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How to shred your legs the easy way

Oh, did you come here looking for leg workout information? Ya, well you’re in the wrong place my friend. But you mentioned shredding your legs didn’t you? Yes I did, but you didn’t think I was being figurative did you? I was being quite literal; when I say shredding your legs, I mean precisely that. Say what Dave? Yup, I mean beat the crap of them until you can’t lift them, abuse them until you’re cramping up in agony shredding. Why the hell would anyone do that you ask? Well, you’ll need to keep reading to find out.

So here we are at the end of November; where did the month go? That means we’re less than a month away from Christmas…craziness! Before I know it ole’ St. Nick will be coming down the chimney with his bag full of gifts. Unfortunately there is still a ton of things that need to get done before that day, particularly with work. I still haven’t caught up on all my marking from football season and I know it will take a big push to ensure I don’t have too much to take home over the break.

Now speaking of Christmas, I think this year we’ll have a white one for sure. Last year it was in serious doubt, only saved by a few dumps within days of the big event. Our weather has once again been very bizarre. The first half of November was gorgeous, with temperatures many times in the double digits. It was so good, I decided to go on a hike along the railway in the middle of the month. The temperature reached 16C and I was soaked in sweat by the time I was done. Just ridiculous for November! However, it was not to last. That hike was on Sunday and by Friday we were on the receiving end of a winter storm. The temperature dropped in the next few days and it was -17C with the wind. Oh Mother Nature, you are a cruel mistress!

November 2016 Temperatures

November 2016 Temperatures

November 18, 2016

November 18, 2016

Well since I mentioned it, I guess I should talk a little about my recent hike along the railway. My railway work has been on the back burner lately, so I was really itching the do something. The weather was fantastic, and the fall had been fairly dry, so I thought why not give it a shot. I have a few areas that I’ve wanted to re-hike in the fall, when the leaves are down and it is much easier to see things. I picked the area around Hillside, which is located between Nolalu and Silver Mountain. Here the railway winds its way along the Beaver (Dam) Creek, crossing it 12 times. Because it’s not easy to get to, there are many remains of the bridges to be found.

My first visit to this area occurred back in that inaugural year of my research on the railway in 1994; I was absolutely stunned by all the remains of the bridges I found. Without Google and any decent maps, I had no idea that the railway had crossed the Beaver Creek 12 times in this 4km section. In some spots, there were just cut-off pilings left, while in one in particular, all the bridge lacked was the decking. I went back to this area in 1995 and then again in 2010. I really wanted to record what was left of those bridges in HD video.

The railway stop at Hillside (milepost 36) was located west of Nolalu, where the railway left the Whitefish River and then travelled along the Beaver or Beaver Dam Creek towards Silver Mountain. In my previous hikes, I had not been able to locate the grade between Highway 588 and the first bridge. With all the leaves down, I picked it up very quickly. South of the road it passes through a nice, but very grown in cutting which lasts almost right to the first crossing.

Cutting, November 2016.

Cutting, November 2016.

When I arrived at the first bridge, I was a little shocked at the damage that had been done to the grade by recent floods. In 2011, 2012 and 2015 the area was hit by some pretty heavy rainfalls, which had washed away sections of the grade and left piles of debris near the bridge sites. You could also see that the water had damaged some of the bridge remains. Despite this, the low water allowed me to get a close examination of the piles.

Bridge I, November 2016.

Bridge I, November 2016.

One hundred metres to the south past another cutting lies what was left of bridge two. These remains had not suffered the same washout damage as the previous bridge, leaving the crossing and piles in excellent shape. This was in great contrast with bridge three, located 250m to the southwest. All that remains of this crossing are a few small piles on the south side of the creek…definitely in the worst condition of the 12 bridges.

Bridge II, November 2016.

Bridge II, November 2016.

As I travelled the 120m from bridge 3 to bridge 4, I came across a neat piece of the railway that I had not seen before. The PAD&W made extensive use of wooden box culverts along the line, a few of which are still functioning. In this case, I came across a large hole that had opened in the middle of the right-of-way. It appears as though the water still flows through it reasonably well, and the western side looks like it is in decent shape.

Culvert, November 2016.

Culvert, November 2016.

Bridge four is another great set of remains, and it this case, the flooding on the creek help to remove debris and growth away from the piles. While they have deteriorated over time, these piles are much more visible than they have been in the past. Past this point, the grade winds it way 160m to the next crossing. Once again this section has suffered a lot from the changing course of the creek and there are a few badly eroded sections. From evidence found at the bridge sites, it must have been a problem back then too. There were spots where rocks had been dumped beside the abutments and at bends to prevent the water damaging the grade.

Bridge IV, November 2016.

Bridge IV, November 2016.

The benefits of visiting this area in the fall was quite evident at bridge five. I can remember a lot of the remains of the piles being obscured by brush and trees. This was not the case this time, with the all of the piles as well as some metal objects being totally visible in the creek. It is interesting to note that a few of the piles, but not all, have been cut off close to the waterline. I wonder why it was done and when?

Bridge V, November 2016.

Bridge V, November 2016.

Bridge six is actually visible from five, as the distance is a scant 40m through yet another cutting. The remains at six are again very good, although clogged with a bit of debris and the northern side has suffered some erosion. I can’t quite remember what this crossing once looked like, but I certainly remember something that I came across in great quantities there.

Bridge VI, November 2016.

Bridge VI, November 2016.

Back in 1994 I became acquainted with the Thorn Apple or Hawthorn tree and what an introduction it was. Sporting 1-3cm thorns, I learned to give them a wide berth, but that wasn’t always possible. They are literally the most painful things I’ve had to deal with in my explorations of the railway. How painful? Well, if 2010 is any indication, extremely painful. That year I had two run-ins with them. The first ironically occurred on my last hike at Hillside, when I didn’t duck enough and ended up with a 1/8” of thorn embedded in my head. Ouch! You think that’s bad, it gets much worse.

Thorn apple, November 2016.

Thorn apple, November 2016.

Weeks later while hiking at Silver Creek (east of Hymers), I somehow was gored by one in the lower calf. Not only was I only halfway through the hike, so I had to hobble back in excruciating pain, but it took weeks for the thorn to work its way out. Turns out I was carrying a ½” fragment and it was such a relief to have it out.

The distance to bridge seven was a bit longer at 190m, but it did pass through a very long and pretty cutting. Hiding beside the grade was a telegraph pole (that I last saw in 1994), which was resting against a barbed-wire clad fence post. What purpose a fence served in that area is unknown, but things were quite different back then. The crossing itself was in decent shape, though again suffering a bit from erosion.

Cutting, November 2016.

Cutting, November 2016.

Beyond this bridge is yet another nice cutting, again harbouring a telegraph pole. This one still had the cross member attached and at least one peg, but I could not find any wire or an insulator. Bridge eight was at one time one of the better-preserved remains in this area, but time has not been kind to it. On the northern side was a nice of piles (or bents) with the top beam still intact. They are all gone now, with just the stubs of the piles remaining. I have no doubt that the floods are mostly responsible for its demise; I can see debris accumulating against it and then finally giving way. Too bad.

Telegraph pole, November 2016.

Telegraph pole, November 2016.

Bridge VIII, July 1995.

Bridge VIII, July 1995.

Bridge VIII, November 2016.

Bridge VIII, November 2016.

The line again passed through a pretty cutting as it travels the scant 40m to bridge nine. The remains here appear to be in decent shape, but it’s clear that the creek has shifted its course substantially. Here you can see more stonework and a scattering of metal objects such as tie plates. South of this crossing, the grade is badly eroded in several spots as it travels the 270m to the next bridge, though I did find a very long strand of telegraph wire.

Bridge IX, November 2016.

Bridge IX, November 2016.

When I first saw bridge ten in 1994, I was in complete awe. This was the bridge I mentioned earlier that was almost completely preserved, just lacking the decking between the abutments. There appeared to be one central set of piles or bents and it was in excellent shape. The reason for its longevity would seem to be the fact that it was located not on the creek, but rather over a seasonal stream that flows down from the ridge above and empties into the creek.

Bridge X, July 1995.

Bridge X, July 1995.

Sadly, bridge ten’s days are numbered. In the past 22 years, both diagonal cross members on the central piles have fallen off and the top beam is badly rotted. The northern abutment has been completely engulfed a large tree, while the southern one is hanging on. I’m glad that I’ve been to document it on several occasions and hopefully it will serve as a great historical record of the railway.

Bridge X, November 2016.

Bridge X, November 2016.

Bridge X, November 2016.

Bridge X, November 2016.

Bridge eleven and twelve are almost equaled spaced apart by nice cuttings, sitting 110m and 120m from the previous bridge respectively. Both are in good shape, though somewhat clogged with debris from the creek. Maybe due to the more remote location, the grade and bridges here have had less human interference over the year (it’s hard to believe that it’s 78 years since it last saw a train).

Bridge XI, November 2016.

Bridge XI, November 2016.

Bridge XII, November 2016.

Bridge XII, November 2016.

As I worked my way back, I could feel my legs beginning to tighten up. By that evening, I was in total agony. It had been a while since my last hike, so I was not in the shape I should have been. My hamstrings and adductors were cramping something fierce, to the point where I could not straighten them and were causing my legs to spasm. No pain, no gain right? In any case, you can view the 2010 footage from Hillside here, as well as the six-part 2016 footage here.

So now that hiking is done for the year, I can turn my attention back to research. My plan in the near future is to start writing parts of my planned book on the Gunflint & Lake Superior Railroad. I am very nervous, since my forte is decidedly research rather than writing. I guess we all have to face our fears and take the plunge at some point, so here’s hoping that it goes reasonably well.

Anyway, I need to move along. As usual there is a million things to get done. I’ll be back soon enough with the latest updates and dumb commentary. Until then…

 
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Posted by on November 28, 2016 in Hiking, History, Railway

 

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The Indiana Jones emulation

Most people can recognize it from the first few iconic bars of the theme song. Some of us have even pictured ourselves as the lead character, flying across the globe in search of epic buried treasure and all the while fighting hordes of bad guys. Let’s not forget landing the beautiful leading lady too! This series of movies certainly brought the field of archaeology into the public eye and all the exciting events that go along with it. I mean come on, who wouldn’t want to find the Ark of the Covenant or the Holy Grail? And it’s not like Hollywood ever lies or embellishes things right?

Hey, welcome to November kids! I know I sound like a broken record, but man does time fly by; two months gone in a heartbeat. And guess what? Any guesses? Give up? If you didn’t say that I’m tired, sick and burnt out, you don’t know anything about me. So the reason for all your tribulations Dave? Uh, work…duh! There are way too many things going on; marking, a new course, extra curriculars and the list goes on. It doesn’t help that coming back to all of this is tough after having been off for seven months this year.

So besides work, what’s been keeping me busy you ask? Well, it is fall, so the correct answer would be football. Minor ended a few weeks ago with both boys losing in the semifinals, but I have yet to recover from the insanity of coaching two teams. This week was playoff time in high school, and we played on Thursday night. We had an opportunity to redeem our regular season loss to Hammarskjold and advance to the city finals. However, it was not to be; the boys fought hard but came up short in the end. I’m going to miss working with some of the characters we had over the last couple of years, but I’m also excited to continue coaching the talented Grade 9s we have.

Since I mentioned extra curriculars earlier, I do have a big one coming up later this year. I’ve written on several occasions in the past about my upcoming trip to Europe. In April, myself and two other teachers will be leading 23 students from our school to tour the Netherlands, Belgium and France. The highlight will be our participation in the 100th Anniversary commemorations of the Battle of Vimy Ridge. The planning for this trip began two years ago and now that we are less than 6 months away, work has kicked into high gear. Our next endeavor is to organize the school’s Remembrance Day services coming up in just over a week.

So with everything going on, I have had zero time to work on any railway related stuff. Once football wraps up I’ll be back at it, but for now I just don’t have the energy. I thought of trying to get out for a hike this weekend as it’s supposed to absolutely gorgeous, but there’s too many things to do.We’ll see in the coming weeks if the weather holds. Now speaking of hiking, the last bit of railway work I did involved my annual Thanksgiving visit to Gunflint. It was a productive visit, but the weather wasn’t as cooperative as in past years.

We left early on Friday morning for the roundabout drive to Gunflint. After a brief stop in Grand Marais we arrived at the Cross River Lodge around 10am local time. Unfortunately it had rained the night before and the bush was very wet, which wrecked our plans for the day. However our hosts and friends, John and Rose, had an idea to keep me busy in the meantime.

Rainbow over Gunflint Lake, October 2016.

Rainbow over Gunflint Lake, October 2016.

If you recall I was at Gunflint in the summer to do a presentation at the Chik-Wauk Museum on the Gunflint & Lake Superior Railroad. Due to a number of scheduling conflicts, the turnout was not as great as for previous events. With that in mind, John asked if I would be interested in doing an impromptu presentation at the lodge for some of their neighbours and guests. I never pass an opportunity to talk about the railway, so I gladly accepted. I was a bit nervous, but thankfully I had a presentation on my laptop to work off of and the packed house was very appreciative.

Amazingly, I didn’t come away from this lecture empty handed either. One of the guests that evening was Gunflint resident Sharlene LeTourneau. I had spoken to her many years ago and learned that she was the daughter of Peggy Heston, who operated Heston’s Lodge on the lake for many years. At the time I had asked her about a photo that appeared in Willis Raff’s book “Pioneers in the Wilderness,” which chronicled the history of Cook County, MN. In it is the only known photo of the railway at Gunflint Lake and had been provided by Peggy. She said she would look into it, and low and behold, she presented me with the photograph. I was completely blown away and grateful for this amazing piece of railway history.

Handcar, Gunflint Lake, circa 1910.

Handcar, Gunflint Lake, circa 1910.

The next morning dawned brigher and somewhat sunny, though cold and very windy. After breakfast, we left for the other side of the lake. The west wind was blowing down the length of the lake, and even hugging the southern shore did not afford us much respite. It was one of my roughest experiences on the lake, the bow of the boat plowing into every trough and spraying us with the chilly water. Our goal for the day would be to follow the railroad grade south of Bridal Falls, in an area where I did a rather spotty job the year before.

Once above the falls, we followed the grade south through an open area as it passed alongside the Crab River. Just inside the first treeline, we made an interesting and potentially important discovery. As a brief rainshower pelted us, we located a pile of what appeared to be telegraph wire on the west side of the grade. Was the line run past Camp 4 all the way to Camp 8? Maybe next year I can turn up more wire to confirm this hypothesis.

Telegraph wire, October 2016.

Telegraph wire, October 2016.

Continuing south, we left the wooded section and entered another open stretch. Here we located corduroyed logs in the high grass, obviously laid there to support the grade above it as it crossed this low, wet area. From there it was on into another treeline as the grade turned southeast and then east paralleling the river.

We found many physical traces of the railroad, from spikes and fishplates to rock cuts and cutting work. I already knew the route the line had taken, but this was just further confirmation of this notion and now I had precise GPS coordinates to back it up. Shortly thereafter we arrived at our turnaround point and headed back toward the boat. On the way we made another neat discovery near the telegraph wire; the problem is that I have no idea what it is. Ethan suggested that it might be a piece off of a sleigh.

GLS Cutting, October 2016.

GLS Cutting, October 2016.

Mystery object, October 2016.

Mystery object, October 2016.

Crab River, October 2016.

Crab River, October 2016.

Sunday morning was very nice, with clear skies and little wind. The temperature however hovered around -4C and fog hung in patches over the lake; it made for a pretty yet chilly ride across Gunflint. Our agenda for the day was to trace the grade of the railroad north from Camp 4 (to fill in a missing piece from the previous year) and explore more of the area south of the camp.

Foggy morning on Gunflint, October 2016.

Foggy morning on Gunflint, October 2016.

The grade north of the camp was already in rough shape from the 1999 blowdown and 2007 fire; however this spring the area was hit by several intense windstorms that toppled even more trees. To get to where we needed to go, I figured that walking along the shore would be the most expedient route. Turns out it was. It was a bit tricky get from the shore to the grade, but the boys and I did manage to. Once on it, we followed the line north to where I thought I needed to get to; I later realized that I did not get as far north as I needed to, so I will have to revisit this again next year.

Our explorations of the camp proved to be more rewarding. We discovered what appeared to be several coils of telegraph wire north of the northern most building, further reinforcing the idea that the communication line did in fact stretch this far. However, it was what we uncovered to the south that intrigued me the most.

Last year the boys and I had located some artifacts south of the camp and I wanted to see what else was there; our discoveries far exceeded my expectations. Sweeping with my metal detector, and being careful not to disturb the area, it was one hit after another. I located a lot of items in a 200 metre stretch including wire, spikes, chain, a whole assortment of metal objects, one glass bottle stopper and quite a bit of coal and slag. It certainly points to a location that was alive with activity during the early 1900s.

Bottle stopper?, October 2016.

Bottle stopper?, October 2016.

Metal objects, October 2016.

Metal objects, October 2016.

Metal object, October 2016.

Metal object, October 2016.

I am really hoping that the US Forest Service can get some archaeological work going again at the site of Camp 4 (and maybe Camp 8 too). There is so much more than this place can tell us; I am just one guy, not a trained archaeologist and I don’t really have the authority to do more than locate items on the surface. Real archaeology is not glamorous or always exciting, but it’s an important tool for us to understand the story of our past. Hey, and I do have a trade mark hat that I wear 😉

Anyway, time to go. I have a lot of things to catch up on in the rest of my life. I’ll be back as soon as it can with the latest updates. Until then…

 
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Posted by on November 5, 2016 in Hiking, History, Railway, Travel

 

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It was only a matter of time!

Don’t you just love when you know something is going to happen? I’m not really talking about déjà vu or anything like that, but just this sense that there is inevitability to a situation? We’ve all been there. In my case, it’s a ritual for this time of year…because it invariably happens every year. There’s always this glimmer of hope that maybe you’ve dodged the proverbial bullet for a change, but alas it is not meant to be. It’s been occurring now for such a long time that the only remedy to the situation is to change my patterns, which will not happen in the foreseeable future. So I guess I’ll just have to deal with it!

Well, it’s October kids. Is it just me, or does time go by faster the older you get? I can’t seem to keep up anymore. A month of school has blown by in a heartbeat. It was certainly tough to get back into the routine of work after being off for so long, but I guess it’s like riding a bike…18 years of experience also helps too! I am thoroughly back into the swing of things and boy is it insane. Every year I say it can’t get any worse and it seems like it does. Pretty soon it will just be time to have a heart attack and be done with it. Just kidding!

As usual, one of the main causes of my lunacy is football. It really has me burnt out…seriously! Ethan and Noah are both playing again this year and of course their schedules do not sync; I have not been home before 8:00 in weeks. When Ethan plays on Tuesdays, it is 10:00. As well, I am coaching Noah’s team and doing a lot more than I ever have, namely running the offense. I have never coach offense before in my life! Both of their teams are struggling a bit, but it’s more about the participation and experience than the wins and losses. The high school team is doing well, just having picked up our second win of the season. Before I know it, football will all be over and a distant memory.

With all of this craziness I have not had any time to do any railway work, until now I guess. A few weeks back I travelled, on a rather psychotic timeframe I might add, to Saint Cloud, MN for the Northern Great Plains History Conference. I kinda of underestimated how far Saint Cloud is away. I left work at 1:30 (12:30cst) and drove pretty much straight for 6.5 hours. I met up with my co-presenter Lori for a few hours before heading off to bed. I woke up, did the presentation for a couple of hours (which went great), had lunch and then drove 6.5 hours home. I was a wee bit tired after all of that. Oh well, it was a great experience, and I was able to snap a few photos of a cool abandoned railway along the way!

Great Northern RR stone bridge, South Fork, MN, September, 2016.

Great Northern RR stone bridge, South Fork, MN, September, 2016.

Great Northern RR, South Fork, MN, September, 2016.

Great Northern RR, South Fork, MN, September, 2016.

Besides being burnt out, I can feel myself running down. Some form of the plague has been making the rounds at school and a lot kids have come down with it, including a good chunk of the football team. Right now I feel very tired and am bit stuffy, but it hasn’t yet developed into a full-blown cold. I pray that it doesn’t happen, but my luck isn’t usually that good. Guaranteed it will hit me at some point soon…I can’t wait.

So I’m currently in my room at the Cross River Lodge as it Canadian Thanksgiving weekend and as usual, I’m here at Gunflint for some field work. It’s always great to be here with the boys and visit with John and Rose. Besides, I really needed some time away from everything.

Now since I mentioned presentations, I actually just finished doing one. I arrived here this morning and unfortunately the weather was not very cooperative. It rained until about 10:00, and then it was really windy and cold, so I had to scratch today’s visit to the Gunflint & Lake Superior. Since I was just hanging around, John asked me if I wanted to do a little chat about the railway. I don’t really like to talk much, so it was a tough sell on his part (cue the eye roll). He made some phone calls and by 5:30 there was about 30-40 people assembled to listen to me ramble on about the PAD&W. For an impromptu affair, it went really well. The best part was that I received a fantastic gift; a photo of the railway at Gunflint Lake circa 1910 that I had been wanting to get for quite some time. It was a nice end to the evening.

The plan for tomorrow is to head across the lake to Bridal Falls and hike along a portion of the G&LS that I examined last year. I was not able to spend a lot of time along this section of the railroad, so hopefully I’ll be able to finish everything up and maybe find something interesting while I’m at it. My fingers are crossed that I won’t be too rough on the lake; the wind was pretty wicked today.

Anyway, I better get to bed. I’ll be back as soon as I can with a full recap of the trip and my discoveries. Until then…

 
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Posted by on October 7, 2016 in Hiking, History, Railway, Travel

 

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Long walks and battle scars!

No, I didn’t walk 500 miles, but I did wear boots…rubber boots that is. I did walk like a man, but definitely not like an Egyptian. It was very hot outside, so I may have well been walking on the sun. It wasn’t after midnight, and I definitely did not walk in a line. See what I’m doing here? Do ya? I know you do.

I’m back kids! I’m sounding a little chipper right now, but if you’ve looked at a calendar lately you’ll know that this isn’t a great time of the year. Yup, it’s almost time to go back to work. Sigh. We can’t stop time, so it is inevitable that the end of August comes around. I’ve already started back into parts of the routine; going in to work, prepping for football, getting materials ready, yada, yada, yada. I’m exhausted after two days and I’m not even officially back…it’s going to be a rough start-up.

I just returned from a family vacation the other day and I’m still in that “I need a vacation from the vacation mode,” which might explain why I feel tired. Jo-Anne and I took the boys to Minneapolis and Wisconsin Dells. In Minnie we made our first visit to Valleyfair, which was great, but not quite the same as Wonderland. The boys enjoyed all the attractions, especially the coasters; dad, not so much.

The second part of the trip took us to the The Dells for the first time. The “Water Park Capital” certainly has a lot of waterparks. We got our fill of water rides, coasters and go carts. The boys’ favourite spot was definitely the wave pool at Mount Olympus called “Poseidon’s Rage.” Every two minutes a gigantic wave comes rolling through the pool; we positioned ourselves at the 3 foot level where the wave would break, pummel us with water and send us flying backward. We spent hours in there and I may have left with a slight concussion.

So since I was away for a bit, I haven’t had railway time lately. However, I did manage to get some in before our trip south of the border. If you remember, I had a presentation scheduled at the Chik-Wauk Museum for August 14th. This was going to be my first full-length lecture on the Gunflint & Lake Superior Railroad, so I was pretty excited. It went well, but the turn out was a bit disappointing. Unfortunately there were several other events coinciding with it that contributed to the lack of bodies in the seats. The good news is that I’m going to be back there next summer with the same presentation and hopefully a bigger audience.

Because I had to go there for the presentation, I decided that I would take the opportunity to do some field work at Gunflint. I booked a night with John and Rose at the Cross River Lodge so we could hike the next day before heading home. What would be different for this hike was the fact that I had a larger entourage; in addition to the boys, my wife joined us as well (with a lot of prodding). I was hopefully going to trace the route of the G&LS along the north shore of Crab Lake, if luck was on my side.

After a nice ride across the lake, we beached the boat south of Bridal Falls. From there we walked to the top of the falls, about 700 metres, which was made a little more difficult by a number of trees knocked down on the trail by recent storms. There we split up, with Jo-Anne and the boys continuing east along the Border Route Trail for 1500 metres to where it intersects with the Crab Lake Trail. They would then take the latter trail south for 900 metres and await my arrival.

In the meantime, I would follow parts of the railroad grade south for 800 metres until I reached Crab Lake. From there, the meeting point at the east end of the lake was more than a kilometre away, the temperature was climbing and there was not a stitch of wind. I had no idea how difficult the walk would be and what the bush looked like.

Turns out, it was quite the mess. The last time I walked the railroad grade in the summer it nearly killed me (not literally)…this time was pretty close. The tall grass made it very difficult to see where you were stepping and there was a lot to trip over. The area was burned by the 2007 Ham Lake Fire and there was already a ton of deadfall on ground. Recent storms pushed many dead, burned trees over, making some areas a nightmare to negotiate.

Thankfully I had success in my goal of following the grade. I did find several spikes and one fishplate along the way, as well as a few examples of rock work beside the lake. There were a few spots where I could not find any traces, but in general I was able to get the route down. I did cut the hike a bit short at the east end of the lake as I was completely exhausted and I could literally feel my hamstrings tightening up on me (walking over all the deadfall tends to do that). I’ll have to try and get that part done at some other time, maybe next year.

Railroad grade along Crab Lake, August 2016.

Railroad grade along Crab Lake, August 2016.

Spike at Crab Lake, August 2016.

Spike at Crab Lake, August 2016.

Railroad grade along Crab Lake, August 2016.

Railroad grade along Crab Lake, August 2016.

Fishplate at Crab Lake, August 2016.

Fishplate at Crab Lake, August 2016.

Railroad grade along Crab Lake, August 2016.

Railroad grade along Crab Lake, August 2016.

Railroad grade along Crab Lake, August 2016.

Railroad grade along Crab Lake, August 2016.

I had kept in radio contact with the family the entire way, so they were waiting for me when I was done. At our reunion, I was greeted by the sight of my wife with a large, bloody gash on her forehead. Apparently she had an unfortunate encounter with a dead tree branch, earning herself a nice cut, or better yet, a “battlescar.” Hey, did I mention that battlescar was my nickname when I was in the army reserves? Obviously a play on my last name, I thought it was an appropriate term for her boo boo.

Hiking injury, August 2016.

Hiking injury, August 2016.

The walk back was tough as we battled through the stifling 31C heat. However it was compensated by the beautiful panorama that we passed beside on the trail. It would be great to visit that spot in the fall as the leaves changed colour; I’ll have to keep this in mind for the future. It was a very productive hike and I am excited to get back to Gunflint in October for another round of field work.

Panorama of Gunflint and North Lakes, August 2016.

Panorama of Gunflint and North Lakes, August 2016.

My next big event to look forward to is the Northern Great Plains History Coneference in St. Cloud, MN on September 17th. I think I’m ready, but my brain so isn’t there right now…too much school stuff to think about. I am sure I’ll be good to go when the time comes, but it all adds to my anxiety. It is going to be a quick trip as well; I leave after school on Friday for the six hour drive to St. Cloud. Hopefully I don’t get in too late, because the presentation is at 9am (cst) after which I need to head back home. What a whirlwind visit!

Anyway, I better go. Way to many things to do right now. I’ll be back in the near future, probably after the trip to St. Cloud. Until then…

 
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Posted by on August 30, 2016 in Hiking, History, Railway, Travel

 

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Dave’s Outdoor Adventures-Episode II: The Itinerant Chronicler

Did you know that I was a famous columnist at one time? Well, maybe famous is a bit of an over-exaggeration; let’s say well known. Okay, maybe that’s a stretch too, but I’m sure at least a few people read my work. So, what paper did you write for Dave? Globe and Mail? National Post? New York Times? Ummm, not quite. Chronicle-Journal? Unfortunately not. Try the Lakehead University Argus. Come again? Yup, you read it right; I wrote a weekly column at my alma mater, Lakehead, during my final year of university. See, I told you I was famous! The name of said column…you guessed it, Dave’s Outdoor Adventures. I was outdoorsy and a writer even way back then! For even more nostalgia, I was going to call this post “Episode II: Electric Boogaloo” (how many of you can remember that far back to know what I’m talking about?).

Well, here we are in June…the leave is almost over (yes, I am not counting July and August since that is normal time off). It’s kind of sad. Unfortunately all good things must come to an end. As I’ve mentioned on several occasions already, I have made the time count though. I’ve managed to get a lot done around the house and now my focus is going to shift to camp, that is when I get back from my trip.

June means a return to football, even though I am on sabbatical. I spent two lunch hours last week speaking first to Grade 9s at St. Pats and then to Grade 8s at Pope John Paul (our feeder school) about our program. In preparation for that, I was stuck to the computer for several days putting together this year’s edition of our recruiting video. Next year I need to make sure I start it well ahead of time so it’s not such a rush!

In the final few days in May I did manage to get out for my second hike of the year, probably the last for a bit until I get things taken care of at camp. My plan was to repeat a hike I had done last year, this time with a better plan and a secondary agenda. My journey would take me to Crab Lake, via the Border Route Trail access spur near Loon Lake.

It’s about a 3km hike from where you park to the trail intersection between Crab and Whisker Lakes. First, I was going to try and locate portions of the grade of the Gunflint and Lake Superior Railroad and determine if in fact it had come as far as the eastern end of Crab Lake and continued on along Whisker Lake. In 2015 I had focussed my search along a road that had been put in during the late 1920s or early 1930s (possibly on top of the railroad grade) and is now part of the hiking trail.

Crab Lake trail, May 2016.

Crab Lake trail, May 2016.

Crab Lake, May 2016.

Crab Lake, May 2016.

Whisker Lake, May 2016.

Whisker Lake, May 2016.

I knew from my search last year that this one time road did not look right, especially as there were too many undulations, even for a logging railroad. I swept it for about 300 metres in an eastward direction, finally determining that there was nothing to be found. I had always suspected that the grade was along the shore of the lake and with the lake drier than last year, I decided to take a look.

Within 40 metres I had found what I was looking for, actually quite by chance. My metal detector picked up a “hit,” but it was coming back at around 7 inches below the ground; from past experience I knew that any traces of the railroad tend to be closer to the surface, usually within an inch or so. Turns out, the location was above a small overturned stump. When I looked underneath it, I made the big discovery-a spike sitting right there. I had located the grade. From that point I made my way east along the shore for about 200 metres, finding more spikes and even a piece of fishplate in the process. Later I found more spikes, another fishplate and some coal near the west end of the lake.

Spike, May 2016.

Spike, May 2016.

G&LS grade, May 2016.

G&LS grade, May 2016.

Spike and fishplate, May 2016.

Spike and fishplate, May 2016.

Coal, May 2016.

Coal, May 2016.

The other part of the trip involved trying to locate a second logging camp belonging to the Pigeon River Lumber Company. I found documentation pointing to the existence of this camp back in March, and I was given a rough idea of where I could look from a spot discovered by Superior National Forest archaeologist Lee Johnson in 2007.

While I will not reveal the exact location, I did find the remains of what could have been a logging camp more than 100 years ago. The site was littered with tin cans of all types, and the best evidence, from my perspective anyway, was the discovery of several small barrel hoops. This leads me to believe that this was probably an early 20th century site as wooden barrels would have not been used in the 1930s. I also turned up a few nails a short distance away. An exact confirmation is pending; I have another location I want to check out next year to make sure I’m as close to sure as I can be.

Cans, May 2016.

Cans, May 2016.

Cans and barrel hoops, May 2016.

Cans and barrel hoops, May 2016.

So I am writing this from a hotel in La Crosse, Wisconsin, which means that I am on the first leg of my long-awaited research trip to the US. I’ll be spending a few days here in La Crosse before moving on to Chicago. I don’t have as much to do there, so my wife and I will be spending most of our time in the Windy City being tourists.

It’s almost 8 hours from Thunder Bay to La Crosse, and since we had to leave after noon due to a previous commitment, we got here in the evening. The drive down was quite interesting. Everything was fine until we passed Grand Marais; then we were subjected to short, periodic bursts of torrential rain, so hard at times it was difficult to see the road. Then as we approached Two Harbors, we received a severe thunderstorm warning for the Duluth-Superior area. Apparently there were winds reported up to 60 miles per hour and a potential for damaging hail. Thankfully none of that appeared.

The last time I drove through parts of Wisconsin it was 1977 and I was 3 years old…so it’s been a while. I rather enjoyed the scenery, as it is quite different than I am accustomed to in Northern Ontario. We managed to make really good time on the Interstate between Superior and Eau Claire. Along the way, I spotted some really nice rail-trail paralleling parts of I-53. It made me think a lot about the PAD&W and how it’s a shame that there are not more parts of it that have become trail. However, it has been nearly 80 years since it’s abandonment and in many places there is way too much infrastructure to repair to make it viable.

After a stop for some food in Rice Lake, we proceeded to Eau Claire where we left the Interstate for Highway 93, which winds its way 130km from there to La Crosse. I found this part the most intriguing, for it really gives you a glimpse of rural America. And besides, the rolling hills, farms and deciduous forests were well worth the 55mph speed limit. Too bad we won’t be passing back through it on our way to Chicago.

Highway 93 near Arcadia, WI, June 2016.

Highway 93 near Arcadia, WI, June 2016.

Anyway, I better get rolling. I’m off to the archives soon. I’ll have a full debrief of the trip when I return home. Until then…

 

 
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Posted by on June 6, 2016 in Hiking, History, Railway, Research, Travel

 

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Twice in the space of a week!

Really? You must be a lucky guy Dave! I know…I was pretty excited about it myself; I haven’t done it this often in a long time. It was worth all the money, time, exertion and effort too. I know what you’re thinking…is he really talking about this on his blog? Isn’t that a tad inappropriate? Money? Isn’t this a family blog? Well, of course it is…what is it that you think I’m talking about? Oh, I know, you’re confused. Well, that never happens here right?

So we’re here at the end of October and I am totally out of gas. It has been a crazy fall! Between everything that has gone on in my family life and work, I am very surprised I am still alive. No really…I’m not joking. It is a huge struggle to keep my head above water and I feel like I am not on the ball when it comes to teaching. I am behind in my marking and my planning isn’t as sharp as it usually is; I’m not focussed. I really need that sabbatical.

Football is winding down for another year. Noah and his Alouette teammates played in the TBMFA Atom championship on last Saturday and came away 25-6 winners. He played well in the victory, recording several tackles at his outside linebacker position. This week was the start of playoffs in high school junior football, and after finishing third in the standings we took on Superior in the quarterfinals on Thursday. It was a tough 20-6 win and we now move on to play Hammarskjold next week. I am very proud of this group as they have come along way since the beginning of the year and they have accomplished a lot no matter what happens from here.

Speaking of busy, this month has been very active for me on the railway front. On the 4th the historical society held its annual History Day at the Silver Mountain Station. This year’s edition had a very special guest, Harold Alanen, who was launching his new book, “They Came From All Around.” This was of great interest to me, since I’ve worked with Harold at Gunflint Lake in the past and his book covers a lot of history associated with the railway. I look forward to finish reading his book once things calm down.

Since I already brought it up, let’s talk about Gunflint. The weekend after History Day was Thanksgiving here in Canada and as I’ve done for the past few years, I spent it in Minnesota with the boys. It is some great father-son time, but also an opportunity to get field work done with most of the leaves down and the ground fairly dry.

Our adventure started bright and early on Friday morning as we packed up and made our way to the Cross River Lodge. After a short stop in Grand Marais for provisions, we arrived at the lodge by 9:30 or so. It was nice to catch up with John and Rose…it’s become like a second home for me. Shortly after noon we were heading across a very rough lake for the 11km ride to the site of Camp 4.

My objective for the day was pretty minimal, with just some minor explorations of the area. I did find a few interesting things, but no major breakthroughs for the time being. On the way back we took a short detour to Gunflint Narrows since the water on the lake was very low (not extreme, but one of the lowest I’ve seen). The boys climbed around on the rocks while I photographed the remains of the railway trestle.

Gunflint Narrows, October 2015.

Gunflint Narrows, October 2015.

One of the highlights of our trip was the spectacular evenings we experienced. The winds were very calm, the lake like glass and the sunsets were amazing. After the difficult times we’ve had over the past little while, I felt like it was some great therapy for the boys and myself. I really hope it repeats itself when we are there next year!

Sunset, Gunflint Lake, October 2015.

Sunset, Gunflint Lake, October 2015.

Sunset, Gunflint Lake, October 2015.

Sunset, Gunflint Lake, October 2015.

Sunset, Gunflint Lake, October 2015.

Sunset, Gunflint Lake, October 2015.

Sunset, Gunflint Lake, October 2015.

Sunset, Gunflint Lake, October 2015.

Saturday was expected to be the big day. My goal was to travel across the lake again, this time to the site of Bridal Falls, and explore the Gunflint & Lake Superior Railroad south toward Crab Lake. I had done this last year, but this time I had a better plan and hoped for better results. Armed with my metal detector (which I had bought specifically for this purpose), I hoped I would find some physical traces of the line and determine its exact route to Crab Lake.

After a much nicer ride on the lake in the cool fall air, we made our way up past Bridal Falls and on to the railroad right of way. My first big surprise was the state of the grade; last year it had been completely flooded by a beaver dam on the Crab River right at the top of the ridge. To my surprise the water was gone! I didn’t bother checking to see if it was a result of the dam being broken, but I really didn’t care…it made my life much easier!

The line was easy to follow in this area, with corduroyed logs very visible under the grade. Half way across the 180m stretch we made our first find-a small spike (one of the smallest I’ve ever seen), which told us we were on the right path. Continuing southward we entered a wooded area and immediately found another spike, keeping us pointed in the right direction. But this was all to be expected; it was further south that the route of the line was in question. After 140m, we reached another low, open section.

G&LS rock cut, October 2015.

G&LS rock cut, October 2015.

G&LS grade, October 2015.

G&LS grade, October 2015.

Corduroyed logs, October 2015.

Corduroyed logs, October 2015.

Last year it was here that I lost the line, but not this time. It didn’t take me long to find a spike, which told me my hunch was right, that the grade followed the course of the river. I crossed the low area and came into a wooded section where I immediately found yet another spike. As the grade curved around this ridge, I began finding many traces of the line. I came across a railway related object (might be part of a switch) and then several fishplates and spikes. The grade was clearly cut into the ridge as it swung from a south-westerly to southerly to south-easterly direction. Another fishplate told me I was still on the right “track.”

Switch part?, October 2015.

Switch part?, October 2015.

G&LS cutting, October 2015.

G&LS cutting, October 2015.

G&LS fishplate, October 2015.

G&LS fishplate, October 2015.

As the grade turns easterly the river widens to form a small lake, and the railway curves along the shore of the lake. Last year I found corduroyed logs in the water in several places in this 300m stretch. This time around I turned up a metal object at the northern apex of the lake and then several spikes at the southern end where the lake narrows again. A short 150m walk took me down to Crab Lake, finding more spikes along the way. While the boys took a break on the shore, I followed what turned out to be the grade a short distance confirmed by yet more spikes. There’s still another kilometre to explore to the east end of Crab Lake, which I hope to get to next year.

G&LS Grade, October 2015.

G&LS Grade, October 2015.

On the walk back to the boat we stopped to take some photos of the beautiful Bridal Falls. The trip back to the lodge was much nicer than the previous day and it felt good to have a shower and relax. It was a tough day of hiking so I decided to treat the boys to dinner at the Gunflint Lodge. This has become a tradition for us on these trips and it’s a great opportunity for us to just hang out.

Crab River, October 2015.

Crab River, October 2015.

Bridal Falls, October 2015.

Bridal Falls, October 2015.

Bridal Falls, October 2015.

Bridal Falls, October 2015.

Bridal Falls, October 2015.

Bridal Falls, October 2015.

Bridal Falls, October 2015.

Bridal Falls, October 2015.

Sunday dawned bright and sunny again and after breakfast we were off across the lake for our last hike. I didn’t expect this one to yield any great breakthroughs since it was a section I had walked last summer. Our starting point was going to be where the railroad crossed a small creek 700m south of the boundary. With the water low, I was forced to paddle the boat in the last hundred metres to the shore. The remnants of the bridge were very visible in the water and I spent some time photographing them before proceeding ashore.

Bridge remains, October 2015.

Bridge remains, October 2015.

Bridge remains, October 2015.

Bridge remains, October 2015.

It did not take us very long to follow the grade as it winds its way along the lake up to the narrows separating Little Gunflint and Gunflint Lakes. After stopping a little while, we made our way back south. Things that I had previous seen along this stretch were much more visible, such as the corduroyed logs underneath the grade. With the leaves down, it was easier to follow the line and photograph its features.

G&LS grade, October 2015.

G&LS grade, October 2015.

Rail, October 2015.

Rail, October 2015.

Corduroyed logs, October 2015.

Corduroyed logs, October 2015.

G&LS cutting, October 2015.

G&LS cutting, October 2015.

Bridge remains, October 2015.

Bridge remains, October 2015.

Our last night at the lodge was another great one. The mercury that day had risen to an unheard of level; the thermometer at the lodge was showing 91F, or 32C! It was gorgeous barbequing supper on the deck of the lodge and then enjoying the very warm evening. The next morning we were up early and after breakfast we had to sadly bid farewell to John and Rose and Gunflint Lake. I booked next year’s trip while I was there, so the countdown is already on to Thanksgiving 2016!

So, I guess after all of this blabbering I should mention something about the title. Well, one of things that came up during our time at Gunflint was the fact that I had not been hunting in a long time-eleven years to be exact-and that the boys had never been before. Hunting was a part of my youth. My dad hunted, not avidly, but rather I think he just enjoyed being outdoors and walking (I wonder where I get it from). I have some very fond memories of those times and I want the boys to experience that too.

The plan was that the following Sunday, if the weather cooperated, we would head down to North Lake to do some hunting and explore the railway at the same time. I had not walked this portion of the PAD&W since 2010 (I think) so I would be an opportunity to kill two birds with one stone, if you pardon the pun. It would also be the first time in a long time that I did field work twice in a week!

We left early for the 100km or so drive down to the lake. Once we parked the truck we started on the long walk, almost 7km, toward our destination at Trestle Bay. Luck was on our side again and it was shaping up to be another fantastic day.

PAD&W embankment, October 2015.

PAD&W embankment, October 2015.

After about a kilometre of walking, we came across our first ruffled grouse, or partridge as we call them around here. I was a little nervous about actually shooting, as it had been such a long time since I had last fired a gun. Thankfully, my aim was true with my dad’s old Mossberg .410 and we bagged our first bird of the day. Unfortunately the shotgun blast scared the bejesus out of poor Noah!

This trip was a bit of nostalgia for me. Way back in the fall of 1990 I made my first trip to North Lake; I was all of 16 years old and it was also my first time moose hunting. Friends of the family had just purchased the former Bishop’s homestead on the lake and I was taken by all the history in the area. Walking the grade, finding spikes and exploring the remains of the North Lake Station really captured my imagination. This is where it all began.

PAD&W rock cut, October 2015.

PAD&W rock cut, October 2015.

Back then the grade was only clear for one kilometre past the property where it crossed a swamp. I had a lot of success in those days finding birds along this stretch and luck was on my side once more; by the time we reached the swamp we already had 3 of them. Continuing on we netted our limit by the time we arrived at the site of Greer’s logging camp, some 2.5km to the west (5 shots, 5 birds). The gun was then unloaded and shouldered, the dog cut loose and I could now concentrate on walking the grade. The hike was so picturesque and relaxing; I had forgotten how beautiful this area was. I also came to the realization that while enjoyed the time hunting, I’d much rather be focussing on the railway.

PAD&W cutting, October 2015.

PAD&W cutting, October 2015.

PAD&W cutting, October 2015.

PAD&W cutting, October 2015.

PAD&W rock cut, October 2015.

PAD&W rock cut, October 2015.

Greer's logging camp, October 2015.

Greer’s logging camp, October 2015.

PAD&W rock cut, October 2015.

PAD&W rock cut, October 2015.

PAD&W rock cut, October 2015.

PAD&W rock cut, October 2015.

By noon we reached Trestle Bay, and after a break for some food we started back toward the truck. We paused several times along the way to take some video of the many rock cuts in the area. We arrived at our starting point around 3:30, just in time to get rolling home, but not before we cleaned the partridge. I don’t think the boys enjoyed that part very much, but neither did I when I was their age. It did feel good to share this icky part with them though, especially teaching them how to do it properly just as my dad did with me. I think that he would have been proud of the day we spent together…hopefully we can do it all again next year.

Trestle Bay, October 2015.

Trestle Bay, October 2015.

Well, I think I’ve said enough for now. This post has taken a lot of time to write and put together…twice in a week is more exhausting than I thought. Anywho, I better go; more news and info coming soon. Until then…

 
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Posted by on October 30, 2015 in Hiking, History, Railway

 

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How to get lost in the bush and other exciting stuff.

Step 1: Find some hiking gear. Preferably something you’re not concerned about breaking or wrecking. Make sure you have sunscreen and especially bug dope…don’t want the bugs to eat you alive.

Step 2: Get yourself up to the woods in northwestern Ontario/northeastern Minnesota. There are roads and in some cases airports nearby. It might take some time, but you’ll enjoy the scenery.

Step 3: Find an old abandoned railway and start calling out for me, kind of like Hansel and Gretel. I’m sure to turn up; I’m the one wearing the desert camouflage hat, gps in hand and toting camera gear.

Step 4: Now follow me as I hike along the overgrown grade looking for something old and historical, or maybe just seeing where the trail goes. It will be scorching hot and you’ll get scratched up and probably fall a bunch of times. It’s okay though, as all those things add character (and scars and bruises), and besides, before you know it, you won’t know where you are. Don’t worry though, we have a gps.

Et viola! Getting lost in four easy steps. I think I should turn this into a book or maybe an infomercial.

You should already know that I have a pretension for being facetious and flare for overdramatizing things. Obviously this is another one of those instances. However, the title of this post is based on real events and real people…names have been changed to protect people’s identities. Sorry, couldn’t resist! Seriously though, I did almost get a little lost on my recent trip, maybe. I know, I know. I’ll explain it all later.

We’ve now entered the fourth week of summer vacation (I actually started this post while I was sitting and looking out at Gunflint Lake on a beautiful evening). Time certainly flies! It’s been all good though, as vacations generally are. It’s just hard to believe we’re almost through the month of July, and that means there is only one month left before its back to work. But we’ll just forget about that part.

So other than that little blip of two weeks ago (you know, the big downpour around Hymers and Nolalu), the weather has been pretty good. It’s been pretty dry and warm. This past weekend was probably the best all summer, with temperatures hovering around 30C. We just came home from camp, where we’ve been since Saturday. It was nice to be able to jump in the lake to cool off and the boys certainly enjoyed everything that camp brings with it.

Bass Lake, July 2015.

Bass Lake, July 2015.

Alright, so let’s get to the whole point of the article shall we. The big event that I have been building up to over the last little while (well, really since I found out about this in February) finally arrived. I was very excited for a four day trip to Gunflint Lake to participate in an archaeological exploration of the former Pigeon River Lumber Company logging camp at the east end of the lake. The trip would also give me an opportunity to take a look a few things that were of importance to my research.

I departed bright and early on Tuesday morning, knowing that the sooner I left, the sooner I would get to Gunflint. By 9:30cst I was at the Cross River Lodge and catching up on things with John and Rose. Shortly thereafter I had stowed my stuff in my room, put the boat in the water and was heading across the lake for my first hike. The objective for the day was to beach the boat on Little Gunflint Lake and see if I could locate telegraph poles and possibly insulators along the PAD&W all the way to the junction of the Gunflint & Lake Superior.

My first challenge of the day would be the lake. The previous few days had been windy and Tuesday was no exception. I have already mentioned on several occasions how interesting boating on Gunflint Lake is when it is windy. I certainly had my work cut out for me. Compounding things was the fact that the wind was blowing from the northwest, which created situations where the waves at times were coming from two different directions.

Arriving at the narrows between Gunflint and Little Gunflint, I had to deal with the next two challenges. The waterway between the lakes is very shallow, too shallow to use the motor, so I would have to paddle my way upstream which is not a picnic. The next problem became immediately apparent; I had never taken this boat and its long-shaft motor into Little Gunflint and I forgot how shallow parts of it are. That forced me to paddle the next 300 metres until the water became deep enough to drop the motor down. Now, that did not alleviate the situation, as the water is still too shallow to move quickly, so I had “putt-putt” the next 700m to my planned landing site.

Little Gunflint Lake, July 2015.

Little Gunflint Lake, July 2015.

After beaching the boat, I headed west alongside the grade. Hunting for things like telegraph poles and insulators is like finding a needle in a stack of needles. The bush plays a huge role in success or failure, since areas with less underbrush make it a lot easier to locate these items that were abandoned over 100 years ago. Why was I looking for these things? Well, the big idea is that I am trying to find physical evidence of how far the telegraph line extended at Gunflint. Back in 1997 I found poles 2km to the east on Little North, and then in 2012-2013 I found a couple insulators in the same area. I did a little poking around last year, but I wanted to explore things more thoroughly this time around.

I had my first success almost immediately, finding a long strand of wire near a presumed pole location. However, it was really downhill from there. I walked the 500m to the junction between the two lines and was frustrated by heavy underbrush most of the way. I sampled spots along the way, but even with a metal detector I didn’t find anything (the abundance of iron in the ground causes incessant beeping from the detector). I did a lot of exploring near the junction but came up empty. I reluctantly turned back. At the boat, I probed east for about 100m, finding more wire (buried some 4-5 inches under the soil) but nothing else.

PAD&W grade, Little Gunflint Lake, July 2015.

PAD&W grade, Little Gunflint Lake, July 2015.

Telegraph wire, Little Gunflint Lake, July 2015.

Telegraph wire, Little Gunflint Lake, July 2015.

Back in the boat, I headed back toward Gunflint and a brief visit to Camp 4. When I got to the big lake, I had a huge shock when I turned “Oh S@#t corner” (aptly named for people’s general reaction). The wind had picked up even more. It was a fight to keep the bow pointed into the waves, and the spray soaked the left side of my body. Turning east again toward the bay where the camp was located was a treat, and then things got even more interesting. Riding with the waves, the bow was plowing down into the troughs of the huge swells, causing some consternation on my part as I watched water touch just underneath the prow.

At Camp 4 my goal was to mark some of the sites for easier identification when the archaeologists arrived. My two most recent trips to the site were last fall and this spring, so I was unprepared for how thick the brush is with all the leaves out. I had a very tough time moving around and finding the spots, but I was able to do it. It did make me worry a bit about how it would affect our impending exploration.

The ride back to the lodge was sheer insanity, as well as physically exhausting. It was one of my roughest trips across the lake. It was a constant fight with the waves and the pounding was taking a toll on me. When I got back to the lodge, I became aware that the boat had taken a pounding too, with many loose screws in the internal woodwork. After supper, I scooted the 15 minutes up the Trail to the Seagull Guard Station to meet with the archaeologists. We were supposed to start work on Wednesday afternoon, but a problem with the Forest Service boat would push us back to Thursday and limit us to one day of exploring.

Wednesday morning dawned bright, clear and most importantly, very calm. Following a hearty breakfast, it was off across the lake for a free day of exploring; it was exhilarating zooming across the flat water at full throttle. Gunflint is such a beautiful place…I wish I could spend more time doing exactly that. The plan for the day was to look around the bridge crossing south of the border (I’d been there many times before, but I was hoping the water was lower) and then walk the grade toward Camp 4 from that point.

Gunflint Lake, July 2015.

Gunflint Lake, July 2015.

Zipping across Gunflint

The first part went off without a hitch, the calm water and bright sunshine made all the bridge remains stand out clearly in the creek. The second however, was nearly disastrous. I had only walked this part of the grade once, back in 1997. At that time, I believe it was being used as a snowmobile trail, so it was like a highway. Last fall, the boys and I hiked about 400m of trail north from the camp; it was rough, but it was easy to see the grade with all the leaves down. I had hoped to traverse the 1.2km from the bridge to where we stopped last fall, which I thought was very doable.

G&LS bridge crossing,  July 2015.

G&LS bridge crossing, July 2015.

G&LS bridge crossing,  July 2015.

G&LS bridge crossing, July 2015.

G&LS bridge crossing,  July 2015.

G&LS bridge crossing, July 2015.

The first 200m was okay, though I did get off track for a few minutes. The next 200m was great, as things opened up and it was very easy to navigate along the grade. From there things went off the rails, if you pardon the pun. The grade swings from a westerly to a southwesterly direction and with the knee to waist high growth, I lost the right of way. Thus began a 700m ordeal as I bumbled along parallel to the grade, frustrated at my inability to get back on to it.

What was once a beautiful trail was now a warzone of deadfall, burned trees and new forest growth. The 1999 Boundary Waters-Canadian derecho and 2007 Ham Lake Fire had done a number on the area. In the tangle of brush, everything looked the same, while the sun blistered in the sky and there was no wind to cool things down. On the gps the grade was just metres to my right, but I could not seem to get there. As I became more frustrated, I became more agitated, which only added to my growing exhaustion as I slogged along. I fell numerous times, more than I ever had before (I’m usually good for at least one on each hike) and even broke a strap on my tactical vest used to carry my gear.

Finally, I had had enough, and even though I was only 100m from my destination, I decided to turn back. It was at that point I reacquired the grade…figures. Highlighting the difficulty of the hike, I was off and on the grade for the next 300m until I managed to sort out my bearings and really get going. It only took me 30 minutes to get back to the boat, but boy was I beat. I was exhausted (physically and mentally), overheated and extremely sore…I have scratches and bruises all over my arms and legs (and on my butt too). A shower back at the lodge made me feel a little better, but I was stiff and moving slow for the rest of the day. I had experienced a 2.5 hour, 2.5km walk through hell; probably one of my worst hikes in twenty plus years of railway work. The big difference was that when I started doing this I was 20; unfortunately my body does not handle the punishment as well at 41!

GLS hike, July 2015.

GLS hike, July 2015.

G&LS grade, August 1997.

G&LS grade, August 1997.

G&LS grade (same area),  July 2015.

G&LS grade (same area), July 2015.

G&LS grade, July 2015.

G&LS grade, July 2015.

That night I obviously slept well, especially since I had to be up early the next morning. The plan called for me to meet the group at Heston’s Lodge at 8:00 where they would have access to a boat for the day. There was an ominous black cloud in the sky and storm cells on the radar, but mercifully no rain fell.

After a short ride to the south side of the lake, I pulled in at Heston’s and waited for the group to arrive. There had a chance to catch up with owners Greg and Barb Gecas, whom I had met many years before. Greg and I had a good chat about the history of the area, which I hope to continue at some point in the future. After a short delay, we were on our way to Camp 4 by 8:30.

Once ashore, we got our gear together and started with a little tour of the area. The group consisted of myself, Superior National Forest archaeologist Ryan Brown, University of Minnesota-Duluth archaeology professor Sue Mulholland, and two students, John and Eric. I showed the group some of the areas and objects I had discovered, mostly on the surface as I did not want to disturb the soil. Afterwards, Ryan wanted to start working an area of interest he had noted back in 2011.

John and Eric began by sweeping the area with the metal detector and mark each “hit” for later examination. I was able to experience my first taste of an archaeological dig, getting my hands dirty while meticulously and carefully unearthing whatever lay below the soil. We were only able to look at a few spots before lunch, but it told us a lot about life in the logging camp. One area held barrel hoops, remains of a bottle and a metal cup. Another, possibly a fire pit location, contained more hoops, wire, nails and pieces of molten glass.

Camp 4 archaeological dig, July 2015.

Camp 4 archaeological dig, July 2015.

After lunch and a rest on the beach (the temperature hovered around 30C), we decided to examine one of the sites that I had discovered during my spring visit. As we began to remove the underbrush it was clear that this spot might be of special significance. There seemed to be a number of metal objects in the area and coupled with bits of coal and what appeared to be slag we were turning up, it became obvious that we had stumbled upon the location of the blacksmith shop. Ryan decided he wanted to do a more formal excavation in the future, so we only investigated a few hits around the periphery of site. We only kept one object, which none of us were able to identify. A posting on social media quickly revealed that this was a brace, used on the outside of steel rails at a switching point. Interesting.

Railway switch brace, July 2015.

Railway switch brace, July 2015.

Before we departed we had to finish logging all the detector locations, which gave us a chance to look around the area more. Taking a peek inland from the shore at something, I stumbled across a huge jumble of wire coiled near a tree. What was interesting about this seemingly random pile of wire was that it resembled, both in size and composition, the telegraph wire that I had found on Little North and Little Gunflint Lakes. Was this the key piece of evidence I was looking for? Comparing the two at home it seems I could very well have a match.

Camp 4 telegraph wire?, July 2015.

Camp 4 telegraph wire?, July 2015.

With much reluctance we had to pack up and head back. I am really hopeful that more archeological work can be done on the site in the future, and that I am allowed to participate in the exploration. It is unfortunate that many objects may have been removed from the site in the past, which diminishes we can learn about life in the logging camp.

Please remember, historic sites in Ontario and Minnesota are protected by law and removing objects is both unethical and illegal.

When I arrived back at the lodge, I left the boat there and departed with all my stuff for the short drive to the guard station. I had only booked a couple nights at Cross River, and had decided to spend a night “roughing” it (even though Rose did let me know there was a room available). It had been a long time since I had last camped out in a tent, probably 15 years. It was so long time I had to read the instructions on how to set it up…fortunately they are attached to the outside of the bag so they were not lost!

Seagull Guard Station, July 2015.

Seagull Guard Station, July 2015.

After resting a bit, and enjoying a rustically prepared (on my Coleman stove/grill) steak dinner, Ryan and I were invited by a few of the fire rangers to join them in a little civilized fun. Not sure where they dragged it up from, but someone got a hold of a croquet set. I’d never played croquet before, so it was quite the initiation to the “sport.” I may have also made a few off-hand complaints about the conditions of the course! We had a hoot playing a couple games while a “large” crowd gathered to watch. When the sun went down and the mosquitoes swarmed, we retired indoors, where I had a chance to chat a bit with Peter, who was a professor from Iowa State University doing research in the area. Ryan and I ended up staying up to midnight shooting the breeze with Adam, Ryan and Jacob (our original croquet compatriots) and they were very gracious hosts. There were a lot of laughs and they even fed us pizza. What a great way to finish off a few days of hard work!

Since I had forgotten an air mattress to sleep on, I did not have the best night’s sleep, but it was okay given the surroundings. In the morning I had to pack up my tent and bid farewell to the group. I’ll be back at Gunflint in October for more field work, and let’s hope the weather is as equally cooperative. There’s still a lot of things to explore.

So with any luck you’ve learned a thing or two about how (or how not) to get lost in the bush. I could definitely write a book about my adventures but I don’t think there will be a movie deal anytime soon. Who do you think would play me if there was? Maybe an action star, but he needs to be bald…Jason Statham? Works for me. Anyway, I think after 3000 words I’ve said enough. I’ll be back in a few weeks with the latest news. Until then…

 

 
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Posted by on July 28, 2015 in Hiking, History, Railway, Research

 

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