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Tag Archives: Gunflint Lake

It’s been that long?

Have you ever been doing something, anything and suddenly become aware that a long period of time has gone by without even noticing? Like say years. Years Dave? Yup, years. So what has prompted this line of thought you ask? Well, it was actually something I saw on Facebook. There were a number of posts a few days ago regarding an event that occurred in 2007, which was a very significant year for me for a bunch of reasons. Confused? Please, read on.

Welcome to May kids! Speaking of time flying by…wow, where did the year go? In any case, I’m back to my usual posts after all the travelling related ones I did last month. May means that the school year is almost over and it’s getting to that crazy time with a million things going on. I’m trying to get my classes all planned out to the end of the year, mark, prep for football spring camp…wow. Sometimes I wonder how I manage to juggle all of this stuff at the same time, and that’s in addition to everything going on at home. Oh well, it will be summer holidays soon enough and some even better news arrived last week. My wife and I have been approved for another semester leave starting in February 2022. Yay!

I guess I would be remiss in not mentioning the weather. I know, I always gripe about the weather, but this time it’s for real. Up until a few weeks ago, it had been a gorgeous spring. And then the wheels fell off. It started with quite a bit of rain one day, then some snow and then a massive ice storm. Ice storm? Yes, you read it right, ice storm. In April? Yup, and it was so bad the schools and the city were shut down for two days. Craziness! The last time that happened was in 1996, when I was still in university. The snow and ice melted quickly and things are relatively back to normal, but that made things around here a rather soggy for a while.

Ice storm, April 2017.

Ice storm, April 2017.

Alright, so I should rewind the clock 10 years and discuss what happened way back in 2007. I don’t think I’ll ever forget that year for a number of reasons, some good and some bad. In July, my wife and I welcomed our second son, Noah, which obviously was one of the happiest days of my life. Sadly, only a few days later, my dad lost a very short battle with cancer. It’s extremely difficult to describe the overwhelming emotions you feel when confronted by joy and tragedy all at the same time. However, the passing of my dad helped push me back into my railway research and field work which at the time had been on the back-burner for a number of years. I guess it was my way of honouring him by making the most of every moment that I have. My dad loved the outdoors, and being in the fresh air brings back a lot of memories of our time together. I also have a living reminder of him in Noah, as he shares so many personality traits with his grandfather.

Another event that took place in 2007 was one that I overlooked at the time. That year the bush was very dry after several years of relatively dry conditions. Back in 1999 there was a massive windstorm that hit our area, a derecho, which toppled millions of trees in the border areas. The lack of moisture and all those trees turned some places into a tinderbox. The spark came in early May, when a human caused fire broke out at Ham Lake, approximately 3 km southwest of Gunflint Lake. When it was finally extinguished, it had burned over 30,000 hectares on both sides of the border.

My first visit to the burned areas took place a year later, when I went to Gunflint Lake for the first time since 2000. It was also my first time driving to the Canadian side of the lake, coming down from Northern Lights Lake. It was quite the harrowing journey, as the road was in in terrible shape and a burned culvert over a deep stream had been replaced with a rather sketchy alternative. The burn zone was quite extensive, and without the trees the true character of the “Shield Country” (Canadian Shield) was visible. However, I was able to see a lot of things that had previously been hidden in the foliage. I wish I had explored more than year when all the vegetation has just starting to grow back.

Gunflint Lake, August 2008.

PAD&W grade, Gunflint Lake, August 2008.

Beach at Leeblain, August 2008.

PAD&W grade, Leeblain, August 2008.

PAD&W rock cut, Gunflint Lake, August 2008.

One positive thing that came of the fire was the construction of the Centennial Trail in Minnesota. Portions of the railway in the area had been exposed by the fire, along with a number of the mining sites that had been worked back in the early 1890s by John Paulson and his associates. The US Forest Service decided to convert portions of the grade into a trail, along with interpretive stops at key railway and mining features. It opened in the fall of 2009 and I was able to visit it in the summer of 2010. It was my first trip to that area since my initial exploration in 1998. It was a very different place after the blowdown and fire; however, I was able to see many new things, such some of the test pits I missed the first time.

Akeley Lake Shaft, August 2010.

Mine shaft, August 2010.

PAD&W rock cut, August 2010.

PAD&W rock cut, August 2010.

PAD&W rock cut, August 2010.

Sadly there were some negative consequences to the fire as well. Areas that were previously hidden and relatively free from human interference were now much more accessible. Places that had been neatly tucked under the umbrella of trees were now exposed and becoming overrun with new vegetation. Some physical traces of the railway and mining operation, particularly those made of wood, were unfortunately consumed in the conflagration.

The biggest victim of the flames was one of the most important and well-known historic sites in the area; the corduroyed wood trestle on Gunflint Lake. I’ve mentioned this spot before, as it was one of the greatest legacies of the Gunflint and Lake Superior Railroad. It was constructed sometime around 1904-1905 and was used by the railroad to climb the very steep ridge on the south side of Gunflint Lake.

The elevation change from where the railroad passes Camp 4 on the lake (1543 ft.) to where it crests the ridge is nearly 200 feet. Logging lines typically did not want to expend large amounts of capital on construction as they are generally temporary in nature. Therefore, the Pigeon River Lumber Company had to build something that was cheap but functional; the structure they designed was simple yet ingenious. They began the ascent nearly a kilometre to the east, just south of Camp 4 by climbing a ridge that parallels the lake. Upon reaching the Crab River, which spills over the big ridge to form Bridal Falls, the line turned south. A lengthy rock cut was blasted alongside the river the lower the grade, but there was still a sizable chasm that needed to be spanned. Rather than build a trestle or rock embankment, the engineers simply stacked logs (presumably non-valuable species) in a corduroy fashion until they had the correct angle and topped it gravel. The grade was atrocious, somewhere from six to ten percent (two percent is considered bad for a railroad), which necessitated the use of a special Shay locomotive to negotiate it. However, it was a sight to behold; a narrow embankment of logs, little more than ten feet wide, towering some twenty to twenty-five feet above the ground and covering more than four hundred feet.

G&LS Corduroy Trestle, August 1997.

G&LS Corduroy Trestle, August 1997.

G&LS Corduroy Trestle, August 1997.

I saw the corduroy trestle during my first visit to the G&LS back in 1997 and was amazed at how well it had aged. I am glad that I had the opportunity and that I documented it as well (watch the video here). The 1999 blowdown caused some damage to it, but it was the fire that sealed its fate. It ripped through the area, scorching some spots and leaving others untouched. The corduroyed logs caught fire, the flames smoldering deep inside the stack of logs for months afterwards. The Forest Service hoped the winter would extinguish the embers, but it continued to flare, even buried in snow (read a story here). There was no other option than to dynamite the structure to put out the last vestiges of the fire; the great corduroy trestle which had endured for more than 100 years (and no doubt would still be around) was forever lost.

Corduroy Trestle burns, Ham Lake Fire, May 2007. (T. Kaffine/USFS)

Article from the Cook County News-Herald on the trestle, March 2008.

With all the excitement of the past month, I haven’t really had any time to do railway stuff. I can’t remember the last time I even looked at the one of the chapters of the book. In any case, it’s almost hiking season, which has me excited. I’m scheduled to go out next week, so hopefully the weather cooperates until then and the ground continues to dry up. It’s always a gamble going out at this time of the year; it’s the best time to see things in the bush, but it still can be a bit wet. I’m hoping that I can finish locating the route of the G&LS as it winds it’s way south of Gunflint Lake. It’s a long and difficult hike, so my fingers are crossed that everything goes well.

Anyway, it’s time to go. I’ll be back in a few weeks with details from the hike. Until then…

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Posted by on May 10, 2017 in Hiking, History, Railway

 

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I can smell it!

It’s definitely in the air and we all know it. It’s one of the most anticipated events of the whole year and I know everyone (myself included) cannot wait until it’s in full effect. Technically it has already happened, but as you know there is normally a little lag. Confused? No you’re not; you know I’m talking about spring. Yes, glorious spring, when we shed the cold of winter and watch nature new itself once again. I love the smell of the air in spring; so crisp, clean and wonderful…and of course, sprinkled with the aroma of dog crap. Gotta love spring!

Well, as you can probably tell, I’m excited for the change in seasons. Not that this winter has been particularly terrible, but certainly it has not been pleasant since my last post. Things seemed to be fairly normal this year until we hit February and that’s when the fun started. It was cold, really cold; we actually broke a record set way back in 1936. The mean temperature in February was -19.6C, which is freakishly cold. The month of March seems to be going much better, with relatively normal temperatures. With the very cold springs we’ve had the last couple of years, it will be nice to see some warm weather and have the snow go away by April. In that regard, things are well on their way. A lot of the white stuff has melted in the last few weeks and it won’t be long before the rest goes. Good riddance!

Early March, 2015.

Early March, 2015.

Mid-March, 2015.

Mid-March, 2015.

Up the mountain, March 2015.

Up the mountain, March 2015.

Up the mountain, March 2015.

Up the mountain, March 2015.

Up the mountain, March 2015.

Up the mountain, March 2015.

So here we are nearing the end of March and are almost into April. The time continues to fly by! Now that the March break has passed, we are on the downward slide to June and things will only go by even faster. Unfortunately there are still a million things to do between now and then. Work, kids, football…the list goes on and on. It actually makes me tired thinking of all of it. Oh well, I’m sure I’ll get by just fine like I always do.

Speaking of keeping busy, there are many things on the go on the railway front. This coming weekend we have the Annual General Meeting for the Silver Mountain and Area Historical Society which I am in the process of preparing for. In addition, we have a lot of projects on the table, which while not generating a steady amount work, do get intense from time to time. I have one on-going email conversation for one project, while I had a meeting today for another. I’ve been nominated for re-election at the AGM, so it appears I’ll be working away on this for at least the next few years!

My research on the railway continues unabated as usual. Last month I sent a proposal to the Thunder Bay Historical Museum Society to gauge their interest in publishing a book on the Gunflint and Lake Superior Railroad. I have not heard anything official from them to date, but I am optimistic that they will like where I am taking this. The more I dig, the more intrigued I become in this project. It’s amazing how something that only existed for 7 years can have so facets to it.

With the prospect of a somewhat normal spring on the horizon, I am very hopefully that I can get an early start on the hiking season. It would be nice to get out in late April or early May before the trees start to leaf out. Maybe the bush won’t be so wet as it has been over the past few years and the lake levels will be lower. That will certainly make my life a little easier. Fingers crossed!

Anywho, I better get rolling…busy as you know! I’ll be back as soon as I can with more information and updates. Until then…

 
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Posted by on March 24, 2015 in Hiking, History, Railway, Research, Writing

 

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Digging for Treasure

So we’ve all done it, or at least imagined ourselves doing it. I guess it’s the allure of finding something exciting, or maybe it’s the whole process of discovery. Admit it, we’ve all fancied ourselves being like Indiana Jones, probably without all the people trying to kill us or all the gross snakes and bugs and stuff. Especially the spiders…I hate spiders! In any case, few of us get to actually do anything like that, and besides, archaeology is not anywhere near what it is portrayed in the movies. I’m not one, unless you could the railway archaeology I do, but I do have an idea of what goes on. It generally involves a lot of research and tons of careful, painstaking excavation in the hopes of finding some small artifacts…no Holy Grails or Arcs of the Covenant unfortunately! So where am I going with this? I guess you’ll have to read on.

I know that it’s been a while since I last wrote, but as usual, I’ve been rather busy. It wasn’t my intention to go this long between posts, but it kinda snuck up on me. We’re now just over a week into February and it’s amazing how quickly time is going by. Five more weeks and it will be March break…hopefully with some nice “spring” weather to go along with that, unlike the last few years.

With February comes a new semester and new kids. Things seem to be going well so far and it appears I have some nice kids in my classes. I have Grade 12U History again, along with the Grade 10 AP History and Grade 12U Geography online, which is a nice, little mix. As good as things are, I’m already looking ahead to next year at this time. Although not as bad as last year, this winter is really starting to drag and I need something to distract me from the monotony.

So what’s happening a year from now that’s so exciting? No work, that’s what! Yep, one year from now Jo-Anne and I will be on leave from teaching for the entire semester. Seven glorious months of doing whatever I want to do! As much as I love to teach, I have a life outside of the bricks and mortar on Selkirk Street and I plan to exercise it to the fullest. Although we do have a family trip in the works for February, the main reason for me taking this leave was to work on the railway.

Since I began researching the PAD&W way back in 1994, I realized that I would not be able to fully complete my work without a visit to the National Archives in Ottawa. The trick has always been trying to find first the money, and then the time to get there, so I figured that this would be one of the best ways to accomplish this task, and I’d also have time to do some writing and field work.

I’ve also got a couple of other side trips planned for next year. I’d really like to get a book done on the little Gunflint and Lake Superior Railroad, which has become quite a fascination for me. The US National Archives repository in Chicago hopefully has some files pertaining to the customs operation at Gunflint I’d like to sift through since I cannot find that data anywhere else (unlike here in Canada). There are also some personal letters belonging to Pigeon River Lumber Company VP Frank Hixon located at the University of Wisconsin-La Crosse that might prove valuable. Should make for an interesting road trip, since I’ve been to neither place.

Speaking of the G&LS, I’ve been keeping myself busy of late with more research. I spent an afternoon before New Years at the Thunder Bay Museum looking through some of their files, which yielded a few valuable leads (one of which I’ll mention later). I’ve also spent a bit of time digging on the Internet, which as usual answers some questions and raises a whole pile more. However, this is why I love this type of work; the excitement of the hunt and the satisfaction of making discoveries!

Even though it’s only February, I’m already anticipating the arrival of spring so I can get into the field to do some hiking. I’ve got a lot planned for this year, so hopefully the weather cooperates. I’d like to get out to the G&LS in early May, but that will all depend of how quickly the lake ices out. The past few years it has been very late due to the cold winter, which doesn’t really help me out. I want to make as many day trips as I can during the summer, and I already have the fall trip on the Thanksgiving long weekend booked.

During my Christmas break research I came across some information in one of the files describing some “finds” that were made at the Camp 4 (logging camp of the PRLC) site in the 1970’s or before. I passed along that information to my contacts at the US Forest Service who I know had done a cursory examination of the camp a few years ago. I’ve looked around site a bit over the years, but I haven’t done anything detailed other than examining the Shay line shaft located on the beach. That will change however.

This past week I was invited by the USFS to be a bit of a “historical adviser” for some exploratory work that will take place there this July. The digging will be done by the USFS in conjunction with archaeology students from the University of Minnesota-Duluth. I am very excited to be a part of this research, particularly since I am a historian and have never seen any type of archaeological work carried out. This is the reason why I’d like to get to Gunflint in early May so I can try and identify some potential sites for the experts. I’ll be sure (as usual) to report on everything that happens.

Camp 4 building site, Gunflint Lake, October 2014.

Camp 4 building site, Gunflint Lake, October 2014.

Camp 4 beach, Gunflint Lake, October 2014.

Camp 4 beach, Gunflint Lake, October 2014.

Anyway, I better run. Lots of things to do. I’ll be back soon enough with more news and updates. Until then…

 

 
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Posted by on February 10, 2015 in Hiking, History, Railway, Research, Writing

 

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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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You can’t learn history sitting there!

Well, I guess technically you can, but history does not stop at the door of wherever you’re at. I’ve said it on many occasions in the past (hehe) that there is so much more to be learned when you “touch” history. There is only so much you can get from a book, a library or an archive; if possible, you need to get out and see whatever it is you are interested in or studying in person. It adds that physical element to our understanding of what happened in the past as there is only so much “reality” you can build into a written account. As it turns out, I have had the opportunity to study history both inside and outside over the past few weeks. Please, read on…

So, where are we? Well, we’re past the mid-point of August, and you know what that means. Yup, it will be time to head back to work soon…sigh! I know, poor teacher, had the whole summer off and now it’s back to reality. I realize it’s hard to get people to sympathize with our situation, but I think it’s a little different for teachers. You see, I still have two weeks left on my vacation but my brain is already thinking ahead to what needs to be done to be ready for the first day/week of school. I don’t know that many other people do that same sort of thing.

Now one of the things I need to start gearing up for is football, which as you know combined with work, makes my life go from the proverbial 0-60 in a matter of a few days. Schedules are already out and I have a coaches meeting on the books for next week. The trick now is to get my brain, which has been focussed on anything but football for the last two months, into that frame of mind. I really don’t even want to think about it right now, but as usual things will kick into gear as our start date approaches.

So this summer is the second year in a row that I haven’t spent a whole lot of time in the bush doing railway field work. There were the few days in July following my presentation at the Chik-Wauk that I was able to get out, but that was about it. With that in mind, I decided to get out again a week and half ago to follow up on a few things I missed on that earlier trip. This time was going to be just a day trip, so it was a bit of a challenge making sure I had maximum time on the lake. That meant leaving pretty early, since it takes 2.5 hours to negotiate the round-about journey from Thunder Bay to Gunflint Lake. I would also have the boys with me this time, so I would have to keep this in mind.

We were up and on the road early, so we arrived at our launch point, the Cross River Lodge, by 9:00 local time. A short time later we were zipping across the lake at maximum warp, which is about 21 knots for my boat (39 kph). I know the boys really enjoyed this part, since the lake which our camp sits on is pretty small, so we really can’t open up the throttle for very long. Our first stop of the day was going to be the spot where the Gunflint & Lake Superior crossed a small, unnamed river just south of the international boundary. I wanted to see if I could locate more of the bridge pilings and pick up the right of way on the south side of the river.

The lake was fairly calm, so we were able to see some of the pilings under the water and get some good shots of them. Hopefully the water levels will drop a bit next year so I can re-shoot this area with an even better view. After studying the maps and Lidar in a bit more detail, I was able to follow the grade on the south side very easily. The pilings there were now part of a beaver lodge, but I was able to beach the boat successfully. I only followed the grade for about 80 metres since the boys stayed in the boat and I did not want to wander too far. I should be able to follow it fully when I am there in the fall.

G&LS river crossing looking north, August 2014.

G&LS river crossing looking north, August 2014.

G&LS grade, August 2014.

G&LS grade, August 2014.

Our next stop was going to be a nice beach southwest of the river, near where the Pigeon River Lumber Company had its logging camp, known as Camp Four. The plan was going to be to follow the grade as it made its way southwest toward the log trestle and the big ridge on the south side of Gunflint Lake. We would walk about 500 metres and attempt to locate some rails that were still in their place that I had seen in 1997.

Unfortunately my plan came unglued pretty quickly. After securing the boat, the boys and I moved off the beach, found the grade and started our hike. After about 100 metres we ran into a snag; just east of the beach the beavers had built a large dam, flooding the area in front of what is known as Saucer Lake. With the high water levels this year, the dam had now flooded about 80 metres of the grade as it skirts behind a ridge. No problem right, just detour above the rail line? Unfortunately that didn’t work too well since the area is littered with deadfall from the 1999 windstorm and 2007 fire. By myself I would have been okay, but the boys are still young and they could not walk through all the new growth of bush and avoid the fallen trees. Back to the boat we went.

Plan B was going to be to walk down the beach a bit then cut across the ridge and try to get on the grade that way. We did do our best, but it was just too difficult trying to get over that ridge. Seventy metres or so doesn’t seem like much, and I would have had no issues by myself, but again the boys are too young to handle that type of serious bushwhacking.

Plan C. So my next thought was to take the boat about 500 metres or so further west along the shore to a point where the railway passed close the edge of the lake. We would still have to climb over the ridge, but I was sure this time we could just go straight over and not have to worry about any wet areas. As it turns out where we decided to beach the boat was a back country campsite, so the shore area was already cleared. It was about 90 metres to get up and over the ridge, but once we did, we found ourselves standing on the G&LS grade.

After the first few failed attempts, luck was on our side this time. Within the first few metres of walking the grade, Noah announced that he had found a rail. We had come down right in the spot I was looking for! In this area there are a few lengths of track still in place, the rails joined by two-bolt fishplates and marked “Illinois Steel Co. Union 92 IX.” Even more remarkable, we found what appeared to be metal ties under the rails. As it turns out, these metal “ties” were probably designed specifically for logging railways, so that the rails could be laid and then easily removed and used elsewhere.

Rail & connector, August 2014.

Rail & connector, August 2014.

Rail, August 2014.

Rail, August 2014.

The grade in this area seemed pretty decent to negotiate, so I decided we would continue to follow it until we reached the log trestle, which was about 450 metres to the southwest. A little further along the grade, it was Ethan’s turn to make a discovery. This time it was a set of double tracks, which left me scratching my head a bit; I had no idea what the purpose of this might have been. It only took a few more steps along the rail to figure out that this was a junction, complete with parts of the switch. Where this spur might have gone from there was a bit of a mystery.

Rail junction, August 2014.

Rail junction, August 2014.

G&LS grade, August 2014.

G&LS grade, August 2014.

We made our way to the bottom end of the trestle, the whole time noting how quickly the grade rises in a short distance (about 3-4%). It was very breezy on the lake, but stifling hot in the bush, so it was time to head back. I am really looking forward to going back in the fall and re-examining everything once the leaves are down and the visibility improves. Hopefully the weather cooperates and I’m able to accomplish all of my hiking.

North side of the log trestle looking south, August 2014.

North side of the log trestle looking south, August 2014.

So along with this field work, I’ve been spending a lot of time online, searching for material for the article I would like to write on the Gunflint and Lake Superior Railroad. My efforts have yielded quite a bit of information, and my file on this small logging railroad has very quickly expanded. I always quote this biblical line from the Gospel of Matthew to my students and they are certainly words to live by, especially as a historian-“seek, and ye shall find!” There is still much to do before I can even contemplate writing, but I have made a lot of headway.

Now one of things that has helped me out a lot is a little field work of a different type I did last week. One of my great guiding sources for this project is the history of Cook County, Minnesota, “Pioneers in the Wilderness,” which was written by Dr. Willis Raff in 1981. I had the good fortune to meet and chat with Dr. Raff back in 1997 before his passing in 2002. His book, which includes a chapter about the G&LS, has given me a lot of direction as to where to look for information.

One source that Dr. Raff used was a series of letters written by Pigeon River Lumber Company president Daniel J. Arpin known as the “Arpin Papers.” At the time of his research, these papers were in the personal collection of Lloyd K. Johnson, who was an attorney in Duluth, but originally hailed from Grand Marais. Johnson passed away in 2007, but with a little bit of digging I found that these papers were now in the possession of the Cook County Historical Society in Grand Marais. So last Thursday I went to take a look.

I don’t think I really understood what I was in store for when I decided to take a look at these letters. Raff stated that there were 9 volumes of letters, with 500 pages per volume…that’s 4500 pages! He said they were on “onion-skinned” paper, which really meant nothing to me; it only took me a few seconds to figure it all out! The letters are actually carbon copies of his correspondence with friends, associates and businesses. The vast majority are typed, but since they are carbons, the paper is tissue-paper like (hence the onion-skinned) and the text is purple. Some are easy to see, some are quite faded.

Arpin Papers, August 2014.

Arpin Papers, August 2014.

These letters were a gold mine of information, and I am very thankful they are still around. However, between the purple text, fine paper and the sheer quantity pages, I was bug-eyed and exhausted at the end of the day. It took me seven (yes, seven!) hours to go through 4 of the 6 volumes they have accessible (not all of the collection is catalogued…I’m hoping they have the other 3 volumes). I will need to make at least one more trip back (maybe two) to get through the rest of the books. That was just to look at them all though; I photographed the pages of interest on my iPad and now I need to go back and make notes from them!

Well, in any case I’ve yammered on too long. I’ll be back in a few weeks with more news and updates. Until then…

 
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Posted by on August 19, 2014 in Hiking, History, Railway, Research, Writing

 

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The view from the Balcony

I think I’ve mentioned on many occasions that I love the Boundary Waters between Canada and the US; North and Gunflint Lakes are my favourite places in all of this area. It is probably the combination of remoteness, beauty and history that draw me to it and continues to do so. I’ve already been there a lot this year and I wish I could be there even more. If you’ve ever been there you’ll know what I’m referring to…it’s all in the view!

Sunrise, Gunflint Lake, July 2014.

Sunrise, Gunflint Lake, July 2014.

So it is hard to believe that my vacation is already half over…where did the time go? I can answer my own question very easily though. I have not been home very much; this past week is my longest stretch I’ve been at home since school ended. Unfortunately the weather this year has not been very cooperative, with quite a bit of rain and crazy temperature swings. Hopefully things steady up for August.

So last week was a busy week for me on the railway front as I had a number of events on the go. Things got rolling on Sunday the 20th when I travelled down to Gunflint and the Chik-Wauk Museum for a presentation on the Paulson Mine and the railway. There was a good turnout on the front porch of the museum and the audience was very interested in the history of both enterprises; there were a lot of questions afterwards. This was my second appearance at Chik-Wauk and I decided this time around to place my focus more on the mine as opposed to the railway. You can watch the presentation online here.

My trip to down Gunflint had a dual purpose, the second of which was to do a bit of field exploration on a little project that I am working on. I mentioned in my last post that I am planning to write an article on the Gunflint and Lake Superior Railroad, which was a little logging line that branched off the PAD&W at Little Gunflint Lake and travelled several miles into Minnesota. The last time I had done any extensive exploration of the G&LS was way back in 1997.

I was up very early on Monday the 21st as I wanted to get going before things got too hot. The temperatures were supposed to be close to 30C in the afternoon. My other big concern of the day was the wind; Gunflint Lake is over 11km long, very narrow and situated in a valley. When the wind picks up, especially from the west, the water gets very angry. My ride from the Cross River Lodge was slowed by the waves, which were already up at that time, but by 9:30 I was on the beach at the eastern end of the lake.

The first part of the day would involve following the G&LS grade north-east to where it intersected the PAD&W. I was last in this location in July 2011 and in addition to the timing, the weather was eerily similar. That time I walked 13km from Trestle Bay to the same sandy beach in some killer heat…I’m pretty sure I had heat exhaustion. Before the day was over, I would find myself in a similar situation.

Until the 1999 blowdown, the grade of the G&LS in Ontario was a nice little trail about 400 metres long. The blowdown and 2007 fire unfortunately did a number on it and I remembered how difficult it was to explore from my experience 3 years earlier. My plan was to hike to the PAD&W, cutting a trail and marking it for future exploration in the fall or next spring when it would be more visible without the leaves. It would be a little more challenging without my trusty machete (which first hiked with me in 1994) since I wasn’t comfortable taking it across the border. That left me with my K-Bar knife, another trusty friend, but its packs a little less punch than the machete.

It did not take me very long to realize that this would be a difficult journey. Away from the lake it was stifling hot in the bush, and the thick forest growth made it very difficult to cut a trail. Very quickly I was dripping in sweat and the mosquitoes and black flies were eating me alive (even active bug dope doesn’t last long with that kind of perspiration). It took me over 2 hours to cover all 800 metres, which is rather ridiculous (most people can walk that in 20 minutes).

After photographing the area where the grade crossed into Minnesota, I jumped into the boat for a 1.5km journey around the peninsula to where the railroad rounded a bay and crossed a small river. However, try as I might, I could not find a place to beach the boat to start the hike. I was forced to backtrack to the narrows between Gunflint and Little Gunflint. It was a bit of a challenge getting into to the narrows; this year with all the snow and rain, the water on the lakes is several feet above where it normally is. I had to fight a very strong current coming through the narrows before I could beach the boat.

Boundary Marker, Gunflint Lake, July 2014.

Boundary Marker, Gunflint Lake, July 2014.

G&LS Crossing, Gunflint Lake, July 2014.

G&LS Crossing, Gunflint Lake, July 2014.

G&LS Crossing, Gunflint Lake, July 2014.

G&LS Crossing, Gunflint Lake, July 2014.

It was after 1:00 when I started on the 750 metre journey along the twisting grade to the bridge crossing. This was going to be an interesting hike for me, as I was entering some “virgin” territory if you will. I had only ever hiked about 100 metres of this portion of the G&LS so I was excited to see what I would find. The only downside was that the wind had dropped and the temperature was climbing fast.

This section of the G&LS turned out to almost as bad as the one I had hiked in the morning. There was a lot of deadfall and new growth, but there was a lot to see as well. For a logging railroad, this part of the line was very well constructed. There were a few sizable rock cuts, and rock fill had been used in a number of places. Corduroyed logs were still visible in the water under parts of the grade, exactly where they were placed some 111 years ago. I did get sidetracked a little bit, losing the grade for a short distance until I backtracked and got myself going in the right direction. When I reached the river crossing, I was unable to continue following the grade to its end due to some wet ground; it would turn out to be mute a point anyway since I slightly miscalculated the exact location of the crossing.

G&LS grade, Gunflint Lake, July 2014.

G&LS rock cut, Gunflint Lake, July 2014.

The journey back was a bit of an ordeal since the heat was beginning to take a toll on my body. Despite drinking water and Gatorade to keep myself hydrated, my legs began to cramp trying to negiotiate all the fallen trees and brush. I really had to will myself back to the boat and it reminded me so much of my experience in 2011. When I later returned to the lodge the thermometer was showing 94F, which works out to be 34C and with the humidity it was nearly 45C!

Now despite the searing temperatures, I was not finished for the day. Back in 1997 I had identified a piece of “machinery” near the site of the logging camp along the G&LS. It turns out that this was not some random chunk of steel, but rather a gear shaft from a specialized locomotive known as a Shay. Made by the Lima Locomotive Works, Shays were used typically on logging railroads because of the heavy grades involved. The kind folks at shaylocomotives.com had helped my identify one of the engines used by the G&LS as SN-164, but they wanted me to measure the shaft to confirm it. Turns out this shaft was not from SN-164, but most likely from another loco SN-683.

Shay shaft, Gunflint Lake, July 2014.

Shay shaft, Gunflint Lake, July 2014.

Unfortunately my next day of exploring was a bit of a wash due to some heavy rain overnight and some pretty wicked winds on the lake. I did venture out after supper for a quick run (which is a relative term, since it is 6km away) to Leeblain. I had not been there since last August, so I figured it was time for a check in. My excitement very quickly turned to disappointment though; I was not very pleased at what I saw, but I’ll save that thought for my later.

Wednesday was my last day and even though I was leaving, I was hoping to make up for some lost time. I had to move quick though, as I needed to be home by the early evening. My first stop across the lake was the site of the river crossing just south of Monday’s hike. I beached the boat and poked around a bit looking for the where the grade resumed. I became very frustrated when I could not find anything, so I jumped back into the boat hoping to find some traces of the bridge. Turns out I could not find anything as I was looking about 15-20 feet too far west. I’ll have to get back when I have more time and when the water is lower to expand this find.

From the river I drove 2.5km southwest to where the Crab River empties into the lake. There a 600 metre trail that heads west toward a beautiful set of falls known as Bridal Falls and about 40 metres beyond that is the grade of the G&LS. I was last there in 2011 and the trail at that time was much easier to negotiate; this year’s weather left sections of the route very wet and muddy. However arriving at the falls was well worth the walk, but that would have to wait for later.

The falls had more water cascading over its rocks than I ever remember seeing, which made it a real challenge crossing over the river toward the railroad. Before the 2007 fire there was an amazing wood corduroy trestle beside the falls, but that is a story for another time. Starting at the top end of the former trestle, I worked my way up and south over the ridge toward Crab Lake. Eventually after about 200 metres the grade became too wet for me to follow so I decided to leave it for my return trip in the fall.

G&LS rock cut, Gunflint Lake, July 2014.

G&LS rock cut, Gunflint Lake, July 2014.

Before I had to make my way back across the lake to the lodge I had a little spare time to do something that I haven’t been able to indulge in in recent years. Since I caught the “bug” in the early 1990’s, I have always loved photography. Before marriage and a family I had time to do both the railway and photography, but those times are long gone, so it is very rare that I have time these days to take photos. I found myself getting a little giddy as I snapped away!

Bridal Falls, July 2014.

Bridal Falls, July 2014.

Bridal Falls, July 2014.

Bridal Falls, July 2014.

Now one of the biggest results of the whole trip was what I discovered at Leeblain. I didn’t have a lot of time to poke around, but I did check over the rock ovens. I found that two of the three remaining intact ovens had been tampered with. I don’t think it was a malicious act, but rather an attempt an individual (or individuals) to help? clean up the ovens. However at 122 years old and having been through a lot of turmoil in the past 15 years, this is not the type of interference they need. Unfortunately this is not the first example of someone trying to “help” these historic sites. I have followed this up with a series of emails; I’ll see what transpires.

Rock oven, Leeblain, July 2014.

Rock oven, Leeblain, July 2014.

Rock oven, Leeblain, July 2014.

Rock oven, Leeblain, July 2014.

Anyway, I better get rolling. There’s a lot to digest in this post, so I better save some for next time. Until then…

 
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Posted by on July 31, 2014 in Hiking, History, Railway, Research, Writing

 

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The things we do!

My dad told me it would happen at some point in my life. He even guaranteed it. At the time I refused to believe it was possible; I probably told him he was making it up. Why? Most likely it was because I did not know any better. Oh the foolishness of youth! My dad is probably watching me right now and laughing. If he were here he’d tell me I told you so. Karma right? Totally one hundred percent!

If you’re looking for the answer to that cryptic series of sentences, you’ll have to keep reading. In the meantime, let’s get up to speed shall we?

So we’ve arrived at the midway point of July; wow, that was fast! Time flies when you’re having fun right? The last time I posted was the end of June and I was getting ready for the end of school. A lot has happened in that time. The football trip to Duluth was great, and the team certainly enjoyed themselves. It was also a good time for the coaches, though it was hard to get my brain into football mode at this time of the year. Hopefully we’ll have a chance to go back next year.

Yesterday we arrived home from a fourteen-day trip to Toronto. My wife was taking an AP math course there and the boys and I headed down on the 2nd. It was an interesting road trip to since I had never taken the boys that far by myself. It went well though, and we eventually met up with mom on the 4th.

Old Woman Bay, Lake Superior, July 2014.

Old Woman Bay, Lake Superior, July 2014.

Our first weekend was taken up by two trips down to Hamilton and the Niagara region. On Saturday we visited the Canadian Warplane Heritage Museum, located at the Hamilton airport. We were supposed to go there on last year’s trip, but it was closed due to a freak storm that caused damage to the facility. By fluke the museum had a special visitor, which was a B-17 Flying Fortress “Sentimental Journey” from the Commemorative Air Force Museum in Arizona. For $5 we got to tour the plane, which really made you appreciate the challenges the crew faced manning the plane. We did not see it take off, but the Mynarski Memorial Lancaster was waiting on the tarmac sporting its special D-Day anniversary markings.

B-17 "Sentimental Journey," July 2014.

B-17 “Sentimental Journey,” July 2014.

Mynarski Memorial Lancaster, July 2014.

Mynarski Memorial Lancaster, July 2014.

Sunday we were back in Niagara, this time very close to the falls. After dropping my wife and my brother’s girlfriend off at the outlet mall, the boys, my brother and I headed to the Battle of Chippawa Historic Site. To celebrate the 200th anniversary of the Battles of Chippawa and Lundy’s Lane from the War of 1812, the park would be hosting a re-enactment of Chippawa on July 5th, and then a re-enactment of Lundy’s Lane on the 6th (which really happened on July 25th).

Entering the site you were greeted by various historical vendors, which was rather neat to see. Passing the “gates,” there were rows and rows of tents of the re-enactors and their families. It was fascinating to see so many people dressed in historical attire, though watching them eat potato chips and drink bottled water did solicit a bit of a chuckle on my part.

The festivities began with an artillery demonstration by the six cannons that would be taking part in the re-enactment and then followed by a performance by The Drums Crown Forces 1812 band. The Battle of Lundy’s Lane was one of the bloodiest battles of the War of 1812, and most likely the bloodiest battle ever fought on Canadian soil. The re-enactment was fantastic; the volleys of musket fire, booms of the artillery and the blinding smoke really gave you a sense of what an early nineteenth century battlefield was like. I’ve already made one video of the event with more in the works.

Artillery demonstration, Battle of Lundy's Lane, July 2014.

Artillery demonstration, Battle of Lundy’s Lane, July 2014.

Battle of Lundy's Lane, July 2014.

Battle of Lundy’s Lane, July 2014.

Battle of Lundy's Lane, July 2014.

Battle of Lundy’s Lane, July 2014.

Monday the 7th was a rainy day in Toronto, which was the perfect weather for what I had in store for the day. I had decided a long time ago that if we did this trip, I wanted to pay a visit to the Archives of Ontario, which are now located on the campus of York University. It was a short bus ride from my brother’s house to the Archives (due to new subway construction on Keele Street, I walked from Finch Avenue to the Archives).

Back in 1999 I made my first to the Archives to examine a very important file associated with the sale of the railway. I had made some notes from this legal suite that went to the High Court of Ontario, but I felt that I needed to go over it again to find more specific details. It’s funny on how our perceptions can change over time and when I opened the file it seemed to me that it was much larger than I remember. Since I’m not a lawyer, and obviously there is a lot of legal stuff in the file that I don’t quite understand, I ended up photographing the whole thing with my iPad so I could go over it later. It probably saved me a lot of time, but it still took me almost 3 hours to go through the whole thing and left me with some very sore shoulders!

Another highlight from the trip was the celebration of Noah’s 7th birthday. After looking at a number of venues, we settled on a trip to the Medieval Times Dinner and Tournament. Other than my brother, none of us had ever been there, but I had heard a lot of good things about it. It was pretty cool from start to finish. We were seated in one of the front rows of the blue section, and in between some great performances we enjoyed the very “medieval” meal served to us on pewter bowls and plates; the soup, chicken, ribs, potato, bread and dessert were all consumed without the aid of any utensils. Our knight was not champion on the evening, but I would definitely go back again.

When we travelled to Toronto last year, Noah had unfortunately broken his left arm only a few weeks before the trip. This left him unable to really enjoy one of the great attractions of Toronto, which is Canada’s Wonderland. It would be different this time around, which brings me to the title of today’s post. You see, my oldest son Ethan has evolved into quite the thrill-seeker. He decided, much to my chagrin, that he wanted to do all the crazy coasters at the park (Noah isn’t quite tall enough yet). The problem is that his dad isn’t very good with heights and I have never been a really been a fan of these crazy rides. But, like any good dad would do, I choked back my fears and jumped in with both feet.

After a couple tame rides, Ethan decided it was time to take on the Leviathan; it is the tallest and fastest roller coaster in Canada, with a height of 306 feet and speeds approaching 150kph. I actually felt ill as we approached the front of the line and it got worse as we climbed that first big hill in the car. The initial drop is near vertical and the speed is numbing. As I fought hard to control my fear and panic, all I could hear was Ethan screaming “this is awesome!” When it was over, it was great to get back on to solid ground, though my fingertips were white and my legs were like Jello. In spite of those things, I later got on the Behemoth and was a bit more relaxed. The things we do…

So other than the trip to the Archives, things on the railway front have been quiet, having been in Toronto and all. However, that is about to change very soon. On Sunday I will be giving my first lecture of the year at the Chik-Wauk Museum at the end of the Gunflint Trail. My first presentation there in 2012 was very successful so they have asked to me return and speak again on the front porch of the museum. This time my emphasis will be more on the Paulson Mine end of things, which means I have a bit of work to do to modify my usual lecture to be ready.

I’m planning on spending a few days on Gunflint Lake after Sunday; if the weather cooperates I’ll be doing some field work in the area. I did have to modify my plans somewhat, since the bush is still a little wet from all the rain we had in the spring. I’ll be focussing my attention on the Gunflint and Lake Superior Railroad, which was a small logging line that branched off the PAD&W at Little Gunflint Lake and ran about 4 miles into Minnesota. It was owned by the Pigeon River Lumber Company and operated from 1903 to 1909. This visit is actually some preliminary work for a trip I have planned for Thanksgiving weekend in October when the leaves are down and it is easier to see things.

So this visit to Minnesota reminds me of my trip to hike there in 1998. Since it’s been twenty years of work on the railway, it seems appropriate to take another stroll down memory lane. At the time I was not yet 25 years old and had just completed my first year of supply teaching. I would be heading down at the end of June, since it was the only time I could fit it into the schedule of my other part-time job. Since money was tight and I couldn’t afford a lot of extravagances, my accommodations for the trip were my small tent and a camp site at the Gunflint Pines Resort.

After stopping for some provisions in Grand Marais, I headed up the Gunflint Trail for the first time ever and made my way to Gunflint Lake. After arriving, I spent the afternoon walking along the Gunflint Narrows Road from the Cross River right up to the Narrows. It had rained earlier in the day, but thankfully it held off and let me accomplish all of my objectives. It wasn’t a super adventurous hike, but it was amazing to see some of the big rock cuts on the road. At the Cross River I could see a few traces of the trestle that once spanned the river.

Gunflint Narrows, June 1998.

Gunflint Narrows, June 1998.

Gunflint Narrows Road, June 1998.

Gunflint Narrows Road, June 1998.

The next day I headed over to the Round Lake Road to try and trace the railway as it passed through a switchback and made it’s way to the Paulson Mine. I initially had some difficultly finding the grade as it looped through a swamp (I would have the same problem years later) so I ended up searching for a rock cut that was supposed to be just beside the road. I did find it and followed it along to the location of the first of two trestles in the area, but I could not find the western side (in 2011 I would determine that there were in fact two rock cuts and two trestles, one slightly above the other). I picked up the grade a little farther west and could see the lower arm of the switchback under the forest canopy (my plan to follow it later in the day would be frustrated by rain).

Rock cut, June 1998.

Rock cut, June 1998.

The railway took me along the north side of a ridge, through a number of small rock cuts until I reached a long rock embankment. From there it was into a long, dark rock cut, which is now a big attraction on the Centennial Trail, but back then very grown in and difficult to navigate. A short time later I reached the eastern side of a 400 foot trestle; unfortunately, owing to the very thick forest growth, I could not locate where the western side resumed. Today I know that it is blasted out of the side of the ridge but at the time I had no idea where to look. I had to head south to skirt the valley and at the same time try to locate the grade. I ended up on the top of the opposite ridge with the railway nowhere in sight; I actually got lost for a while try to figure out where I was. I eventually located the grade on the north side of the ridge and worked my west until I found a spot where there was a manageable descent. I planned on locating the western side of the trestle on my way back.

As I headed west the weather took a turn and it began to drizzle; I’m not sure if you can picture what it was like, but hiking along this overgrown railway, soaking wet and tired was not a nice position to be in. A short time later I entered a long rock cut and was amazed to find ties still in their original location. After that I was along the north shore of a small lake, the grade barely above the waterline. On the western shore of this lake was the site of Gunflint City, which was the camp for the mining operations in the area back in 1892-1893. After another 400 metres or so, I found my way blocked by a flooded rock cut, so I headed north and got on the Kekekabic Trail. With the rail coming down and thunder booming in the distance (and also being completely drenched), I decided to call it a day and make my way back via the Kekekabic and the Gunflint Trail; the missing parts would have to wait for another time.

Rock cut, June 1998.

Rock cut, June 1998.

Grade and Gunflint City, June 1998.

Grade and Gunflint City, June 1998.

After drying out back at the resort (the sun came out later in the day), I was back in the same area the next morning. It was bright, sunny and warm and my plan was to explore some of the sites along the Kekekabic Trail, Gunflint City and hopefully locate the Paulson Mine. I made a quick stop at one of the test pits located alongside the trail (mislabelled as the Paulson Mine; now it is the third of five test pits in the area) and then headed toward Gunflint City. It would be a bit of a hike over the ridge between the trail and the mining camp, but I eventually made it. There I found some remains of the buildings that were at the site and it was interesting trying to envision what it would have looked like back in the 1890’s.

From Gunflint City it was back over the ridge toward the Paulson Mine. Finding the shaft, I was a bit disappointed at the state it was in. Surrounded by a green snow fence, the opening was completely blocked by several trees that had fallen across the collar of the shaft, shielding my view of the inside. I was able to explore the site a bit, finding some pieces of machinery and seeing the piles of oxidizing tailings excavated from the shaft.

Once I was back on the Kekekabic Trail, I headed west about 1.5 kilometres to Mine Lake (known historically as Akeley Lake). On the western side of the lake was a shaft that was sunk around the time as the other locations. I found what would turn out to be the best preserved mine in the area (which has changed today-see my June 25 post) and a lot of machinery scattered around the site. All of my time for the day was used up by that point so I had to sadly head back to the resort. The last day of the trip was spent on the lake doing a little exploring and taking some pictures.

Anyway, it’s time to get rolling. I will be back next week with some posts about my presentation and field work. Until then…

 
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Posted by on July 16, 2014 in History, Railway, Travel, Writing

 

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