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How can I be tired already?

The simple answer is yes, yes you can be tired Dave. But after only 4 days back at work? Yup, you sure can…it doesn’t matter if it’s 4 days, 4 weeks or 4 months. However, you know what would make the fatigue more epic? How about throwing a cold on top of it? Ya, that sounds like a great idea, because nothing makes the situation better like a stuffy, snotty nose, a sore, burning throat and horking up phlegm. Yes folks, the last few days have been absolutely fantastic!

It’s September and I’m back kids! It may seem that it has started as well as a train wreck, but in reality, it’s pretty good. It’s just hard to go from being on vacation for two months to extreme craziness in a few days. The worst part is that it has just become even worse as the boys’ football season has started up. I know, poor hard done by teacher complaining about how busy things are after a summer off. I get it, but that doesn’t make it any easier. I really feel like poop.

If it’s September, it means that summer is over; well, not officially but close enough. I wrote in my previous post back in July that the weather had been good and that is how it continued. This summer was one of the best we’ve seen in recent memory. We didn’t spend as much time at camp in August as we did in July, as the boys had football practices 3 days a week. Nonetheless, we were able to make the most of the time we were there.

Sunset at camp, August 2018.

Calm morning at camp, August 2018.

Last camp sunset, August 2018.

So as I mentioned, I began football early this year. The boys wanted to play summer ball again, especially Noah who missed the tournament last year and the entire fall season after suffering a very unfortunate concussion in practice. The only issue this time around was the format of the tournament, which changed venues from last year. On the Saturday, the teams were supposed to play some squads from Orono, MN, which is just west of the Twin Cities. A week or so before we left, we were informed that things had changed for a third time. Orono had been invited to play in a jamboree style exhibition and they stipulated that the organizers had to invite the Thunder Bay Minor teams too. The best part, the games would be played at US Bank Stadium, home of the Minnesota Vikings. The players (and the coaches too) were beyond excited as it is not very often that you get a chance to play in an NFL stadium.

The games were to be played on August 25th and 26th, so we left Thunder Bay on the 22nd. Our journey began with a one day detour to La Crosse, Wisconsin (which I’ll discuss later). I really enjoy La Crosse as it is a beautiful city, though we didn’t really see too much of it. The next day we headed to Minneapolis and I decided that instead of taking the interstate, we would take the more scenic Highway 61 along the banks of the Mississippi. It was worth the extra 20-25 minutes it added to the trip, as the views along the river were fantastic! Once in Minnie, we were able to spend a couple days shopping and relaxing before the boys had to play.

Scenery near Arcadia, WI, August 2018.

Mississippi sunset, La Crosse, WI, August 2018.

Lake Pepin, MN, August 2018.

On Friday night, the Vikings were hosting the Seattle Seahawks for a pre-season game, so we decided to take it in. Neither myself nor the boys had ever been to an NFL game, so it was going to be a very exciting experience. Our seats were in row 3 in the endzone, which gave us a fantastic view of parts of the game. You can view some of the great video I shot here.

US Bank Stadium, August 2018.

Seahawks vs. VIkings, August 2018.

The experience at US Bank Stadium was awesome. The stadium is both huge and small at the same time, if that makes sense (the stadiums look so much bigger on TV). The kids had a blast and I’m sure they won’t soon forget this opportunity. The only downside was that it was a warm day and there was no air moving inside the stadium; by late afternoon it was like a sauna inside there.

US Bank Football Jamboree, August 2018.

Field level at US Bank Stadium, August 2018.

Field level at US Bank Stadium, August 2018.

So unlike my last post, there has been a bit of movement on the railway front. In early August I paid a visit to the Lakehead University Library to do some research. I first had to find a few books that would help me fill in some missing areas in my book. I later had an appointment at the university archives, which held some files related to the Pigeon River Lumber Company (PRLC). These documents were from a much later period than I am working on, but I thought there might be a few tibits that might help me out. I didn’t find anything explosive (which I did in the States), but there were a few useful things.

PRLC fonds at the Lakehead University Archives, August 2018.

As I mentioned earlier, our trip to the States included a brief visit to La Crosse, WI. Now you might be wondering what is in La Crosse, but if you read this blog regularly, you’ll know that I’ve been there before. La Crosse was the hometown of PRLC vice-president Frank Hixon, and the Murphy Library at the University of Wisconsin-La Crosse holds his very extensive personal records. During my June 2016 trip I compiled a veritable gold mine of information, but I inadvertently missed records from the fall of 1905. Hence the return.

Murphy Library, August 2018.

Working very quickly in the limited time I had, I was able to gather all the documents I required from the fall of 1905. I had decided, before I left, that I would look at some other records if there was time. I wanted to review those from 1909, when logging operations concluded at Gunflint, to see if I missed anything. I also wanted to look and see if I could find anything important from the 1897 to 1899 periods, before the PRLC was formed. In the end, my discoveries were extremely important.

Hixon Papers at the Murphy Library, La Crosse, WI, August 2018.

One letter from 1905 helped affix a date to the construction of the wood trestle alongside the Crab River. Others pointed to some internal turmoil in the company following Herman Finger’s departure from the board. Some of the 1909 records helped clarify and confuse what I already knew about the Gunflint operation. And finally, pre-1900 records gave me a better understanding of how the company was formed and where I should look for additional sources of information. In the end, the materials I uncovered were all critical pieces for my research.

Anyway. it time to get going. I’ll be back in mid-October, as I have my usual field work scheduled for the Canadian Thanksgiving weekend at Gunflint. I’ll have all the information and news from that visit. Until then…

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Posted by on September 11, 2018 in History, Railway, Research, Travel

 

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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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That moose gave me a heart attack!

Well, not literally, but it felt like it. You could imagine the headline though, “Moose gives man heart attack!” Not that I want to joke about something like that; first, because heart attacks are not something to joke about and second, I guarantee you, it’s happened before. Probably in Canada…I might just Google it. Anyway, I’m sure it took a few years off my life!

Wow, its almost June kids! That means school will be over in month, so another year bites the dust. Unfortunately there is still a ton of stuff to do between now and then, so much that I don’t want to even think about it. This is on top of everything going on at home. Football is over, but Noah’s baseball is in full swing, which occupies 3-4 nights a week. I’ve also spent the last few weekends at camp, as there are quite a number of things to do there. It never ends!

Fortunately the weather is cooperating. Up until a few days ago, we haven’t seen very much rain. We still need more, as it is still very dry. It’s been the nicest spring we’ve had in a number of years, especially compared to last year. I hope it continues, and we have a warm summer. Last summer was okay, but it wasn’t particularly warm by any stretch. I guess we’ll just have to see what happens.

Even though things are crazy, I was finally able to some railway work done. I had been looking forward to my first hike of the year from quite a while, and it was critical for my research on the Gunflint & Lake Superior Railroad. I decided this year to plan my hike for the Friday before the Victoria Day long-weekend, which would give me the whole weekend to go to camp.

So I headed down to Gunflint on Thursday after work. With everything going on lately, it was nice to not think about it for a while. I’ve always thought of the North-Gunflint area as one of my happy places, somewhere I can decompress. It was also nice to visit my good friends John and Rose at the Cross River Lodge…it’s like a home away from home.

Sunrise, Gunflint Lake, May 2018.

The goal of the hike was two-fold; finish locating the grade of the G&LS and explore more of Camp 8. It was a beautiful morning, and I had a long walk ahead of me. From the parking area, it was a 6km walk to where I would start my work. As I walked east along the Border Route Trail, I could already feel the heat building and I knew it would be a very challenging day. It was about two-thirds of the way to my destination that it happened.

Whisker Lake, May 2018.

I was in a hurry to get to my starting location, so I was walking quite quickly along the trail. And then I heard it…the distinctive “crack” of a branch breaking. Small animals don’t break branches like that, so my mind starting racing; bear? Proceeding slowly forward, my heart stopped when a large moose wheeled about 25 feet in front of me and took off through the bush. It took quite a while for my heart rate to recover from that!

Once I reached a point just northwest of Topper Lake, I proceeded south to where I thought the railroad grade would be. It was strictly a hunch; the previous year I had lost the line well to the west and hoped by starting further to the east I might luck out. Turns out, I did. Not far from the trail, the area was flooded by a large beaver pond, and fairly quickly I found the first trace of the railroad, a spike. That forced me into a tough decision; keep going west or try to see if there were more traces to the east. I decided on the latter.

Within a short distance I had located a couple of fishplates, which were used to join sections of rail together. Metres away, I made an amazing discovery; an axe blade. To find something like this away from any camp or settlement I would imagine is rare and it happened just by fluke. It made me wonder though, how did it end up there? Was it forgotten, abandoned…I’m sure if axes could talk! I so wanted to pick it up and get it to a museum, but I promised the guys at the Forest Service (these are Federal lands) that I would not remove anything.

Fishplates, G&LS Grade, May 2018.

G&LS Grade, May 2018.

Axe blade, G&LS Grade, May 2018.

Farther east, past the beaver dam, I located another couple pieces of fishplate and a mystery object. It was in the creek flowing into Topper Lake, so I root around in the mud to find it and when it emerged, I had no idea what it was. I figured it was something from a horse harness, which as it turns out, it was. Closer to the lake, I came across a coil of wire, which resembled some of the “telegraph wire” I encountered along the grade. This means the railroad grade actually corresponds with what is shown on a 1926 map of the area.

Horse harness piece, G&LS Grade, May 2018.

Turning around, I retraced my steps back to where I started and continued westward. I located another spike a hundred metres or so from my initial find, and that was it. From there it was a difficult slog more than 700 metres to where I had last found traces the previous year. It was a wet, swampy area, full of thick bush and deadfall, which made the going very challenging. On top of that, the temperature was climbing the whole time, so I was sweating like a hog and getting winded. It is at times like these that you wonder why you put yourself through this type of abuse. Like, why can’t I be normal and sit on my deck and drink like other people on their day off? Then I remember that conforming is boring!

Once I had re-acquired the grade, it was another few hundred metres to reach the site of Camp 8 (which I am pretty sure was renumbered Camp 11 in February 1908). I hoped to have a decent amount of time to explore the old logging camp, which has seen little human interference since it was used from circa 1906 to 1909. After my visit last year, and a quick examination by technicians from the US Forest Service a week later, I had a better idea of what was at the site.

My first goal was to try and pinpoint each structure. In 2017 I had found 3, and the Forest Service guys had located another 3; from some research I did, I believed there were 2 more, raising the total to 8 (which would match the same number at Camp 4 on Gunflint). I would then attempt to measure each structure and the distance between them. This was rather tricky to do by myself, but I think I did an okay job.

So I was able to determine, at least in my mind, that there were in fact 8 structures. There are 5 located just north of the grade, 4 of which are fairly large. The two westernmost are approximately 33 ft. x 52 ft. and are situated close together. Their berms are not well pronounced and they are 50 ft. away from the other buildings, so I am assuming that these might be the horse stables. According to statistics, there were 19 teams of horses working at the camp in the winter of 1908.

The next three southern structures are about 20 ft. from each other, with two larger ones bookending a small one and have very well defined berms. Both larger buildings are approximately 35 ft. x 60 ft., though the eastern one has a 20 ft. x 20 ft. section on the back. The middle building of the three is considerably smaller at 24 ft. x 26 ft. If I had to guess, I would say that they are, from west to east, the bunkhouse, van (office) and cook house. The only way to know in any certainty is to do some excavations inside the berms. The same 1908 data quoted previously states that there were 55 men living at the camp.

PRLC Statistics, February 1908.

That leaves 3 structures just to the north. One, off by itself between the stables and bunkhouse, would in my estimation, be the blacksmith shop. I don’t have any definitive evidence, but my assumption is based on the debris located close by. The two other buildings are close to each other and are north of the bunkhouse and van. One is very small, 12 ft. x 14 ft. and has a deep hole in the centre of the berms; there can be no doubt that this is the outhouse. The other is slightly larger, but its purpose is a mystery. Again, the only way to make a determination would be to dig, but that not a decision I can make.

Outhouse, Camp 8 PRLC, May 2018.

Outhouse, Camp 8 PRLC, May 2018.

Glassware & pot, Camp 8 PRLC, May 2018.

Building foundation, Camp 8 PRLC, May 2018.

I wish I could have lingered longer, but I had a long walk back to my truck and a 2.5-hour drive home. It was 24C and I could feel the exhaustion setting in. I am planning to go back next May and devote the whole time to exploring the camp. Hopefully the archaeologists from the USFS can join me so there can be a more thorough exploration. I certainly have the knowledge of what was in a logging camp, but I lack the train eye and background to understand everything I see on the ground. My fingers are crossed that we can make it happen.

Anyway, it’s time to go. With all the craziness, it might be a while before I’m back. Hopefully I’ll have more news to report. Until then…

 
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Posted by on May 14, 2018 in Hiking, History, Railway

 

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Here comes the sun!

I bet right now the words to the Beatles’ song is running through your head. No? Well, maybe it’s a generational thing. In any case, that’s not what I’m talking about. So, what exactly am I referring to you ask? It’s a history reference, right? You know, history teacher, Dark Ages, Western Europe emerging from the “darkness” after the fall of the Roman Empire. That would be a big no; nice try though, and bonus points for making it about history. As usual, you’ll just have to keep going to get the real answer.

It’s spring kids! Well, on paper anyway. April is just around the corner, which means the school year is really flying by. This coming month is going to be crazy busy, which I am/am not looking forward to. Don’t get me wrong, there is going to be some great stuff, such as a conference in Vancouver, which I’ve never been to before, but that also means it’s going to be a struggle to keep up with things. The kids start some spring activities, flag football and baseball, which coupled with another trip out-of-town to Minneapolis, will make for some interesting times.

In my last post, I wrote about the next trip to Europe coming up in a year. After a lot of effort, we have been able to fill all the student spots on the trip, and even have a few on a waiting list. We have a good group of kids and I’m really looking forward to help them explore some of the sights, culture and history of a different continent. I’m sure before I know it, we’ll be on our way there!

So it is technically spring, which means some days it feels like it and others it doesn’t. For once I can’t really complain about the weather, as it has been relatively decent this past month after a really crappy February. The temperatures have been about average and the snow is disappearing slowly and steadily. I looks like we might have a bit chillier start to April, but the writing is on the wall and as long as we get some good dosages of sun, I’ll be happy.

Early spring at camp, March 2018.

March continued to be a busy month for railway work. I managed to get more writing done on the Gunflint & Lake Superior book, which definitely makes me happy. I have now completed the better part of the first 12 chapters and just have some additional information to add to them. I’ve started Chapter 13, which is the second last, which means I will not have too much to do next winter to finish it all up. The last time I totalled the word count I was over 36,000, an amazing amount for an amateur like me. As I described in my last post, I have some field work to complete this summer and need to review a few things in the archives to wrap up.

Speaking of field work, I am ready to start gearing up for another season of hiking and exploring. Right now I only have two trips planned; one coming up in May and my usual Thanksgiving weekend one in October. For the one coming up in May, the plan is to finish locating the grade of the G&LS, hopefully to definitely give it an exact length. This was something I was not able to do last year. Also, I want to spend some time exploring the logging camp I discovered last May, which I believe was Camp 8 (which I think was renumbered to Camp 11 at some point) of the Pigeon River Lumber Company. I am really hoping that some of the US Forest Service guys can join me for this one, for while I know the technical/historical stuff about logging camps, I am not a trained archaeologist and am not really sure of what I am looking at on the ground. Also, they have the authority to touch/dig/remove items from the ground, which I do not. I really need this information to help complete that section of my book and hopefully tell the story of this unique operation.

Building foundation, Camp 8?, May 2017.

This month marks a sad anniversary, for it was 10 years ago that this area lost one of its most important historic treasures. To climb the ridges south of Gunflint Lake, the G&LS had to build a structure that was both practical and inexpensive. The “corduroy trestle” they constructed was one of the most unique rail structures to be found and was legendary in the area. It was used for many years as part of hiking and recreational trails after rails were removed circa 1915. I first saw it in 1997 and was awestruck, which you can clearly hear in the video I made. In 1999, the trestle was damaged by a large windstorm that hit the Boundary Waters and then was burned by the 2007 Ham Lake Fire. The flames penetrated deep into the structure and continued to smolder for months afterwards. In March 2008, the US Forest Service was forced to use dynamite to extinguish the fire. It’s too bad it is gone, for it was an amazing piece of engineering, but I am glad I was able to save it on video for everyone to see. You can view the video here.

Corduroy Trestle, August 1997.

Corduroy Trestle, August 1997.

Article from the Cook County News-Herald on the trestle, March 2008.

Anyway, I better get going. I’ll try to get back before the end of April with the latest updates. Until then…

 
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Posted by on March 30, 2018 in History, Railway, Research, Travel, Writing

 

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Next time remember the batteries!

Nietzsche once said, “Without forgetting it is quite impossible to live at all.” True, but he must have written that in reference to other people’s forgetfulness, for no one in their right mind would say that when they themselves have forgotten. Most people would have said something akin to “ah, for God sake,” maybe replacing “God” with a few more colourful adjectives for good measure. The reality is folks that forgetting sucks, especially when you think you’ve got it all planned out or you’re a long way from home. Maybe it’s just a sign that you’re getting old or possibly providence telling you to quit while you’re ahead. In any case, it can really dampen anyone’s day or party!

Hey, it’s October kids! I know I have not written in awhile, a long while, two months to be exact, but I’ve been busy. You know the routine already, right? Work, family, football…the usual craziness. It gets faster, busier and more exhausting every year; maybe I am getting too old for this crap. Thankfully some of it is winding down, but that’s a story for another paragraph. My classes are good, but I have larger numbers than I’ve seen in recent years. It makes marking a bit more onerous with all those extra assignments, but I guess that’s why they pay me those big bucks.

So what else is exciting Dave? Well, it wouldn’t be a proper blog post without some gripe about the weather. The weather…sucks! Is that to the point enough? It’s been a crappy year in the regard. It’s been a wet fall, at least in September, especially compared to previous falls. It has been reasonably warm though, until this week that is. It’s amazing how it can turn on a dime; 15C one day and then feeling like -4C the next. They are predicting a cold and snowy winter, so I guess we’ll have to see how that plays out. Hopefully it won’t be as bad as they say. Today was about as miserable as it comes; wet and cold. Areas west of the city got a lot of snow while it just rained here all day. Football practice was fantastic! It’s supposed to turn to snow tonight, so it might be a snowy Halloween for the kids.

Now speaking of football, as usual, it’s my biggest preoccupation of the fall. Things are going well, but I find myself more drained than normal. Probably that getting old thing again. Thankfully I have great coaches around me to ease the burden. Our high school team finished third and is gearing up to play in the semi-finals on Sunday. We are taking on our cross-town rivals, St. Ignatius, and we hope we can avenge a previous loss we suffered to them a few weeks ago. Both Ethan and Noah’s team are in the finals on Saturday, which is very exciting. Unfortunately Noah has not played all season due to a concussion he suffered in the summer so it’s been a tough time for him. But with all the new information out there regarding this issue, it was best to err on the side of caution and take our time getting him back into sports.

As football winds down, something else has jumped into the spotlight in recent weeks. Although it was not that long ago that we were in Europe for our last school excursion, we have already started planning the next one. We will be heading back during March break of 2019 on a tour similar to the ones we’ve done in the past. This one, called from Vimy to Juno, will take us to many of the same places we’ve been before, with the exception of Berlin. I’m very excited to visit a new place to experience some different culture and sights. We met with the students back in September and just had a meeting with parents yesterday. Within the next few weeks they will start enrolling and the real planning can begin. Only 498 days to go!

As has been the case in the last few months, it been pretty quiet on the railway front. I’ve been just so busy that there is, at times, barely enough time to eat and breathe, let alone do any railway work. The lone exception to this was my annual trip to Gunflint was the boys on Canadian Thanksgiving weekend. I was very anxious for the opportunity to go, to get away from things for a few days, do some field work and maybe most importantly, spend some time with the boys. Fall is so crazy that I don’t see them as much as I should.

Our adventure started bright and early on Friday morning. As I have done in the past, I took a personal day to extend the weekend a bit and get as much time there as possible. We loaded up the truck and boat, and after a brief stop for some food in Grand Marais, we arrived at the Cross River Lodge by mid-morning. Our room was not ready yet, so we took the opportunity to get the boat in the water and do a little work on the east side of the lake.

It was a gorgeous day, warm with very little wind…probably one of the best fall days I’ve experienced on the lake. My plan was to shoot some video at the narrows between Gunflint and Little Gunflint Lake, something I had wanted to do in the summer but I forgot my wireless microphone. Even though it was a nice day, I had to wade through the water in the channel that separates the two lakes and man was it cold. Talk about waking you up! My oldest, Ethan, joked that he should have recorded me in the water as well, as it was quite hilarious.

While we were in the area, I decided to shoot a little video of the site of the US Customs houses on the US side of the channel. I did make a dumb decision to leave my crocs on while I did it, which was it retrospect a bad call. They were wet from being in the water and I nearly killed myself a half-dozen times while I walked around through the bush, video camera in hand. I guess it added a little excitement to the day!

Gunflint Little Gunflint Narrows, October 2017.

On our way back to the lodge we stopped along the north side of the lake where the PAD&W runs right beside the shore. The blue sky and fall colours made for some fantastic photos, even with my iPhone. I had no idea why I didn’t take out my real camera and take some shots. We spent some time near the spot I call the “Retaining Wall” which contains cribbing work done by the railway engineers 125 years ago. It’s still in amazing shape for its age and I am always fascinated each time I am there. I figured I’d record a bit while I had the camera out and add it to my collection for the day. You can view all the completed videos here, here and here.

Railway grade, Gunflint Lake, October 2017.

Retaining Wall, Gunflint Lake, October 2017.

Gunflint Narrows, October 2017.

Once we were back at the lodge and settled in, my next task was to prepare for the evenings events. If you recall, during my visit the previous year, I was asked to do an impromptu presentation on the railway. Afterwards, I told John and Rose that I would gladly do it again, but this time I would prepare myself a bit more. During my summer visit we discussed the idea and agreed it would be great to do it again. Since I had the opportunity to plan ahead, I decided to do a topic that I had not really spoken about before. A few of my presentations at Gunflint had alluded to John Paulson, the driving figure behind the mining efforts in the area in the early 1890s and the namesake of the Paulson Mine, but I had not elaborated much. With that in mind, I decided to dedicate my whole presentation to this somewhat mysterious man.  

I played to another packed house and the presentation was very well received. I also had a chance to meet some new people and connect with a number of familiar ones. I hope that this topic will form the basis of a lecture I plan to do at the Chik-Wauk Museum in a few years.

Our plan for Saturday morning involved some explorations of the Gunflint and Lake Superior in an area I had visited a few times before. We would ditch the boat for the day as our starting point was more readily accessible by road than by water. We would travel along the Crab Lake Extension of the Border Route Trail to where it intersects Crab and Whisker Lakes to look a few sites in that area. I was really apprehensive about how it would go, since it had been much wetter than in previous years and the ground could potentially be very soggy.

It’s about a 3 kilometre walk to the location, mostly along the south shore of Crab Lake. It was as I feared a bit wet, but better than I had expected. My first task was to trace a section of the railway grade along Whisker Lake, in an area I had missed on several previous visits. That was accomplished without much trouble, at which point I directed my attention to the grade along the east side of Crab Lake. In this case I was thwarted a bit by the water level on the lake, but I did make a few important discoveries. Our day was concluded by a nice meal at the Gunflint Lodge and a some down time back at Cross River.

Border Route Trail, October 2017.

Whisker Lake, October 2017.

Cylinder?, October 2017.

Pocket knife, October 2017.

Border Route Trail, October 2017.

Sunset, Gunflint Lake, October 2017.

Sunset, Gunflint Lake, October 2017.

Sunday took us back on the lake and to an area we had visited many times before. The calm waters of Friday were gone and it was quite a bumpy ride with the westerly wind blowing down the length of the lake. Having to reduce our speed made the journey a tad bit longer, but soon enough we were heading south on the trail toward Bridal Falls. The agenda for the day was to investigate a possible bridge spanning the Crab River where it is fed by the waters from Crab Lake. During my presentation at the Chik-Wauk Museum in the summer, a local resident had mentioned the possibility to me and I was determined to see if it was in fact true.

Like the previous day, I was concerned about the water levels near the railway grade as it winds it way southward from the falls to Crab Lake. As it turns out, where I thought it would be wet was dry and vice versa. I had noticed last year that it appeared as though a beaver had constructed a dam where a portion of the river widens into a small lake about 200 metres north of Crab Lake. That turned out to be true and it was a bit challenging trying to make our way around the lake., but once past there it was fine and we proceeded to the mouth of the river.

It was a bit challenging trying to get across the river as a beaver had built yet another dam at the mouth, and that was my first clue that the “bridge” may not have been what it appeared. Walking across the dam and examining the area around it I found no evidence that there was a bridge spanning the river, just the dam and a number of fallen logs. On the west side of the river, I swept the shoreline for approximately 100 metres and found no traces of a railway line, just some old beer cans. I guess that put that idea to rest, but I should have taken a photo of the phantom “bridge.”

With that part of the day done and feeling somewhat deflated at not finding any bridge remains, I decided to lift my spirits by shooting some video at the site of the former corduroy trestle that ran alongside Bridal falls. When we arrived there I began to unpack my gear and set the camera up to prepare to record. It was at that point I realized that I had left the wireless microphone on during Friday’s shooting and the battery was now dead. After scouring my tactical vest for a spare battery (I have a number of AA batteries for the GPS, but not a single AAA battery needed for the microphone) I proceeded to verbally berate myself for a) leaving the microphone on and b) failing to bring a spare battery. I had contemplated it before we left the lodge, but I figured I would only need the system for a few minutes and therefore not need a spare. Dummy! I have since placed several extra AAA batteries in my vest beside those AA ones so it does not happen again. To ease yet another disappointment, I took some time to take photos of Bridal Falls.

Mystery object, October 2017.

Bridal Falls, October 2017.

Bridal Falls, October 2017.

Bridal Falls, October 2017.

It’s always sad when I have to leave Gunflint as I really enjoy visiting there. I guess I’ll have to wait until May to get back. Hopefully my next trip will be more productive from a railway standpoint, but I think any time I get there it’s good for my stress levels. Next year’s plans involve more exploration of the Gunflint and Lake Superior, and in particular Camp 8. In the meantime, I’ll have more time to do some writing on my book when football is over. Hopefully I can get most of it done and just work on some of the loose ends once I get more field work done.

Anyway, I’ve babbled on too long so it’s time to get moving. I’ll be back soon, hopefully sooner than these last two posts. I’m sure there will be a lot to talk about in the next little while. Until then…

 
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Posted by on October 26, 2017 in Hiking, History, Railway, Research

 

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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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Goodbye old friend…

We have all been there. We have all had to say goodbye in our lives; many times, it’s a temporary good bye…sometimes it’s a forever goodbye. It’s never easy whatever the case, but certainly the forever kind leave an indelible mark on our soul. We are impacted by the departure, but also by the memories we shared with those that are leaving. It is a part of life that we cannot change or stop; the best we can do is make the most of the time that we are given.

Welcome to summer kids! I know it’s been a really long time since I last posted, but I’ve been busy. Another school year has come and gone and now I’m reveling in the glory of summer vacation. The month of June was nuts and I’m glad to finally start to de-stress. This is not to say that I’m sitting around doing nothing, but having that mental weight lifted is a huge relief. I can’t believe though that a week and a half has already gone by, but who’s counting?

The only downer of late has been the weather. Shocked? Me, rant about the weather? Never! Seriously though, the mother nature is really ticking me off (I so wanted to use a different metaphor, but this is a family-friendly blog). After that ice storm in April, things have not been the same. June was an absolute disaster and the beginning of July has been much of the same. Maybe disaster is a bit harsh, but I am so tired of this crap. The weather has been so unsettled; we just can’t seem to get any consistency. It seems as though every second day we get precipitation. I really hope we turn a corner soon and get a bit more “summer” like conditions soon.

One of the reasons I’m so irked by the weather is that I have been spending most of my time at camp. I feel bad for the boys since spending time indoors is not what you want to be doing, and our summer is so short to begin with. My time has been consumed with a fairly large project, which is the construction of a new storage shed. I’ve never built a shed before, but last year I had never built a dock before either. It’s going well, though I put in some long hours this past weekend and I am still feeling the after effects. I may have over did it as well, as my tennis elbow is flaring up again and it’s quite annoying. Hopefully I’ll have the door and shingles on it this week, so then I can slow the pace of construction down.

Camp, July 2017.

Storm clouds at camp, July 2017.

With all the excitement going on, my railway work has taken a big backseat. The only thing that I’ve done is begun the process of overhauling my web-based information. I’ve had an online presence for the railway for almost 10 years now, and launched padwrr.ca six years ago. That site has become a bit dated, but since I’m not very proficient in web design, I decided that the easiest thing to do is to migrate all that info on to this page. Therefore, you’ll notice several new tabs at the top, which marks the start of the process. There’s still a lot of work to do, so it will be a while before it’s all complete. Please bear with me.

Probably the biggest piece of news is my upcoming lecture on the 23rd. I will be making my fourth appearance at the Chik-Wauk Museum for a presentation on the Gunflint & Lake Superior Railroad, which will be very similar to the one that I did this past January at the Thunder Bay Museum. I hope it generates a lot of interest south of the border as well, since this topic encompasses the history of both countries. With my hike back in May, I have quite a bit of new information to discuss. If you’re looking for something to do in a couple weeks, why not take a drive up the Gunflint Trail to have a listen.

While I’m there, I decided to spend the night and take the opportunity to do some field work. I haven’t quite made up my mind as to what I want to do, but I guess I’ll have to fairly soon. I’m either going out on Gunflint Lake and shoot some video or make a return visit to what I believe to be the site of Camp 8. I need to do both, but it will really depend on what I think is the higher priority. It also might rest of whether I have the family with me or not. I’ll let you know in a few weeks.

So, back to the title, which refers to saying goodbye. Recently, I too had to say goodbye to an old friend, one who has been a big part of my railway research over the past number of years and has been featured in this blog. Thirteen years ago my wife and I adopted a dog, the first dog I ever owned. Rather quickly, Loki became one of our family and a loyal companion; he came with me on almost all of my railway hikes until he was hobbled by old age. Last October he was diagnosed with a tumor and the vet gave him months to live. We knew we were on borrowed time and made sure we enjoyed what time we had left with him. He made it another 8 months. Right up to the end, Loki was still soldiering on, including coming to camp. Unfortunately we had to let go of him on June 26th. I guess it’s fitting that in a few days it will be the 10th anniversary of the passing of my father, who obviously had a profound impact on my life as well. They both loved the outdoors, so I truly hope they have found each other and are enjoying a long walk together.

Loki, July 2004.

Anyway, I need to move along. As I mentioned, I’ll be back in a few weeks to report on how the presentation and field work went. Until then…

 
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Posted by on July 11, 2017 in Hiking, History, Railway, Writing

 

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