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Wait, it gets worse!

Remember back a few weeks ago when I was lamenting how middle age was catching up to me? I was so sore and tired? Ya, well I had to go and open my big mouth about it did I? I seem to do that a lot unfortunately. So since that ill-conceived tirade, I have since wrenched my back shovelling snow and then come down with the flu. Karma 1, Dave 0.

On that note, it’s good to be back. Once again I took a little break from the blog since I was away on vacation and there wasn’t a lot to talk about. Yes, as I’ve aptly described, it wasn’t a pretty second half of the week for me last week. We arrived home from the States to find the driveway nicely plugged with a dump of snow, and in my haste to clear some room to unload the “loser cruiser,” (my wife’s eloquent nickname for the minivan) I went a bit too hard too fast and tweaked my back. It kinda bothered me for a few days, but then I got the flu on Saturday and forgot all about it. So then I spent two days on the couch not eating and shivering…see the score sheet above.

Snow filled driveway, March 2013.

Snow filled driveway, March 2013.

Well thankfully I’m feeling a bit better today, though I thought that last night and after eating dinner had a rather unpleasant wait during the kids swimming lessons. Fingers crossed. But hey, on the up side, my back doesn’t hurt anymore!

So the little break from reality was good, but alas it is back to work. Fortunately we’re on the downward slide toward summer as the days get longer and warmer. You couldn’t tell that right now though, as old man winter refuses to go away. This time last year the snow was completely gone and we were basking in double digit temperatures. Right now there is still a few feet of snow and we are not expected to slip above zero until the end of the week. Gotta be optimistic right?

Just before the break we did pass an important milestone that I though was worth mentioning. The countdown to next year’s Europe trip is now less than 365 days…353 days to be exact! I can’t wait. Even though I visited some of these places less than a year ago, it’s still exciting nonetheless. There are some new places to see, and a whole new group of kids. They’re pretty pumped too! When I let many of them know that the trip was a year away, it solicited a lot of enthusiastic responses.

So the railway front has been somewhat busy, especially given the fact that I was away from home for several days. Last week we celebrated an important event, the 106th anniversary of the announcement of the construction of the station at Silver Mountain (and by default the one at North Lake as well). The Silver Mountain Station is one of the few remaining structures on the line, and last significant station. It was constructed in 1907 and the railway also built an exact copy at North Lake. To mark this event, I spent some time on Wikipedia creating two entry pages, one for Silver Mountain and the other for North Lake. It took me a bit of time to do, but I’m very pleased with the results. I think I’ll be doing a few more in the future.

Speaking of Silver Mountain, work is progressing along with the society. Our biggest news is the forthcoming launch of our new logo. I had an opportunity to preview it today, and hopefully we’ll have it in the next days. Then there will be a mad dash to get some stuff ordered (cards, banners, brochures) so we can start promoting the group. It’s going to be a busy April!

While I was away in Minnesota, I did not forget about the railway. Sitting there one night (the kids go to bed at 8, so I need something to do for a few hours), I had a brain wave. How about doing some research? One of my biggest frustrations is that Google has digitized all of these old documents, but because I live in Canada, I cannot access them. That’s just blatant racism…Canadians are people too Google! Anyway, I figured that since I was in the US, I could try downloading some of these elusive files.

I didn’t get everything, and the internet speed was a bit slow, but I did manage to pull in quite a few things. The most interesting was an account written in 1908 by a Richard Haste, and his experiences travelling through the “new” Ontario on a railway tricycle or jigger (I never knew it was called that). He and a companion started in the Rainy River area and using their hand-powered jigger, rode all the way to Port Arthur. They then hitched a ride on the train down to Gunflint and rode back. I was disappointed that they didn’t say more about the PD and there weren’t any photos, but it was neat nonetheless. Some really good research information in there too!

Railway tricycle or "jigger," early 1900's.

Railway tricycle or “jigger,” early 1900’s.

Anyway, I think it’s time to wrap up. I am travelling to Gunflint this Saturday for a meeting with Bruce Kerfoot at the Gunflint Lodge, so I’m sure I’ll have a bunch of things to say next week. Until then…

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Posted by on March 19, 2013 in History, Miscellaneous, Railway, Research, Writing

 

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I had to open my big mouth didn’t I?

Remember last week how I wrote about being so sick I felt like crap? Yup, I had to say to say it and now karma has bitten me in the ass. I have not been this sick in a long, long time. I was actually starting to feel better as the week progressed, but then I got hammered on Saturday. My back was a bit sore all day (for no apparent reason); by the evening I was lying on the couch completely chilled to the bone. Sunday wasn’t too bad, but I woke up on Monday morning at 4 freezing once again. I went to work for the morning, but went home at lunch. My temperature was a lovely 103F!

Needless to say I am feeling marginally better today, but my head is still plugged up and I cannot breathe properly. Talk about the perfect storm of colds…head, chest and fever. I managed to get through the day at work with only a few shivers and sweats. Hopefully I’m feeling better by tomorrow as I’m out of the classroom for an e-Learning workshop.

So Sunday marked the one year anniversary of this blog; where has the time gone? It’s sort of interesting to look back and see what I had to say a year ago. It’s also amazing where this rant has taken me and the topics I’ve written about every week. I’m very thankful for the 4000+ views in the last year and the 49 people who’ve decided to follow me. We’ll see what the next year brings!

Anyway, the railway front has been very busy, mostly regarding the Silver Mountain Historical Society again. Last week I wrote about the launch of the society website, which went public on Friday. Personally, I feel it could be a bit better, but I guess it’s okay for now. Hopefully it will bring more publicity to our efforts and there’s always room for improvements in the future. Be sure to check it out! silvermountainhs.ca

On Saturday I “stopped by” the Silver Mountain Station to borrow some old photos so I could scan them (I say “stopped by” in jest as it is a 54km drive along twisty-turny Highway 588 to get there). I did grab the photos I was looking for, but I also had a chance to chat with proprietress and fellow society co-chair Shelley Simon. She was kind enough to give me a tour of the old station, especially the upstairs part which one does not normally see. The station has seen a few additions over the years, but it still retains much of its historic style.

After our walkabout, our conversation turned to the old station on North Lake. Shelley had some great photos of the original station from the 1970’s; it really made me wish I could have seen it.  It made me think of the replica station that was built on Addie Lake which I did have a chance to visit on many occasions. I kinda miss that building…it made me go digging through my old videos to find some footage that I had of it from 1997. Unfortunately it’s not a lot of footage, but I decided to post it to YouTube anyway.

North Lake Station, 1970’s.

North Lake Station, 1970’s.

North Lake Station, 1970’s.

North Lake Station, circa 1970’s.

Tomorrow I have my meeting with the Regional Advisor from the Ministry of Tourism, Culture and Sport. I think I’m ready for this, but I have no idea where the discussion will take us and what will come of it. I am trying to be positive though, as any little thing will be a step in the right direction. I’ll report all the news next week.

Anyway, time to wrap things up as I’m still not 100%, but you know that already. Hopefully I’ll be back to snuff by next week. Until then…

 
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Posted by on November 20, 2012 in Hiking, Miscellaneous, Research, Writing

 

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Maybe the Mayans were right…

Dave, surely you jest! End of the world? Come on! Besides, didn’t the Mayan calendar end in December 2012? Well, it wouldn’t be the first time someone was off a bit. Do I seriously believe that the world is coming to an end? No, but the events of the past few days certainly make it seem like it. Earthquakes in BC, mega-hurricane on the US east coast…did I miss anything? Let just hope it’s pure coincidence.

As usual, it has been a very busy week. I am certainly looking forward to the return of a small bit of normalcy shortly. However, I am sure I will find more craziness to fill void.

So last Tuesday I had the parent meeting for the Europe 2014 trip. I mentioned in my previous blog that it was well attended and it appeared that there was some solid interest in this excursion. I could not have imagined how much interest there was; all 21 spots available were filled within 48 hours. We actually have a waiting list! I couldn’t be happier with this development and I can’t wait to see the sights of Europe with this group.

Saturday was the grand finale of another great Tyke football season. It is really something to work with these young kids, even as frustrating and exasperating as it can be. The day was unfortunately about as miserable as could be, with chilly temperatures and even a brief, blizzard-like snowfall. It sadly left a few youngsters freezing and crying on the bench. Despite this, the Argos took the championship 25-0. I am quite proud of the team and of my boys in particular for their growth over the season.

Speaking of football, this Saturday is semi-final day for our Fighting Saints junior team. Hard to believe that the last two months is now down to this. It has been a long season and the team has come a long way, especially with the number of kids we have that never played football. We’re taking on the Churchill Trojans, a team that we beat 30-7 in our first meeting. We’re not taking anything lightly though, as the playoffs are for keeps. Wish us luck!

So all of this excitement has left little time for railway related work, but I hope that will change in the next few weeks. Maybe I’ll actually be able to get back to my article on Leeblain and finally finish it; it’s only been two months! It would be nice to see it in the 2013 edition of the Thunder Bay Museum’s Paper and Records as it will be the 120th anniversary of the founding of the town (that is if they want to publish it). My first published paper would be awesome…then it would be Historian Dave Battistel!

In an interesting development, I did receive an email today from Bonnie McNulty with the Regional Services Office of the Ministry of Tourism, Culture and Sport. We will be meeting shortly to discuss attempts to preserve portions of the railway and its history. That will in turn lead to some movement regarding the Silver Mountain Historical Society, which will be our vehicle to carry out these preservations.

It has been so many years since the railway stopped operating that many traces of it have long disappeared. Sadly few buildings remain along the line, just a few section houses and the Silver Mountain Station (built in 1907). The identical copy of Silver Mountain, North Lake, which was probably constructed in the same year, was around until the late 1970’s. I wish it was still around as it would have made for a beautiful attraction in such a beautiful location.

North Lake Station, circa 1918.

North Lake Station, 1970’s.

I always wondered about its demise, and after many years of hearing different stories, I finally learned its fate at the founding meeting of the Historical Society. I spent some time in conversation with Gil Erickson, who had some intimate knowledge of the situation. Gil was involved with preservation of the railway when I was still a little kid. In the 1970’s, a group working out of Nolalu called the Localmotive Society attempted to renovate the derelict station to use as the focal point of some planned hiking trails. Unfortunately, the Ministry of Natural Resources (MNR) was not very cooperative at the time and would not allow any work on the old station (something about being too close to the border?).

The group then decided to build a replica station 3.5km east of the site on Addie Lake. They removed as much material from the original as possible before the MNR burned it down. Utilizing government grants and student labour, over two summers the group constructed a great copy of the station. I first saw this replica in the fall of 1990 and later visited it on many occasions over the next decade. Unfortunately I did not realize how much authentic material had been built into it or I would have spent more time taking in the history.

Replica North Lake Station, 1994.

Sadly the re-built station, sitting in a very remote and isolated area, was a frequent target of vandals. The lack of accessibility to the site also prevented the planned development of trails in the area. In the fall/winter of 2004, with no one willing to take on the maintenance of the structure, the MNR decided to burn it down. Therefore the few skeletal boards of the original station and coal bunker are all that remain of the once magnificent station. A very sad end to a wonderful piece of history; it things like this that drive my desire to preserve what is left.

North Lake Station, 1994.

North Lake Station, May 2010.

North Lake coal bunker, October 2011.

North Lake coal bunker, October 2011.

Anyway, it is probably time to wrap things up for now. As usual, there will be more to say next week (if we make it that far!). Until then…

 
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Posted by on October 30, 2012 in Miscellaneous, Research, Travel, Writing

 

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Did I say how much I hate yardwork?

I guess it is Karma. Growing up I lived in my parent’s three-bedroom bungalow in the Westfort area of Thunder Bay. My parents were both immigrants from Italy, and they retained many of the Old World traditions when they came here. As such, our city sized yard only had grass in front of the house; the backyard consisted of patio and garden. Lots of garden. So, where I am I going with this? Well, despite the pathetically small amount of grass that we actually had, I hated cutting the grass. My dad would always yell at me for not cutting it, even though it took about 10 minutes to do it.

When my (at the time) fiancée and I were deciding where to live, we decided we wanted a bit more space than a city lot offered. So we bought property in South Neebing, and our house now sits on 1.5 acres of land. Although some of it is still treed and not landscaped, it still takes me over 3 hours to cut all the grass in the yard. I often curse at how much time it takes to cut the grass, edge, rake, etc. Don’t get me wrong, I love where I live, but I swear I can hear my Dad looking down at me and laughing. The 10 minute job doesn’t seem so bad now. So Karma has bitten me in the posterior!

We’ve now reached the midway point of May and the time is flying by! This weekend is the Victoria Day long weekend here in Canada, which usually marks the beginning of the summer season. We might make a trip to my in-laws camp for the day, which is located about 65 km east of our home. Speaking of camp, it is interesting how people in Canada refer to “camp” by many different names. I have cousins in Toronto, and their first reaction to the word camp was “what?” Isn’t camp like summer camp? You see, people in southern Ontario refer to it as the “cottage.” Sounds too citified for us up here in the north; camp is so much more outdoorsy. I’ve heard that in Manitoba they call it the “lake.” Anyway, whatever you call it, enjoy this weekend in the outdoors!

Since we’re on the topic of the outdoors, I’m getting even more excited about the hiking season. This week I decided it was time to post more videos from my archives to YouTube. It was really a response to a request on the Facebook page for information about communication on the railway, such as telegraph lines, etc. I had footage from my 1997 trip to North-Gunflint Lakes that contained a few old telegraph poles that I found on Little North Lake, so I decided to upload a video. While I was at it, I put together a bunch of other videos from that ’97 footage; I will be posting them over the next few weeks, but I did put a second video up. This one is of the “Gunflint Cross.”

The Gunflint Cross is one of the most interesting legacies of the railway. It is a small cross, approximately 18

Gunflint Cross, 2008.

inches high, carved into the south side of a rock cut along Gunflint Lake near the 84 mile marker. The cross was created in 1892 as a memorial to a tragic accident that occurred during the construction of the railway. On October 8th, crews were blasting rock for the right of way when one of the charges failed to detonate. After waiting about 20 minutes, workers began removing rock to investigate the cause of the “hang fire” when the explosives went off; Joseph Montegia was struck and killed by the force of the blast. He would be buried in Port Arthur at St. Andrew’s Cemetery and some of his fellow workers carved the cross in his memory. So after 120 years it still remains in its spot, a mute testimonial to the men who built the railway.

The cross makes me think about Gunflint, and today I came across a reminder that I will make my first presentation in years this summer. I’ve mentioned this event in previous posts, but today I found a reference to it on the net. I’m excited about this lecture, I titled it “The Port Arthur, Duluth and Western Railway and the Paulson Mine: Hopes and Failures in a Border Wilderness.” It is going to be very different from anything I’ve done in the past as it will be outdoors. From my experience as a teacher, I’m sort of used to an indoor environment with a projector and a Smartboard. I guess I will have to explain things very thoroughly since I have no visuals to accompany my information. Let’s hope it is a nice day and a good turn out!

Anyway, enough for this week. Until then…

 
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Posted by on May 14, 2012 in Hiking, Miscellaneous, Research, Writing

 

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Here I go…

So on Thursday I made a trip to the library to try to find a book related to the Paulson Mine. Through my communications with Clark in North Dakota, we were able to unravel a good part of the life of John Paulson. Apparently he had a brother, Ole, who wrote part of his life’s experiences in a book titled, “Memoirs: Reminiscences of a Pioneer Pastor in America, 1850-1885.” According to Clark there are some references to his brother John which I am really eager to read about. Our communications also helped us find two photos of Paulson; one from his Civil War days as a Private in the 9th Minnesota Infantry and another as an older man returning to Willmar, MN. Hopefully I can get the book!

Now that I have more time for railway matters, one of my goals is to resume posting videos from my archives. I’ve already uploaded 3 of these videos; Gunflint Railway, Gunflint Mines and the Gunflint & Lake Superior Railroad. I still have a whole bunch of clips from my 1997 North-Gunflint Lake trip and 1998 field work to sort through. Makes for a great trip down memory lane! First however I have to edit the 2011 football highlight video, which will take a bit of time.

In the meantime I had a chance to put together an outline for the article I’m planning to write with Lee Johnson. I think the hardest part will be saying everything in 2500 words. Brevity isn’t always the easiest thing to adhere to when you’re writing about 12 years of railway history. In my planned book this will take up five chapters, but I only have eight pages to work with! I just have to remind myself that this is just an article and not the real thing. With any luck I’ll get a chance to start writing this week.

On another note, plans for our school’s Vimy Ridge trip are coming together. I will be leading a group of 6 students on an eight day trip to Europe over Easter in junction with our sister school St. Ignatius. I’m pretty pumped for this trip as we get to visit Paris, Dieppe, Juno Beach, the Somme, Ypres and of course Vimy Ridge on the 95th anniversary of the battle. These places are on my bucket list; I’m sure my wife is happy that I’ll be taking care of this now and not dragging her along when we retire! I will post more details as we get closer to our travel date.

 
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Posted by on November 26, 2011 in Miscellaneous, Research, Writing

 

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