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Paulson Mine 1885-1921: The Struggle for Iron in the Gunflint Range

The story of the Paulson Mine, located in the western part of Cook County, Minnesota, has captivated people for many years. Touted as one of the great mining projects of the era, its failure in the early 1890s had a devastating impact on local economies spanning both sides of the border. For years afterwards, many attempts were made to restart the mine, all of which ended with the same result.

 
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Posted by on May 20, 2020 in History, Railway, Video

 

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Rails into the Wilderness: The Port Arthur, Duluth & Western Railway

Still looking for things to do during the COVID-19 situation? Why not join me for my next live presentation?

On Tuesday, April 21 at 7pm EST I’ll be presenting Rails into the Wilderness: The Port Arthur, Duluth & Western Railway. Hear where the story all starts with in this classic presentation. Learn about the early history of the PAD&W, the struggle to get the line constructed and how it all fell apart so quickly. This talk will feature a number of period and modern photographs.

Please click on the link below for more details.

 
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Posted by on April 19, 2020 in History, Railway, Video

 

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Gunflint & Lake Superior: Ontario’s Private American Railroad

Looking for something to do during the COVID-19 situation? Why not join me for a talk on a fascinating piece of area history?

Tonight, April 7th, I’ll be presenting Gunflint & Lake Superior: Ontario’s Private American Railroad live on YouTube. This is a very unique and obscure story that spans the two countries that share the Boundary Waters. The presentation contains some great information, as well as numerous period and modern photos. Click on the link below for more details.

Please join me if you can and feel feel to share this link with anyone who may be interested. The live stream starts at 7pm Eastern time.

 
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Posted by on April 7, 2020 in History, Railway, Video

 

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The heat is melting my face and I can’t find any cream soda!

Have you ever watched the movie “Raiders of the Lost Ark?” If you have, do you remember the final scene? You mean the one where the ark was boxed up and stored in a warehouse? Uh, I guess the one before that. You know the iconic one, where the Nazis open the ark and their faces melt? Ya, that one! So, have you ever been so hot that you felt as if that was going to happen to you? Yes, no? Almost had that exact scenario occur the recently and you know you’re going to have to keep reading to find out the how and why.

Hey, it’s summer kids! Ya, I know I’m a little late, but as you can tell, I haven’t posted anything in almost two months. Sometimes life gets in the way! Anyway, it’s been a good vacation so far as the weather has been fairly cooperative (maybe not in the coming days) and it has been very relaxing. The only issue is that it is going by too fast…July is almost over! Where has the time gone? I know, time flies when you’re having fun, but it still doesn’t make it better.

So, most of our time this past month has been spent at camp (we’ve been through this discussion many times). We’ve only slept at home four times since school ended, which is great but also means there are a lot of things to catch up on there once August hits. We’ve made the most of our time here, but unfortunately, it’s like having another house, so there’s always things to do. We built another bedroom in basement, which is almost done, and there is years worth of work to do in the yard. There has been time for relaxation though; swimming, boat rides, biking, entertaining and hiking. We’ve been busy!

Calm morning at camp, July 2018.

Sunset at camp, July 2018.

Waterfall, July 2018.

Sea Lion, July 2018.

Lake Superior, July 2018.

One of the rituals of camp is roasting in the sauna, or as any good Finlander will tell you, the sowna. According to the internet, ideal sauna temperatures are between 70 and 100C, which is usually where we’re at. However, lately I guess I’ve been stoking the fire too much because it’s been over 100C consistently. Last night it was 105C with 80% humidity, which is a little on the blistering side! It pales in comparison to the 115C I achieved a few weeks ago however. I had already had my sauna at a toasty 95C, so I guess I didn’t need to add more wood. When my wife went in, she said she couldn’t even sit in the sauna it was so hot, so she sat in the vestibule instead. She said it felt like your face was melting! You know what would have helped? A nice cold can of cream soda, but unfortunately, I couldn’t find it in stores for like two months. A travesty!

Keeping us busy this summer is a new addition to our family. Last year we had to put our dog of 13 years, Loki, down. People who own pets know that they are not just a pet, but family and Loki was an amazing dog. We decided over the winter that we would get another one, but while we loved our golden retriever, my wife wanted something with less hair and we had to get the timing right. Puppies need a lot of attention and we are very busy while school is on. It had to happen over summer. We originally looked at some goldendoodles, but there were no local breeders and their cost was a bit steep. By chance we happened on some labradoodle puppies and my wife fell in love. On the first day of vacation we drove to Fort Frances to pick up Luna. She is very cute, growing fast but also a pain in the rear. I forgot how much fun puppies are!

Luna, July 2018.

With everything going on, the railway front has been rather quiet, but has picked up as of late. Last Sunday I did a day trip to Gunflint to give another railway related presentation, this time on the life and times of John Paulson, the man behind the Paulson Mine. I always love travelling to Gunflint, and it is certainly one of my happy places. It was a bit of a longer drive this time, as I was coming from camp, which is east of Thunder Bay, but it was worth it. I arrived quite early, so I decided to go for a little walk along the Centennial Trail, which I have mentioned before covers part of the railway grade in Minnesota. In particular, I wanted to look at the rock cuts which form the switchback beside the Round Lake Road. I was shocked at what I found. Those two cuts had been cleared five years ago and were very easy to navigate, and while I know it is summer and it tends to be more grown in, nature has certainly come back with a vengeance. Definitely not a hike I wanted to be doing wearing crocs and dressed for my presentation!

PAD&W rock cut, July 2018.

Lower rock cut, May 2013.

PAD&W rock cut, July 2018.

Upper rock cut, May 2013.

PAD&W rock cut, July 2018.

Anyway, the presentation was well attended as usual and the crowd really enjoyed the information I presented. I’ve already been invited back for next year, which means I need to start revising a previous slideshow I put together many years ago. I’m already looking forward to it as it ties in with an article I wrote on the ghost town of Leeblain.

Audience at the Chik-Wauk Museum, July 2018.

In less than a month the family and I will be in Minneapolis for a football tournament and while we were there, I decided to take the opportunity to do some railway research. While I was writing this past winter for my book on the Gunflint and Lake Superior, I noticed that I had a gap in my information. Two years ago, I travelled to La Crosse, Wisconsin to examine the files of Frank Hixon, the vice president of the Pigeon River Lumber Company. Between those documents and the Arpin Papers at the Cook County Museum in Grand Marais, I thought I had everything covered; turns out I didn’t. I guess I did not realize that the Arpin Papers had a gap in the fall of 1905 and therefore did not examine anything from that time in La Crosse. So, we are leaving a day early for our trip and heading first to La Crosse before proceeding to the Twin Cities. I hope I can find all the information I am missing so I can get most of the book written this coming year.

Anyway, it’s time to go. I’ll be back after my trip with all the latest updates. Until then…

 
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Posted by on July 26, 2018 in Hiking, History, Railway

 

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If they don’t find you handsome, Part II

If you read this blog regularly, you’ll know that the phrase concludes by saying that “they should at least find you handy.” That might be true, but your assuming I’m not handsome. I can say with some degree of certainty I’m no ____________ (insert attractive guy), but I’m definitely better looking than Red Green for sure. I guess it depends on what your definition of handsome is; are middle-aged, bald dads your type? We’re a petty large demographic, so I’m sure we have our fans.

Well, summer vacation is almost over kids. I really need to write more regularly, as the last time I posted, it had just started. What can I say, I’ve been very busy, but what’s new? Speaking of that, I did acquire a new toy last month. With the kids getting older and therefore bigger, we had a need for a more powerful boat for our water activities. After a bit of looking around, we replaced our 1991, 14-foot 25 HP boat with a 2012/2016, 16-foot 60 HP model. Boy does it really move, but too bad our lake isn’t big enough to really stretch its legs. It’s an Evinrude E-Tec as well, so I love the fact that I no longer have to mix gas to put in the tank!

Sadly, our summer hasn’t been what I expected it to be. The conditions and temperatures have improved, but things are just as unsettled as they were in June and early July. There have been some really nice days, but unfortunately, they are interspersed with some really crappy ones. It is certainly not the warm, dry summer we had last year. But a bad day at camp is better than a good day at work, right? All I can hope is that things settle down for the fall.

Calm morning at camp, July 2017.

Sunset at camp, August 2017.

So, you’re probably wondering what was keeping me busy this summer and what the title was all about. Well, I’ve written in the past how I’ve done some construction/carpentry work and how I rather enjoy it. Last year I finished our basement office, built a kitchen island for camp as well as a new dock. I thought I did a pretty decent job on those; this year it was a shed. For many years we realized that we needed more storage space, but I had never built anything close to a shed. It took me from the end of June until this weekend to finish it, working whenever I had time. There were many first for me with this project; framing a building, shingles, soffit and fascia and siding. It isn’t the best shed ever built, but it turned out pretty good and was a huge learning experience.

New shed, August 2017.

With the end of August approaching, a new school year is on the horizon. I’m obviously not excited about heading back, but I guess that is life. I’ve already started part of my fall routine however. Noah begged us to let him play summer football, and since he was, we signed Ethan up as well. And of course, I was asked to help coach. It wasn’t easy getting back into the saddle this soon, but it’s like riding a bike. The tournament is coming up this weekend in Princeton, MN and hopefully both teams will do well.

When I last wrote, I was preparing to head to Gunflint for a presentation and hopefully some field work. Well, one of those things turned out the way it was supposed to. Last year I did my first presentation at the Chik-Wauk Museum on the Gunflint & Lake Superior Railroad. Unfortunately, due to a scheduling conflict, the crowd was not as large as they have been in the past. After chatting with the museum director, Bonnie Schudy, we decided to do it again this year on a less busy date.

There was a full house for the lecture and having done the same presentation on two previous occasions, I felt very comfortable with the material. Those in attendance we very appreciative and had a lot of questions at the end. As it turns out, I gained two very valuable pieces of information from the presentation. The first, which occurred right after the event, was when one of the audience members told me about a trestle/bridge they had seen along the G&LS route. I had not come across it in my travels, and it lends credence to fact that there were other branches to this line. I will be checking out this site during my October visit to the area.

Audience at the Chik-Wauk Museum, July 2017.

The other breakthrough came a few weeks after. For many years I have been searching for a photo of William Scott Jr., who was one of the founders of the Pigeon River Lumber Company and a well-known person in the Lakehead from his arrival in 1900 until his death in 1939. My efforts to locate an image of him had all come up empty. Fortunately, one of the audience members thought of me when they attended a presentation on the Outlaw Bridge a week later in Grand Marais. As it turns out, the Thunder Bay Museum did have a picture of him all along, just not an individual portrait. I am certainly grateful that these people were looking out for me!

After the presentation, we (the family and I) had a chance to relax at the Cross River Lodge and have a nice dinner at the Gunflint Bistro. I was a beautiful evening, so we took the opportunity to explore a little of Gunflint and Magnetic Lakes. The plan was to spend the night and do some field work the next day, but unfortunately, I forgot a piece of video equipment that I needed, so my plans went out the window. We went out on the lake anyway, more so because it was a nice morning and I really want to try out the boat on the big lake. She really flies!

Cliffs at Magnetic Lake, July 2017.

Sunrise at Gunflint, July 2017.

While I was out there I thought I’d try out the fish finder and better explore an area of the railway on the north shore of Gunflint I call the “Retaining Wall.” Building the PAD&W along the shore of Gunflint was very difficult, mostly due to the uncompromising geography of the Canadian Shield. In spots, such as this one, the grade had to be blasted right out of the shore of the lake, which resulted in trains passing precipitously between the rock face and the lake. The engineers had to construct a retaining wall in this spot to keep the grade from sliding into the lake. Most of it is still there, some 125 years later. The water is about 10-15 feet deep next to the shore, but quickly drops past 100 feet within a short distance. It amazes me every time I see it and I shot a little video which you can view here.

Well, I think it’s time to wrap things up. I’m not sure when I’ll be back again, since the beginning of the school year is rather hectic. Most likely I’ll have a few things to say before my annual Thanksgiving trip to Gunflint in early October. Until then…

 
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Posted by on August 22, 2017 in Hiking, History, Railway

 

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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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