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Reflections on a Great Weekend

Moments like these do not come along very often. They are ones that are often engrained in our memory, reminisced upon for years to come. I certainly remember similar occasions from my youth, and they do bring with them comforting, warm thoughts. I hope that this past weekend does likewise, though my perspective is a bit different this time. I definitely glad I took the time to do this and I will mostly likely do it again!

Okay, so I guess enough of the cryptic stuff. It’s been a good weekend…really good. I got a chance to get away from all the stressful stuff that has been going on in my life and decompress a bit. I spent quite a bit of time on the railway, which as you know is my happy place. Most importantly, I got to be a dad for a few solid days. I do miss seeing my wife, but sometimes a guy just needs to spend some time away with his boys; a man’s weekend if you will. This fall has been so busy I haven’t really seen a lot of them, which is very unfortunate. As I indicated in my intro, these are the events that get remembered. I look back on with great fondness the times I spent with my dad all those years ago and while it does make me a bit sad that’s he gone, it makes me truly understand what a dad really is.

Fall is particularly special for me. One of my most cherished memories of my childhood father-son time is warm evenings spent hunting in the area around South Gilles. The fall colours, the blue skies and the crisp air make me think back to those years long ago. I certainly hope that the boys will remember those same feelings when I’m gone. I can’t wait to do this all again next year…if my wife lets us!

So this was my long-winded way of saying it was a great weekend. I think the boys enjoyed it and so did I. We spent Saturday along the Gunflint Narrows Road, looking for the elusive turning wye along that section of railway that seems to defy discovery. I did see a few things that were optimistic, but I failed to make the “big” breakthrough. I got myself a nice sloppy booter though!

After a few hours of slogging through the tall grass in the swamp, I turned my attention to the railway further south where it bridged the Cross River twice. Unfortunately, owing to all the rain we received this year, I wasn’t able to do much since the river level was so high. I’ll have to try again next year.

Railway grade, Gunflint Trail, October 2013.

Railway grade, Gunflint Trail, October 2013.

Railway grade, Gunflint Trail, October 2013.

Railway grade, Gunflint Trail, October 2013.

We headed back to our great cabin for lunch (it was just renovated) and then drove back up the Gunflint Trail to the Chik-Wauk Museum. Noah had never seen the museum, so I thought he might like taking a look at it. Also, I had to drop off a new copy of my railway poster. Seems as though someone took a liking to it, and stole the previous one! I guess that’s a positive theft. While we were there we took the opportunity to look at some of the trails around the site and snap some pictures of the beautiful scenery.

Chik-Wauk Museum & Nature Center, October 2013.

Chik-Wauk Museum & Nature Center, October 2013.

Chik-Wauk Museum & Nature Center, October 2013.

Chik-Wauk Museum & Nature Center, October 2013.

From the museum it was back to the lodge for a quick stop over and then we were back on the Gunflint Trail, east this time toward the Gunflint Lodge. I had decided that we would eat dinner one of the days at the Lodge’s fantastic restaurant and Saturday became that time. We left a little early so we could stop at the Gunflint Lake Overlook, which is just north of the lodge. There are some trails in the area, and I wanted to see which one would give us a nice vista of the lake. We wandered around for a bit, and finally found the West End Trail (which is part of the Borderland Route) that brought us to the spot. Too bad the clouds had rolled in otherwise it would have made for some awesome photographs!

Sun & Snow Cabin, Cross River Lodge, October 2013.

Sun & Snow Cabin, Cross River Lodge, October 2013.

Sun & Snow Cabin, Cross River Lodge, October 2013.

Sun & Snow Cabin, Cross River Lodge, October 2013.

Gunflint Narrows, October 2013.

Gunflint Narrows, October 2013.

Supper at the lodge was great as usual, and I probably ate way more than I should have. Ethan decided that he could handle a three-slice clubhouse sandwich; no he couldn’t! Dad had to help him out, which I know isn’t the best plan for watching your waistline, but I hate to throw away food I paid for. I guess it worked okay though, since I did burn it off the next day.

Back at Cross River we spent the evening passing time in the lodge playing some games and watching a bit of TV. When we headed off to bed, it was drizzling a bit which made me nervous for what we’d experience the next day. Fortunately it wasn’t too wet when we woke up and it was a very beautiful morning on the lake.

Sunday’s hike was going to be along the railway grade that forms part of the southern arm of the USFS Centennial Trail. This was the part of the area I explored in the spring with Ethan and John. Noah had never come hiking in Minnesota so this was going to be a new experience for him, and I also wanted to do a bit of investigating along this stretch of the railway.

I always love to hike on this part of the Centennial Trail as it passed through some amazing work that was done on the railway, such as rock cuts and embankments. I particularly like the 200 foot north-facing rock cut that is very cool and damp, since it sees very little sunlight during the day. I also used the opportunity to shoot some new video of the railway through this area, which I hope to upload once I get caught up on stuff from the summer.

Centennial Trail, October 2013.

Centennial Trail, October 2013.

Rock cut, Minnesota, October 2013.

Rock cut, Minnesota, October 2013.

Rock cut, Minnesota, October 2013.

Rock cut, Minnesota, October 2013.

400' Trestle, Minnesota, October 2013.

400′ Trestle, Minnesota, October 2013.

Rock cut, Minnesota, October 2013.

Rock cut, Minnesota, October 2013.

Embankment, Minnesota, October 2013.

Embankment, Minnesota, October 2013.

Centennial Trail, October 2013.

Centennial Trail, October 2013.

When we reached the intersection of the Centennial and Kekekabic Trails, we paused a bit for lunch. Then I tried to do a bit of sleuthing, using the boys to help me piece together what happened with the railway grade in the area, where it forms another switchback. I’m not completely clear on the situation, but it certainly helped clarify a few things and I did shoot some video that I can analyze at another time.

From there it was a three kilometre walk back to the truck, highlighted by Noah stepping on a snake and scaring the hell out of everyone. We did stop at a few of the test pits along the way so Noah could have a chance to see them. In all it was a great day and a heck of a lot of walking, 8km in total! I was certainly tired and so were the boys.

That evening it was a well-deserved meal of barbequed chicken and steak; I really appreciated the opportunity to sit down and have a nice quiet dinner with the boys. They were very excited for that night’s activities, since I had promised them that instead of our usual weekend movie night, we would do “football” night. The Cowboys were playing the Redskins in the late game, and we had chips and bottled cream soda ready to go. I think they quite enjoyed the evening and the snacks (and staying up a bit late), which made me a happy dad. The icing on the cake was the ‘Boys beating the ‘Skins in a very close game (I didn’t see the end as the boys had to go to bed).

Gunflint Lake, October 2013.

Gunflint Lake, October 2013.

The next morning I was up early to start packing for home. I was able to catch the sun rising over the lake, which was very beautiful. We all ate an amazing breakfast at the lodge, bid goodbye to John and Rose, and made our way home. It was sad to leave, but great to be home. My wife Jo-Anne had already started Thanksgiving dinner and wonderful scents emanated from the kitchen. The great feast was really the culmination of a fantastic weekend.

Gunflint Lake, October 2013.

Gunflint Lake, October 2013.

So I’ve had a week to digest everything that went on during the long weekend. Thanksgiving is supposed to be a time to reflect on all the great things we have in our lives…I certainly have a lot to be thankful for. My wife, my boys, all things in my life…they are all blessings. There are times that I do take everything for granted, but deep down I’m glad to have them all. I’m excited to do the boys’ weekend again next year, and I’m sure Ethan and Noah are too. Hopefully the weather will cooperate like this year and allow us to make more great memories.

Anyway, I need to go. Hopefully the end of the football seasons will allow me to write more often, maybe even next week…we’ll see! Until then…

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Posted by on October 22, 2013 in Hiking, History, Railway, Travel, Writing

 

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It’s about time!

Yes, yes it was. Talk about venting months of frustration. You know, when you can’t wait to do something and it finally happens you’re so giddy with excitement that you cannot contain yourself? That was me on Saturday. And no, I’m not talking about doing yard work, ‘cause we all know my feeling on that subject (besides, that was Sunday’s agenda). It wasn’t a stroll in the park and I was pretty beat afterwards, but it was well worth it. No, I’m not some addict getting my fix, but then again I could be since I can’t wait to do it again. Not making sense? Obviously you’re not visiting this blog on a regular basis…read up!

So we’ve arrived at the end of May. There are only 17 days left before exams…yikes! That’s not a lot of time kids! There is still so much to do, and to top it off, I’m out of the classroom for 6.5 days in these last few weeks. Talk about craziness. How I am going to get everything done? I guess I will manage like always, but I’m really finding it hard to plow through all of my marking. Besides, no teacher is ever caught up on their marking…ever!

One of the things that is going to keep me busy over the next week is our annual spring football camp. Yesterday I travelled to our feeder school Pope John Paul II (or PJP) along with another coach and a few players to plug the camp to prospective Grade 8’s. It should be a good three days of football skills and fun. Hopefully we will be joined by a couple former Fighting Saints alumni who are currently playing university ball here in Canada; I think these young athletes will really enjoy the experience.

Things have been both quiet and busy on the railway front. I worked on a few small items for the historical society, though I do need to get cracking on the poster and website. The website is of particular importance, as it will be one of our main means of providing information to the public. We’re also planning to have a page for society membership, which hopefully will attract more people to our organization.

So the biggest news of the past week and the obvious title of this post, involves the hike I did on Saturday in Minnesota. It was so good to get out and do some hiking on the railway (actually, it was great to get out period). I had been looking forward to this outing for quite a while, really since my visit to Gunflint Lake in March (I’ve written about it so many times over the past month or so). Unfortunately I left my usual hiking partner Loki behind, but I was joined by my oldest son Ethan, as well as my friend and Cross River Lodge owner John Schloot.

After an uneventful 2.5 hour or so drive from Thunder Bay to Gunflint Lake, I stopped at the lodge to pick up John. From there we proceeded the approximately 5km to the southern trailhead of the Centennial Trail. Once we were ready, we headed back up the Round Lake Road (County Road 47) to where it intersects with the Gunflint Trail. It was there that we picked up the old railway grade, and proceeded to follow it for about 200m to the east (it eventually disappears under the Trail).

Grade near the Gunflint Trail, May 2013.

Grade near the Gunflint Trail, May 2013.

We then headed back to the west, retracing our steps until we crossed back over the Round Lake Rd. From there the grade skirts a ridge as it makes a large arc through a swamp and begins to climb the opposite ridge. The engineers did this as the railway needed to climb about 200 feet as it leaves the valley of the Cross River and heads toward the Paulson Mine. It also required an elaborate double trestle switchback to make the grade sufficiently low enough for the trains to negotiate the climb. One can actually see a rock embankment almost 100 feet above the swamp on the southern ridge of the valley.

Cutting, May 2013.

Cutting, May 2013.

Railway embankment on the ridge, May 2013.

Railway embankment on the ridge, May 2013.

It is rather interesting walking the round edge of the loop as it curves through the swamp. The grade has obviously settled into the ground, but beavers have conveniently used it as the base for a large dam. At the southern end of the curve, the line passes through what looks like a large hill, but what is in actuality an esker. From there the slope of the grade becomes very noticeable as the line ascends the ridge passing through several cuttings and rock cuts. The distance from the esker to the western side of the first trestle is 230m, while the rise is about 11.5m (38ft); that makes the slope near 5%. Craziness! I can’t image how the trains would get up that grade, but worse, how loaded ores cars could negotiate the decent and curve.

Swamp loop, May 2013.

Swamp loop, May 2013.

Esker cutting, May 2013.

Esker cutting, May 2013.

At the eastern end of the ridge, the engineers were confronted with a valley opening to the north directly in their path. The simple solution was to build a 150 foot trestle across the expanse, but they would have to cross this valley a second time. From the east side of the trestle, the railway skirted around to the south side of the ridge for 250m, passing through a very large rock cut. Previously overgrown, this area has now been cleared by the US Forest Service and will probably become part of the Centennial Trail. Eventually the grade merges with the Round Lake Rd next to the Cross River.

Lower rock cut, May 2013.

Lower rock cut, May 2013.

At this point was located a switchback, which meant that the train now changed to another track and reversed its path along the ridge at a higher elevation. The grade continues for another 200m, through another large rock cut until it reaches the valley once again and crosses a second 150 foot trestle. Portions of this upper line have also been cleared and we made an interesting discovering. Previously obscured by the brush and part of what I assumed was the grade, was an immensely large pile of blasted rock lying between the upper and lower lines. Likely taken from the two rock cuts, it is a bit of a mystery as to why this pile was created and left in that spot. My best guess is that it would eventually have been used to replace the wooden trestles with rock embankments.

Rock pile, May 2013.

Rock pile, May 2013.

Upper rock cut, May 2013.

Upper rock cut, May 2013.

One of my goals of the hike was to shoot some new video of the area, and in particular, with John’s help, film the double trestles from the far sides. It must have been something to see those wooden structures one on top of the other on the side of the ridge (I’d love to find someone who can do some sort of drawing or CGI of what it would have looked like). My attempt was partially successful; I sort of underestimated how much forest growth was in the area. The upper trestle turned out okay, but at the lower one I was obscured by the trees. I was able to get enough footage to create two videos which have already made it to YouTube (Part I & Part II).

Loop and switchback in Minnesota.

Loop and switchback in Minnesota.

After concluding our very enjoyable “walk” through the bush, we headed back to the lodge to drop John off. Ever the gracious host, John invited us in to share some lunch and conversation with him and his wife Rose. I know he really enjoyed the hike, and I hope to get to visit him in the summer. If I can wrangle it, I’d like to spend a few days at the lodge in the fall and hike the Gunflint and Lake Superior Railroad. We’ll have to see how things play out at that time.

After saying goodbye to John and Rose, Ethan and I drove the 17km farther up the Gunflint Trail to the Chik-Wauk Museum. It’s a very beautiful old building (it used to be a lodge) and has some great historical displays. I did have an ulterior motive however, which was to drop off one of my railway posters to the museum director Ada. Gotta sell the website right? From there it was back to Grand Marais, dinner and then home. We rolled into the driveway at about 7:45, which made it almost a 12 hour round-trip. Boy was I pooped, and so was Ethan; he uncharacteristically slept in until 8:30 the next morning!

I’m really hoping to get out again this weekend. I’d like to go to North Lake with both of the boys and see if we can find ourselves more telegraph poles and maybe some insulators like we did last year. Right now Mother Nature doesn’t look like she’s going to cooperate however, but things seem to change very quickly around here. Let’s hope for the best.

Anyway, time to get rolling. With any luck I’ll have more adventures to talk about next week. Until then…

 
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Posted by on May 28, 2013 in Hiking, History, Miscellaneous, Railway, Writing

 

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Shorts in March?

Yes, you read that title right. So, you’re probably saying, “it’s March, in the northwestern Ontario…what is he thinking?” Well, I’ve never worn shorts in March, but there’s a first time for everything right? I guess it all started last week when we were in Minneapolis and the mercury climbed to +18C; things only got better from there! Yesterday the temperature rose to +21 and I couldn’t help myself…actually I got too hot in pants. So I broke out the shorts and made history! Needless to say I feel very proud of my accomplishment. I even Tweeted about it 🙂

Today unfortunately it was back to work and boy was I dragging! Teaching is a great profession with some good holiday time, but coming back from vacation is always tough. This is especially difficult when you have to jump right back into the swing of things such as the Battle of Passchendaele and the Enlightenment. I’m certainly going to sleep well tonight!

Now speaking of sleeping, there are only 15 more sleeps until Europe! Can you tell I’m excited? Tomorrow I am having the final meeting with the travellers and their parents, so the reality is really setting in. Last week I picked up a new suitcase and some travel adapters so I think I’m ready roll. I am a little concerned with the current Air Canada labour issues, but fingers crossed everything will be okay.

I’ve been looking at our hotels and where we are heading from those locations. After our two days in Paris, we move to Rouen from which we visit Dieppe and Juno Beach. Then we’re on to Amiens which is close to the Beaumont Hamel and Ypres, as well as the culmination of the trip, Vimy. On paper they seem so far away, but they are really only an hour to an hour and half apart. Anyway, enough about that; you’ll be reading about it soon.

So, what about the railway? Well, there’s a lot to report on that front. I worked more on the article last week and I’ve almost reached 2800 words. I’ll try to get more writing done tomorrow and hopefully I can wrap things up next week. Since I’m almost done, I need to start thinking about pictures and maps for the article. I think I’ve got the pictures covered, but I’ll need to try and find some decent maps. I might have to make a few phone calls and see what I can dig up.

Last week I also received some good news regarding my presentation at the Chik-Wauk Museum. After the exchanging a few emails with Ada from the museum, I’ve been confirmed for Sunday, August 5th at 2:00 pm CST. I will be talking about the railway and the Paulson Mine…obviously pretty pumped for this event! It’s been a while since I did a public lecture on the railway so I’m great to get back into the saddle so to speak.

I managed to get that Wikipedia article on Leeblain finished as well. Quite proud of myself; it was actually a bit of work to put that together, especially with all the research involved (well, more like digging through my files). Maybe this will lead to more Wikipedia stuff, though I don’t want to get too carried away…I have anough on my plate. Paulson Mine next?

Joseph Fisher Eby

For my closing comments I thought I’d mention the busy week this is going to be in the history of the railway. Here’s the list:

Thursday-Gunflint Lake Iron Company is organized in 1892 by John Paulson, Kristian Kortgaard and Orrin D. Kinney

Friday-Investor Joseph F. Eby is born in Berlin, ON in 1844 and Canadian Northern VP Donald Mann is born in Acton, ON in 1853

Saturday-the last train runs on the Canadian National Railway-North Lake Sub-Division in 1938

Of all the events, the last is probably the most important, but I`ll save my comments for next week.

Until then…

 
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Posted by on March 19, 2012 in Miscellaneous, Research, Writing

 

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Of mountains and railways…

So, what’s with the title Dave? Well, it’s sort of a play on the Steinbeck novel “Of Mice and Men,” which I haven’t read by the way. I don’t really read much outside of history (go figure), mostly because I don’t have time to with all the other stuff I need to read. Anyway, I was stuck for a title and that just popped into my head. I think it’s appropriate though; just as Of Mice and Men was based on Steinbeck’s experiences, this blog was talks about my past week. So, there is a decent explanation!

Well, since I have now opened the proverbial can of worms, I guess I should elaborate on the events of the past seven days. It did take me a few days to get back in the swing of things after returning to work, and I was certainly feeling drained by Friday. I was struggling to clear up that backlog of marking, which by the way I’m still not all the way through (I can see the light at the end of the tunnel though). Saturday was our second cross-country ski lesson, which was a bit more active than the first. The kids got to experience going down a hill, and so did Dad! However, going back up the hill was interesting, especially since I didn’t have poles to help me out. My glutes were feeling it a bit later that day.

Sunday afternoon found me and boys back on the trail up the mountain, determined to surpass last week’s distance. So we headed up another level on the mountain, which unfortunately has some tough sections. One area, which is too rough and narrow for snowmobiles (most of the trails are used by both hikers and snowmobilers), includes a 250 foot vertical rise in 1100 feet. That’s a thigh-crushing, hamstring-tightening, lung-popping 23% grade…how’s that for a description! Trying to get two little boys up that is not easy, nor is the fact that I could stand to lose 10 pounds and am somewhat out of shape. However, the view makes it all worth it, as does the time I get to spend with my sons. I really hope they grow up to appreciate and enjoy the outdoors as much as I do. I’m already mentally planning where I’d like to take them on my personal day in June…Leeblain comes to mind 🙂

As for railway related events, I did not get to the article as I expected to (I wasn’t holding out a lot of hope). However, there were some interesting developments. On Wednesday I received an email from the Chik-Wauk Museum, which is located at the end of the Gunflint Trail (just across the border in northeastern Minnesota in case anyone is wondering). They wanted to know if I was interested in doing a presentation there at some point in the summer; of course I said “yes.” It’s been quite a few years since I done a public lecture, probably dating back to 2000. In a four-year span I gave a series of presentations on the railway (twice), mining and logging at the Paipoonge Museum (now known as the Duke Hunt Museum). There is no date yet, but hopefully I will know by the end of March. I must say that I’m excited; it love to talk about the railway and I know there will be a receptive audience. I also relish the opportunity to bring a little Canadiana to our neighbours to the south and describe how closely related our histories often are.

My second development was another contact in the ongoing Alexander McEwen saga. I received an email from a kind lady across the pond in Britain, who as it turns out is the great-granddaughter of McEwen’s mistress. Wow, quite the interesting tidbit! While she was not able to offer any additional information, it is another piece of the puzzle and might help me get to my goal of finding a picture of him.

Digging through my files for his information led me to a few other things on the weekend. First I continued with my article filing that I mentioned in my previous post, which unfortunately I did not get entirely through (damn US railroads!). From that I spun into looking at the book chapters and a new chapter I added regarding the sale of the railway in 1898-99. As I looked at the file, I really wished I could get to Toronto sometime in the near future. There is a file at the Archives of Ontario on the sale of the railway that has some really important information (I looked at it in 1999, but I need a second go-around). In the meantime I think I will email the archives at CIBC to see if they have any documents related to the money loaned to the railway in 1890 and how it factored into the sale. Wow, I have some work to do, never mind working on the article!

Until next week…

 
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Posted by on January 16, 2012 in Hiking, Miscellaneous, Research, Writing

 

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