts on the trip. Until then…

 
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Posted by on March 24, 2017 in History, Railway, Travel, Writing

 

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Powering through the doubt

We have all felt it. You may not be feeling it now, but it is there. Nagging. Gnawing. Festering. To not feel it is to be not human; it is unescapable. Some feel it more than others…some are better at hiding it than others. Some thrive on it, while others are consumed by it. It is one little word, but it can massive repercussions. I have felt a lot of it lately, but I’m determined that it not get the best of me.

Hey kids, it’s been a while. It’s hard to believe my last post was a month and a half ago. I had very good intentions of posting weeks ago, but life kept getting in the way…I hate when that happens. Anyway, I am still alive, though insanely busy, but what else is new right? Well, I guess there is a lot that is “new,” which is why I am so busy.

So what’s keeping me occupied you ask? The usual I guess; work, family, breathing, research…the usual stuff. School has definitely been the big one of late. We are a month into the new semester and it feels like I’ve been at it forever. It’s hard to believe we’re almost at March break, though I’m not sure it has all been fun. The last few days in particular have been rough, with open house, an early release day and interim reports. Thank Jesus for the break!

One of the things keeping me occupied at school has been the upcoming trip to Europe. In just over a month, we will be departing on our exciting tour of Europe for the 100th anniversary of the Battle of Vimy Ridge. The trip will take us to several places in the Netherlands, Belgium and France. The planning for the trip began almost 3 years ago, and it’s hard to believe it’s almost upon us. Yesterday our fancy tour jackets arrived from EF, and today I was contacted by our Tour Director Jason (he’ll be the guy taking us around). The kids are getting very excited for the journey, and so am I, though tempered with the stress that comes with it. I’ll be sharing more information in my pre-departure post.

On the steps of the Vimy Memorial, March 2014.

On the steps of the Vimy Memorial, March 2014.

It’s funny that our last tour, back in March of 2014, was a welcome relief from the awful weather we were experiencing that year. This time it’s not really an issue. Actually, the weather has been pretty good for Thunder Bay standards; it has been very mild, at times even crazy warm, like +8C, +10C. Even today, which is one the colder days we’ve had recently, was -8C. So I’m not complaining, unless we pay for this some how in the summer.

Things have been very busy on the railway front over the past few months. When I last wrote, I was a few days away from a major presentation at the Thunder Bay Museum. I was very worried about how it would go, but despite my fears, it was fantastic. I played to a full house! I didn’t actually count all the people that were there, but it had to be over 40. We had to keep fetching more and more chairs to accommodate all the people. As far as I could tell, the crowd really enjoyed the lecture and hopefully it will lead to interest in the Pigeon River Lumber Company and the Gunflint & Lake Superior Railroad when I finish my book.

Now speaking of the book, I am still plugging away at it. As of today, I have completed the better part of 5 of the planned 9 to 10 chapters, which is a decent amount of work. It hasn’t always been easy; there have been times that I really have struggled getting words down on the screen. Writers block? I can’t be entirely sure, as I’ve never written a book before. Some of it, as the title of this post reflects, is a bit of self-doubt. I really wonder at times if it is interesting, makes sense or is even readable. I think my research is sound, I’m just worried if I’m doing a good job putting it together. Lots doubts and questions. However, I’ve come this far and I can’t let that deter me. Sometimes you just must put your head down, power through and hope for the best. I guess I’ll have to see what people think when I’m all done.

Anyway, I should get rolling. Thursday is usually one of my writing nights, so I’d like to get a bit of work done before it’s time for bed. I’ll be back with more news and updates soon, likely before I leave on the trip. Until then…

 
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Posted by on March 2, 2017 in History, Railway, Research, Travel, Writing

 

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The Scary First Step…

Space, the final frontier. These are the voyages…oops, wrong blog! Or is it? Not very many people have gone into space, but most us have done what was described in the opening of Star Trek-venturing into the unknown. And while not quite on the same plane as space exploration, our personal journeys are no less imposing and challenging. As well, these personal experiences can generate just as much angst and stress. But we know that without these experiences, we would not grow and mature as people.

Hey, welcome to 2017 kids! It’s a new year, with new challenges and new opportunities. As usual, things are no less busy than they were in 2016. The school semester is winding down, so there are always a million things going on. Next week we will be into exams and soon thereafter we’ll start all over again with a new semester. Hopefully I’ll be able to manage all the stress without burning out too much.

One of the things that is keep me busy of late is planning our upcoming school trip to Europe. If you read this blog regularly, you’ll know that I’ll be leading 23 students to the Netherlands, Belgium and France for the 100th anniversary commemorations of the Battle of Vimy Ridge in April. We’ve been planning this for nearly 3 years now and it’s hard to believe it’s almost here. I just received our flight information, which makes it all too real. Things are going to get a little crazier as we move closer to our date of departure. You can read more about the trip here.

Beny-sur-Mer Canadian War Cemetery, March 2014.

Beny-sur-Mer Canadian War Cemetery, March 2014.

I guess I would be remiss if I didn’t say something about the weather, which is one of my usual things to rant about. So how has the weather been Dave? Well, how about crazy as usual? It’s all over the place, ranging from low of -30C last week, to highs above 0 this week. Hey, I’m not complaining, but it makes it awfully difficult to get to use to things when there are thirty degree swings in temperature. No climate change huh?

In a break with what has been happening over the past few months, I have done a lot of work on the railway front recently. My goal for the new year was to begin writing my planned book on the Gunflint & Lake Superior Railroad. I’ve never written a book before; the closest I’ve ever come was my recent article on Leeblain for the Thunder Bay Historical Museum Society’s Papers and Records (which, by the way, is now available online). The whole idea is very scary and very intimidating. I am very much out of my element…research is definitely my forte.

Surprisingly, despite my fears, things have gone relatively well. In just over a week of writing, I’ve managed to complete about a chapter and a half. Now, this is not saying that I’m the next Ernest Hemingway and there are Pulitzer Prizes in my future. All I can do my best and hope it turns out well. I have a lot more to write, plus I still have some research and field work to complete. Then I have to convince someone, hopefully the TBHMS, to publish it. I’m not sure when I’ll be finished, but I already have another project lined up.

Speaking of the Gunflint & Lake Superior, I’ll have to take a break from my writing next week to deliver a lecture at the Thunder Bay Museum on this topic. It will be the Canadian debut of this presentation and there appears to be a number of people planning to attend. Hopefully it will generate interest in the book and facilitate its publication.

Anyway, I better go. It’s still early and I can get some more writing done. I’ll be back in a few weeks with all the latest news. Until then…

 
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Posted by on January 18, 2017 in History, Railway, Research, Writing

 

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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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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…

 

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

 

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He’s almost here!

Who? You know silly! He shows up every year around this time; the big, fat, jolly guy! Can we say fat anymore…is that too politically incorrect? Metabolically challenged better? Maybe he’s like the guy from the Rudolph animated show that gains like a pile of weight for December 25-“eat papa eat, no one likes a skinny Santa!” In any case, we’ll be eagerly anticipating his arrival at our house; I’m sure the boys will be on the Santa Tracker this afternoon watching his progress.

The Christmas season has brought with it a welcome respite from work; it has been an insanely busy year since September. Every year I say how much busier it has been compared to the previous year and this time it was no different. I’ve already been able to spend some time relaxing and hanging out with the family and I look forward to doing more of that during the next couple of weeks.

One of the things keeping me occupied during the fall was football, and this year I received a very special surprise when the season ended. On November 19 a very unusual email (and tweet) showed up in my inbox; I had been selected as one of the ten finalists for the NFL Canada Youth Coach of the Year. I was totally shocked…I didn’t even know I was nominated! Turns out one of my fellow coaches, Shaun Berst, wrote a very flattering email that helped me earn the nod. In the end I was not the winner ($5000 for your football program), nor one of the two runners up, but I was honoured to be one of the finalists nonetheless. I coach because I enjoy it and try to make a difference our youth. Besides, in a hockey crazy town like Thunder Bay, it’s nice to get people thinking about some other sports for a change!

On the field, October 2014. (J. Mirabelli Photography)

On the field, October 2014. (J. Mirabelli Photography)

In other school related news, the pieces are beginning to fall into place for our 2017 trip to Europe. From our first student meeting in early October to now, we have come a long way in a short period of time. There are now 21 students enrolled on the trip, with a few more on a waiting list. We are hoping that our tour company, EF, can land us a larger bus so we can take those extra few students with us. Even though we are more than 800 days away from the trip, the excitement is building. Our tour will bring us together with thousands of other high school for this monumental event in Canadian history.

So with things having returned somewhat to normal, I’ve been trying to get back to some railway related matters. Interestingly enough, I’ve received a couple of emails in the last week that have helped me with that endeavour.

The first was a tweet rather than an email, but important nonetheless. The anniversary of Alexander Middleton’s birthday, who was the chief engineer and briefly president of the PAD&W, sparked some interest in his native Scotland. A number of back and forths later I had some new information about Middleton’s past before he began work on the railway.

A few days later I received another inquiry, this time related to my work on Leeblain. There is very little information about what occurred during its existence, but I may have gained a little more insight. The only know person to live at Leeblain was one Adolphe Perras, who previously operated a hotel in Port Arthur. The email I received from a lady in Winnipeg, who is descendant of Perras, has me looking in some new directions and might even lead to a photo of him.

While I’m away from school for a few weeks, I’m going to try and get back to some work on the Gunflint and Lake Superior Railroad. I still have quite a number of files (rather photos) from the Arpin Papers to transcribe, which I’ve started to pluck away at again. I’ve done a little digging on the internet, but I’m planning to get to the Thunder Bay Museum next week to do a little “ole fashioned” research.

Anyway, I gotta run, as there as is a lot to do before the big day. I wish everyone a Merry Christmas and joyous New Year. I’ll be back in 2015 with more news and ramblings. Until then…

 

 
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Posted by on December 24, 2014 in History, Railway, Research, Travel

 

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Man I’m tired…

Is that straight forward enough? I figured I’d get to the point and not tiptoe around the issue. It’s like stupid tired at this point. Too blunt maybe? Well, frankly I don’t really care. I’m sitting here right now at 9pm and I feel like going to bed. My eyes are heavy and my contacts feel like glue. It’s a struggle to concentrate and organize my thoughts. So what’s the story morning glory? Read on…

If you’re thinking it’s been a while since you’ve heard from me, you’d be correct. It’s been a very, very busy fall; hence the reason why I’m so tired. We are now into November and I can’t believe how quickly the last two months have flown by. What a blur!

If you’ve read this blog before you know that this time of year is the craziest for me with work and football. But some respite is on the horizon, and none too soon. Minor football is done for the year, so I’m no longer doing double and triple duty coaching. No championships for either of the boys, but I know they had a lot of fun on their respective teams. Next year they are both moving up, with Ethan going on the PeeWee and Noah stepping up to Atom.

Tomorrow is the last day of high school football as well; for the third time in four years we are playing in the championship game. We finished the regular season at 4-1, and defeated Hammarskjold in Tuesday’s semi-final game to make it this far. We are playing our sister school St. Ignatius for the second year in a row, who accounted for our only loss of the season. It’s supposed to be -5C with 30-50kph winds…wish us luck!

Besides the regular grind of work, the other thing keeping me busy is planning another trip to Europe. In 2017 Canada will be marking the 100th anniversary of the Battle of Vimy Ridge. Our board has graciously allowed us to go on the excursion and join the thousands of other Canadians who will be there. There has been a lot of interest in the trip and the toughest part is going to be selecting the lucky 21 who will make the trip. Departure in 881 days!

As you can imagine with the insanity that is my life I have not had a lot of time to devote to railway stuff. I have spent a little bit of time here and there doing some research or transcribing notes, but nothing major. Once things slow down a bit I’ll be back at it. However I did have the opportunity a few weeks ago to take a break from the grind and spend some time doing fieldwork. I also got to spend some quality time with the boys on Canadian Thanksgiving weekend…two of the things I’m most thankful for. This trip would be my second visit this year with my good friend John at the Cross River Lodge on Gunflint Lake.

The purpose of this expedition to the bush was to take a look at portions of the Gunflint and Lake Superior Railroad, much as I had done in the summer. Before that, I had last been on the G&LS back in 1997, which was a very long time ago. Much has changed since then, especially after the 1999 blowdown and 2007 Ham Lake fire. There were also sections of this railroad that I had never been on, and that did not appear on any maps, so I would be heading into some real unchartered territory.

It was supposed to be a beautiful weekend, so I decided to take the day off on Friday so we would have almost three full days of hiking. After a brief stop in Grand Marais for some food, we arrived at the lodge by 9am local time. A short time later our gear was stored and we were on our way across the lake. If there was only one complaint from the weekend was how windy it was on the lake. It is a 10 km ride to the east side of the lake and the wind it a rough and chilly ride. With extra layers, gloves and a toque, I felt like I was going to Siberia!

The objective of the first day’s hike was to explore about a kilometre’s worth line along the south shore of the lake. We beached the boat at the same backcountry campsite we used on our previous visit in August and proceeded up and over the ridge between the lake and the grade. The trek was much easier this time with the cooler temperatures and the lack of underbrush. A few minutes and 90 metres later we were standing on the grade. It was much warmer and less windy away from the lake, so we had to take a moment to shed a layer to keep from overheating.

We would first head east along the former right of way, a distance of about 400 metres, which would take us to a point just south of the former logging camp. Here we would have to turn back, as approximately 50 metres of grade has been submerged by a rather large beaver pond. The journey west would cover almost 900 metres, a walk highlighted by the beautiful fall folage.

A few metres west of our original starting point resides one of the great locations along the whole G&LS. On my 1997 trip I discovered a spot where a section of rails had been left in place; in August the boys and I re-acquired these rails and marked them on the GPS. These 40lb. rails had been purchased from the Illinois Steel Company in the spring of 1905 and are marked “Illinois Steel Co. Union 92 IX.” The absence of foliage made the couple sections of rail in this area a bit more visible than they were in the past.

A short walk further west brought to another section of rails that we had discovered back in August. These rails were unique as they were clearly part of a junction that formed a spur or siding. The ties are gone, but very visible are the metal spacers/separators for the rails. Working back east, I was able to determine that this was the western end of a siding. It is not indicated on the International Boundary Commission map which was surveyed in 1911, but it is very clear from the grading work on the ground. With a very steep ridge just south of this location, it makes perfect sense to have a siding in this spot to shunt loaded log cars in preparation for the trip over to North Lake.

Rails, Gunflint Lake, October 2014.

Rails, Gunflint Lake, October 2014.

Beyond the junction the incline of the grade grows increasingly noticeable as it passes through a cutting on a small hill before it turns south alongside the Crab River. To climb the large ridges south of Gunflint Lake, the railroad used the small hill to gain elevation. Instead of constructing an elaborate trestle to bridge the valley between the hill and the ridge, the engineers filled the chasm with corduroyed logs until they had the necessary angle and topped it all with gravel. This expedient structure was built around 1905 and lasted for 102 years. I was in awe when I saw it back in 1997, these stacked logs towering over my head. I would still be there today had it not been for the 2007 Ham Lake fire. The corduroyed logs, possibly soaked in creosote, were burned and stubbornly smoldered throughout the winter of 2007-2008. Afraid of potential flare-ups, the US Forest Service had to dynamite the trestle in March 2008.

Log Trestle, Gunflint Lake, October 2014.

Log Trestle, Gunflint Lake, October 2014.

The boys and I climbed 75 metres over the remains of the trestle and headed southward through the rock cut that had been blasted into the top of the ridge. After another 125 metres we arrived where the Border Route Trail intersects the railroad grade. We decided to follow the trail westward over the Crab River and then took the short branch to the north that bring you to Bridal Falls.

After heading back to the boat, it was across the lake to the lodge; unfortunately the wind had picked up and was now howling from the northwest. We absolutely froze on the ride, me more so as my face was being pelted by spray as I attempted to cut the whitecaps. It took me quite a while to warm up afterwards!

The next day we were up bright and early, and after the boys had (second) breakfast at the lodge, we started toward the east side of the lake again. It was already windy by the time we left, so I knew it was not going to be a pleasant ride back. Our task for the day was to follow the grade along the Crab River southward to Crab Lake. It would not be an easy walk, as there are very few traces of the railroad beyond Bridal Falls.

We left the boat on the shore of a small bay and walked the 500 metres of trail to the falls. From there we picked up the branch of the Border Route Trail that took us back above the falls. Our journey would be further complicated by a discovery we had made the day before; since my visit in July, beavers had dammed the river above the falls, flooding the grade for an unknown distance. I had to leave the boys for a few minutes while I probed for a way around the flooding. It took us an extra 100 metres of walking to detour around the pond, but eventually we got back on track.

Rock cut, Gunflint Lake, October 2014.

Rock cut, Gunflint Lake, October 2014.

Back on the grade, we followed the line south for another 140 metres before we reached another swampy area. The boys waited at the edge while I tried vainly to see if I could find any traces of the grade. After a little bit of wandering around I decided to see if the I could find something closer to river; big mistake! My misplaced step put me up to my knees in freezing cold water, which instantly flooded my rubber boots. The boys thought it was rather amusing as I sat on a rock and poured muddy water from my boots and attempted to wring out my sodden wool socks.

With the route of the grade in doubt, we found a trail that would take us southeast to a small lake formed by a bend in the river and cut out about 300 metres of walking (it was already getting tough on the boys). When we arrived at the lake I left the boys to eat a snack while I hiked westward along the shore of the lake to see if there were any traces of the grade. I walked about 120 metres and in two places found what appeared to be corduroyed logs sitting just below the surface of the water. Collecting the boys, we headed east and then south along the shore for another 200 metres.

Where the lake narrowed back into a river we saw evidence of what appeared to be blasting work through some rock for about 90 metres. A short distance later we passed through a small cutting and then reached Crab Lake. The boys sat and ate their lunches while I pushed further ahead a little bit along the shore. I was pretty sure I was on top of the grade, but there was no way I could drag the boys another 800 metres to the other end of the lake…it was time to head back.

Cutting, Crab Lake, October 2014.

Cutting, Crab Lake, October 2014.

We stopped briefly at Bridal Falls so I could take some photos of this very breathtaking cataract. I first saw the falls (also known as Bridal Veil Falls) back in 1997 and I have been back several times over the years. The boys were anxious to get back, so we didn’t linger very long, but I was able to get a few good shots.

Bridal Falls, Gunflint Lake, October 2014.

Bridal Falls, Gunflint Lake, October 2014.

The wind was howling again on the lake, this time much stronger from the west. Gunflint Lake is surrounded by high ridges on both sides of the lake and is oriented in an east-west direction. With a maximum depth over 200 feet and no features to impede the wind, it can become downright nasty when the wind is from the west. Poor Noah had the bumpiest ride of his life as we battled the whitecaps across the lake; I was very glad to finally make it back to the lodge!

I had promised the boys we would go “out” for supper one evening and Saturday was that day. After a wonderful shower in our room, we headed over to the Gunflint Lodge. We stopped for a quick hike along part of the Border Route Trail, which affords a spectacular view of the lake, especially the Gunflint Narrows. The meal at the lodge was fantastic; based on our previous experiences on portion size the boys split a triple-decker club between them. Dad opted for the Royal Trifecta, which on paper seems like a coronary waiting to happen. But since I walked 4.5 km cross-country and didn’t eat much, I demolished the hogie bun layered with ham, pulled pork and bacon with a great amount of gusto. It was delicious!

Gunflint Lake, October 2014.

Gunflint Lake, October 2014.

Our last day of hiking was “supposed” to be easier than the previous one, but as usual it didn’t turn out that way. The plan was to head north along the grade from the site of Camp 4 to where it crossed a creek, a distance of 1.5 km. Unfortunately the route proved much more difficult to negotiate than I anticipated, with a lot of deadfall from the blowdown and fire impeding our progress.

As with the previous days, it was quite cool on the lake, but we were forced shed layers on the walk, even though we were a short distance from the shore. We were forced to zigzag our way along the grade, climbing over or under fallen trees and chopping at branches in our path. We only made it about 400 metres before we turned back, since I knew the boys would not be able to handle the breaking trail work much longer.

Rock cut, Gunflint Lake, October 2014.

Rock cut, Gunflint Lake, October 2014.

On our way back, we came across a solitary rail just a few metres north of where Camp 4 was located. I tried to find some markings on it, but it was too badly worn. These rails, from the main line of the PAD&W to the camp, were originally laid by Canadian Northern crews in the fall of 1902. Afterwards the boys went back to the boat for lunch while I spent some time poking around the site of Camp 4 and shooting some video. I’ll have to get back at some point and see if I can turn up anything new or interesting.

After the boys had “recharged” with some food, we were going to finish the day by hiking from Camp 4 approximately 350 metres to where the grade is flooded by the beaver pond. Most of it was fairly easy to follow, though it does get a bit sketchy were the grade meets the dam and beyond. When we reached the eastern side of the flooded cutting we had hiked to on Friday it was time to turn back.

Cutting, Gunflint Lake, October 2014.

Cutting, Gunflint Lake, October 2014.

The next morning we headed home bright and early (and of course the lake was nice and calm). It was Thanksgiving that day so we had to give mom a hand getting dinner and the house ready for our guests. Hopefully the boys remember these expeditions when they get older…I told them they could tell their kids about their grandfather and his crazy hikes. I know I will cherish these times forever.

Anyway, I better get rolling; I have a an early morning and a very busy day tomorrow. I promise not to wait another two months for my next post. Until then…

 

 

 

 
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Posted by on November 7, 2014 in Hiking, History, Railway, Writing

 

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