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Hello burnout, my old friend!

Hello burnout, my old friend!

I’ve come to talk with you again? Well, it would appear so. I don’t know if I ever thought I could adapt the words to a Simon and Garfunkel song to this blog, but alas here we are. It’s rather appropriate given the current situation, however. There are definitely no sounds of silence here though.

Well, it’s been quite a while, but I’m back kids! I usually never intend to go this much time in between posts, but unfortunately life typically has something to say about that. When I last wrote, we weren’t even a month into the school year. Now, thanks to the rapid movement of time, we are midway through November. Craziness! It’s hard to believe that Christmas is just over 5 weeks away. It’s been a struggle to keep abreast of things at work during this time, which is one of the reasons I feel the way I do.

Speaking of struggling with life, football season is finally over. I know that doesn’t sound very positive, but it can be exhausting and stressful. Don’t get me wrong however, I love every moment of it. Coaching two teams puts a lot on your plate, but I was blessed to be able to work with two fantastic groups of kids. The icing on the cake was the results. Noah’s minor team, the Marauders, upset the number one team to capture the bantam championship. Our high school team, which Ethan was a member of, went undefeated and for the first time ever in our school’s history, won back-to-back championships. After all of that, I feel like I can finally breathe again!

TBMFA Bantam Champs, October 2019.

SSSAA Junior Football Champs, November 2019.

SSSAA Trophy, November 2019.

One of the biggest challenges the fall brought with it was the weather. Man, we had a crappy fall! It rained a lot, and then it got cold. I know I gripe constantly about it, but it was not pretty compared years past. If I thought it was bad with the rain, the temperature drop was worse. Our last week of high school practice was one of the worst I’ve ever experienced in 20 years of coaching, with wind chills pushing the mercury into the mid minus teen range. It was brutal! Made me regularly think of the line from the Lethal Weapon movies, “I’m too old for this s@#t!”

So, with all of this going on, you’d think it was a quiet time for any railway work. However, the reality is quite to the contrary. Between my annual trip to Gunflint and a few other field trips, I was able to get out 4 times late September and October. Truth be told, it was a nice break from the grind and a stress reliever.

My boys had been asking if we were going to do any hunting this fall. I had not been hunting since 2016, which ironically was the last time I had been to one of my favourite railway locations, North Lake. So, I thought I could kill two birds with one stone…literally. It wasn’t a particularly nice day, but it I appreciated the opportunity, nonetheless. I forgot how much I love the area, and I made a few new discoveries along the way, a telegraph pole and a steel rail. The best part was Ethan bagged his first two partridge (grouse), using my dad’s venerable 1952 Mossberg .410 shotgun, the same gun I learned to hunt with as well.

Telegraph pole, North Lake, ON October 2019.

Steel Rail, North Lake, ON September 2019.

A week later we were back in the bush, this time in a much different location. A friend had promised to show me around parts of the Grand Trunk Pacific (GTP) grade near Dona Station in Kaministiquia. The boys were with me and we started our day hiking the grade south of Highway 102 at and beyond the concrete bridge I explored back in early September. Afterwards, we met up with Perry who took us to the site of Dona Station (MP 168.6) on the banks of the Kaministiquia (Kam) River. There’s nothing left of the station, but the concrete base of the water tower is still there, several metres south of where the line crossed the river. At the crossing, three concrete piers are all that remain of the 350-foot bridge that once spanned Kam. This section was abandoned in 1924 when the line was re-routed following the merger between the Canadian Northern and Grand Trunk systems.

Water Tank, Dona Station, ON October 2019.

Bridge piers on the Kaministiquia, Dona Station, ON October 2019.

Later that day we explored more of the line further west near Ellis and Flett stations. The highlight was a quick visit to the bridge over the Mattawin River that lies between Dona and Ellis. This bridge was part of the new line that was opened in 1924 and abandoned in 1994. I had not been there since 1997ish, but I plan to revisit this spot next year when I have more time to look around.

Mattawin River Bridge, Conmee, ON October 2019.

Mattawin River Bridge, Conmee, ON October 2019.

CN-GTP Junction, Conmee, ON October 2019.

Usually one of the highlights of the fall for me is our boys’ weekend at Gunflint, which we’ve been doing since 2013. I was a bit concerned in the days leading into the weekend as the weather was not expected to be great (ironically it was fantastic during the week). I really look forward to the down time and the opportunity to spend some time with the boys, so we went ahead with it anyway.

It rained on Thursday night and early Friday morning, which caused me to delay our departure by a few hours. After stopping for supplies in Grand Marais, we arrived at the lodge by 11am. By that time it has stopped raining, but the weather was not particularly nice. I was supposed to do a little presentation at the lodge at 5:30, so I decided that we should at least try and do a few things before then.

The boat ride across the lake was rather chilly, but not terrible. Our destination was the site of the corduroy trestle and rock cut of the Gunflint & Lake Superior Railroad near Bridal Falls. It was a bit damp, but otherwise okay. I managed to shoot some video of the grade, but we had to head back before I could take some photos of the falls. I figured we’d be back the next day anyway. The presentation at the lodge was well attended and gave me a chance to catch up with some old acquaintances.

Unfortunately, mother nature decided to spoil my party on Saturday. I awoke to a dusting of snow on the ground and some flurries in the morning; not to be dissuaded by this feeble attempt at an early winter, I figured we would still be able to get some work done that day. My hopes were dashed however after a rather chilly boat ride, for there was quite a bit of snow accumulation at the east end of the lake, so much so there was no point in trying to do anything. Sadly, the boat ride back was even worse, as the wind and snow had picked up considerably.

Gunflint Lake, October 2019.

After a wasted day on Saturday, I was really holding out hope for Sunday. The big event of the weekend was that I was supposed to meet USFS archaeologist Greg Heide for a visit to Camp 8 so we could begin documenting that site. The weather let me down again, however. After hearing about significant snowfall east of Gunflint (mid-Gunflint Trail was reporting 12”), I decided to do a little reconnaissance, a recce (pronounced rekke) in Canadian military parlance, of the area on Saturday before we went to dinner. What a disaster! The area was covered in a thick blanket of snow which clearly would not melt before the next morning. After several years of trying to get an archaeologist into Camp 8, I had to regrettably contact Greg and call the visit off.

So now that the primary purpose of my visit had been crushed by the weather, I had to figure out what to do on Sunday. I reasoned that it was snowy to the east, so we could take a walk along the PAD&W grade to the west. It had been 5 years since I had hiked this portion of the railway, so it would be great to reacquaint myself. Well, I had again underestimated the snow. Clearly the lake near the lodge had moderate the weather there, so there was a lot more snow than I anticipated. It was snowy and sloppy along the trail, soaking parts of our clothing. But, as the saying goes, a crappy day in the bush is better than a good day at work!

Paulson Mine, October 2019.

Centennial Trail, October 2019.

Rock cut, Round Lake, MN October 2019.

Rock cut, Round Lake, MN October 2019.

Following the postponement of the visit to Camp 8, Greg and I stayed in touch. With temperatures returning to normal, we hoped to do a one-day trip the next Sunday. Unfortunately, due to time constraints, we had to cancel again. The question now was what to do that day, which promised to be a good one. I figured let’s kill two birds with one stone…again!

Ethan and I headed out early on a crisp and sunny morning to North Lake. The birds were definitely out that day, and we bagged our limit. Compared to the previous weekend, it was an amazing day in the bush. It was warm, with little wind that made the lake almost like glass. It certainly reminded me how much I love that area and love being in the outdoors. Made me think a lot about doing the same thing with my dad when I was Ethan’s age…I hope he treasurers the memories like I do.

Rock cut, North Lake, ON October 2019.

A boy and his dog, North Lake, ON October 2019.

Rock cut, North Lake, ON October 2019.

Trestle Bay, North Lake, ON October 2019.

Anyway, it’s time to move along. As things start to return to normal, I’ll be back into the book writing mode soon enough as I want to try to finish most of this book during the winter. I will be back before Christmas with the latest news and info. Until then…

 
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Posted by on November 16, 2019 in Hiking, History, Railway

 

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‘Tis the Season

Huh, are you sure you have the right season Dave? It’s September, not December! Well, as a matter of fact, I know exactly what I’m talking about and I do have the right season. Who ever said that saying was reserved for one particular time of year? It’s all about context…for me, it’s that time of the year!

Welcome to fall kids! If you read this blog regularly you’ll know that means it’s the crazy time of the year for me; back to work, football, family and a million other things. Good thing I love fall! Obviously the thing keeping me busiest is work. This school year, after 18 years in the same room, I decided to relocate myself in the school. I’m just 70 feet or so away, but switching rooms after all that time is a huge deal. I moved because the new room is much bigger and right next to my office, but it also means a lot of time and work to get it the way I want it, time I don’t have.

Fall for me also means that it’s football season. I’m starting my 20th year coaching high school ball, and this one is very special. No, it’s not because I’ve been doing this for a long time, but rather because of one of the Grade 9 players joining the team. My oldest, Ethan, started high school this year and has also begun this part of his football career. It makes me very proud that he is a Fighting Saint, though it does make for some awkwardness. Thankfully he plays offense, so I don’t have to deal with him very much. I’m also back coaching Noah in minor, though he’s down to his last couple of years before he too moves up to the high school ranks.

In my last post, way back in early August, I wrote how decent the weather had been. Well, I can’t say the same now-from the middle part of August until now it can be best described as crappy. Unfortunately we’ve been plagued with a lot of unsettled conditions, with temperatures yo-yoing and a lot more rain. This is in line with last year, but certainly not like some of the fall’s we had in year’s past. Hopefully things don’t get too bad so I can get out and do some hiking!

Speaking of hiking, I’ve been trying to keep things going on the railway front despite how busy I have become. In my last post I wrote about how I was going to do some other abandoned railway exploring during the summer when I could not get on the PAD&W. With that in mind, I decided to formalize these non-PAD&W hikes into a photo/video series known as “PAD&W Railway-Offbeat Adventures.” This includes both the CN-Kinghorn Subdivision and the Grand Trunk Pacific. I explored parts of the old GTP back in the late 90s and this has re-invigorated me to do more. 

So I did several more hikes along the Kinghorn during the summer east of Pass Lake near Pearl and beyond. There were many more great sights to see and that has inspired me to plan many more hikes for next summer. By far the most interesting hike was near the actual station at Pearl, as beavers built a dam and flooded a 300-metre section of the grade. I rode my bike that day, pedalling the 5km from my start point north to where I would stop and walk back. I had to cross this flooded area twice; I wrongly assumed it would be easy to cross and not that deep. As it turns out, the gravel ballast made it extremely difficult to pedal and the water came up past my boots, soaking my feet. It was quite the ordeal, which if you’re interested, I recorded and you can watch here.

Kinghorn Sub-Division, August 2019.

Kinghorn Sub-Division, August 2019.

Kinghorn Sub-Division, August 2019.

Kinghorn Sub-Division, August 2019.

Kinghorn Sub-Division, August 2019.

Now that I mention recording, I decided to do a major technology upgrade over the summer. It’s something I’d been planning for a while, but I took me some time to pull the trigger. For the past 9 years I’ve been using a standard video camera to record my railway explorations. Last fall and into the summer I did some experimentation with Ethan’s Gopro camera; I was so impressed that I bought the newest model, the Hero 7. It is an amazing piece of gear! The stabilization is remarkable and the wide angle view is much better than a traditional camera. It also records in 4K60 resolution, which produces amazing results.

My first 4K video was taken at the site of an impressive piece of local history. Many moons ago (well, in the late 90s if truth be told), I explored pieces of an old railway grade in the area known as the Lake Superior Branch of the Grand Trunk Pacific Railway. Part of another transcontinental line across the country, construction began on this section in 1905 which would provide it with access to Lake Superior. When the Grand Trunk was merged with Canadian Northern to form Canadian National, 24 miles of this line was abandoned while the rest became the CN-Graham Subdivision. It remained in service until 1994 when it too was abandoned.

There are some amazing structures to be found on that original line abandoned back in 1924. I had visited a few back in those late 90s hikes, but there was one that I had not been to. Located at milepost 169 (measured from Superior Junction, where it joined the mainline), just south of the former station of Dona and near the modern village of Kaministiquia lies a unique bridge over the Strawberry Creek. Built in 1919, just 5 years before it was abandoned, is a 105-foot long, 35-foot high structure made out of concrete. I’d never seen anything like it and was completely awestruck! I will be visiting the remains of the station at Dona soon and I hope to continue visiting more in the future.

Grand Trunk Pacific, September 2019.

Strawberry Creek Bridge, Grand Trunk Pacific, September 2019.

Strawberry Creek Bridge, Grand Trunk Pacific, September 2019.

Strawberry Creek Bridge, Grand Trunk Pacific, September 2019.

Strawberry Creek Bridge, Grand Trunk Pacific, September 2019.

Strawberry Creek Bridge, Grand Trunk Pacific, September 2019.

Strawberry Creek Bridge, Grand Trunk Pacific, September 2019.

Another railway event on the horizon is coming up this week. I’ve been invited to speak at public lecture hosted by the Lakehead Social History Institute on Saturday, October 3rd. I’m one of several speakers on tap that day and I am a bit nervous to present. Though I’m speaking about about life on the railway, this topic is something that I’ve never spoken about in public. I’m sure I’ll be fine…I think it’s more of a fear of the unknown than anything else.

Finally, with October just around the corner, it means that my annual trip to Gunflint is coming up soon. I am very much looking forward to the mini-vacation given the insanity this time of year brings. It’s always good to break away for a few days and recharge the batteries for the second of the football season. I’ll be out and about in the woods again, looking at some things associated with the Gunflint & Lake Superior. I’ll also be doing a presentation at the Cross River Lodge on Friday, October 11 on the G&LS, something I’ve been doing for the past few years. It should be a nice weekend with the boys and nature…let’s hope the weather cooperates.

Anyway, it’s time to move along. Noah has football this afternoon and there’s tons of things to do beforehand. I’ll be back after the trip with a full breakdown of what went on. Until then…

 
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Posted by on September 28, 2019 in Hiking, History, Railway

 

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What a crazy time!

What a crazy time!

Crazy? Yup, super crazy. Now, before you jump to conclusions, I haven’t fallen off the proverbial rocker, though some days it feels like it. No, by crazy I mean intensely busy, but thanks for the concern. It’s good to know people out there are looking out for my well being. By all means though, keep reading to experience this masterpiece of prose that will tell you everything you need to know.

Hey, it’s summer kids…thank Jesus! If you somehow missed the introduction, summer vacation could not come soon enough. I am truly exhausted! The last couple of months have been a whirlwind of activity that has left me more drained than I’ve ever been. But aren’t you always tired Dave? Ya, ya, I know. However, in my defence, every year seems like it gets busier and I unfortunately get older. Not a good formula from my perspective.

So, what’s been keeping me going like “crazy” you ask? Well, what hasn’t? I’d say the usual trifecta; work, kids and life in general. Honestly, I don’t think that work has been any busier, but again it might have a lot to do with the mileage on the tires, if you get my drift. Additionally, for someone not known for changing my routine very often, I’ve embarked on a fairly major switch. After 18 years residing in Room 237 at the ole’ bricks and mortar on Selkirk Street, I’ve decided to change (classroom) addresses. It’s amazing how much stuff you accumulate in that time, so moving was not an easy proposition. However, I’m looking forward to starting September just down the hall in 227 and making it my home for the next 9 years.

Number two on the list are the boys. Wow, have they had a lot of things on the go. Ethan’s U16 football continued until June 8th, when they finally played their long-awaited game against the Manitoba Selects team. I thought the game would be close, but instead it was a 51-6 pasting by the Knights. Ethan played the whole second half, recording 5 tackles, which was a nice accomplishment since he didn’t have a lot of time to transition to the linebacker position. That same day, he also did his confirmation, for which my brother flew in from Toronto to be his sponsor.

Ethan U16 football, June 2019.

Ethan U16 football, June 2019.

Meanwhile, Noah spent the last two months playing baseball, his last year of major. He had a great season, especially considering he tore the ligaments in his throwing arm elbow in January. For someone who didn’t really want to pitch, he really came around by the last game. Now, we just need to work on that batting. Anyway, between both boys, we were going almost every day of the week to games and practices…it made for frenetic pace!

On top of all of that, we were trying to spend some time at camp. There are always jobs to do there, particularly following the winter close-up. Having spent most of my youth with my parents on Lake Shebandowan, I feel very comfortable being at camp…almost at peace. I find I sleep better and am more relaxed. Maybe just the simple act of being away from home puts me at ease. The funny thing is that I don’t spend a lot of time “relaxing,” since it’s like having another house. Well, if anything, it keeps me busy and it’s good exercise.

Camp, June 2019.

Speaking of camp, it’s ironic that I’m writing this at the lake, with the whistles from the trains rumbling over the Nipigon Sub-Division of the Canadian Pacific echoing through the area. That makes a great segue into the railway section of this blog, which is really the reason why I write it in the first place. Sadly, I haven’t been up to much lately, which shouldn’t be a huge shock if you’ve read the entirety of this post. I did spend some time over the last few weeks going through the chapters of the books, mostly doing proofreading and making sure they all fit together. However, I did do some major field work back in May, which I obviously didn’t have time to write about until now.

I last left you shortly before I was heading to Gunflint to do my usual spring field work. The plan was to hike in to Camp 8 again and spend some time exploring the area in more detail, and hopefully mark some important spots for further examination. I did have some company this time, as Ethan decided to join me (I think more so he could have a day off school).

We left immediately after school on Thursday and drove the roughly 2.5 hours to Gunflint. It was a beautiful day, and I was amazed how calm the lake was. Gunflint, which is 7 miles long and 1.5 miles wide, runs east west and is surrounded by high ridges, which channels the wind right down its length. That makes for some nasty conditions when the wind gets up. Anyway, after catching up with John and Rose at the lodge, we headed over to the Gunflint Bistro for some dinner, which is always a treat.

Gunflint Lake, May 2019.

The next morning was equally nice, and we left early to maximize our time at the logging camp (plus we would have to drive that 2.5 hours home when we were done). It takes about an hour and a quarter to walk the 5km into the camp, the most difficult being the last part where you are required to bushwhack through the thick growth and deadfall. The great thing about spring hiking is that while it might be slightly wetter, the bugs haven’t really come out (including the ticks) and it is a lot easier to see with the grass pushed down and the trees without leaves.

Gunflint Lake, May 2019.

Crab Lake, May 2019.

Crab Lake, May 2019.

Crab Lake Spur, May 2019.

Crab Lake Spur, May 2019.

Once we arrived at the camp, my first task was to try and mark some spots in a debris field located around the railroad grade just south of the camp. I am hoping to get the archaeologists from the Superior National Forest to help me examine the site and that wouldn’t happen until the summer or fall, by which time the grass would obscure any objects. As it was, I found it a challenge, since the grass was higher than I remember when I first found the camp back in 2017.

The next order of business was to try and exactly pinpoint the location of the 8 buildings that make up the camp. Since I don’t own or have access to a sub-metre accurate GPS, I tried to do it the old-fashioned way. Using some spots I could see on Google Earth, I attempted to triangulate the location of the southwest and southeast corners of two structures with a measuring tape and compass. It was a bit of a challenge, and the results were okay, but I figured that I’m farther ahead than without doing it.

While Ethan relaxed in the warm sunshine, my next order of business was to explore a few of the structures in a bit more detail. Over my several visits, I’ve been able to roughly guesstimate the purpose of each of the buildings, helped immensely by historical information of what a typical logging camp looked like. Some are easy, such as the outhouse, while others are a bit more challenging.

Last fall I found what turned out to be a bridle bit in one of the two eastern-most structures, which added more evidence to my assertion that these two were the stables. Exploring the second, I found a harness piece and a log dog, which was used to secure logs so they could be dragged by horses, which pretty much proved my theory correct.

Camp 8, May 2019.

Camp 8, May 2019.

Next, I moved on to one of the northern-most structures, which I deduced by the debris field around it, was the blacksmith shop. This was one of the most important places in any logging camp, since the blacksmith was responsible for undertaking repairs to the logging equipment and keeping the critical horses going. I was hoping to find some tools that would confirm my assertion, but instead I turned up a plethora of objects, such as horseshoes, axe blades and bolts. Not the evidence I was looking for, but I might be right in any case.

Camp 8, May 2019.

Camp 8, May 2019.

My last stop was the eastern-most structure, which I believe to be the cookhouse. It sits in a row with the bunkhouse and van (office), so its location makes sense. I was hoping to find things like cutlery or metal cups/bowls, but it was not to be. There was a lot of metal inside the confines of the berm line, but I am not an archaeologist, so I am not allowed to do any type of excavation besides brushing away leaves and deadfall and everything was several inches in the ground. There were however a ton of barrel hoops, which certainly provides a lot of proof to my theory.

After this, it was time to head back. On the way, I decided to follow part of the railroad grade westward. There was a section where I did not locate any traces of the line for nearly 300 metres back in 2017 and I wanted to try and fill in that gap. As I’ve written about before, this is never easy, since you have no idea where the grade is located (it’s not well-defined like a traditionally constructed railway). You’re essentially restricted to sweeping in a zig-zag pattern (like a 50-metre swath in the thick brush) with the metal detector hoping you find something, anything. The only good part is that when you get a beep, you’re pretty much assured it something significant since there couldn’t be anything else in the area. Happily, I did make two finds; the first was a couple of fishplates and the second a length of telegraph wire. Not bad!

Fishplates, May 2019.

Whisker Lake, May 2019.

I plan on heading back to Camp 8 in the fall to do more searching. Hopefully I can get some of the Forest Service folks to join me, especially since they are the ones who can really poke around and move things. This information is huge for my book and if we can get some work done in October, I can finish off that chapter over the winter. Fingers crossed!

Anyway, I need to move along since I have a busy few days ahead of me. Our summer is starting off with quite the bang, as we’re heading to California in a few days. My wife has family in the LA area, which she hasn’t seen in a long time, so we will be making the trip along with some of our friends. It should be an amazing experience, especially since the boys and I have never been there before. I’ll be back when I return, I promise! Until then…

 
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Posted by on June 30, 2019 in Hiking, History, Railway, Travel

 

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Wow, a quarter century?

Dedication-the act of being dedicated-to devote wholly and earnestly, as to some person or purpose. Passion-a strong or extravagant fondness, enthusiasm, or desire for anything. If I was to pick two words to describe my history work related to this blog, these are the two I’d chose. Why? Well, there are no other words that better illustrate something that has been part of my life for 25 years. Twenty-five years? Really? Yup, you heard that right, 25 years. I’ve been at this for more than half of my life, which means: a) I’m old, and b) I might some new hobbies.

I’m back kids and it’s spring! Well, maybe on the calendar it is, but Mother Nature is not playing nice. I’d like to elaborate further, but this is a family-friendly blog, so I’ll keep my comments to myself. The transition into the season was progressing well, albeit slowly, until the other day. Last Thursday it was almost 20C, and then Monday we got a massive dump of snow. There was what I figured almost 20cm of wet, sloppy white stuff on the ground at my house. Grrrrrr…just go away already! The temperatures are supposed to rebound this weekend to near-normal values, however since this has happened now every year for the last bunch, it is clear evidence that climate change is at work.

April 28, 2019.

April 29, 2019.

April 30, 2019.

So now that we’re into May, it means that we are are in the last throes of the school year. Thank Jesus…or whatever deity you pray to! An atheist? Well you’ll just have to figure it out yourself. Anyway, the end can’t come soon enough. I’m tired. Yes, I know, colour you surprised. Don’t you always complain about being tired Dave? Yes, I certainly do…I don’t lie about these things. There’s just so many things going on right now and on top of it, I’m sick. Yup, it seems like this time every year, with the change in temperatures, I get sick and it sucks!

One of the things keeping me hopping right now if football. Football in May? Ya, why not? Everything else runs all year-long, why not football? In any case, my oldest, Ethan, has been been involved with the Under-16 rep team since February, and a few weeks back flag football started for my youngest, Noah. While I don’t coach Ethan, I get to play chauffeur and I am helping to coach Noah’s team. On top of that, thoughts are already beginning to wander to spring camps here at high school, which seem like a long way away in June, but will creep up fast!

I’ve also started the planning and recruitment for our next EF tour of Europe, which will take place in March, 2021. This next trip will take us to Italy, the home of my ancestors, which I have not seen since 1992. Ironically, that last time happened on an EF tour, when I was a student in high school. We have 6 travellers enrolled, with more on the way; one of those travellers is Ethan. I am very excited to be able to share this travel experience with him where he can see new places, cultures and history.

As you can expect, with all the other craziness, I haven’t really had any time to devote to railway matters. I did do a little writing on the book here and there after I got back from Europe, but nothing substantial. My main focus has been preparing for the spring-summer season, which has several things on tap.

In a few weeks I’ll be heading down to Gunflint once again for some field work. With no USFS involvement this year, all I can do is more mapping and examination of the site of Camp 8. The plan is to mark important locations that are obscured in the summer and fall with high grass, as well as explore more of the site to see if there is anything I have yet to discover. With the way things have been going weather wise, my fingers are crossed that Mother Nature cooperates.

In July, I have another speaking engagement scheduled for the Chik-Wauk Museum. I guess they like me so much, they keep inviting me back every year. I am really excited about the opportunity, especially since I get to speak about something different than my current project. The subject of the talk is on the ghost town of Leeblain, which has certainly garnered a lot of interest on social media. By the looks of things, it might be the most attended presentation yet.

I want to end with a rather happy story regarding an email I received last week. Sometimes you wonder if what you do, in this case promoting railway and local history makes a difference…if you’re really reaching anyone. Do people care or am I just wasting my time? This is especially true since, as I indicated earlier, I am marking 25 years of researching the PAD&W and its associated history. I had no idea in April of 1994 that a trip to the library to find some information about this obscure railway would lead to a lifetime of work. After the thousands? of hours, substantial amounts of money and a lot of sweat (and some tears), it hard to believe I’m still at it. My wife thinks I’m crazy, and I very well may be, but it’s become part of who I am and there are no regrets. Well, maybe I wished I had done more years ago as time has not been kind to some of the places I have visited.

I was contacted, out of the blue, by a Ms. Edward, a librarian who runs a railroad history and beginner train modelling class for 9-13 year olds. She wanted to let me know that they found the links page on my old website (www.padwrr.ca/links) very useful for their last project. She did not say where they were from, but based on her email address, I want to say Salt Lake City? It is so impressive that people that far away first of all found one of my sites, and second, were able to do something with the information.

She went on to add that one of the youngest students, a boy named Avery, wanted to share with me a site where he first became interested in railroad history and trains. He wanted me to include in on my links page. I am so flattered, I thought I do one better and post it here plus give him a big shout out. Here’s his link: https://bit.ly/2VJDlNz Avery, thanks for putting a smile on an old history teacher’s face. Keep being passionate about railroads and trains and you’re never too old to appreciate some good history!

Anyway, I better get rolling. I’ll be back in a few weeks after my trip to Gunflint with a full report from that adventure and all the latest news. Until then…

 

 
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Posted by on May 1, 2019 in Hiking, History, Railway, Travel

 

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Well, it only took 16 years!

Well, it only took 16 years!

They, or at least someone at some point, said patience is a virtue. Well, if that’s true, I could be the poster child for that. It’s also been said that it’s not the destination but the journey getting there; it’s definitely been a long journey! I have however enjoyed every moment of this particular journey and those who I have shared it with. The reality of our world is that sometimes we have to wait for good things to happen and it certainly makes you appreciate it even more.

Hey, I’m back kids! I know, it’s been a while, but as usual, I’ve been a tad busy. In case you weren’t aware, I do have a job and a life. Too busy to write a blog? Well, ya, it does take time out of your life even though it’s just “writing.” And as anyone who writes will tell you, sometimes you try but it’s not working, the proverbial “moment striking you.” Anyway, what’s keeping me busy you ask? Well, what isn’t? We’ve passed the halfway point of the school semester, and no matter how much I get done, I’m always behind on my marking. Oh the life of a teacher. This week is the last of November, which means there is only four weeks until Christmas break. What a blur things have been…I don’t even know what to ask Santa for!

Besides school, I was particularly busy with football. The minor season ended in late October, with both boys making the finals with their respective teams. Unfortunately, they were both on the wrong side of very close games. However, they both played well in the fall and grew a lot as players and teammates, which makes dad proud. After 7 years, Ethan played his last minor football game as he will be joining dad at high school in September.

As for the high school campaign, our team finished in top spot with a 5 and 1 record, the first time that has happened in a long time. We won our semi-final game quite convincingly, and booked a spot in the finals, our first trip there since 2014. We would be taking on our cross-town rivals, the St. Ignatius Falcons, who we beat twice in the regular season. We scored first, and went into half with a 7-0 lead. By the fourth quarter we were up 21-7, but unfortunately we let them score late to make it close. Our defence came up big though, intercepting their last gasp pass attempt.

2018 SSSAA Championship final score, November 2018.

2018 SSSAA Champion captains, November 2018.

2018 SSSAA Champions, November 2018.

Our program had not won a Junior championship since 2002, a drought of 16 years. We had four previous trips to the final, but sadly could not come away with a win, losing two of those games by one score. It definitely plays into your psyche, as at times you question your abilities as a coach. However, we were very lucky to have an amazing group of young men who were extremely dedicated and willing to work hard all season long. I am glad they were able to come away with the title and I could help them cement their place in school history. With a solid crew coming back and a strong incoming group, hopefully we don’t have to wait another 16 years!

Since it’s November, it means that we’re on the verge of winter. Not like it hasn’t been “winter” for awhile; if you read my last post you’ll know it already snowed in early October. The weather hasn’t really improved since then. We’ve had some good days, but we’ve also had some rainy, snowy and bitterly cold days as well. I have no idea what this winter will be like as Mother Nature doesn’t seem to know herself. We had a bit of snow until a few days ago, and then it warmed up to +6C and it all melted. Who knows if we’ll have a brown or white Christmas this year.

Late Fall, November 2018.

So with everything going on, you’d imagine that I have not had a ton of time to work on railway stuff of late. On the contrary however, I have been a bit busy. In my last post I mentioned that I’ve been working on some research related to the early history of the Pigeon River Lumber Company and that has continued unabated.

When I was in La Crosse, Wisconsin in August, I was able to probe some of the interactions between the principal investors in the PRLC, well before the company was even formed. That led me into the tangled history of the early logging along the Pigeon River, making many interesting discoveries. If you don’t know, this is where I excel or it’s “in my wheelhouse.” I love the thrill and challenge of historical research, confident I can find exactly what I’m looking for.

What have I found you ask? Well, apparently there was an attempt to log the Pigeon River area well before the late 1890s, which ended in quite the controversy. Later, extensive work was done by the Ontario government to encourage/assist the later logging operations, which amounted to thousands of dollars. And then there is the matter of when exactly did D.J. Arpin, William Scott and the others become involved in the Pigeon River, which appears to be well a number of years before the company was formed in 1900.

While these discoveries have been huge, there have been some frustrations, namely tracking down all the information I require. It looks like I might have to do travelling again; places like the Cook County Museum is easily done, while the Archives of Ontario in Toronto might require a bit more effort.

With the Christmas break on the horizon, it means that I will be back to writing soon enough. There is still a lot to accomplish, and I hopefully I can get most of the book done by spring. The laundry list is quite extensive; complete/revise the first chapter, add the information from 1906 and complete the last couple chapters. This doesn’t even include anything about Camp 8/11, which I cannot finish until I wrap-up all the field work there next summer. However, for some reason, I am rather apprehensive regarding this session of writing and I’m not sure why. Maybe it is because I’m getting to the end and there is some finality to it all. I think though, it is because I’ve left the more difficult sections for last and I am worried about getting them right. Whatever the case, I’ll do my best to get it done.

Anyway, it’s time to go. I’ll probably be back before the holidays with a few thoughts before the close of the year. Until then…

 
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Posted by on November 26, 2018 in History, Railway, Research, Writing

 

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Hey, who opened the refrigerator door?

Hey, who opened the refrigerator door?

Refrigerator door? Is that a bad thing? Are we worried about the milk or something else spoiling? I know, it’s one of your ridiculous metaphors, but pertaining to what exactly? Well, if you’re a regular reader, you’ll know exactly what it refers to. So, what does Dave routinely write about, well other than the railway? Hmmmmm…

Welcome to fall kids! While fall is one of my favourite times of the year, as you know, it is one of the craziest. I cannot believe we are already halfway through October; what a blur. Work is extremely busy as usual and between that and family life, there isn’t a lot of time to breathe. As our kids get older, their schedules get more hectic, like everyday hectic. Gee, isn’t parenthood a blast?

One of the things keeping us hopping is minor football. Since the boys play in different divisions (peewee and bantam), they play on different days (Wednesdays versus Saturdays) and therefore have different practice schedules. That means we are going everyday of the week, especially with playoffs coming up. And all of that is on top of high school football, which is now entering week five. Thankfully I have a fantastic wife who makes it all work.

Unfortunately, the only negative has been weather. Yes, I’m back on the weather train. Maybe I cursed it in my last post when I said that it had been great, which it was. Sadly, that changed in a real hurry…it’s like someone flicked a switch or opened the fridge door. The first part of September was awesome but the last three weeks have been downright miserable. It has been rainy and cold nearly everyday. At times the temperatures have been 10 degrees below normal and we’ve had like 150mm rain during that time. Maybe we’ve been spoiled the last number of years with gorgeous weather in the fall and this is nature’s way of reminding us that it isn’t roses all the time.

Last weekend was Thanksgiving Day long weekend, which meant that the boys and I made our usual trip to Gunflint Lake for a well-deserved break from the grind. This was the sixth year we would spend the weekend with our friends John and Rose at the Cross River Lodge for some boys time and field work. We had been blessed the previous five years with fantastic weather, but alas our luck ran out. There was no respite from the gloomy weather, which included early fall snowfall.

We left home on Friday morning, a bit later that usual as it was raining but that rain was supposed to stop by mid-morning. On our way to the border we experienced some snow, which was just a harbinger of things to come. By the time we arrived in Grand Marais, where we stopped for some supplies, the precipitation had stopped. While there we noticed vehicles with a significant amount of snow on their exterior, which made us wonder what it would be like at Gunflint. As we drove up the Gunflint Trail we found out. At the mid-trail point, we could see that more than 10cm of snow had accumulated on the ground. As we drove, Ethan commented to me that it was ironic that we were driving through snow while towing a boat. Thankfully Gunflint was on the edge of the storm system and only received a dusting of snow.

Gunflint Lake snow, October 2018.

With some snow on the ground and very windy conditions, we decided not to head out that day. That gave me some time to relax, plan the hikes for the next few days and get ready for that evening’s presentation. As I had the two previous years, I would be doing a little lecture at the lodge on an aspect of the area history. This year it was Leeblain, the ghost town on the Ontario side of Gunflint Lake whose story was intertwined with that of the railway.

The next morning, we headed out on what was a foggy, misty morning. It was quite chilly, especially on the boat ride across the lake. The ground was wet from all the rain and snow that had come down, but it could have been worse had the summer not been so dry. Our first stop was Bridal Falls, or least the trail that takes you to it. Last year I had planned to shoot some video at the site of the former corduroy trestle of the Gunflint and Lake Superior Railroad beside the falls, but the batteries on my wireless microphone were dead. We managed to get that footage this time, as well as record the rock cut above it with Ethan’s GoPro.

Bridal Falls, October 2018.

From there we travelled 3km northeast to where the G&LS crossed a small creek just south of the international boundary. I had been there on several occasions before, but just like the corduroy trestle, I wanted to get some footage with the wireless microphone. On the approaches to the creek, we realized just how low the lake levels were. Parts of the shore I never seen before were exposed and water depth dropped to less than a foot. It was not easy to maneuver the boat around in that environment, but I managed. In the process, I made a neat discovery. Back in 2011, I was sent the image of a rail car brake wheel taken at the crossing by some of the guys from the US Forest Service. With the low water levels, I found the wheel as well, shocked that there was quite a length of shaft attached to it.

Hand brake wheel, Gunflint Lake, October 2018.

Hand brake wheel, Gunflint Lake, October 2018.

Our next stop was to the south at the site of Camp 4, which was the first of two logging camps belonging to the Pigeon River Lumber Company. Some of the areas logged by the company east of Camp 4 were several kilometres away, and I wanted to see if a spur had been built eastward from the main line. While my search came up empty for now, I did make some neat discoveries. I turned up a few horseshoes, and what I thought was a blacksmith hammer. As it turns out, it was a hammer, but not what I thought it was. After putting it up on social media, it turns out it was a snow knocker, a hammer used to remove snow and ice from the bottom of horse’s hooves, and there were many horses used for these logging operations.

Horseshoe, Camp 4, October 2018.

Horse snow knocker, Camp 4, October 2018.

On our way back to the lodge, we made a slight detour to the Gunflint Narrows, as the low lake levels caught my attention. I’ve been to the Narrows on many occasions in the past, but I don’t think I’ve seen the rocks and bridge remains that exposed before. We didn’t linger long, but I did manage to snap a few photos from my phone.

Gunflint Narrows, October 2018.

Gunflint Narrows, October 2018.

After breakfast on Sunday we left the lodge, this time by truck, for the day’s work. Our destination that day was parking lot for the Crab Lake Spur of the Border Route Trail near Loon Lake. The boys and I would make the long trek to the site of Camp 8, the second logging camp of the PRLC. After re-discovering it back in 2017, I had last visited the camp back in May. I had spent some time then taking measurements and photographs of the eight structures and debris there. The plan was have the boys help me take more detailed measurements that would help pinpoint the exact location of the structures.

Although it was not sunny, it was a bit warmer that day and the walk along the trail was pleasant. Fall is a beautiful time of the year to be on the Boundary Waters and this was no exception. My only regret is that opportunities to experience this are very fleeting.

Crab Lake, October 2018.

Crab Lake, October 2018.

Crab Lake, October 2018.

Crab Lake, October 2018.

Whisker Lake, October 2018.

Whisker Lake, October 2018.

Getting to Camp 8 requires quite a bit of “bushwhacking,” which was not particularly easy given the deadfall in the bush and the fact that it was still wet. Just after 11am we arrived at the camp and after a quick look at one of the debris fields, we started taking measurements. Ideally, I would love to have a sub-metre accuracy GPS, but the cost of such a device makes it prohibitive. I tried doing it the old-fashioned way, triangulating two structures to a central reference point. It didn’t really work out the way I thought it would, but it was worth the try.

I spent the remainder of time taking more photographs and recording the structures with my son’s GoPro. I though the wide-angle view of the GoPro would give a better perspective but unfortunately, I was only able to record six of the eight buildings as the battery died before I could get to what I believe are the two stables at the site. I’d like to go back next spring and finish the job, and maybe I can get my hands on one of those GPS to get all the data I need. The best discovery of the day was what I thought was part of a horse bridle near the southern wall of one of the stables. Turns out it is a bit, which helps to confirm my theory. Hopefully I can get some experts from the USFS in there at some point to do more detailed explorations.

Building foundation, Camp 8, October 2018.

Building foundation, Camp 8, October 2018.

Bridle bit, Camp 8, October 2018.

It was sad to head back home on the Monday, but I already booked our return visit for next year. Interestingly, the hikes I did at Gunflint was not the only railway related work I’ve done recently. If you read my previous post, my visit to La Crosse brought up some important leads, especially regarding the early history of the PRLC. This has led me to many new discoveries regarding the company and even other, earlier, attempts to log the Pigeon River. I’ll write more about these in my next post.

Anyway, it’s time to go. I’ll be back soon, likely when football is over and I have more time to breathe. Until then…

 
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Posted by on October 7, 2018 in Hiking, History, Railway, Research

 

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How can I be tired already?

The simple answer is yes, yes you can be tired Dave. But after only 4 days back at work? Yup, you sure can…it doesn’t matter if it’s 4 days, 4 weeks or 4 months. However, you know what would make the fatigue more epic? How about throwing a cold on top of it? Ya, that sounds like a great idea, because nothing makes the situation better like a stuffy, snotty nose, a sore, burning throat and horking up phlegm. Yes folks, the last few days have been absolutely fantastic!

It’s September and I’m back kids! It may seem that it has started as well as a train wreck, but in reality, it’s pretty good. It’s just hard to go from being on vacation for two months to extreme craziness in a few days. The worst part is that it has just become even worse as the boys’ football season has started up. I know, poor hard done by teacher complaining about how busy things are after a summer off. I get it, but that doesn’t make it any easier. I really feel like poop.

If it’s September, it means that summer is over; well, not officially but close enough. I wrote in my previous post back in July that the weather had been good and that is how it continued. This summer was one of the best we’ve seen in recent memory. We didn’t spend as much time at camp in August as we did in July, as the boys had football practices 3 days a week. Nonetheless, we were able to make the most of the time we were there.

Sunset at camp, August 2018.

Calm morning at camp, August 2018.

Last camp sunset, August 2018.

So as I mentioned, I began football early this year. The boys wanted to play summer ball again, especially Noah who missed the tournament last year and the entire fall season after suffering a very unfortunate concussion in practice. The only issue this time around was the format of the tournament, which changed venues from last year. On the Saturday, the teams were supposed to play some squads from Orono, MN, which is just west of the Twin Cities. A week or so before we left, we were informed that things had changed for a third time. Orono had been invited to play in a jamboree style exhibition and they stipulated that the organizers had to invite the Thunder Bay Minor teams too. The best part, the games would be played at US Bank Stadium, home of the Minnesota Vikings. The players (and the coaches too) were beyond excited as it is not very often that you get a chance to play in an NFL stadium.

The games were to be played on August 25th and 26th, so we left Thunder Bay on the 22nd. Our journey began with a one day detour to La Crosse, Wisconsin (which I’ll discuss later). I really enjoy La Crosse as it is a beautiful city, though we didn’t really see too much of it. The next day we headed to Minneapolis and I decided that instead of taking the interstate, we would take the more scenic Highway 61 along the banks of the Mississippi. It was worth the extra 20-25 minutes it added to the trip, as the views along the river were fantastic! Once in Minnie, we were able to spend a couple days shopping and relaxing before the boys had to play.

Scenery near Arcadia, WI, August 2018.

Mississippi sunset, La Crosse, WI, August 2018.

Lake Pepin, MN, August 2018.

On Friday night, the Vikings were hosting the Seattle Seahawks for a pre-season game, so we decided to take it in. Neither myself nor the boys had ever been to an NFL game, so it was going to be a very exciting experience. Our seats were in row 3 in the endzone, which gave us a fantastic view of parts of the game. You can view some of the great video I shot here.

US Bank Stadium, August 2018.

Seahawks vs. VIkings, August 2018.

The experience at US Bank Stadium was awesome. The stadium is both huge and small at the same time, if that makes sense (the stadiums look so much bigger on TV). The kids had a blast and I’m sure they won’t soon forget this opportunity. The only downside was that it was a warm day and there was no air moving inside the stadium; by late afternoon it was like a sauna inside there.

US Bank Football Jamboree, August 2018.

Field level at US Bank Stadium, August 2018.

Field level at US Bank Stadium, August 2018.

So unlike my last post, there has been a bit of movement on the railway front. In early August I paid a visit to the Lakehead University Library to do some research. I first had to find a few books that would help me fill in some missing areas in my book. I later had an appointment at the university archives, which held some files related to the Pigeon River Lumber Company (PRLC). These documents were from a much later period than I am working on, but I thought there might be a few tibits that might help me out. I didn’t find anything explosive (which I did in the States), but there were a few useful things.

PRLC fonds at the Lakehead University Archives, August 2018.

As I mentioned earlier, our trip to the States included a brief visit to La Crosse, WI. Now you might be wondering what is in La Crosse, but if you read this blog regularly, you’ll know that I’ve been there before. La Crosse was the hometown of PRLC vice-president Frank Hixon, and the Murphy Library at the University of Wisconsin-La Crosse holds his very extensive personal records. During my June 2016 trip I compiled a veritable gold mine of information, but I inadvertently missed records from the fall of 1905. Hence the return.

Murphy Library, August 2018.

Working very quickly in the limited time I had, I was able to gather all the documents I required from the fall of 1905. I had decided, before I left, that I would look at some other records if there was time. I wanted to review those from 1909, when logging operations concluded at Gunflint, to see if I missed anything. I also wanted to look and see if I could find anything important from the 1897 to 1899 periods, before the PRLC was formed. In the end, my discoveries were extremely important.

Hixon Papers at the Murphy Library, La Crosse, WI, August 2018.

One letter from 1905 helped affix a date to the construction of the wood trestle alongside the Crab River. Others pointed to some internal turmoil in the company following Herman Finger’s departure from the board. Some of the 1909 records helped clarify and confuse what I already knew about the Gunflint operation. And finally, pre-1900 records gave me a better understanding of how the company was formed and where I should look for additional sources of information. In the end, the materials I uncovered were all critical pieces for my research.

Anyway. it time to get going. I’ll be back in mid-October, as I have my usual field work scheduled for the Canadian Thanksgiving weekend at Gunflint. I’ll have all the information and news from that visit. Until then…

 
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Posted by on September 11, 2018 in History, Railway, Research, Travel

 

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