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Hello burnout, my old friend!

Hello burnout, my old friend!

I’ve come to talk with you again? Well, it would appear so. I don’t know if I ever thought I could adapt the words to a Simon and Garfunkel song to this blog, but alas here we are. It’s rather appropriate given the current situation, however. There are definitely no sounds of silence here though.

Well, it’s been quite a while, but I’m back kids! I usually never intend to go this much time in between posts, but unfortunately life typically has something to say about that. When I last wrote, we weren’t even a month into the school year. Now, thanks to the rapid movement of time, we are midway through November. Craziness! It’s hard to believe that Christmas is just over 5 weeks away. It’s been a struggle to keep abreast of things at work during this time, which is one of the reasons I feel the way I do.

Speaking of struggling with life, football season is finally over. I know that doesn’t sound very positive, but it can be exhausting and stressful. Don’t get me wrong however, I love every moment of it. Coaching two teams puts a lot on your plate, but I was blessed to be able to work with two fantastic groups of kids. The icing on the cake was the results. Noah’s minor team, the Marauders, upset the number one team to capture the bantam championship. Our high school team, which Ethan was a member of, went undefeated and for the first time ever in our school’s history, won back-to-back championships. After all of that, I feel like I can finally breathe again!

TBMFA Bantam Champs, October 2019.

SSSAA Junior Football Champs, November 2019.

SSSAA Trophy, November 2019.

One of the biggest challenges the fall brought with it was the weather. Man, we had a crappy fall! It rained a lot, and then it got cold. I know I gripe constantly about it, but it was not pretty compared years past. If I thought it was bad with the rain, the temperature drop was worse. Our last week of high school practice was one of the worst I’ve ever experienced in 20 years of coaching, with wind chills pushing the mercury into the mid minus teen range. It was brutal! Made me regularly think of the line from the Lethal Weapon movies, “I’m too old for this s@#t!”

So, with all of this going on, you’d think it was a quiet time for any railway work. However, the reality is quite to the contrary. Between my annual trip to Gunflint and a few other field trips, I was able to get out 4 times late September and October. Truth be told, it was a nice break from the grind and a stress reliever.

My boys had been asking if we were going to do any hunting this fall. I had not been hunting since 2016, which ironically was the last time I had been to one of my favourite railway locations, North Lake. So, I thought I could kill two birds with one stone…literally. It wasn’t a particularly nice day, but it I appreciated the opportunity, nonetheless. I forgot how much I love the area, and I made a few new discoveries along the way, a telegraph pole and a steel rail. The best part was Ethan bagged his first two partridge (grouse), using my dad’s venerable 1952 Mossberg .410 shotgun, the same gun I learned to hunt with as well.

Telegraph pole, North Lake, ON October 2019.

Steel Rail, North Lake, ON September 2019.

A week later we were back in the bush, this time in a much different location. A friend had promised to show me around parts of the Grand Trunk Pacific (GTP) grade near Dona Station in Kaministiquia. The boys were with me and we started our day hiking the grade south of Highway 102 at and beyond the concrete bridge I explored back in early September. Afterwards, we met up with Perry who took us to the site of Dona Station (MP 168.6) on the banks of the Kaministiquia (Kam) River. There’s nothing left of the station, but the concrete base of the water tower is still there, several metres south of where the line crossed the river. At the crossing, three concrete piers are all that remain of the 350-foot bridge that once spanned Kam. This section was abandoned in 1924 when the line was re-routed following the merger between the Canadian Northern and Grand Trunk systems.

Water Tank, Dona Station, ON October 2019.

Bridge piers on the Kaministiquia, Dona Station, ON October 2019.

Later that day we explored more of the line further west near Ellis and Flett stations. The highlight was a quick visit to the bridge over the Mattawin River that lies between Dona and Ellis. This bridge was part of the new line that was opened in 1924 and abandoned in 1994. I had not been there since 1997ish, but I plan to revisit this spot next year when I have more time to look around.

Mattawin River Bridge, Conmee, ON October 2019.

Mattawin River Bridge, Conmee, ON October 2019.

CN-GTP Junction, Conmee, ON October 2019.

Usually one of the highlights of the fall for me is our boys’ weekend at Gunflint, which we’ve been doing since 2013. I was a bit concerned in the days leading into the weekend as the weather was not expected to be great (ironically it was fantastic during the week). I really look forward to the down time and the opportunity to spend some time with the boys, so we went ahead with it anyway.

It rained on Thursday night and early Friday morning, which caused me to delay our departure by a few hours. After stopping for supplies in Grand Marais, we arrived at the lodge by 11am. By that time it has stopped raining, but the weather was not particularly nice. I was supposed to do a little presentation at the lodge at 5:30, so I decided that we should at least try and do a few things before then.

The boat ride across the lake was rather chilly, but not terrible. Our destination was the site of the corduroy trestle and rock cut of the Gunflint & Lake Superior Railroad near Bridal Falls. It was a bit damp, but otherwise okay. I managed to shoot some video of the grade, but we had to head back before I could take some photos of the falls. I figured we’d be back the next day anyway. The presentation at the lodge was well attended and gave me a chance to catch up with some old acquaintances.

Unfortunately, mother nature decided to spoil my party on Saturday. I awoke to a dusting of snow on the ground and some flurries in the morning; not to be dissuaded by this feeble attempt at an early winter, I figured we would still be able to get some work done that day. My hopes were dashed however after a rather chilly boat ride, for there was quite a bit of snow accumulation at the east end of the lake, so much so there was no point in trying to do anything. Sadly, the boat ride back was even worse, as the wind and snow had picked up considerably.

Gunflint Lake, October 2019.

After a wasted day on Saturday, I was really holding out hope for Sunday. The big event of the weekend was that I was supposed to meet USFS archaeologist Greg Heide for a visit to Camp 8 so we could begin documenting that site. The weather let me down again, however. After hearing about significant snowfall east of Gunflint (mid-Gunflint Trail was reporting 12”), I decided to do a little reconnaissance, a recce (pronounced rekke) in Canadian military parlance, of the area on Saturday before we went to dinner. What a disaster! The area was covered in a thick blanket of snow which clearly would not melt before the next morning. After several years of trying to get an archaeologist into Camp 8, I had to regrettably contact Greg and call the visit off.

So now that the primary purpose of my visit had been crushed by the weather, I had to figure out what to do on Sunday. I reasoned that it was snowy to the east, so we could take a walk along the PAD&W grade to the west. It had been 5 years since I had hiked this portion of the railway, so it would be great to reacquaint myself. Well, I had again underestimated the snow. Clearly the lake near the lodge had moderate the weather there, so there was a lot more snow than I anticipated. It was snowy and sloppy along the trail, soaking parts of our clothing. But, as the saying goes, a crappy day in the bush is better than a good day at work!

Paulson Mine, October 2019.

Centennial Trail, October 2019.

Rock cut, Round Lake, MN October 2019.

Rock cut, Round Lake, MN October 2019.

Following the postponement of the visit to Camp 8, Greg and I stayed in touch. With temperatures returning to normal, we hoped to do a one-day trip the next Sunday. Unfortunately, due to time constraints, we had to cancel again. The question now was what to do that day, which promised to be a good one. I figured let’s kill two birds with one stone…again!

Ethan and I headed out early on a crisp and sunny morning to North Lake. The birds were definitely out that day, and we bagged our limit. Compared to the previous weekend, it was an amazing day in the bush. It was warm, with little wind that made the lake almost like glass. It certainly reminded me how much I love that area and love being in the outdoors. Made me think a lot about doing the same thing with my dad when I was Ethan’s age…I hope he treasurers the memories like I do.

Rock cut, North Lake, ON October 2019.

A boy and his dog, North Lake, ON October 2019.

Rock cut, North Lake, ON October 2019.

Trestle Bay, North Lake, ON October 2019.

Anyway, it’s time to move along. As things start to return to normal, I’ll be back into the book writing mode soon enough as I want to try to finish most of this book during the winter. I will be back before Christmas with the latest news and info. Until then…

 
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Posted by on November 16, 2019 in Hiking, History, Railway

 

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‘Tis the Season

Huh, are you sure you have the right season Dave? It’s September, not December! Well, as a matter of fact, I know exactly what I’m talking about and I do have the right season. Who ever said that saying was reserved for one particular time of year? It’s all about context…for me, it’s that time of the year!

Welcome to fall kids! If you read this blog regularly you’ll know that means it’s the crazy time of the year for me; back to work, football, family and a million other things. Good thing I love fall! Obviously the thing keeping me busiest is work. This school year, after 18 years in the same room, I decided to relocate myself in the school. I’m just 70 feet or so away, but switching rooms after all that time is a huge deal. I moved because the new room is much bigger and right next to my office, but it also means a lot of time and work to get it the way I want it, time I don’t have.

Fall for me also means that it’s football season. I’m starting my 20th year coaching high school ball, and this one is very special. No, it’s not because I’ve been doing this for a long time, but rather because of one of the Grade 9 players joining the team. My oldest, Ethan, started high school this year and has also begun this part of his football career. It makes me very proud that he is a Fighting Saint, though it does make for some awkwardness. Thankfully he plays offense, so I don’t have to deal with him very much. I’m also back coaching Noah in minor, though he’s down to his last couple of years before he too moves up to the high school ranks.

In my last post, way back in early August, I wrote how decent the weather had been. Well, I can’t say the same now-from the middle part of August until now it can be best described as crappy. Unfortunately we’ve been plagued with a lot of unsettled conditions, with temperatures yo-yoing and a lot more rain. This is in line with last year, but certainly not like some of the fall’s we had in year’s past. Hopefully things don’t get too bad so I can get out and do some hiking!

Speaking of hiking, I’ve been trying to keep things going on the railway front despite how busy I have become. In my last post I wrote about how I was going to do some other abandoned railway exploring during the summer when I could not get on the PAD&W. With that in mind, I decided to formalize these non-PAD&W hikes into a photo/video series known as “PAD&W Railway-Offbeat Adventures.” This includes both the CN-Kinghorn Subdivision and the Grand Trunk Pacific. I explored parts of the old GTP back in the late 90s and this has re-invigorated me to do more. 

So I did several more hikes along the Kinghorn during the summer east of Pass Lake near Pearl and beyond. There were many more great sights to see and that has inspired me to plan many more hikes for next summer. By far the most interesting hike was near the actual station at Pearl, as beavers built a dam and flooded a 300-metre section of the grade. I rode my bike that day, pedalling the 5km from my start point north to where I would stop and walk back. I had to cross this flooded area twice; I wrongly assumed it would be easy to cross and not that deep. As it turns out, the gravel ballast made it extremely difficult to pedal and the water came up past my boots, soaking my feet. It was quite the ordeal, which if you’re interested, I recorded and you can watch here.

Kinghorn Sub-Division, August 2019.

Kinghorn Sub-Division, August 2019.

Kinghorn Sub-Division, August 2019.

Kinghorn Sub-Division, August 2019.

Kinghorn Sub-Division, August 2019.

Now that I mention recording, I decided to do a major technology upgrade over the summer. It’s something I’d been planning for a while, but I took me some time to pull the trigger. For the past 9 years I’ve been using a standard video camera to record my railway explorations. Last fall and into the summer I did some experimentation with Ethan’s Gopro camera; I was so impressed that I bought the newest model, the Hero 7. It is an amazing piece of gear! The stabilization is remarkable and the wide angle view is much better than a traditional camera. It also records in 4K60 resolution, which produces amazing results.

My first 4K video was taken at the site of an impressive piece of local history. Many moons ago (well, in the late 90s if truth be told), I explored pieces of an old railway grade in the area known as the Lake Superior Branch of the Grand Trunk Pacific Railway. Part of another transcontinental line across the country, construction began on this section in 1905 which would provide it with access to Lake Superior. When the Grand Trunk was merged with Canadian Northern to form Canadian National, 24 miles of this line was abandoned while the rest became the CN-Graham Subdivision. It remained in service until 1994 when it too was abandoned.

There are some amazing structures to be found on that original line abandoned back in 1924. I had visited a few back in those late 90s hikes, but there was one that I had not been to. Located at milepost 169 (measured from Superior Junction, where it joined the mainline), just south of the former station of Dona and near the modern village of Kaministiquia lies a unique bridge over the Strawberry Creek. Built in 1919, just 5 years before it was abandoned, is a 105-foot long, 35-foot high structure made out of concrete. I’d never seen anything like it and was completely awestruck! I will be visiting the remains of the station at Dona soon and I hope to continue visiting more in the future.

Grand Trunk Pacific, September 2019.

Strawberry Creek Bridge, Grand Trunk Pacific, September 2019.

Strawberry Creek Bridge, Grand Trunk Pacific, September 2019.

Strawberry Creek Bridge, Grand Trunk Pacific, September 2019.

Strawberry Creek Bridge, Grand Trunk Pacific, September 2019.

Strawberry Creek Bridge, Grand Trunk Pacific, September 2019.

Strawberry Creek Bridge, Grand Trunk Pacific, September 2019.

Another railway event on the horizon is coming up this week. I’ve been invited to speak at public lecture hosted by the Lakehead Social History Institute on Saturday, October 3rd. I’m one of several speakers on tap that day and I am a bit nervous to present. Though I’m speaking about about life on the railway, this topic is something that I’ve never spoken about in public. I’m sure I’ll be fine…I think it’s more of a fear of the unknown than anything else.

Finally, with October just around the corner, it means that my annual trip to Gunflint is coming up soon. I am very much looking forward to the mini-vacation given the insanity this time of year brings. It’s always good to break away for a few days and recharge the batteries for the second of the football season. I’ll be out and about in the woods again, looking at some things associated with the Gunflint & Lake Superior. I’ll also be doing a presentation at the Cross River Lodge on Friday, October 11 on the G&LS, something I’ve been doing for the past few years. It should be a nice weekend with the boys and nature…let’s hope the weather cooperates.

Anyway, it’s time to move along. Noah has football this afternoon and there’s tons of things to do beforehand. I’ll be back after the trip with a full breakdown of what went on. Until then…

 
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Posted by on September 28, 2019 in Hiking, History, Railway

 

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Whoa, was that an earthquake?

Whoa, was that an earthquake?

Have you every experienced something for the first time and it wasn’t anything like you thought it would be? We all have right? I guess there’s a certain amount of expectation when it comes to new encounters and usually it doesn’t quite match what we’ve created in our heads. How about when you didn’t think it would happen and it did, even though it was a possibility? Does the surprise and shock influence the reaction? Definitely food for thought. Gee, who would of thought I’d start this post on such a deep and philosophical note?

Hey kids, I’m back! Yes, it’s been a while and luckily, it’s still summer, thought it is slipping by with alarming speed. It sucks to know that in a month I’ll be back at work…ugh! Why does summer vacation go by so quick when you’re old? When I was a kid, it seemed to go on forever. More food for thought right?

Anyway, so what have I been up to you might ask? Well, it has been a busy month since I last wrote. Right after school ended, the family and I left for a 10-day trip to California. I’d never been there before, so it was going to be quite the experience for me and the boys (my wife had been there a few times). The flights there were uneventful, though we had to get up at a ungodly hour (2:30am) to be at the airport on time for our 5:00am flight. Thank Jesus the airport in Thunder Bay is only 10 minutes from our house!

Our first stop after landing was nearby Venice Beach, where I was immediately sucked into a street performance because they needed some “rich, old white guys.” Not sure I quite fit that bill but it was fun, nonetheless. The next days were filled with visits to Universal Studios, Newport Beach, Pasadena, Hollywood, Santa Monica, La Brea Tar Pits, Six Flags Magic Mountain and Malibu. We did do some off-beat things, like when my wife decided to get a tattoo and the boys wanted to visit Norman’s Rare Guitars in Tarzana. It was all great, including the weather, except for one thing; the traffic. Holy crap the traffic is nuts in LA! I’ve been to some big cities like Minneapolis, Chicago and Toronto, but nothing prepares you for that. There are a ton of cars on the road, the lanes are narrow, and it’s constantly jammed. One day we went to Jo-Anne’s cousin’s for dinner and the 60km trip took us 2 hours. God it’s crazy!

Venice Beach, July 2019.

Harry Potter World, July 2019.

Newport Beach, July 2019.

Pasadena City Hall, July 2019.

Beverly Hills, July 2019.

Rodeo Drive, July 2019.

Santa Monica Pier, July 2019.

Warner Brothers Studio, July 2019.

La Brea Tar Pits, July 2019.

Norm at Norman’s Rare Guitars, July 2019.

Malibu Pier, July 2019.

Hollywood Sign, July 2019.

Los Angeles, July 2019.

While we were there, we got to experience something unusual for us; earthquakes. Not I’m not trying to be callous about this, since they are serious and often tragic, but it was an interesting experience. The first quake happened on July 4th when we were at Newport Beach. We didn’t feel anything, but when we got back to the hotel and wifi, we were bombarded by messages asking us if we were okay. It was news to us! However, at 4:00am the next morning we were awakened by a little shake, which turned out to be an aftershock. It actually took us a minute to register what it was. Then later that day, when we were at Jo-Anne’s uncle and aunts for dinner, there was another quake. It was nothing like I expected; suddenly the dining room light started to sway. Again, there was a delay registering what was going on, especially since this wasn’t a violent shaking quake, but rather a “roller.” Being naïve and inexperienced, our first reaction was “cool.” It was probably not to best comment to make, but we’ll know better for the next time.

So, what have you been up to since you got home Dave? Well, the answer is pretty simple…camp! The weather so far this summer has been pretty decent, which makes the time out there much more enjoyable. However, it’s not all swimming, BBQ and cold beers (I’m not much of a drinker anyway). Having a camp (cottage, cabin…whatever you call it) is like having another house. There are a million things to do, besides the clean up that has been ongoing after many years of neglect. I have a to-do list that is like 12 points long! The only unfortunate thing is that I have not been home much to take care of things around here, which means I’ll have to get to it in the fall. I know, poor me, right?

Camp sunset, July 2019.

As you can imagine, things have been quiet on the railway front. The only exception is what is becoming an annual presentation at the Chik-Wauk Museum. They asked me to come back again this year and I gladly obliged. I decided to speak about a topic many people had heard about in the area, but probably knew little about, which was the ghost town of Leeblain. Even though it’s been a while since I’ve visited the site, I decided it was something people would enjoy learning the history of. There was a lot of pre-presentation interest on social media, which I hoped would make for a good-sized crowd. In the end, almost 60 people came to hear this fascinating story, which essentially packs the nature center at the museum. I thought it went well, especially considering my attention has been on other topics in the last few years.

Chik-Wauk Museum, July 2019.

The only other quasi-railway news I can report is that I’ve taken up some hiking related to the PAD&W. Doing field work on the railway during the summer has become virtually impossible in recent years. The PAD&W was abandoned 81 years ago or more, and most sections of the former grade are so overgrown it is very difficult to navigate them, let alone try and find things in the bush. The only worthwhile times to attempt field work is in the spring and fall. So, the question becomes is what do during the summer months especially since camp is an hour in the wrong direction? The answer is simple…find another railway to hike!

Just south of camp is the former grade of the Canadian National Kinghorn Sub-division which once carried trains from Thunder Bay to Longlac, some 190 miles away. The line was built between 1912-1914 by Canadian Northern, the same company that bought the PAD&W back in 1899. This was one of the last sections of their transcontinental rail network, which unfortunately did not survive the financial impacts of WWI. Canadian Northern was merged with Grand Trunk to form Canadian National, and then this section became known as the CN-Dorion SD. It remained that way until 1960 when it was merged with the Kinghorn SD. CN abandoned this line in 2007 and removed most of the rails.

Anyway, parts of the grade are a stone-throw away from camp. Last year the boys and I rode our bikes along a section near Pass Lake, which is about a 15-minute drive to get to. It is easy to travel and very pretty with some rugged terrain and nice scenery. On that trip I took photos, but no video, though I vowed I’d explore sections in the future. So, fast-forward a year, and I decided it was time to do some exploring. The way I figure it is that some railway grade is better than no railway grade, and besides, it really gives you some good comparison data when you’re researching railways.

So far, I’ve done two hikes in the last couple of weeks, with hopefully a couple more planned. Our travels last year took us east of Pass Lake, so I concentrated on going in the other direction. The first hike was from Pass Lake to the site of a 2258-foot trestle that was built in 1912-1913, which is known as the Pass Lake Trestle (originally the Blende River Viaduct). I passed along some neat rock cuts on this 4km section, but what really surprised me was that there was over 700 metres of rail left in place east of and up to the trestle. It’s a really weird sensation walking along a grade that still has ties and rails and trying to figure out why they weren’t picked up (probably being lazy).

Kinghorn Sub-Division, July 2019.

Kinghorn Sub-Division, July 2019.

Kinghorn Sub-Division, July 2019.

Kinghorn Sub-Division, July 2019.

Kinghorn Sub-Division, July 2019.

Kinghorn Sub-Division, July 2019.

Kinghorn Sub-Division, July 2019.

Pass Lake Trestle, Kinghorn Sub-Division, July 2019.

I just did the second hike a few days ago and walked from the trestle about 2.5km west. This section didn’t have the same amount of rock cuts but did have some lengthy embankments that probably took some work to construct. Made for a nice morning walk in any case!

Pass Lake Trestle, Kinghorn Sub-Division, August 2019.

Pass Lake Trestle, Kinghorn Sub-Division, August 2019.

Kinghorn Sub-Division, August 2019.

Anyway, I think it’s time to move along. I’ll likely be back before school starts up again to vent about vacation ending and having to go back to work. Until then…

 
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Posted by on August 7, 2019 in Hiking, History, Railway, Travel

 

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What a crazy time!

What a crazy time!

Crazy? Yup, super crazy. Now, before you jump to conclusions, I haven’t fallen off the proverbial rocker, though some days it feels like it. No, by crazy I mean intensely busy, but thanks for the concern. It’s good to know people out there are looking out for my well being. By all means though, keep reading to experience this masterpiece of prose that will tell you everything you need to know.

Hey, it’s summer kids…thank Jesus! If you somehow missed the introduction, summer vacation could not come soon enough. I am truly exhausted! The last couple of months have been a whirlwind of activity that has left me more drained than I’ve ever been. But aren’t you always tired Dave? Ya, ya, I know. However, in my defence, every year seems like it gets busier and I unfortunately get older. Not a good formula from my perspective.

So, what’s been keeping me going like “crazy” you ask? Well, what hasn’t? I’d say the usual trifecta; work, kids and life in general. Honestly, I don’t think that work has been any busier, but again it might have a lot to do with the mileage on the tires, if you get my drift. Additionally, for someone not known for changing my routine very often, I’ve embarked on a fairly major switch. After 18 years residing in Room 237 at the ole’ bricks and mortar on Selkirk Street, I’ve decided to change (classroom) addresses. It’s amazing how much stuff you accumulate in that time, so moving was not an easy proposition. However, I’m looking forward to starting September just down the hall in 227 and making it my home for the next 9 years.

Number two on the list are the boys. Wow, have they had a lot of things on the go. Ethan’s U16 football continued until June 8th, when they finally played their long-awaited game against the Manitoba Selects team. I thought the game would be close, but instead it was a 51-6 pasting by the Knights. Ethan played the whole second half, recording 5 tackles, which was a nice accomplishment since he didn’t have a lot of time to transition to the linebacker position. That same day, he also did his confirmation, for which my brother flew in from Toronto to be his sponsor.

Ethan U16 football, June 2019.

Ethan U16 football, June 2019.

Meanwhile, Noah spent the last two months playing baseball, his last year of major. He had a great season, especially considering he tore the ligaments in his throwing arm elbow in January. For someone who didn’t really want to pitch, he really came around by the last game. Now, we just need to work on that batting. Anyway, between both boys, we were going almost every day of the week to games and practices…it made for frenetic pace!

On top of all of that, we were trying to spend some time at camp. There are always jobs to do there, particularly following the winter close-up. Having spent most of my youth with my parents on Lake Shebandowan, I feel very comfortable being at camp…almost at peace. I find I sleep better and am more relaxed. Maybe just the simple act of being away from home puts me at ease. The funny thing is that I don’t spend a lot of time “relaxing,” since it’s like having another house. Well, if anything, it keeps me busy and it’s good exercise.

Camp, June 2019.

Speaking of camp, it’s ironic that I’m writing this at the lake, with the whistles from the trains rumbling over the Nipigon Sub-Division of the Canadian Pacific echoing through the area. That makes a great segue into the railway section of this blog, which is really the reason why I write it in the first place. Sadly, I haven’t been up to much lately, which shouldn’t be a huge shock if you’ve read the entirety of this post. I did spend some time over the last few weeks going through the chapters of the books, mostly doing proofreading and making sure they all fit together. However, I did do some major field work back in May, which I obviously didn’t have time to write about until now.

I last left you shortly before I was heading to Gunflint to do my usual spring field work. The plan was to hike in to Camp 8 again and spend some time exploring the area in more detail, and hopefully mark some important spots for further examination. I did have some company this time, as Ethan decided to join me (I think more so he could have a day off school).

We left immediately after school on Thursday and drove the roughly 2.5 hours to Gunflint. It was a beautiful day, and I was amazed how calm the lake was. Gunflint, which is 7 miles long and 1.5 miles wide, runs east west and is surrounded by high ridges, which channels the wind right down its length. That makes for some nasty conditions when the wind gets up. Anyway, after catching up with John and Rose at the lodge, we headed over to the Gunflint Bistro for some dinner, which is always a treat.

Gunflint Lake, May 2019.

The next morning was equally nice, and we left early to maximize our time at the logging camp (plus we would have to drive that 2.5 hours home when we were done). It takes about an hour and a quarter to walk the 5km into the camp, the most difficult being the last part where you are required to bushwhack through the thick growth and deadfall. The great thing about spring hiking is that while it might be slightly wetter, the bugs haven’t really come out (including the ticks) and it is a lot easier to see with the grass pushed down and the trees without leaves.

Gunflint Lake, May 2019.

Crab Lake, May 2019.

Crab Lake, May 2019.

Crab Lake Spur, May 2019.

Crab Lake Spur, May 2019.

Once we arrived at the camp, my first task was to try and mark some spots in a debris field located around the railroad grade just south of the camp. I am hoping to get the archaeologists from the Superior National Forest to help me examine the site and that wouldn’t happen until the summer or fall, by which time the grass would obscure any objects. As it was, I found it a challenge, since the grass was higher than I remember when I first found the camp back in 2017.

The next order of business was to try and exactly pinpoint the location of the 8 buildings that make up the camp. Since I don’t own or have access to a sub-metre accurate GPS, I tried to do it the old-fashioned way. Using some spots I could see on Google Earth, I attempted to triangulate the location of the southwest and southeast corners of two structures with a measuring tape and compass. It was a bit of a challenge, and the results were okay, but I figured that I’m farther ahead than without doing it.

While Ethan relaxed in the warm sunshine, my next order of business was to explore a few of the structures in a bit more detail. Over my several visits, I’ve been able to roughly guesstimate the purpose of each of the buildings, helped immensely by historical information of what a typical logging camp looked like. Some are easy, such as the outhouse, while others are a bit more challenging.

Last fall I found what turned out to be a bridle bit in one of the two eastern-most structures, which added more evidence to my assertion that these two were the stables. Exploring the second, I found a harness piece and a log dog, which was used to secure logs so they could be dragged by horses, which pretty much proved my theory correct.

Camp 8, May 2019.

Camp 8, May 2019.

Next, I moved on to one of the northern-most structures, which I deduced by the debris field around it, was the blacksmith shop. This was one of the most important places in any logging camp, since the blacksmith was responsible for undertaking repairs to the logging equipment and keeping the critical horses going. I was hoping to find some tools that would confirm my assertion, but instead I turned up a plethora of objects, such as horseshoes, axe blades and bolts. Not the evidence I was looking for, but I might be right in any case.

Camp 8, May 2019.

Camp 8, May 2019.

My last stop was the eastern-most structure, which I believe to be the cookhouse. It sits in a row with the bunkhouse and van (office), so its location makes sense. I was hoping to find things like cutlery or metal cups/bowls, but it was not to be. There was a lot of metal inside the confines of the berm line, but I am not an archaeologist, so I am not allowed to do any type of excavation besides brushing away leaves and deadfall and everything was several inches in the ground. There were however a ton of barrel hoops, which certainly provides a lot of proof to my theory.

After this, it was time to head back. On the way, I decided to follow part of the railroad grade westward. There was a section where I did not locate any traces of the line for nearly 300 metres back in 2017 and I wanted to try and fill in that gap. As I’ve written about before, this is never easy, since you have no idea where the grade is located (it’s not well-defined like a traditionally constructed railway). You’re essentially restricted to sweeping in a zig-zag pattern (like a 50-metre swath in the thick brush) with the metal detector hoping you find something, anything. The only good part is that when you get a beep, you’re pretty much assured it something significant since there couldn’t be anything else in the area. Happily, I did make two finds; the first was a couple of fishplates and the second a length of telegraph wire. Not bad!

Fishplates, May 2019.

Whisker Lake, May 2019.

I plan on heading back to Camp 8 in the fall to do more searching. Hopefully I can get some of the Forest Service folks to join me, especially since they are the ones who can really poke around and move things. This information is huge for my book and if we can get some work done in October, I can finish off that chapter over the winter. Fingers crossed!

Anyway, I need to move along since I have a busy few days ahead of me. Our summer is starting off with quite the bang, as we’re heading to California in a few days. My wife has family in the LA area, which she hasn’t seen in a long time, so we will be making the trip along with some of our friends. It should be an amazing experience, especially since the boys and I have never been there before. I’ll be back when I return, I promise! Until then…

 
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Posted by on June 30, 2019 in Hiking, History, Railway, Travel

 

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Wow, a quarter century?

Dedication-the act of being dedicated-to devote wholly and earnestly, as to some person or purpose. Passion-a strong or extravagant fondness, enthusiasm, or desire for anything. If I was to pick two words to describe my history work related to this blog, these are the two I’d chose. Why? Well, there are no other words that better illustrate something that has been part of my life for 25 years. Twenty-five years? Really? Yup, you heard that right, 25 years. I’ve been at this for more than half of my life, which means: a) I’m old, and b) I might some new hobbies.

I’m back kids and it’s spring! Well, maybe on the calendar it is, but Mother Nature is not playing nice. I’d like to elaborate further, but this is a family-friendly blog, so I’ll keep my comments to myself. The transition into the season was progressing well, albeit slowly, until the other day. Last Thursday it was almost 20C, and then Monday we got a massive dump of snow. There was what I figured almost 20cm of wet, sloppy white stuff on the ground at my house. Grrrrrr…just go away already! The temperatures are supposed to rebound this weekend to near-normal values, however since this has happened now every year for the last bunch, it is clear evidence that climate change is at work.

April 28, 2019.

April 29, 2019.

April 30, 2019.

So now that we’re into May, it means that we are are in the last throes of the school year. Thank Jesus…or whatever deity you pray to! An atheist? Well you’ll just have to figure it out yourself. Anyway, the end can’t come soon enough. I’m tired. Yes, I know, colour you surprised. Don’t you always complain about being tired Dave? Yes, I certainly do…I don’t lie about these things. There’s just so many things going on right now and on top of it, I’m sick. Yup, it seems like this time every year, with the change in temperatures, I get sick and it sucks!

One of the things keeping me hopping right now if football. Football in May? Ya, why not? Everything else runs all year-long, why not football? In any case, my oldest, Ethan, has been been involved with the Under-16 rep team since February, and a few weeks back flag football started for my youngest, Noah. While I don’t coach Ethan, I get to play chauffeur and I am helping to coach Noah’s team. On top of that, thoughts are already beginning to wander to spring camps here at high school, which seem like a long way away in June, but will creep up fast!

I’ve also started the planning and recruitment for our next EF tour of Europe, which will take place in March, 2021. This next trip will take us to Italy, the home of my ancestors, which I have not seen since 1992. Ironically, that last time happened on an EF tour, when I was a student in high school. We have 6 travellers enrolled, with more on the way; one of those travellers is Ethan. I am very excited to be able to share this travel experience with him where he can see new places, cultures and history.

As you can expect, with all the other craziness, I haven’t really had any time to devote to railway matters. I did do a little writing on the book here and there after I got back from Europe, but nothing substantial. My main focus has been preparing for the spring-summer season, which has several things on tap.

In a few weeks I’ll be heading down to Gunflint once again for some field work. With no USFS involvement this year, all I can do is more mapping and examination of the site of Camp 8. The plan is to mark important locations that are obscured in the summer and fall with high grass, as well as explore more of the site to see if there is anything I have yet to discover. With the way things have been going weather wise, my fingers are crossed that Mother Nature cooperates.

In July, I have another speaking engagement scheduled for the Chik-Wauk Museum. I guess they like me so much, they keep inviting me back every year. I am really excited about the opportunity, especially since I get to speak about something different than my current project. The subject of the talk is on the ghost town of Leeblain, which has certainly garnered a lot of interest on social media. By the looks of things, it might be the most attended presentation yet.

I want to end with a rather happy story regarding an email I received last week. Sometimes you wonder if what you do, in this case promoting railway and local history makes a difference…if you’re really reaching anyone. Do people care or am I just wasting my time? This is especially true since, as I indicated earlier, I am marking 25 years of researching the PAD&W and its associated history. I had no idea in April of 1994 that a trip to the library to find some information about this obscure railway would lead to a lifetime of work. After the thousands? of hours, substantial amounts of money and a lot of sweat (and some tears), it hard to believe I’m still at it. My wife thinks I’m crazy, and I very well may be, but it’s become part of who I am and there are no regrets. Well, maybe I wished I had done more years ago as time has not been kind to some of the places I have visited.

I was contacted, out of the blue, by a Ms. Edward, a librarian who runs a railroad history and beginner train modelling class for 9-13 year olds. She wanted to let me know that they found the links page on my old website (www.padwrr.ca/links) very useful for their last project. She did not say where they were from, but based on her email address, I want to say Salt Lake City? It is so impressive that people that far away first of all found one of my sites, and second, were able to do something with the information.

She went on to add that one of the youngest students, a boy named Avery, wanted to share with me a site where he first became interested in railroad history and trains. He wanted me to include in on my links page. I am so flattered, I thought I do one better and post it here plus give him a big shout out. Here’s his link: https://bit.ly/2VJDlNz Avery, thanks for putting a smile on an old history teacher’s face. Keep being passionate about railroads and trains and you’re never too old to appreciate some good history!

Anyway, I better get rolling. I’ll be back in a few weeks after my trip to Gunflint with a full report from that adventure and all the latest news. Until then…

 

 
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Posted by on May 1, 2019 in Hiking, History, Railway, Travel

 

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I want to fly away…

Well, not physically, because that’s impossible, but you get the idea. I would certainly love to go anywhere I please, at any time, but I’ll guess we’ll just have to leave that to Lenny. In any case, I am thankful I will be able to get away for a little while.

Hey, it’s March kids! That means we’re weeks away from “spring,” that is if it ever shows up. It obviously will, I’m just being facetious, but the point is that it can’t come soon enough. March also means that we’re on the downward slide in the school year, and before we know it, it will be June. Things are going well in that respect, just as usual, I’m quite busy.

Since I brought it up, I might as well talk about the weather, especially as I never do that! The weather has been, you know, not great. Better than it was in the last post, but still not what it should be. It’s still cold outside, but you can see that the seasons are changing. The days are getting longer, and even when it’s crisp, you can feel the warmth of the sun. According to the meteorologists, the temperature should start moderating this weekend and be above zero by next week. The only concern is that if it warms too quick, with all the snow we have, it might get a bit soggy .

Late winter snow, March 2019.

So I’m still plugging away on the railway front. Progress is slow but steady, and I am now approaching 50,000 words in the book. Chapter 13 is mostly complete, save for a few tweaks, so that just leaves 1, 10 and 14 that require some work. I should be able to finish Chapter 14 this spring, so with any luck I’ll be done everything by next winter. As I’ve described before, everything depends on when I can get to Toronto and get more detailed information on Camp 8.

Alright, so let’s fly away shall we? I am mere days away from another adventure in Europe. I described our journey in my last post, but now a few days out, it all seems very real. I know the kids are super excited, and they should be. I’ve been to most of these places before, save for Berlin and some parts of the Netherlands, but likely most have never been overseas. As a teacher, this is the best part for me, to see them experience the history and culture of another part of the world. The only thing that concerns me is the weather (ya, I know, shocker). Looking ahead, it seems that in contrast to some of our previous trips, the weather is not going to be 100% cooperative. Most days call for cloudy/showery conditions, which is not ideal, but we’ll have to make the best of it. Showers aren’t too bad, but if it decides to rain all day that will put a damper on things.

We now for the most part have our detailed itinerary. The one thing that amazes me is that even though I’ve been to some of places before, we always stay in a different town or part of the city. It gives you a different perspective on things and keeps it fresh. Also, after the last tour in 2017, which coincided with the 100th anniversary of Vimy Ridge, it will be nice with a lot less Canadian tourists running around. Many of the places we visited we quite busy, which made it hard to linger and get a real good look around. That was case with Vimy; while the ceremony was great to be a part of, we really didn’t have a chance to see the memorial or the park. I know my fellow chaperones are looking forward to the opportunity.

St. Pats group, April 2017.

If you’d like to follow us around (well, other than this blog), you can do so on social media: Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. Anyway, I better get going as there is still a ton to do before we leave. Right now I need to set up all the blog posts for the trip, so it’s easier to get everything going once the time comes. I’ll be back in a few days with the first post from the trip. Until then…

 
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Posted by on March 7, 2019 in History, Railway, Travel, Writing

 

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Gunflint & Lake Superior Railroad V

This week’s episode of our YouTube tour of the G&LS covers the section of line south of the International Boundary (MP 0.62). Here the railroad crosses a small creek on a crib bridge. Remains of the corduroyed grade, the bridge piles and cribs and even a hand brake are visible.

 
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Posted by on February 26, 2019 in Hiking, History, Railway, Video

 

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