Tag Archives: Port Arthur Duluth & Western Railway

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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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 ( 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: 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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Marine Railroad, Little North/Little Gunflint Lakes, MN 2011

Okay, so I lied…I’m not out of videos. I just remembered I have one more to post.

So, our latest PAD&W video takes us to the creek separating Little North Lake (sjö i Kanada, Ontario) and Little Gunflint Lake. Here, in 1892, we believe that a short 50 metre (164ft) marine railroad was constructed to allow boats to be moved around the unnavigable waterway between the two lakes. The crews were using a small steamboat, the Zena, to transport supplies along the route of construction. This device allowed the Zena and smaller boats to transit the portage using rails, a small wheeled cart and a manually-operated capstan.

The railroad continued to be used and maintained by area locals until the late 60s/early 70s. It has since deteriorated rapidly, which has included damage from powerful storms. In the video you will find a link to a video shot years earlier in 1997.

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Posted by on April 17, 2019 in History, Railway, Video


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Gunflint & Lake Superior Railroad VI

This week’s episode of our YouTube tour of the G&LS covers the section of line near Camp 4 of the Pigeon River Lumber Company (MP 1). Here the railroad passed through a long cutting and skirted alongside the logging camp as it hugged the shore of the lake. Remnants of the telegraph line are also visible.

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Posted by on March 6, 2019 in Hiking, History, Railway, Video


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I’ve been here a long time!

I’ve been here a long time!

It amazes me how fast time goes by. Do you ever pause and go “it’s been that long?” You know, when you feel you just started something the other day, whatever it is, and it’s actually been years or decades? It definitely has a way of making you feel old, especially when you add up all the years.

Hey kids, it’s only February…ugh! Ya, it’s not a particularly optimistic start, but it’s been a long few months. Since it is the second month of 2019, it means that we’ve started the new semester. That puts us that much closer to end of the school year, which is great, but I’m really tired. I can’t muster the enthusiasm right now. It’s not that there anything particularly wrong, just a general malaise. The classes are good, but there’s seems to be a lot on my plate right now. I’m sure it will look up soon enough.

On a related note, this month I am celebrating my 20th anniversary as a full-time teacher. Yup, I was hired back in February 1999…I just can’t believe how quickly those years have flown by! Twenty years is a long time, a quarter of most people’s lives; I guess I am officially old. What makes it even more incredible, is that I work at the same high school I attended. I started there in 1988 (my Grade 9 year was at the same school, just in a different building…long story) and continued for the next 4 years. I did a placement there while in teachers college, and then returned on a contract in the fall of 1998. So what it all means, which I pointed out to my students, was that I’ve spent nearly 25 of the past 30 years in the same building. I’ve literally never left high school!

One of the things that has contributed to my sour mood is the weather. Yup, I’m back on the weather train again. If you read my last post, things were decent until the end of December. We had a big storm that I detailed in that post, and then things seemed to be okay for a week or so. That’s when things went off the proverbial rails (pardon the pun). The temperatures plunged to into the ridiculous range, where it was even difficult to leave the house. Then it got warmer, but the snows returned, resulting in copious amounts of the white stuff on the ground. I don’t think we’ve had this much snow in five years. At camp, there is even more snow, more than I remember in 2014. Shovelling a path to the house left something resembling the front-line trenches of WWI. Stupid Polar Vortex and climate change!

Winter snowfall, February 2019.

Polar Vortex temperatures, January 2019.

Camp snow, February 2019.

So in less than a month I will be able to hopefully escape this situation with another trip to Europe. This will be my fourth trip with students from the school and I am really looking forward to it. Right now it might not appear that way, as I am struggling to get all the last little details taken care of. This excursion, known as From Vimy to Juno: History of Canada in the World Wars, will take our group to similar places that we’ve been in the past, such as Amsterdam, Ypres, Vimy, Juno Beach and Paris. The exception this time will be a couple days in Berlin, including a visit to Sachsenhausen concentration camp, and the eastern part of the Netherlands. We will be paying tribute to fallen soldiers at the Groesbeek and Beny sur Mer Canadian War Cemeteries. As I the past, I will be hijacking the blog to chronicle our journey.

Despite all the craziness, I have been very busy on the railway front (though I have been on a little break for the past week). Working diligently for the past two months, I’m trying to get as much of my book done as possible, which has gone in fits and starts. Writing is not always easy; sometimes the biggest challenge is not the actual words themselves, but organizing all the information, especially when you realize you’re missing some information. I’ve had to do some additional research, and I’m also going to have to go to Toronto to look through some files at the Archives of Ontario…again. This is on top of further archaeological efforts at the site of Camp 8 in Minnesota, hopefully with the assistance of the US Forest Service.

In any case, I’m now over 46,000 words organized into 14 chapters. Most chapters are done, save for some minor tweaks, while 1, 10, 13 and 14 still need varying degrees of work. The last two should be done in the coming months, while the first requires the material from the archives and ten is the chapter on Camp 8. With any luck it will be completed at this time next year, but that hinges on what happens with the field work. I am quite adamant about including detailed information about one of the best preserved logging camps in Minnesota, but obtaining assistance from the USFS is out of my hands and might require me to wait until they have the time and funds.

Book work, February 2019.

Well, it’s time to move along. I’ll be back in early March, right before I leave for Europe, hopefully in a better mood. Until then…


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Posted by on February 17, 2019 in History, Railway, Research, Travel, Writing


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Gunflint & Lake Superior Railroad I

This week we are switching our focus from the PAD&W to the Gunflint & Lake Superior Railroad. The G&LS was a logging line that was operated by the Pigeon River Lumber Company from 1902-1909. While not part of the PAD&W, it branched from the railway at Milepost 79 and was an important source of business.

This episode covers the section of the G&LS from its junction with the PAD&W to the International Boundary. This piece of line lies entirely within Ontario and features several embankments and cuts.

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Posted by on January 28, 2019 in Hiking, History, Railway, Video


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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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