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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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I want to fly away…

Well, not physically, because that’s impossible, but you get the idea. I would certainly love to go anywhere I please, at any time, but I’ll guess we’ll just have to leave that to Lenny. In any case, I am thankful I will be able to get away for a little while.

Hey, it’s March kids! That means we’re weeks away from “spring,” that is if it ever shows up. It obviously will, I’m just being facetious, but the point is that it can’t come soon enough. March also means that we’re on the downward slide in the school year, and before we know it, it will be June. Things are going well in that respect, just as usual, I’m quite busy.

Since I brought it up, I might as well talk about the weather, especially as I never do that! The weather has been, you know, not great. Better than it was in the last post, but still not what it should be. It’s still cold outside, but you can see that the seasons are changing. The days are getting longer, and even when it’s crisp, you can feel the warmth of the sun. According to the meteorologists, the temperature should start moderating this weekend and be above zero by next week. The only concern is that if it warms too quick, with all the snow we have, it might get a bit soggy .

Late winter snow, March 2019.

So I’m still plugging away on the railway front. Progress is slow but steady, and I am now approaching 50,000 words in the book. Chapter 13 is mostly complete, save for a few tweaks, so that just leaves 1, 10 and 14 that require some work. I should be able to finish Chapter 14 this spring, so with any luck I’ll be done everything by next winter. As I’ve described before, everything depends on when I can get to Toronto and get more detailed information on Camp 8.

Alright, so let’s fly away shall we? I am mere days away from another adventure in Europe. I described our journey in my last post, but now a few days out, it all seems very real. I know the kids are super excited, and they should be. I’ve been to most of these places before, save for Berlin and some parts of the Netherlands, but likely most have never been overseas. As a teacher, this is the best part for me, to see them experience the history and culture of another part of the world. The only thing that concerns me is the weather (ya, I know, shocker). Looking ahead, it seems that in contrast to some of our previous trips, the weather is not going to be 100% cooperative. Most days call for cloudy/showery conditions, which is not ideal, but we’ll have to make the best of it. Showers aren’t too bad, but if it decides to rain all day that will put a damper on things.

We now for the most part have our detailed itinerary. The one thing that amazes me is that even though I’ve been to some of places before, we always stay in a different town or part of the city. It gives you a different perspective on things and keeps it fresh. Also, after the last tour in 2017, which coincided with the 100th anniversary of Vimy Ridge, it will be nice with a lot less Canadian tourists running around. Many of the places we visited we quite busy, which made it hard to linger and get a real good look around. That was case with Vimy; while the ceremony was great to be a part of, we really didn’t have a chance to see the memorial or the park. I know my fellow chaperones are looking forward to the opportunity.

St. Pats group, April 2017.

If you’d like to follow us around (well, other than this blog), you can do so on social media: Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. Anyway, I better get going as there is still a ton to do before we leave. Right now I need to set up all the blog posts for the trip, so it’s easier to get everything going once the time comes. I’ll be back in a few days with the first post from the trip. Until then…

 
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Posted by on March 7, 2019 in History, Railway, Travel, Writing

 

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Gunflint & Lake Superior Railroad VI

This week’s episode of our YouTube tour of the G&LS covers the section of line near Camp 4 of the Pigeon River Lumber Company (MP 1). Here the railroad passed through a long cutting and skirted alongside the logging camp as it hugged the shore of the lake. Remnants of the telegraph line are also visible.

 
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Posted by on March 6, 2019 in Hiking, History, Railway, Video

 

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Gunflint & Lake Superior Railroad V

This week’s episode of our YouTube tour of the G&LS covers the section of line south of the International Boundary (MP 0.62). Here the railroad crosses a small creek on a crib bridge. Remains of the corduroyed grade, the bridge piles and cribs and even a hand brake are visible.

 
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Posted by on February 26, 2019 in Hiking, History, Railway, Video

 

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Gunflint & Lake Superior Railroad IV

This week’s episode of our YouTube tour of the G&LS covers the section of line south of the International Boundary (MP 0.5). Here, as the railroad skirts the edge of Gunflint Lake, the grade sits on corduroyed logs and passes through a long rock cut.

 
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Posted by on February 20, 2019 in Hiking, History, Railway, Video

 

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I’ve been here a long time!

I’ve been here a long time!

It amazes me how fast time goes by. Do you ever pause and go “it’s been that long?” You know, when you feel you just started something the other day, whatever it is, and it’s actually been years or decades? It definitely has a way of making you feel old, especially when you add up all the years.

Hey kids, it’s only February…ugh! Ya, it’s not a particularly optimistic start, but it’s been a long few months. Since it is the second month of 2019, it means that we’ve started the new semester. That puts us that much closer to end of the school year, which is great, but I’m really tired. I can’t muster the enthusiasm right now. It’s not that there anything particularly wrong, just a general malaise. The classes are good, but there’s seems to be a lot on my plate right now. I’m sure it will look up soon enough.

On a related note, this month I am celebrating my 20th anniversary as a full-time teacher. Yup, I was hired back in February 1999…I just can’t believe how quickly those years have flown by! Twenty years is a long time, a quarter of most people’s lives; I guess I am officially old. What makes it even more incredible, is that I work at the same high school I attended. I started there in 1988 (my Grade 9 year was at the same school, just in a different building…long story) and continued for the next 4 years. I did a placement there while in teachers college, and then returned on a contract in the fall of 1998. So what it all means, which I pointed out to my students, was that I’ve spent nearly 25 of the past 30 years in the same building. I’ve literally never left high school!

One of the things that has contributed to my sour mood is the weather. Yup, I’m back on the weather train again. If you read my last post, things were decent until the end of December. We had a big storm that I detailed in that post, and then things seemed to be okay for a week or so. That’s when things went off the proverbial rails (pardon the pun). The temperatures plunged to into the ridiculous range, where it was even difficult to leave the house. Then it got warmer, but the snows returned, resulting in copious amounts of the white stuff on the ground. I don’t think we’ve had this much snow in five years. At camp, there is even more snow, more than I remember in 2014. Shovelling a path to the house left something resembling the front-line trenches of WWI. Stupid Polar Vortex and climate change!

Winter snowfall, February 2019.

Polar Vortex temperatures, January 2019.

Camp snow, February 2019.

So in less than a month I will be able to hopefully escape this situation with another trip to Europe. This will be my fourth trip with students from the school and I am really looking forward to it. Right now it might not appear that way, as I am struggling to get all the last little details taken care of. This excursion, known as From Vimy to Juno: History of Canada in the World Wars, will take our group to similar places that we’ve been in the past, such as Amsterdam, Ypres, Vimy, Juno Beach and Paris. The exception this time will be a couple days in Berlin, including a visit to Sachsenhausen concentration camp, and the eastern part of the Netherlands. We will be paying tribute to fallen soldiers at the Groesbeek and Beny sur Mer Canadian War Cemeteries. As I the past, I will be hijacking the blog to chronicle our journey.

Despite all the craziness, I have been very busy on the railway front (though I have been on a little break for the past week). Working diligently for the past two months, I’m trying to get as much of my book done as possible, which has gone in fits and starts. Writing is not always easy; sometimes the biggest challenge is not the actual words themselves, but organizing all the information, especially when you realize you’re missing some information. I’ve had to do some additional research, and I’m also going to have to go to Toronto to look through some files at the Archives of Ontario…again. This is on top of further archaeological efforts at the site of Camp 8 in Minnesota, hopefully with the assistance of the US Forest Service.

In any case, I’m now over 46,000 words organized into 14 chapters. Most chapters are done, save for some minor tweaks, while 1, 10, 13 and 14 still need varying degrees of work. The last two should be done in the coming months, while the first requires the material from the archives and ten is the chapter on Camp 8. With any luck it will be completed at this time next year, but that hinges on what happens with the field work. I am quite adamant about including detailed information about one of the best preserved logging camps in Minnesota, but obtaining assistance from the USFS is out of my hands and might require me to wait until they have the time and funds.

Book work, February 2019.

Well, it’s time to move along. I’ll be back in early March, right before I leave for Europe, hopefully in a better mood. Until then…

 

 
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Posted by on February 17, 2019 in History, Railway, Research, Travel, Writing

 

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