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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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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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School’s out for summer!

Yes, the legendary rocker Alice Cooper put it best, though it would be nice if school was out forever! I guess I wouldn’t get paid then, and unemployment sucks. Oh well, the two month break is very much appreciated and will be very relaxing.

In a stroke of perfect timing, the weather over the last week has seemed to settle down. The temperatures have been on the rise and at times it has even been uncomfortably hot. I guess that is what happens when the weather is all over the place and the sudden onset of heat gives the body a bit of a shock. Could be worse though; there are people in the northeast US who are dealing with 40C temps and no power. Kinda makes the 28C in my bedroom Sunday night a bit more bearable.

So, what have I been up to? Well, with aforementioned hot weather on the weekend, the family and I decided

Bass Lake, June 2012.

that camp was the best place to beat the heat. We really hadn’t been out to camp this year, aside from a few short little visits, so it was nice to get out to the lake. Swimming in the water was a treat as well, especially after a relaxing sauna. My kids love being at camp, a sort of change of pace from the regular routine. The only part I hate is when I have to cut the grass, since I LOVE to cut grass and do yard work. It only took 2.5 hours to do the whole thing!

If you’re a regular follower, you’ll have noticed that I’m a day late with this post; that’s ‘cause I was away from home for a few days. The family and I headed down to Duluth, MN for the night on Monday to do a bit of shopping and we just returned home. It was a nice little break, though the only downside (if you can call it that) was the heat. Yesterday was hot, and today was even hotter. The heat generated a pretty wicked thunderstorm last night, with bolts of lightning flashing across the sky; it was quite impressive.

Duluth Lighthouse, July 2012.

We spent most of today either driving or inside, which was a good thing since the truck thermometer was showing 30C+ (it was 33 at one point). We drove down to Minong, WI to take a look at some boats and the heat was absolutely stifling there. Even now it still is 34C with the humidity; I might just hide in the basement so I can get a decent sleep!

On the railway front there is not a lot to report. I wasn`t able to get out hiking last week, but I am heading out tomorrow. I want to finish the hike I started along Whitefish Lake between Wolfe Siding (Suomi) and Mackies. It`s not supposed to be as hot tomorrow (25C), but I`m not taking any chances and I will be heading out early to beat the heat.

Even though I was not out in the bush on field work, I did get a few things accomplished last week. While I was finishing up exams, I had a little lieu time coming to me, so I took Tuesday afternoon off and ended up at the Lakehead University (LU) Library. The Library you ask? Yes, the library. Seems pretty bizarre, but I had some time and there was some stuff I want to look at.

The internet has been a gold mine of information for me, but unfortunately not everything I find on the net is downloadable. They are like tempting little morsels, taunting me with what they might hold. I had found some hard copies of some material I was after at LU so I decided to pay my old alma mater a visit. It had been quite a while since I had been in the library to look up old books, so I was a bit dumbfounded at first. I had to ask for directions!

Most of the information I was after was located in old mining and forestry reports. There was some valuable information, particularly in the mining reports, since the Gunflint Range that holds the Paulson Mine extends into Canada for some 50 miles; the railway was supposed to tap into some of this Canadian iron as well. These geologic reports shed a lot of light into the quality and quantity of iron located in this extension of the Mesabi Iron Range. You can imagine how disappointed I was however when one book, which was supposed to have 4 maps of iron location along the railway, was missing two of the maps. They had been torn out! Thanks dirt bag whoever you were-now I have to try to find this book elsewhere, probably in Toronto!

I also found some time to start working on an article for the Thunder Bay Historical Museum Society, of which I am a member. I have been wanting to write an article for TBHMS on Leeblain for a while now, and since I have already written one article this year (no idea when that will be completed), I thought I would move on to something else. I have about 550 words so far, which is a decent start. Hopefully I’ll get a chance to work a bit more this week, as I know I will have to put it on hold soon to begin working on my slide show for my presentation on the 25th of this month. We’ll see where I am by next week.

Anyway, I better wrap things up since I have an early morning. I’ll have a bit more to report after tomorrow’s hike, and next week I will be on time! Until then…

 
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Posted by on July 3, 2012 in Hiking, Miscellaneous, Research, Writing

 

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