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The Scary First Step…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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The weather is certainly frightful!

Is frightful the correct metaphor? Maybe. Probably the more appropriate term would be weird, or possibly inconsistent. What about unpredictable or erratic? Eccentric? Illogical? Not sure how those terms mesh with the opening lines of the song; “Oh the weather outside is erratic?” However, I think those represent the situation much better. Why you ask? Well, you know that you’re gonna have to keep reading.

Hey, it’s Christmas break kids. Actually, it’s Christmas Day today, so Merry Christmas! It doesn’t quite feel like feel like it though, since our school year took us right up to the 23rd before vacation started. More than anything, it’s nice to be off as it’s been a very tiring few weeks. With the late timing, it means that we’ll have a whole week after New Years. I guess that it is fortuitous, as I have a literal mountain of marking that needs to be done before we go back. Bah humbug!

So I as I sit here and write this, we are bracing for a potentially large dump of snow. They are calling for high winds and possibly freezing rain. Yay! As I mentioned in the intro, the weather has been a complete mess the last month. In my previous post, I wrote how it was +17C on Sunday, which was followed by a winter storm less than a week later. A few weeks after that, it was so mild that we received 80mm of rain that washed all the snow away and caused flooding. Then the temperatures dropped for a whole week with windchills in the -20s and -30s. The last few days we’ve been hovering around 0C; there’s no global warming right?

December 2016 Temperatures.

December 2016 Temperatures.

With the two-week break from work, I am hoping to get some work done on the railway front. I haven’t been able to do much recently with everything that has been going on. I have managed a little research, but nothing too strenuous. Those efforts have yielded some excellent results though, namely the discovery of a photo of what purports to be the Pigeon River Lumber Company (PRLC) mill in Fort William circa 1900-1901. If it is in fact the PRLC mill in Fort William, it had to be taken between late 1900 and early 1902 as the company left the old Graham and Horne Lumber site in the spring of 1902 for a new location in Port Arthur.

Pigeon River Lumber Company Mill, Fort William, ON c. 1900

Pigeon River Lumber Company Mill, Fort William, ON c. 1900

In the coming months, my goal is to begin work on what I hope will be a book on the PRLC and the Gunflint & Lake Superior Railroad. My research on this topic is winding down and it is time to start putting information into words. I am very nervous though, as writing is not my forte compared with research. I did manage to do a decent job on my last foray into academia, so I have the utmost confidence in myself. However, that was just an essay and not a full-fledged book. This is literally a step into the unknown and maybe that is what is the source of my apprehension.

On January 24th I’ll be giving my first lecture of 2017 at the Thunder Bay Museum. I have been looking forward to this presentation for quite some time, as it will the Thunder Bay premier for this intriguing chapter of local history. Hopefully it will also generate interest in the Gunflint & Lake Superior Railroad ahead of my writing sessions. You can read more about this topic here.

Anyway, I better go. I still have a turkey hangover and need a serious nap. I’ll be back soon enough with the latest news. Until then…

 
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Posted by on December 25, 2016 in History, Railway, Research

 

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It was only a matter of time!

Don’t you just love when you know something is going to happen? I’m not really talking about déjà vu or anything like that, but just this sense that there is inevitability to a situation? We’ve all been there. In my case, it’s a ritual for this time of year…because it invariably happens every year. There’s always this glimmer of hope that maybe you’ve dodged the proverbial bullet for a change, but alas it is not meant to be. It’s been occurring now for such a long time that the only remedy to the situation is to change my patterns, which will not happen in the foreseeable future. So I guess I’ll just have to deal with it!

Well, it’s October kids. Is it just me, or does time go by faster the older you get? I can’t seem to keep up anymore. A month of school has blown by in a heartbeat. It was certainly tough to get back into the routine of work after being off for so long, but I guess it’s like riding a bike…18 years of experience also helps too! I am thoroughly back into the swing of things and boy is it insane. Every year I say it can’t get any worse and it seems like it does. Pretty soon it will just be time to have a heart attack and be done with it. Just kidding!

As usual, one of the main causes of my lunacy is football. It really has me burnt out…seriously! Ethan and Noah are both playing again this year and of course their schedules do not sync; I have not been home before 8:00 in weeks. When Ethan plays on Tuesdays, it is 10:00. As well, I am coaching Noah’s team and doing a lot more than I ever have, namely running the offense. I have never coach offense before in my life! Both of their teams are struggling a bit, but it’s more about the participation and experience than the wins and losses. The high school team is doing well, just having picked up our second win of the season. Before I know it, football will all be over and a distant memory.

With all of this craziness I have not had any time to do any railway work, until now I guess. A few weeks back I travelled, on a rather psychotic timeframe I might add, to Saint Cloud, MN for the Northern Great Plains History Conference. I kinda of underestimated how far Saint Cloud is away. I left work at 1:30 (12:30cst) and drove pretty much straight for 6.5 hours. I met up with my co-presenter Lori for a few hours before heading off to bed. I woke up, did the presentation for a couple of hours (which went great), had lunch and then drove 6.5 hours home. I was a wee bit tired after all of that. Oh well, it was a great experience, and I was able to snap a few photos of a cool abandoned railway along the way!

Great Northern RR stone bridge, South Fork, MN, September, 2016.

Great Northern RR stone bridge, South Fork, MN, September, 2016.

Great Northern RR, South Fork, MN, September, 2016.

Great Northern RR, South Fork, MN, September, 2016.

Besides being burnt out, I can feel myself running down. Some form of the plague has been making the rounds at school and a lot kids have come down with it, including a good chunk of the football team. Right now I feel very tired and am bit stuffy, but it hasn’t yet developed into a full-blown cold. I pray that it doesn’t happen, but my luck isn’t usually that good. Guaranteed it will hit me at some point soon…I can’t wait.

So I’m currently in my room at the Cross River Lodge as it Canadian Thanksgiving weekend and as usual, I’m here at Gunflint for some field work. It’s always great to be here with the boys and visit with John and Rose. Besides, I really needed some time away from everything.

Now since I mentioned presentations, I actually just finished doing one. I arrived here this morning and unfortunately the weather was not very cooperative. It rained until about 10:00, and then it was really windy and cold, so I had to scratch today’s visit to the Gunflint & Lake Superior. Since I was just hanging around, John asked me if I wanted to do a little chat about the railway. I don’t really like to talk much, so it was a tough sell on his part (cue the eye roll). He made some phone calls and by 5:30 there was about 30-40 people assembled to listen to me ramble on about the PAD&W. For an impromptu affair, it went really well. The best part was that I received a fantastic gift; a photo of the railway at Gunflint Lake circa 1910 that I had been wanting to get for quite some time. It was a nice end to the evening.

The plan for tomorrow is to head across the lake to Bridal Falls and hike along a portion of the G&LS that I examined last year. I was not able to spend a lot of time along this section of the railroad, so hopefully I’ll be able to finish everything up and maybe find something interesting while I’m at it. My fingers are crossed that I won’t be too rough on the lake; the wind was pretty wicked today.

Anyway, I better get to bed. I’ll be back as soon as I can with a full recap of the trip and my discoveries. Until then…

 
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Posted by on October 7, 2016 in Hiking, History, Railway, Travel

 

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Long walks and battle scars!

No, I didn’t walk 500 miles, but I did wear boots…rubber boots that is. I did walk like a man, but definitely not like an Egyptian. It was very hot outside, so I may have well been walking on the sun. It wasn’t after midnight, and I definitely did not walk in a line. See what I’m doing here? Do ya? I know you do.

I’m back kids! I’m sounding a little chipper right now, but if you’ve looked at a calendar lately you’ll know that this isn’t a great time of the year. Yup, it’s almost time to go back to work. Sigh. We can’t stop time, so it is inevitable that the end of August comes around. I’ve already started back into parts of the routine; going in to work, prepping for football, getting materials ready, yada, yada, yada. I’m exhausted after two days and I’m not even officially back…it’s going to be a rough start-up.

I just returned from a family vacation the other day and I’m still in that “I need a vacation from the vacation mode,” which might explain why I feel tired. Jo-Anne and I took the boys to Minneapolis and Wisconsin Dells. In Minnie we made our first visit to Valleyfair, which was great, but not quite the same as Wonderland. The boys enjoyed all the attractions, especially the coasters; dad, not so much.

The second part of the trip took us to the The Dells for the first time. The “Water Park Capital” certainly has a lot of waterparks. We got our fill of water rides, coasters and go carts. The boys’ favourite spot was definitely the wave pool at Mount Olympus called “Poseidon’s Rage.” Every two minutes a gigantic wave comes rolling through the pool; we positioned ourselves at the 3 foot level where the wave would break, pummel us with water and send us flying backward. We spent hours in there and I may have left with a slight concussion.

So since I was away for a bit, I haven’t had railway time lately. However, I did manage to get some in before our trip south of the border. If you remember, I had a presentation scheduled at the Chik-Wauk Museum for August 14th. This was going to be my first full-length lecture on the Gunflint & Lake Superior Railroad, so I was pretty excited. It went well, but the turn out was a bit disappointing. Unfortunately there were several other events coinciding with it that contributed to the lack of bodies in the seats. The good news is that I’m going to be back there next summer with the same presentation and hopefully a bigger audience.

Because I had to go there for the presentation, I decided that I would take the opportunity to do some field work at Gunflint. I booked a night with John and Rose at the Cross River Lodge so we could hike the next day before heading home. What would be different for this hike was the fact that I had a larger entourage; in addition to the boys, my wife joined us as well (with a lot of prodding). I was hopefully going to trace the route of the G&LS along the north shore of Crab Lake, if luck was on my side.

After a nice ride across the lake, we beached the boat south of Bridal Falls. From there we walked to the top of the falls, about 700 metres, which was made a little more difficult by a number of trees knocked down on the trail by recent storms. There we split up, with Jo-Anne and the boys continuing east along the Border Route Trail for 1500 metres to where it intersects with the Crab Lake Trail. They would then take the latter trail south for 900 metres and await my arrival.

In the meantime, I would follow parts of the railroad grade south for 800 metres until I reached Crab Lake. From there, the meeting point at the east end of the lake was more than a kilometre away, the temperature was climbing and there was not a stitch of wind. I had no idea how difficult the walk would be and what the bush looked like.

Turns out, it was quite the mess. The last time I walked the railroad grade in the summer it nearly killed me (not literally)…this time was pretty close. The tall grass made it very difficult to see where you were stepping and there was a lot to trip over. The area was burned by the 2007 Ham Lake Fire and there was already a ton of deadfall on ground. Recent storms pushed many dead, burned trees over, making some areas a nightmare to negotiate.

Thankfully I had success in my goal of following the grade. I did find several spikes and one fishplate along the way, as well as a few examples of rock work beside the lake. There were a few spots where I could not find any traces, but in general I was able to get the route down. I did cut the hike a bit short at the east end of the lake as I was completely exhausted and I could literally feel my hamstrings tightening up on me (walking over all the deadfall tends to do that). I’ll have to try and get that part done at some other time, maybe next year.

Railroad grade along Crab Lake, August 2016.

Railroad grade along Crab Lake, August 2016.

Spike at Crab Lake, August 2016.

Spike at Crab Lake, August 2016.

Railroad grade along Crab Lake, August 2016.

Railroad grade along Crab Lake, August 2016.

Fishplate at Crab Lake, August 2016.

Fishplate at Crab Lake, August 2016.

Railroad grade along Crab Lake, August 2016.

Railroad grade along Crab Lake, August 2016.

Railroad grade along Crab Lake, August 2016.

Railroad grade along Crab Lake, August 2016.

I had kept in radio contact with the family the entire way, so they were waiting for me when I was done. At our reunion, I was greeted by the sight of my wife with a large, bloody gash on her forehead. Apparently she had an unfortunate encounter with a dead tree branch, earning herself a nice cut, or better yet, a “battlescar.” Hey, did I mention that battlescar was my nickname when I was in the army reserves? Obviously a play on my last name, I thought it was an appropriate term for her boo boo.

Hiking injury, August 2016.

Hiking injury, August 2016.

The walk back was tough as we battled through the stifling 31C heat. However it was compensated by the beautiful panorama that we passed beside on the trail. It would be great to visit that spot in the fall as the leaves changed colour; I’ll have to keep this in mind for the future. It was a very productive hike and I am excited to get back to Gunflint in October for another round of field work.

Panorama of Gunflint and North Lakes, August 2016.

Panorama of Gunflint and North Lakes, August 2016.

My next big event to look forward to is the Northern Great Plains History Coneference in St. Cloud, MN on September 17th. I think I’m ready, but my brain so isn’t there right now…too much school stuff to think about. I am sure I’ll be good to go when the time comes, but it all adds to my anxiety. It is going to be a quick trip as well; I leave after school on Friday for the six hour drive to St. Cloud. Hopefully I don’t get in too late, because the presentation is at 9am (cst) after which I need to head back home. What a whirlwind visit!

Anyway, I better go. Way to many things to do right now. I’ll be back in the near future, probably after the trip to St. Cloud. Until then…

 
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Posted by on August 30, 2016 in Hiking, History, Railway, Travel

 

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Dave’s Outdoor Adventures-Episode V: The weather incongruity

Have you ever studied statistics? You know, the math stuff, where they deal with probability among others (I know they are separate disciplines, but dependent on each other)? Thankfully I never had to; my wife Jo-Anne, the math teacher, is likely thinking the same thing. Math was certainly not my thing, which is why I became a history teacher. Anyway, it’s always interesting to look at the chances something will happen. Usually there is algorithm that will explain it all. However, there are matters that cannot be reduced to or rationalized by a mathematical equation. Such is life though, and it’s what keeps our world interesting. You’re confused right? Perfect.

So, here we are in August. Summer is unfortunately flying by way too quickly! It will be back to work soon…sigh. Anyway, as I have since I went on leave in February, I am doing my best to make each day count. I’ve managed to get a lot accomplished and will continue to do so for the next three weeks.

As you might have guessed (or maybe not), my cryptic introduction dealt with nothing other than the weather. I normally don’t pass up an opportunity to complain about it, usually because it’s irritating me. It’s funny, the older I get, the crankier I become…just yesterday there was a meme on Facebook that said “The older I get, the more I identify with Red Foreman.” How true. Anyway, this time I actually can’t complain; the weather lately has been decent.

After record-breaking rainfall in June, and a continuation of that at the beginning of July, things have calmed down in the last few weeks. The temperatures have gone up, at times it’s been very hot, and it has not really rained. Actually, today was the first prolonged precipitation we had, though it depends where you were. We probably had about 10mm here at camp, but there was only 3mm at Gunflint. The ground has dried out considerably, and I’m going to try a hike in the next few days. So from one extreme to another!

Now speaking of camp, I’ve still been spending a lot of time there, maybe even while I write this. I’ve completed all the construction work for this year, so my efforts have been dedicated to general yard clean-up, which is going to last for several years! As I mentioned the weather has been great, so the family and I have spent a lot of time in the lake enjoying the warm water. Let’s hope it lasts.

Camp sunset, July 2016.

Camp sunset, July 2016.

Camp sunset, July 2016.

Camp sunset, July 2016.

Camp morning, August 2016.

Camp morning, August 2016.

Even though I have not been out in the field in quite a while, I have managed to squeeze in some railway work lately (well, maybe it’s more than just squeeze). A few weeks back I paid a quick visit to the library to view some obituaries on microfilm that I came across by accident. As it turns out, I made an important discovery. Thomas I. Roberts was the Canadian customs sub-collector at Gunflint from 1902 to 1907. I had always wondered why he left the job; I guess he did with good reason, since he sadly died of cancer. It was an important breakthrough, and maybe it will help me track down a photograph of him.

Much of my railway time has been devoted to preparing for a pair of upcoming presentations. This coming Sunday, August 14th, I’ll be speaking at the Chik-Wauk Museum about the Gunflint & Lake Superior Railroad. This is going to be my first full-length lecture on this topic so I am a bit nervous. It appears there are quite a number of people interested, so hopefully there will be a good turnout at the Chik-Wauk’s new Nature Center.

I’ve also had to prepare for my co-presentation on John Paulson, which will take place at the Northern Great Plains History Conference in September. My slideshow has been submitted to the session chair and I’ve booked the hotel in St. Cloud, MN. I must say that I am very apprehensive about this conference. I’m just a high school history teacher who does research on the side, and I will be in the company of many historians and academics. I think I will be fine, but there is a bit of fear of the unknown.

As I mentioned earlier, I am planning my first hike in months for Monday. I will be at Gunflint for the presentation at the Chik-Wauk, I decided to spend the night with John and Rose at the Cross River Lodge. I will be attempting to locate the grade of the Gunflint & Lake Superior along Crab Lake, which I was unable to do earlier in the summer due to the rain. I think the weather will cooperate and let me complete this important piece of fieldwork.

Anyway, I better get rolling. I’ll try to post next week after the presentation and hike. Until then…

 
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Posted by on August 11, 2016 in Hiking, History, Railway, Research

 

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It’s a good thing I left the snow tires on…

April showers bring May flowers right? Wrong! Horribly wrong. More like April snow brings spring misery. For the love of God it needs to stop snowing! Snow? In April? Yes, unfortunately…the truth hurts. We’ve had more snow in the last 3 weeks than the rest of winter combined, or at least it seems so. Winter wonderland is great in December, but not now. Speaking of December, remember that brown Christmas I wrote about back then? Ya, well we’re paying for it now. Climate change deniers need a kick in the head. Ugh!

Hey, so I’m back. Maybe a little testier than usual, but if you just read my rant, you’ll understand. So yes, it is now April and the weather blows. My apologies for the somewhat profane language since this is a family-friendly blog, but hopefully it’s understandable. I am just so done with winter! Since my last post we received a huge dump of snow during March break (my deck had over 40cm or 16in on it). It will then warm up for a few days, melt that snow, and then we will get more to replace it. It is a frustrating vicious circle. Good news is on the horizon though; even though today is supposed to be 2C for the high (normal are around 7-8C), it is supposed to be in the double digits by the end of the week. Here’s hoping. Maybe I will listen to my wife and move somewhere warm and buy one of those much cheaper we keep seeing on House Hunters!

Results of a snowstorm, March 2016.

Results of a snowstorm, March 2016.

Snowstorm, April 2016.

Snowstorm, April 2016.

So besides the climatological issues, things are good. I am certainly enjoying the time off, though it is flying by way too quickly. This week is already the middle of April! I know I always complain that it goes by quick while I’m at work, but time typically moves more quickly when you’re on vacation. What that all means is that it’s time to start moving past winter and thinking ahead to all the stuff goes on in spring and summer…if the snow ever goes away.

One of the things that is starting to gear up again is football. Yes, football…in the snow. Okay, I’ll stop! Anyway, Noah just started skills and drills, which will last throughout the month and as usual I am helping out. Even though it’s a while away, planning has already commenced for our annual spring camp, which will be held in again in June. In preparation for that, I’ll need to finish filming and editing our recruiting video, which always takes up a bit of time.

I guess the one thing that the weather has not hindered is my work on the railway. In actuality, I’ve been quite busy with it since the last post. I finally managed to complete transcribing all the Arpin Papers from my visits to the Cook County Museum last summer. The end result? Thirty-one landscape pages of details from those letters, organized by date and who the letter was addressed to. And unfortunately I’m not done yet; a few of the early letters from 1900 are very difficult to read, so I’ll have to go back and see if I can decipher them from the original documents. That however will give me a chance to go to the Grand Marais Library while I’m there to look up a few things.

As I reported previously, I have been spending a lot of time at the Thunder Bay Museum examining digitized newspapers. They have been a great source of information, both about the Pigeon River Lumber Company and the PAD&W. There are still many years to look through, but I think I will wrap things up for now with one more visit this week. I have a feeling I will still have to do some manual searching at some point.

Since we’re on the topic, I’ve already begun planning my research trips that will be coming up rather quickly. At the beginning of May I will be in Toronto for my brother’s wedding and I’d like to get to the Archives of Ontario for a few hours. They have some photos I’d like to look through, as well as an early plan for the North Lake Station location and an Order-in-Council related to the PRLC.

However, it is a lengthy excursion to La Crosse, Wisconsin and Chicago that will take the most time, and planning. I’ve already mentioned that the University of Wisconsin-La Crosse Archives holds the personal papers and records of PRLC vice-president Frank P. Hixon. Email inquiries have indicated there are extensive records at that facility; I have a feeling that I will have to go back in the future, possibly next summer.

Chicago is a regional repository for the National Archives and Records Administration, and they might have records for the Gunflint Lake customs house. Unfortunately I will not know what they have until I look through their files. I’ve never been to Chicago before, so my wife and I will be spending a few days there once I complete my archives research. I know it won’t be enough time to do the Windy City justice, but it’s better than not at all. I’m sure I will be able to get there again in the future.

In the meantime, I was able to do a little research a bit closer to home yesterday. The drive to Gunflint Lake never disappoints, even though the scenery was a little snowier than I would have liked. Bruce and Sue Kerfoot, always the cordial hosts, were gracious enough to take time out of their busy schedules to chat with me again about the local history. Bruce’s knowledge of the area is amazing and he has a lot of experience exploring many of the historic sites, whether by himself or with the First Nations people who used to live at Gunflint. I’m looking forward to going back as soon as possible, hopefully when I get back from Toronto.

Gunflint Narrows, April 2016.

Gunflint Narrows, April 2016.

Bottom end of a switchback, April 2016.

Bottom end of a switchback, April 2016.

Gunflint Lake, April 2016.

Gunflint Lake, April 2016.

I do have one trip to Gunflint already planned for the summer with a very familiar agenda to it. I have been invited once again by the kind folks at the Chik-Wauk Museum to come and give a lecture on a piece of local history. If you recall I’ve been there twice in the past, in 2012 and 2014. I decided to talk about my current research, especially since a lot of people are not very acquainted with the Gunflint and Lake Superior Railroad and I thought it would provide a refreshing change. Previously, lectures were held on the museum porch, but they have a newly constructed facility at Chik-Wauk which will bring everything inside and allow me to include a visual component as well. The date of the presentation is Sunday, August 14th and you can visit their website for more information.

Anyway, it’s time to move on. Shockingly, it’s snowing again, so I have to go clean off the deck for the sixth or seventh time in the last few weeks. I’ll be back soon with more news and hopefully in a better mood. Until then…

 
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Posted by on April 10, 2016 in History, Railway, Research, Travel

 

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Reflecting on two decades.

Twenty years; for me, it amounts to half of my lifetime. Wow! I spent some time searching the internet looking for a quote to accurately describe my thoughts on this journey but I couldn’t find anything that fit. I guess that is a sign that I need to come up with something on my own; unfortunately I’m not really a master of the profound. Maybe I just need to speak from the heart, to say what I’m really thinking. However, that is usually easier said than done. I’ll give it a try in any case…but you’ll have to wait for it.

So, what’s new and exciting Dave? Well, here we are on the cusp of May and I’m still complaining about the weather. Yup, I went there. This has been quite the on-going saga with me (and everyone else for that matter) for the last year, but who can blame me. This winter does not want to end. It is so utterly depressing I cannot stand it any longer. The temperatures over the last month have warmed up a bit, but just as we seem to get ahead with the melting of the snow, we get blasted with another storm. This has happened three times in the last month-I’ve put together a nice little montage of photos to show you our progress, or lack thereof. I really hope that this it for snow; I and everyone else just wants to put this miserable winter behind us and hopefully move on to some warmer temperatures!

April 17, 2014.

April 17, 2014.

April 18, 2014.

April 18, 2014.

DSC_4788

April 19, 2014.

April 21, 2014.

April 21, 2014.

April 25, 2014.

April 25, 2014.

April 27, 2014.

April 27, 2014.

April 30, 2014.

April 30, 2014.

So with the arrival of May, we are now down to our last two months of the school year. It keeps getting faster and faster every year…it’s just a big blur! The worst part about it is there is so much to do in a little bit of time. You can never seem to get ahead on your marking, exams will be coming up in June and we will be starting to timetable for next year very shortly. On top of that there is a ton of football stuff coming up, such as spring camps and our trip to Duluth for the UMD team camp. Craziness!

Things have been fairly active on the railway front of late. As we move toward summer, planning has begun on our agenda for the historical society. We held our Annual General Meeting at the end of March, and we have a board meeting coming up next week. Planning for our flagship event, History Day, will be commencing at the meeting. There has been some discussion about moving the day into the fall, but my personal preference is to leave it where it is (I’m too busy in September). I’m sure we’ll get it all sorted out so we can start publicizing it as soon as possible.

Another reason why I’m anxious for the snow to go away and things to dry up is that I am itching to get out on the railway. I have a lot of field work planned this year and the sooner I can get out the better; besides, I just bought a new video camera and I’m dying to get things recorded in 1080p! First on my agenda is a visit to Minnesota to get some video of the grade before the trees leaf out. I also want to do the same with the Canadian portion of the Gunflint and Lake Superior Railroad before things get too green as well. In addition to day hikes, I’ve already booked two trips to Minnesota for the summer and fall; hopefully the weather cooperates with me.

So I actually have an ulterior motive for the July trip to Minnesota (well, besides visiting with my friend John at the Cross River Lodge), which is that I’ve been booked for another lecture at the Chik-Wauk Museum. If you remember I spoke there back in August 2012 and they’ve asked me to come back. I’m pretty excited; there was a great turn-out last time and I’m hoping it will be the same this time. If you’re in the area July 20th, you might want to stop by!

Alright, I guess this is the point at which I should explain the whole title thing, right? So here goes. In April 1994 a young guy was just finishing his second year of university and decided to satisfy a long-standing curiosity about a little know railway. What was supposed to be a short trip to the library to find a book to read became multiple trips and then became an odyssey once he realized that there were no books to be found. For some reason this railway seemed to fit all of his interests; history, the outdoors, research and a love of exploration. I was all of 20 years old.

In those early days there was very little information about the Port Arthur, Duluth and Western Railway, or Pee Dee (PD) Railway as it was often referred to as. There were a few maps, some relatively recent newspaper articles and a number of old photos. They all began to slowly form into the story of a long-forgotten railway. Eventually the visits to the library led to trips to Thunder Bay Museum and the files of one Clifford Brown.

Cliff Brown had recently passed away in 1991, but he had dedicated a large portion of the latter part of his life to unravelling the story of the railway. Many knew him as Mr. Pee Dee and were very aware of his work and presentations. His file at the museum was filled with old newspaper clippings, letters of correspondence and many personal notes. They were a huge source of information and provided many helpful insights into where to look for more information.

Research notes, April 1994.

Research notes, April 1994.

Besides rooting through archives and information, I really wanted to go out and explore the railway. My first experience with the PAD&W had been four years earlier in 1990 on my first ever moose hunting trip at North Lake. I had never been to this area before, and the property on the lake had only recently been purchased by friends of the family. I very quickly became enamored with the area, especially with all the discussion and mention of a “railway” that had once gone by. Walking the old grade and finding spikes and the remains of old buildings really intrigued me; I wanted to know more.

I found many old maps in the library, but looking at a map and determining where exactly the railway had been after been abandoned for 56 years was another matter. In some cases it was fairly simple, but in others it was a really challenging. You have to remember that the internet was just starting out, there were no Google maps or GPS and nature is very quick to take back what is hers. I was determined to trace the entire railway before I had to head back to school in September.

West of Rosslyn, April 1994.

West of Rosslyn, April 1994.

I spent a lot of time that summer slogging through rivers, getting eaten alive by bugs and often getting temporarily lost as I struggled to follow a grade that was now obscured by brush, washed out by floods, settled into swamps or rendered impassible by long burned out bridges. It was an ordeal at times to say the least. My journey that year culminated in a 3 day journey to probe the most remote area of the railway, the stretch west of Trestle Bay on North Lake all the way to the Gunflint Narrows. However I’ll save that story for the next post!

Anyway, I need to get rolling. Stay tuned for Part II of this retrospective coming shortly. Until then…

 
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Posted by on April 30, 2014 in Hiking, History, Railway, Research, Writing

 

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