Tag Archives: Paulson Mine

Paulson Mine 1885-1921: The Struggle for Iron in the Gunflint Range

The story of the Paulson Mine, located in the western part of Cook County, Minnesota, has captivated people for many years. Touted as one of the great mining projects of the era, its failure in the early 1890s had a devastating impact on local economies spanning both sides of the border. For years afterwards, many attempts were made to restart the mine, all of which ended with the same result.

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Posted by on May 20, 2020 in History, Railway, Video


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Rails into the Wilderness: The Port Arthur, Duluth & Western Railway

Still looking for things to do during the COVID-19 situation? Why not join me for my next live presentation?

On Tuesday, April 21 at 7pm EST I’ll be presenting Rails into the Wilderness: The Port Arthur, Duluth & Western Railway. Hear where the story all starts with in this classic presentation. Learn about the early history of the PAD&W, the struggle to get the line constructed and how it all fell apart so quickly. This talk will feature a number of period and modern photographs.

Please click on the link below for more details.

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Posted by on April 19, 2020 in History, Railway, Video


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It’s spring, but I’m stuck inside…

It’s spring, but I’m stuck inside…

Honestly, I really struggled on how to start this post. As a history teacher, I always talk to my students about those dramatic events that occur during our lifetime, the ones where we always remember where we were when they happened, or have the visuals ingrained in our minds. I have several of my own; 1986 Challenger tragedy, the fall of the Berlin Wall and 9/11. Well, it’s 2020 and here we are again. I know years from now I’ll remember exactly where I was, just where I am right now…sitting on my couch!

Well kids, I’m back…I wish it was under better circumstances. It is a very challenging time in the world, and I find it difficult to manage the tone of this post. I want to try and keep things upbeat though, as there is enough negative news around. The last few week have been a bizarre and surreal whirlwind of events that no one saw coming. Just before school shutdown, one of the last things I taught my Grade 10 class was about the Spanish Flu, the last time the world experienced a pandemic on this scale. The irony is not lost on me.

It’s now April and I’ve been away from school since the 13th of March. It seemed as though one-minute things were fine and the next we were told the schools would remain closed for two weeks after the March break. Now, that closure has been extended until May. And during that time the COVID-19 exploded across parts of the world. Since schools have been closed for the foreseeable future, we have been thrust into this crazy situation of trying to teach everything online. I taught a geography course online for a few years, but this is nothing anywhere close to the same thing. It is going to be a very interesting few months as we figure out how to salvage some semblance of the school year.

So here I sit, parked on my couch like millions of other people around the world. I, like many of you out there, really struggle to make sense of all of this. As I described earlier, the world has not seen a health situation like this in 100 years, and such uncertainty since World War II. There’s not much we can do, but follow the advice of the medical professionals, including staying at home and watch our physical distancing. I guess it gives some of us time to spend with our families, work on projects and pray for those experiencing the worst of this pandemic.

For now, anyway, the only saving grace has been the weather. The weather? Ya, I know, I’m actually saying something positive about it for a change. February was pretty good, though the first part of March was rather crappy. However, surprisingly, since we’ve been told to stay home, the weather has mostly been pleasant. I’ve been trying to take advantage of it, going for hikes (which I’ll talk about later), daily walks and bike rides; I guess I’m not really stuck inside am I? In any case, I went out and bought a new bike, which was inspired by buying one for Ethan’s birthday. I guess I was rather due, since my old bike was purchased in 1996! We’ve also gone to camp, which we will be doing more of as the snow receeds.

Spring thaw, March 2020.

Spring thaw, April 2020.

Camp, March 2020.

Camp, March 2020.

Mount McRae, March 2020.

Mount McRae, March 2020.

Since I have extra time now (well, in between doing schoolwork and projects around the house), I’ve been trying to do as much as I can on my book. The only bad thing is that COVID-19 likely will throw some of my plans for a huge loop. I was supposed to head down to Gunflint for field work in early May with the archaeologists from the US Forest Service, work we were originally to start on in October, but it snowed. Now the border is closed, and we’re told to stay home. Ugh! It’s like the history gods don’t want me to finish this off. Hopefully things clear up by the summer and we can set something up for then.

I’m also supposed to be in Toronto in early July to visit my brother and his wife, and at the same time do research at the Archives of Ontario. That might also be in jeopardy too; it’s all going to depend on how this pandemic plays out. In the meantime, I’ve been trying do little tweaks and edits where I can. I did get some documents from the Minnesota Secretary of State, but my requests with the Wisconsin Historical Society and Library and Archives Canada will need to be followed up on once this mess is all over. I did take some time to sort through and re-file most of the documents I used on the book. Boy did I kill a lot of trees!

Book files, March 2020.

Book files, March 2020.

Book files, March 2020.

While I am waiting to finish off the last parts of the book, I’ve started in on a new project. I know, colour you shocked! We’ll, it all started very innocuously. Back in February I got an email from the Cook County Historical Society regarding an inquiry someone made on the Palatine Mining and Development Company. This outfit was from Chicago and made up of Polish-American businessmen who wanted to open up the old Paulson Mine in the early 1920s. I passed along some of what I knew, but the request piqued my interest. So, next thing I know I’m scouring the internet for more information on the company and the people that ran it. Then I’m sending emails to the Illinois and Arizona Secretaries of State for documents. No, this won’t be another book, but likely an article for the Thunder Bay Historical Museum Society.

To help pass the time and also practice physical distancing, I decided that I should do some early spring hiking. I don’t really go out during the winter, since it isn’t easy to get around in the snow and things that I want to see are generally obscured. However, I figured what else do I have do and it might brighten someone’s day who can’t get out. So, the first hike I did was a few weeks back and I went to Stanley, where the PAD&W crossed the Kaministiquia River at Milepost 20 and the 1920s era bridge is still there. There was still a lot of snow, but it felt good to get out and look around. You can watch the video I shot here.

Stanley, Ontario, March 2020.

Harstone Railway Bridge, March 2020.

Harstone Railway Bridge, March 2020.

Last week I travelled much further out, to Milepost 59 and a place called Iron Range Hill. About seven years ago I was sent some pictures that were taken of the railway during the winter of 1915-1916. It shows a train stuck in the snow on the hill, which probably has the heaviest grade on the line at over two percent. The railway had to climb from 1541 feet above sea level at Sandstone Lake to 1690 feet at the top of the hill in just over a mile; the incline in the grade is very noticeable. Thankfully people use part of the old grade as a snowmobile trail, which made it much easier to get around. Otherwise, the snow was past my knees! You can watch the video I shot here.

Iron Range Hill, March 2020.

Iron Range Hill, March 2020.

Iron Range Hill, March 2020.

Iron Range Hill, March 2020.

Yesterday I went out in that same area, just a little more to the east at Gravel Lake Station, Milepost 52. It wasn’t a very long hike, but I knew it would be a challenge since there would be no snowmobile trail. There was a pretty solid crust of snow, but I still needed my snowshoes to get around. Gravel Lake Station lies at the end of a chain of four lakes known as the Gravel Lakes. This stretch of the railway is very bad, with the grade having sunk down in the swampy, muskeg terrain. I’ve been through there a few times in the past, the last time in 2010, so I thought I’d take a look in the winter. I hopefully plan to get back there in the fall and walk the entire 2.5km section. Anyway, you can watch the video I shot here.

Gravel Lake Station, April 2020.

Gravel Lake Station, April 2020.

Gravel Lake Station, April 2020.

Gravel Lake Station, April 2020.

Unfortunately, I’ve decided to shutdown the hikes for a few weeks. The Government of Ontario has asked people to limit non-essential travel to help flatten the COVID-19 curve; I know I’m not going anywhere with any people, but I still feel I should adhere to what we are being asked to do. Besides, soon the bush will be wet and not pleasant to hike through until it dries out. To help fill the time, I decided to try putting some of the lectures I do online. The first one will take place on Tuesday, April 7 at 7pm Eastern time. The talk will be on the Gunflint & Lake Superior Railroad, the subject of my book. Just click on the link below and it will take you to the live video:

Gunflint & Lake Superior: Ontario’s Private American Railroad

Anyway, I better move along; there are a ton of things to do around here. Please stay safe during this challenging time. I’ll try to be back in a month, hopefully when I can start hiking again. I already have a bunch planned in my head! Until then…

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Posted by on April 6, 2020 in History, Railway, Research, Writing


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Paulson Mine, Minnesota 2012

This week’s episode of our YouTube tour of the PAD&W takes us to the end of the line, the Paulson Mine, MN (MP 91). After passing through yet another switchback, the line turns east and terminates at the site of this prospective iron mine. Unfortunately the company that owned the mine went bankrupt in 1893 and it closed without shipping any ore. Attempts were made to re-open it until the 1920s, but none were successful.

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Posted by on January 23, 2019 in Hiking, History, Railway, Video


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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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Truthahn und Eisen!

How’s your German? Don’t know what it means…well I’ll tell ya. Once again it is one of my clever plays (or annoying) on a famous phrase. The words translate to “Turkey and Iron,” as yesterday was Thanksgiving here in Canada, and I spent Sunday looking at iron mines. So, what’s the connection here you ask? In September 1862 then Prussian Chancellor Otto von Bismarck gave a famous speech where he stated that German unification would come through “blood and iron” (blut und eisen). Since my weekend was spent with turkey and iron, I thought it made for a slick little title. Funny huh?

So jokes aside, I did have a good past week. I even got a chance to get out hiking, which did make me very happy. If you take a few minutes, I will regale you with the details of the past seven days.

Well, we have now moved into October; that’s means there is only 9 more months to go until summer! I have to be optimistic right? Things are trucking along as usual, but I did get some good news. The approval for the 2014 trip came through on Thursday…Europe here we come! There is a meeting scheduled for Friday, so hopefully we get the 18 travellers we are looking for. I know there are a few students in a couple of my classes that are pretty pumped about the opportunity. We’ll see what happens.

Last week we played our second football game of the season and were able to even our record at 1 and 1. It was a tough fight against Hammarskjold, but we slogged out a 37-33 win. Unfortunately the performance of my defence was less than stellar, as we should have won handily. We just couldn’t contain their jet sweep. Thankfully the offense bailed us out, with one of running backs scoring all 5 TD’s (3 run, 1 pass and 1 return). With a short turnaround this week, we’ll have our hands full with Churchill.

Clearly the most interesting part of my week was the trip to Minnesota to hike the railway along the Centennial Trail. This trail was constructed in 2009 after the Ham Lake Fire two years earlier and covers portions of the line near the Paulson Mine. This would be my fifth trip to the area, and the second this year (remember I visited the north arm of the trail back in June). In addition to doing some important research, I would be guiding fellow railway historian Elinor Barr and my research colleague Harold Alanen.

With 2.5 hours of travel time, our journey would begin very early in the morning. Joining me was my eldest son Ethan, but I don’t think he was too impressed with the 7:00am wake up call. Thirty minutes later we were on the road, our first destination being Grand Marais for an early breakfast with Elinor and Harold at the Blue Water Café. After filling up on some eggs, bacon and pancakes, it was off for another hour of driving up the Gunflint Trail.

The plan for the day was to hike the 3.3 mile trail in reverse, starting along the southern arm as we followed the route of the railway toward the mine. Shortly after 10am we were plodding the rail bed as it climbed westward…it is amazing to see the geography of the area. After passing the double 150 foot trestles at the start of the trail, we began to experience some of the fantastic rock-work that was done. First is a 55m rock-cut, immediately followed by an 83m embankment. Then you enter a beautiful 90m long rock-cut, which is like an enchanted forest with its rocky walls and dark forested interior. From this passage, you then move to another 80m rock-cut which open to the north, which drops precariously about 50 feet to the valley floor.

Rock cut, Minnesota, October 2012.

Rock cut, Minnesota, October 2012.

One of the most unique features of the railway in this area is the 120m (400 foot) trestle that spanned the southern opening of the aforementioned valley. It must have been quite the structure and the quite the effort to construct. The western side was literally blasted out of the side of a cliff, which towers nearly 50 feet above the grade. The valley sits some 100 feet below. The trail drops into the valley and has a very steep ascent up the cliff where a beautiful vista unfolds before you. The trail eventually rejoins the railway 300m beyond the trestle. On several occasions I have climbed the steep cliff and walked the grade as it skirts the blasted cliff to the trail junction.

Trestle crossing, Minnesota, October 2012.

Another 180m takes the hiker through a small rock-cut and short embankment before the railway enters an 85m rock-cut. The trail sits of the east side of the cut, as the ground in the cut tends to be a bit wet. I have distinct memories of my first visit to the area in 1998, walking through this remote cut, soaking wet and filled with trees. Now it is nearly impassable, as it is filled with deadfall from the 1999 blowdown and 2007 fire.

Embankment, Minnesota, October 2012.

A short distance past the cut, the trail continues just to the north of the railway which skirts the north shore of an unnamed lake. It was here that we would begin the most interesting part of our hike, a detour to visit the legendary Paulson Mine. The area was originally explored in 1888 and the mining work began in 1892. The mine “opened” in 1893, but closed almost immediately after only shipping one car-load of iron in September of that year. Many attempts were made to re-open the mine, but all failed. Apparently, the iron is there, but obviously not in the quantity that would make mining it profitable.

The mine site lies some 100m north of the trail, over a ridge littered with deadfall and burned trees. I must say that it was a bit easier to navigate with the leaves down than my August 2010 visit, but mind you I had exact GPS data to work with and it wasn’t 35C either. The mine itself is a bit dangerous, since the old barbed wire and snow fencing around the opening has long since disappeared. However for its age, the shaft looks to be in good shape, still lined with timbers after 120 years.

Paulson Mine, Minnesota, October 2012.

North of the mine on the shore of an unnamed lake are piles of tailings taken from the shaft. Gleaming with mineralization and red with oxidation, they are a testament to the iron in the rock. According to news reports, the mine owners had 5,000 tons of ore ready to ship; I’m no expert, but it sure doesn’t look like there’s that much lying around. It was here that the railway ended, but trying to find its location has been a chore. I walked about 180m along the shore the wet area, but I could not be sure if it was the grade or just rock fall from the cliff.

Filming, Minnesota, October 2012.

Southeast of the mine shaft is a test pit that was dug horizontally into the side of a ridge. There are quite a number of these test pits in the area, dug into the rock to test the quality of the iron content. In addition there are quite a number metal items scattered the area, from metal hoops to iron pipe fittings. The pipe fittings are quite interesting, attesting to the fact there must have been a steam-powered device employed at the mine, probably a winch.

Test pit, Minnesota, 2012.

Back on the trail, we hiked another 550m along the ridge to our next stop, another mine shaft near the junction of the Centennial and Kekekabic Trails. Along the way we passed the site of Gunflint City, which was situated on the western shore of the lake south of the railway. Created as the camp for the mining operations, it was hoped it would blossom into a metropolis due to the iron business. There were apparently several buildings at Gunflint City, possibly even the “hotel” of famous Madame Mag Matthews.

At the junction, I wanted to spend some time looking around for traces of the railway at the second switchback site. This was the goal of my previous visit in June, but I was thwarted by GPS problems and too much leaf cover. With the leaves down, I hoped to find the answers I was looking for. I headed west along the Kekekabic Trail, definitely confirming that it was the grade stretching 325m past the junction. Heading back, I jumped the creek and made my way to a rock cut 25m south of the railway. Looking west, I could see the northern side of the switchback, but I am still stumped as to how the railway got across…it must have been a trestle.

Railway grade, Minnesota, October 2012.

Trestle?, Minnesota, October 2012.

The grade running toward the mine ends abruptly in a swampy area that is delineated by a beaver dam. The dam has raised the level of the water, submerging the grade by several feet. Maybe some day that swamp can be drained to do some investigation work. As the sky grew darker and the temperature dropped, we quickly walked the 2km east to the northern trailhead. Our journey took us past the 5 test pits along that portion of the trail, again littered with red, rusting rocks. From the trailhead, it was another 800m to our starting point. In all, my GPS indicated that I had walked 7600m, which was not bad for a day’s work.

After a short stop to visit my friend John Schloot at the Cross River Lodge, Ethan and I headed back to Grand Marais to grab some dinner. The bison burger at My Sister’s place was great, but the long day was already getting too long. We arrived back home at 7:30, concluding an exhausting but exciting adventure. I can’t wait until I have a chance to go back!

Anyway, I need to go to bed, so enough for today. I have another exciting event coming up this weekend, so I’ll have a bunch more to say next week. Until then…


Posted by on October 9, 2012 in Hiking, Miscellaneous, Research, Travel, Writing


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The Colours of Fall

Well, in case you are not aware, it is fall. Yes, that season where we celebrate the death of summer and the impending arrival of winter. Yup, I just said that. Fall always seems to be a bit of a catch 22; the beautiful colours versus the falling temperatures. Or I should say the rollercoaster temperatures. Gotta love how it can be a gorgeous 20C one day and 4C with flurries the next. However, I must say that I wish I had more time to enjoy it.

Northwood Maple, September 2012.

Unfortunately the insanity that is my life right now has not changed much since last week. Between work, family, football, football and everything else, I am burnt! At least I am feeling a bit better than last week, but I’m sure the next cold will roll around just as I kick this one. I guess I can look forward to the upcoming long weekend…some relaxation, hiking and turkey. Yes, for those of you who are not aware, Canadian Thanksgiving is this Monday. I guess when most people think Thanksgiving, they obviously think of the American holiday, but we Canadians do celebrate it too. October is a bit more fitting for us, since November is kinda crappy around here.

Autumn Spire Maple, September 2012.

So last week we played our first meaningful football game of the season. We came up a bit short, losing to our crosstown rivals St. Ignatius 32-17. However, we are pretty happy with the outing, since many of our kids have never played before. Ya, there were a lot of mistakes, but we’re only going to get better as they learn the game; it seems as if we’ve made huge strides from last week. Next up is Hammarskjold and this is going to be an interesting one as they have yet to play a game and we did not have any tape on them. Thursday night lights here we come!

Speaking of football, the boys play their first game on Saturday. We finally divided the kids into teams last week, so they are now members of the Argos. Getting beyond the fundamentals and drills is a bit of relief, both to the coaches and players. It is neat to see their enthusiasm and energy, although the lack of concentration and absence of short term memory is enough to make one drink. They are hilarious to watch when they play though.

Now once again I did not have a lot of railway time this past week, but Sunday cometh! Yes, I am pretty excited for the upcoming visit to Minnesota and the Paulson Mine. Hopefully the weather cooperates as this is going to be the one shot I have for this year. I’ve been tinkering around with the maps again and I can’t wait to do some investigating. I don’t want to get my hopes up as I might be disappointed, but I guess the thrill of the chase can be intoxicating. Yes, I know I’m saying that about a 120 year old railway, but to each his own right?

Paulson Mine, August 2010.

If anything this weekend, maybe I’ll be catch some fall colours. I rarely get to indulge in my love of photography; I’m mostly limited to shots of the railway and the occasional nice pic when the opportunity presents itself. I remember the old days when I could get out and spend hours taking pictures. Unfortunately there is only so much time to go around these days and most of my free time goes to the railway. I tried to get a fix by wandering around my backyard last weekend! Well with any luck, I’ll get a chance to do both on Sunday.

Poplars, September 2012.

Anyway, it’s time to go. I didn’t get much sleep last night so my bed is calling. I’ll definitely have a lot to say next week. Until then…

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Posted by on October 2, 2012 in Hiking, Miscellaneous, Research, Travel, Writing


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