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Extra Credit II “Load Bearing”

Extra Credit is video series that examines topics related to history in the Thunder Bay District and exploring that history.

This episode deals with load bearing, or in other words, carrying stuff. If you want to be successful on your hikes or explorations, you need to be able to bring with you the right gear for the situation. I detail 3 levels or types of equipment I use to carry my gear, from a light-duty fanny pack to an off the beaten path, heavy-duty tactical vest. I’ll also highlight examples of the gear I carry with me. Your questions and comments are welcome.

Enjoy!

 
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Posted by on March 17, 2021 in Hiking, History, Railway, Video

 

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It was 30 years ago…

It was 30 years ago…

Kinda sounds like the intro to a Beatles song doesn’t it? You know the one. Sadly it was 10 years longer, I don’t remember the exact date and has nothing to do with a Sergeant. Okay, maybe I’m reaching a bit here…or maybe a lot. It was worth a shot though! In any case, I just realized that something really significant happened to me all those years ago.

Hey kids, I’m finally back! I know, it’s been a really (really) long time, like almost three months long time. Can I say I’ve been busy? And maybe there’s some laziness and procrastination thrown in there too? Anyway, it’s good to be back. I’m sure you’ve all missed me right? Hopefully? There’s certainly a lot to update you on, so buckle up.

Well, it’s October, so that means we’re well into the new school year. There was obviously a lot of discussion and consternation regarding the start of the year, particularly how it was going to work and what it was going to look like. It took a long time for the government to figure out exactly how things would look (which I won’t comment on) and even then there were some differences across the province. Our board adopted a hybrid quadmester system for high school, which allows us to meet the government criteria for student cohorts. Instead of 90 day semesters with 4 classes, students take 2 classes for 44 days. This means teachers are teaching all day for 2 quadmesters, and half day for the other 2. 

So I’m one of the lucky people starting off with 2 classes, Grade 10 history and Grade 9 geography. I haven’t taught geography in 14 years, so it’s like I’m teaching something brand new. We teach one class in the morning in person and the other online in the afternoon. The next week the schedule flips. In the school, we have to wear level one medical masks at all times, and wear eye protection when we’re within 6 feet of the students. We can only remove the masks when we’re in our rooms by ourselves.

No sugar coating here…it’s exhausting! The online part is brutal. It is so hard trying to teach virtually as you get zero clues if the students are actually learning anything. I certainly don’t blame them though, as it’s a terrible way to learn and there’s not much we can do to make it any better. All we can do is our best and hope that things get better soon.

With all the safety measures and precautions in place, one big victim of the Covid situation has been football. This is the first time since 2000 that I have not had high school football and it certainly feels weird. I do have to say that there is no way I could manage coaching with my current teaching schedule…I’d be losing my mind! I do feel bad for the kids, particularly my oldest, Ethan, who potentially loses a year of ball because of this. There is football running, flag football, which my other son Noah is participating in. It is definitely not the same, but at least it is something for the kids to do and get them out of the house.

I would be remiss without saying something about the weather, which is one of my usual things to rant about. I actually cannot complain, as we had an absolutely beautiful spring, summer and fall. It was hot, sunny and dry. That was up until two weeks ago. I think we got more rain in a couple of days than we got all summer and the temperatures have just bottomed out. As I write this, I’m sitting here looking at the patches of snow on the ground. It’s October! I was hoping to squeeze in another hike this season, but this might have dashed those hopes. I’ll have to see what things are like in the next week or so, but I have a feeling I am done for 2020. I hope this weather isn’t a foreshadowing of things to come this winter.

Early snowfall, October 2020.

Early snowfall, October 2020.

Speaking of hiking, there is a lot to talk about. Boy have I done a lot of hiking this year! I definitely exceeded my own expectations by a mile and I have done so many hikes (or more appropriately hike and bikes) since my last post, I don’t think I can talk about them individually. I did 14 separate hikes since the 20th of July, covering most of the former Canadian Northern/CN Kinghorn line from Macdiarmid to Pass Lake, some 52 miles in total. That’s a lot of miles! And that’s only one way too, so you need to double that number for the true picture. As well, I needed to get to these places, so I put 4600 kilometres (yes, you read that right) on my truck doing it. 

Over all those miles, I saw a lot of great and interesting things, and certainly learned a ton about the line and railroading. So see, it’s not just exercise, it’s educational too! One of the best parts was the scenery. If you read this regularly you’ll know I love the outdoors and I was totally in awe of some of the amazing sights I witnessed. Places such as Orient Bay are gems that I didn’t even know existed; it’s like I’ve been introduced to a whole new world. The only sad thing is that I wish I could have seen it by train, especially in the early years when it was just opened up.

CNoR/CN grade, July 2020.

CNoR/CN grade, July 2020.

CNoR/CN grade, July 2020.

Nipigon Lodge, July 2020.

CNoR/CN grade, July 2020.

CNoR/CN grade, July 2020.

CNoR/CN grade, August 2020.

Cash Creek Trestle, August 2020.

Cash Creek Trestle, August 2020.

Cronyn/MacAskill Station, August 2020.

CNoR/CN grade, August 2020.

CNoR/CN grade, August 2020.

Nipigon River Bridge, September 2020.

Nipigon River Bridge, September 2020.

Nipigon River, September 2020.

CNoR/CN grade, September 2020.

CNoR/CN grade, September 2020.

Black Sturgeon River Bridge, September 2020.

Black Sturgeon River Bridge, September 2020.

In any case, I have now totally committed myself to covering all 147 miles of the line from Jellicoe to Thunder Bay. Why am I doing this you ask? You’re first guess is that I’m crazy. Possibly true, but no. Actually, I’m worried it will go the way of the PAD&W. Canadian National will hang to on the grade until all the infrastructure is gone and it will no longer be usable as a trail. It is a daunting task however; I have divided the line into 42 separate hikes, of which I was able to complete 17 so far this year. I figure it will take me 3 years to complete. My main emphasis is to record on video the entire length and so far I’ve made 64 4K videos, amounting to 12 hours of footage. Just so you’re aware, every minute of 4K video is about 1 gigabyte of data, so these files tend to be huge.

I can’t wait to explore more of this line…I feel like a giddy little kid! Maybe it’s just because this line is what the PAD&W used to be in the past, but I never had a chance to experience it. I’ve definitely immersed myself in its history, and as with the scenery, have found it quite fascinating. As such, I’ve created (or rather updated) an information packed page on this website about the line and the places along its length. Click on the CNoR/GTP tab to take a look at it.

The last hike I want to talk about is probably the most important. In late September, the boys and I took a ride to North Lake to do a little bird hunting, but there was (obviously) an ulterior motive; I guess it’s the proverbial two birds with one stone analogy. The boys wanted to go hunting, and I figured why not in a spot where I know there are birds and where I could walk a little bit of the railway. Any excuse to get out on the PD is a good excuse!

As we walked the old grade I was hit by a bit of nostalgia; it was almost 30 years ago that I was first introduced to the PAD&W. It was Thanksgiving weekend in 1990 and I was all of 16 years old. It was going to be my first foray into moose hunting and my dad asked if I could tag along with some family friends to their newly acquired camp at North Lake. I had never been to the area before, or even had a clue where it was. It was a strange new world for me. Right from the moment we drove in to the camp, I began hearing about the old railway that use to run through the area and saw some of the remnants for myself. Over the next few days, I had a chance to explore more of the old grade, particularly around where North Lake Station was located. When I returned the next year the local snowmobile club had opened up the rest of the grade right to the end of Gunflint Lake. You could now walk all the way to Trestle Bay, and with a short boat ride, even explore the line west of the former 1000-foot trestle site.

That was the beginning. I never would have imagined that one chance trip 30 years ago would ignite a lifetime passion. It just amazes me how things in our lives begin and play out. Had I not begged my dad to go moose hunting, I likely would have never been drawn into all of this great history. Good thing for moose hunting huh?

PAD&W Grade, September 2020.

PAD&W Grade, September 2020.

PAD&W Grade, September 2020.

Trestle Bay, September 2020.

Well, I better move along. With the change in the quadmester soon, I should have more time to write, so I won’t take so long to write another post…hopefully. Until then…

 
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Posted by on October 25, 2020 in Hiking, History, Railway

 

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CNoR/CN-Kinghorn (Dorion) Subdivision MP 56.4-61 IV (Cash Creek Trestle)

Video of the former Canadian Northern Railway/CN-Kinghorn (Dorion) Subdivision east of Cameron Falls, ON. Features the 1924 Cash Creek Trestle. Part 4 of 6.

Active, 1914-2005.

 
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Posted by on September 15, 2020 in Hiking, History, Railway, Video

 

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CNoR/CN-Kinghorn (Dorion) Subdivision MP 52.5-56.4 I

Video of the former Canadian Northern Railway/CN-Kinghorn (Dorion) Subdivision alongside Wanogu Lake west of McKirdy, ON. Features cuts and a rock fall area with a concrete curb/rail.

Part 1 of 3.

Active, 1914-2005.

 
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Posted by on August 19, 2020 in Hiking, History, Railway, Video

 

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CNoR/CN-Kinghorn (Dorion) Subdivision MP 49.1-52.5 III

Video of the former Canadian Northern Railway/CN-Kinghorn (Dorion) Subdivision west of McKirdy, ON. Features cuts, embankments and mileage markers as the line winds its way north of McKirdy Lake.

Part 3 of 4.

Active, 1914-2005.

 
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Posted by on August 14, 2020 in Hiking, History, Railway, Video

 

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CNoR/CN-Kinghorn (Dorion) Subdivision MP 40.7-45 III

Video of the former Canadian Northern Railway/CN-Kinghorn (Dorion) Subdivision along Orient Bay, ON. Features the grade alongside Orient Bay with several shuttered businesses, beautiful views and the remains of a short spur with the rails still in place.

Part 3 of 5.

Active, 1914-2005.

 
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Posted by on August 1, 2020 in Hiking, History, Railway, Video

 

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The Tale of Two Tunnels…

The Tale of Two Tunnels…

No, this isn’t about London or Paris, and definitely not about the French Revolution; it’s a little closer to home. Likewise, I’m certainly no Charles Dickens or anything close to it. I fancy myself more like Hemingway haha! This story however, does have a historical flare to it, I guess like everything I write about. It is a bit of an adventure and deals with new discoveries, at least on my part. I doubt there will be a TV adaptation…I know, it would make for a “great” story.

Hey kids, it’s summertime! Well, I guess summer started a few weeks ago, but as this is my first post since that time, I do need to point it out. It has been a over month already since my last post and I can’t believe that much time has passed by; summer is flying by! I am doing my best to make the most of it considering the craziness of this time and the uncertainty of what the future brings. I don’t even want to think about what fall in the classroom is going to look like.

Thankfully, Mother Nature has been mostly cooperative. While we’ve seen some unsettled weather in the last week, it has mostly been great. Fairly dry and very warm; in fact, we had some extremely warm weather a few weeks ago where the temperatures were over 30 Celsius. It’s still been warm, but we’ve had showers and thunderstorms thrown into to mix since then that make things a little more interesting. Hopefully, these warm days continue for the rest of the month and into August. We’ve been spending most of our time out at camp where we can relax a bit more and cool off in the lake.

Camp sunrise, July 2020.

Camp sunset, July 2020.

In addition to relaxing (and working a lot) at camp, I’ve been going on hiking trips as often as I can. Two were on the Grand Trunk, and one on the Canadian Northern, though with all the time spent at camp, there will be more Canadian Northern hikes in the future. It’s been great to get out, though the bugs have made things a little more challenging that usual. However, it’s all been offset by the amazing discoveries and scenery I’ve been able to take in.

My first hike after the last post took on part of the Grand Trunk Pacific between Ellis and Flett Stations. I was one of the longer hikes I’ve attempted, but well worth it. My journey started on Finmark/Flett Road, just east of Flett Station and it took my about 8km east to Ellis Road and back. There were some remarkable sights, including a number of huge rock cuts and a very unusual concrete culvert over Strawberry Creek. The only downside was the bugs; I was absolutely eaten alive by deer flies, particularly on my head through the holes in my bike helmet. A small price to pay for the experience, I guess.

GTP/CN Grade, June 2020.

GTP/CN Grade, June 2020.

GTP/CN Grade, June 2020.

GTP/CN Grade, June 2020.

GTP/CN Grade, June 2020.

GTP/CN Grade, June 2020.

GTP/CN Grade, June 2020.

GTP/CN Grade, June 2020.

The next trip was less vigorous, but certainly strenuous given the temperatures that day. We departed for camp on a one hour and twenty-minute ride to the northeast to Macdiarmid, Ontario, on the former Canadian Northern line. I had never been to this spot before, and in fact had only been up the stretch of road it is located on once (Highway 11). Our goal (the boys came with me that day) was to explore something that I had been looking forward to seeing for quite some time, which was the railway tunnel known as the Madiarmid or Jumbo’s Cove Tunnel. It is one of the few railway tunnels in the area, and I believe the longest at over 1000 feet.

After a very picturesque drive along the Nipigon River and Orient Bay of Lake Nipigon, we arrived at our destination, which was a dirt access road a few hundred metres from the tunnel. We walked in from the highway and could see the tunnel right away to the north. Soon we were at the entrance and proceeded through its length toward the northern portal. Other than its length, this tunnel is unique as it is partially lined with concrete at intervals inside its cavernous expanse. From what I could see, with reinforcing steel jutting from the complete sections of concrete, the entire length was supposed to be lined but was never completed. It does give it a rather interesting appearance. Railway ties still sit in their place throughout the length of the tunnel.

Macdiarmid Tunnel, June 2020.

Macdiarmid Tunnel, June 2020.

Macdiarmid Tunnel, June 2020.

Macdiarmid Tunnel, June 2020.

Macdiarmid Tunnel, June 2020.

After completing our exploration of the tunnel, we headed south for about 700 metres to where the grade crossed over the Postagoni River on a high bridge. This structure, built in 1924 to replace a previous wood trestle, is 285 feet long and 45 feet high. The temperature was starting to climb quickly, so we didn’t dwell too long, but we spent enough time to check out both ends of the bridge as well as the area next to the river. The views from the bridge (which was rather interesting walking across…much like the bridge in the previous post) of Lake Nipigon and Orient Bay were spectacular. It must have been quite interesting from the train!

Postagoni River Bridge, June 2020.

 

Postagoni River Bridge, June 2020.

Postagoni River Bridge, June 2020.

Postagoni River Bridge, June 2020.

A week later I was back at it, this time on the complete opposite end of the district on the GTP. This “hike and bike” as I call them was going to be tough, as it was going to a 10km trip each way. The boys were going to come along again on this trip, and I was bracing myself for a bevy of complaints about how far and how boring it was. I won’t ever tell them, but their complaints make the journey a little more entertaining.

So the plan was to pick up from the last hike at Finmark/Flett Road and push northwest, past the station at Flett to a bridge crossing just east of Griff Station. There was a thunderstorm the night before, so the air was hot and very humid that morning. After a short ride, we arrived at the first point of interest, which was another tunnel. The Flett Tunnel is a very popular hiking spot and probably the most visited abandoned railway location in the area. Unlike the Macdiarmid Tunnel, I had been to this one before, back in 1996…if I remember correctly. I might be hazy on the exact year, but I recall the tunnel well and remember ice still in the tunnel months after it had disappeared from the ground. It’s just over 600 feet long and has a much more rough appearance, with no concrete on the inside.

Flett Tunnel, July 2020.

Flett Tunnel, July 2020.

Flett Tunnel, July 2020.

Flett Tunnel, July 2020.

Flett Tunnel (west portal), 1909.

Past the tunnel, there are numerous large rock cuts that made the journey very interesting. In one spot, I was expecting to see (hopefully) another concrete culvert. What I found was something far more unique. Very strangely, the railway engineers re-routed a creek and blasted a culvert out of solid rock, the likes of which I have never seen.

GTP/CN Grade, July 2020.

GTP/CN Grade, July 2020.

GTP/CN Grade, July 2020.

The railway grade in this area is in rough shape, as it was used a logging road for many years. There were many large puddles in some of the rock cuts, which made our journey a bit challenging at times. It even ended our ride short of the planned destination, as several large puddles about 500 metres from the bridge were unnavigable by bike, so I had to walk the last bit. I was hoping this bridge over the Oskondaga River was another concrete structure like the one over Strawberry Creek, but it was something different, a bridge I had never seen before. Turns out it is a Ballasted Through Plate Girder span bridge. Who knew!

GTP/CN Grade, July 2020.

GTP/CN Grade, July 2020.

GTP/CN Grade, July 2020.

GTP/CN Grade, July 2020.

My last bit of railway news relates to those North Lake Station documents I bought off ebay. One of my goals was to have them properly preserved and accessible at the Thunder Bay Museum. After reaching out to the museum, I was able to arrange to present them to Curator Michael DeJong. There they will form the first part of a historical fond of my research files, which will eventually all find their way to the museum. I don’t often feel that I do a ton of things right, but this one gives me warm and fuzzy feelings!

Document transfer, June 2020.

Anyway, it’s time to move along. I already have new hikes to write about and even more on the drawing board. I’ll be back soon enough with all the latest info. until then…

 
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Posted by on July 21, 2020 in Hiking, History, Railway

 

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Well, at least Mother Nature is sympathetic!

“The Lord giveth, and the Lord taketh away.” I think most people have heard that biblical quote, even if they are not particularly religious or Christian. I’m a practicing Catholic, but honestly, I had to look up where the quote came from, which by the way is in Book of Job if you care to know. Sorry, I’m not always up to speed to my Old Testament scripture. Anyway, the reason why I brought it up was that it encapsulates, at least for some of us, our current situation. I know, cryptic as always. I will get to the point if you read on.

Hey kids, it’s almost June! This whole pandemic has turned the calendar into a blur of dates. I generally know which day of the week it is, but I’m having a difficult time keeping track of the dates. This means we’re now two and half months into this COVID imposed quarantine, which has turned everyone’s lives upside down. I’m still teaching from home, and will continue to do so until the end of June as the province has announced that we will not be returning to the classroom until September at the earliest. It’s still a struggle, as these online lessons do not do the curriculum any justice, and the students have begun to shutdown. In a regular year this always happens, but the pandemic has made everything worse since they don’t have to actually be in a classroom. Hopefully I can make it through the next few weeks without losing my marbles!

So the one thing that has been helpful is the one thing I always gripe about…yup, the weather. It’s almost like Mother Nature feels sorry for us and has decided to cut us some slack with some warm temperatures and generally sunny days. After a cool start to the month, May has been fairly warm, with some hot days and mostly rain free. That lack of precipitation does have some drawbacks, mainly the imposing of a restricted fire zone because of the dry conditions. That sadly means no open fires in backyards or at camps. The good with the bad right? The Lord giveth…

Now speaking of camp, it is that time of the year. For anyone new, camp is the term we use here in northwestern Ontario to describe our cottage, cabin or lake property. My wife and I are lucky to have inherited her parents camp, which is really like a house, so we have another place to be during this time. Usually the Victoria Day long weekend (third weekend in May) is typically the start of camping season for most people around here and we were no exception. We’ve spent the last few weekends out there, which really helps break up the monotony of being at home all the time. We recently got internet at our place, which is only available in turtle-speed DSL, but it helps take some of the pressure off our cellular data. It also allows us to do some of our school work while we are there; as we move more into June, we might be working more from there than usual.

Camp sunset, May 2020.

Camp sunrise, May 2020.

As I mentioned in previous posts, all of this time at home and no activities for the kids has given me more time to get out and do many railway related hiking. I’ve pretty much shutdown all writing work on my book, but I did do a number of online presentations via YouTube during April and May. You can watch them here if you are interested.

Now, back to the hiking thing. In my last post I mentioned that I was going to do some exploring around North Lake Station for the first time in 9 years. I was very excited for the visit, as North Lake was the first place I encountered the railway. Unfortunately, I left there very disappointed for two reasons. The first, was the weather. I was actually hoping for more clouds than sun, since I would be filming in a very heavily treed area and the clouds help to even the light so you can see better. The second and more important let down, was what I found. The North Lake station was built in 1907 and abandoned in 1923. It was still standing in the 1970s but sadly time caught up to it and it fell into ruin. When I first saw the remains in 1990, the station wasn’t more than a pile of boards; however, the nearby coal bunker was decently preserved and still fairly full of coal. I was shocked by what I saw this time. The remains of the station are nearly gone, with only a small section of boards left, and the coal bunker has all but deteriorated. It such an inglorious end for such a beautiful area.

North Lake Station, May 2020.

North Lake Station, May 2020.

North Lake Station, May 2020.

North Lake Station, May 2020.

North Lake Station, May 2020.

North Lake Station, May 2020.

To boost my spirits, I’ve done a few other hikes. I was invited to visit a section of the Grand Trunk Pacific that lies on private property just west of the city. The owner, Howard, uses one part of the grade for his driveway and the other as a recreational trail. Both are kept so well-maintained they appear as though they would have back before this portion of the line was abandoned in 1924.

Grand Trunk Pacific, May 2020.

Grand Trunk Pacific, May 2020.

Since I’ve been at camp the last few weekends, I’ve taken the opportunity to explore more of the former Canadian Northern/CN-Kinghorn grade in the area. I’ve really embraced the whole bike and hike concept on this line (and others). A couple of months ago I bought a new bike and I’ve been putting it to good use. The bike lets me cover ground a lot quicker, and its ideal for areas where the railway grade is easily passable. I have quite a number of these explorations planned for the summer when I’m already in the area.

Kinghorn Sub-Division, May 2020.

Kinghorn Sub-Division, May 2020.

Kinghorn Sub-Division, May 2020.

Kinghorn Sub-Division, May 2020.

Kinghorn Sub-Division, May 2020.

Kinghorn Sub-Division, May 2020.

Kinghorn Sub-Division, May 2020.

Kinghorn Sub-Division, May 2020.

Kinghorn Sub-Division, May 2020.

Kinghorn Sub-Division, May 2020.

Now I do have some exciting news to pass along. I mentioned how disappointed I was with my visit to North Lake, but I actually found something that made up for it and then some. I’m not going to give too many details other than I have something arriving in the mail in the next few weeks that is of great importance to my research on the railway. I’ll post all the details when it shows up.

Anyway, I need to be moving along. I have a hike scheduled for today along the Grand Trunk. It’s to a place I have not been to in along time. I’ll have pictures and info on all my explorations in my next post…and details about my “special” deilvery! Until then…

 
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Posted by on May 30, 2020 in Hiking, History, Railway

 

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CNoR/CN-Kinghorn (Dorion) Subdivision MP 109-112 III

Video of the former Canadian Northern Railway/CN-Kinghorn (Dorion) Subdivision east of Pearl, ON. Features the bridge over the Pearl River.

Part 3 of 3.

Active, 1914-2005.

 
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Posted by on May 29, 2020 in Hiking, History, Railway, Video

 

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CNoR/CN-Kinghorn (Dorion) Subdivision MP 109-112 II

Video of the former Canadian Northern Railway/CN-Kinghorn (Dorion) Subdivision east of Pearl, ON. Features numerous long embankments and rock cuts and end alongside Pearl Lake,

Part 2 of 3.

Active, 1914-2005.

 
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Posted by on May 28, 2020 in Hiking, History, Railway, Video

 

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