That’s probably the last thing you’d ever expect to hear from me, as I am a self-professed technology geek. But at times it can and does suck! Case in point: trying to update the maps on my Garmin Auto GPS. Cannot get it to work, even on two different computers. Why? Why? I don’t want to call tech support, I just to plug the f’ing thing in and have it to what it is supposed to do. Is that too much to ask? I guess it is.
Anyway, hey, I’m back! After a much deserved break following four straight days of blogging in the states, its back to the regular Monday ramble. Since it has been about a week and a half, I do have a lot to say; so take a bathroom break, grab a drink and get ready for some literary magnificence!
Okay, so where to start? Well, I last wrote about Day Four in Minnesota and the great time I had on that trip. A few days later, I was immersing myself back into the history of the railway. On Saturday, August 11th owner Shelley Simon was hosting the first ever “History Day” at the historic Silver Mountain Station. The station is the sole remaining significant building left from the railway and dates from 1907.
My journey would be an interesting one that day, since my wife and I were entertaining some friends at camp. My in-laws camp is situated east of Thunder Bay, while Silver Mountain is located to the southwest. I would thus have a 110km drive just to get to the presentation, and unfortunately have to depart prior to the dinner portion of the day-missing the prime rib buffet!
The day was designed to celebrate the history of the railway, the station and its most celebrated occupant, Dorothea Mitchell, the famous Lady Lumberjack. For this event, I would be joined by other historians and authors associated with the area; Elinor Barr, author of her own book on the railway and esteemed historian, Professor Michel Beaulieu from Lakehead University, Canadian best-selling author Elle Andra-Warner and Nolalu-area author Leo Hunnakko. Also present was artist Brian Nieminen, who created a famous painting of the railway for its 100th anniversary. Quite the notable company!
The social part of the day lasted from 3 until 6, which gave me an opportunity to chat with people at event. I made some good contacts and had some great conversations. I even got a chance to say a “few” words (you know my issue with brevity)! More importantly, I was able to spend some time Michel Beaulieu and Elle Andra-Warner. Elle is a fellow member of the Thunder Bay Historical Society and on the publications committee. This may help with my plans to get published and may even lead to another speaking engagement!
Speaking at History day, August 2012.
All in all it was a great day and I am glad I was invited to participate. I think that Shelley has plans to make this an annual event and I am certainly excited about the 2013 edition. The gears are already turning on how I can increase the exposure of my work!
At History Day I had the good fortune to meet a seasonal resident of Whitefish Lake by the name of Rocky McCutcheon. In our conversation, Rocky mentioned that he had explored some of the railway around the lake and we should get together for a hike. So last Friday I loaded up Loki and we drove down to Whitefish for what would prove to be an interesting adventure.
Now one of my objectives for that day was to try to locate, hike and mark the location of the one-time turning wye just east of the lake. Before my planned meeting with Rocky, I decided to stop by the road and quickly take a look at the area where the wye was located. I learned two very important things from that short exploration; the grade was very difficult to navigate in that area and following the wye might prove difficult as the ground there was quite wet.
When I met Rocky at 10:00, the first thing he did was to take me over to Maki’s Resort as he wanted to show me what turned out to be the Whitefish Lake spur. I had no idea this spur was even there. We made our way northeast, and it was apparent that there was something running across the ground toward the lake.
Rocky and I spent some time poking around the area where the west leg of the wye should have been, but I was unable to locate it in the wet, heavy undergrowth. As we returned, we located the junction between the spur and the mainline. We followed the prominent grade toward the lake, finding the remains of a wooden culvert in the process. We then worked our way closer to the lake until we reached a spot where the grade appeared to disappear into the water.
Culvert remains, Whitefish Lake, August 2012.
Rocky then told me that at one point this area had been dry, and the grade probably had crossed what is now a small bay. Sure enough, on the west side we found a continuation of the grade, and we resumed our journey westward. Soon thereafter we made an interesting discovery; a curved rail close to the lake shore. We pulled this roughly 12 foot piece out of the tall grass along with a curved fishplate. The rail was stamped “Cammell Sheffield Toughened Steel 1887.” I had never seen a pre-1890 dated rail, and wondered if it had been placed there. The curved fishplate told me that it was probably an original piece, but the date was baffling. However then I remembered that there was an abortive attempt to build the railway in 1887; was this rail purchased at that time and then left over? We can never be certain, but it is a tantalizing find.
Steel rail, Whitefish Lake, August 2012.
From there we moved on the property of resident Helen Morrison who took us a short distance further to where it looked like a gravel pit had been. When I returned home, I found a reference to the spur and that it was approximately 2250 feet long. Taking into account the section through the bay, the distance we covered from the junction to the gravel pit was about 670 metres, or 2197 feet…that’s pretty remarkable!
It was in conversation with Helen that I learned another interesting piece of information that relates to the events that are happening on Gunflint Lake. Over the last few weeks I have discovered that the grade is no longer owned by the railway, but rather it is now crown land. Helen told me that in the late 70’s the railway grade was offered up for sale. There were some people that did take advantage of that, but others were not aware or decided not to spend the money on the right of way. The big question now is which sections were sold.
From the spur, Rocky and I headed back to the mainline and proceeded to walk most the 930 metres from the junction to where the railway crossed Highway 588. Sections were heavily grown in, but others made for a rather nice walk through the conifers. We were able to locate and mark where the railway crossed the highway and paved the way for another hike west of the road, probably for another 500 metres or so until it reaches some private property?
Rail bed, Whitefish Lake, August 2012.
I’m planning one last hike before the days tick away to the start of the school year (sigh). When I was looking at the document with the spurs, I noticed the 1100 foot one at Leeblain. I’ve never been able to locate it, as it is not marked on the 1911 map of the area. Google Earth to the rescue! After staring at my geographical saviour for a while, I think I have a probable location. So I’m off to Leeblain next week, not that I need extra incentive to go there. The plan is to stay in that one area and hopefully turn up more railway related stuff.
Well, I think 1400 words are good enough for today. On Wednesday I’m off to the states for a week, so my next blog will be from the wonderful city of Minneapolis, Minnesota. The boys are really looking forward to the trip, but it’s sad that it will be the last hurrah of the summer. Anyway, time to go. Until then…