Tag Archives: Spring

Port Arthur, Duluth & Western Railway MP 59-60.5

Video from Saturday’s hike at Iron Range Hill, between Mileposts 59 and 60.5.

Iron Range Hill, between Sandstone and Iron Range Lakes, had the heaviest grade on the line at over 2 percent. There is a famous series of photographs taken of the hill in 1915-1916 showing a train stuck in deep snow on its way to North Lake (MP 71).

In the video I mistakenly refer to the Height of Land as the end of this section. In fact, the Height of Land was further down the line, west of Iron Range Lake. The top of IRH and the Height of Land have a similar elevation.

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Posted by on April 2, 2020 in Hiking, History, Railway, Video


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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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That moose gave me a heart attack!

Well, not literally, but it felt like it. You could imagine the headline though, “Moose gives man heart attack!” Not that I want to joke about something like that; first, because heart attacks are not something to joke about and second, I guarantee you, it’s happened before. Probably in Canada…I might just Google it. Anyway, I’m sure it took a few years off my life!

Wow, its almost June kids! That means school will be over in month, so another year bites the dust. Unfortunately there is still a ton of stuff to do between now and then, so much that I don’t want to even think about it. This is on top of everything going on at home. Football is over, but Noah’s baseball is in full swing, which occupies 3-4 nights a week. I’ve also spent the last few weekends at camp, as there are quite a number of things to do there. It never ends!

Fortunately the weather is cooperating. Up until a few days ago, we haven’t seen very much rain. We still need more, as it is still very dry. It’s been the nicest spring we’ve had in a number of years, especially compared to last year. I hope it continues, and we have a warm summer. Last summer was okay, but it wasn’t particularly warm by any stretch. I guess we’ll just have to see what happens.

Even though things are crazy, I was finally able to some railway work done. I had been looking forward to my first hike of the year from quite a while, and it was critical for my research on the Gunflint & Lake Superior Railroad. I decided this year to plan my hike for the Friday before the Victoria Day long-weekend, which would give me the whole weekend to go to camp.

So I headed down to Gunflint on Thursday after work. With everything going on lately, it was nice to not think about it for a while. I’ve always thought of the North-Gunflint area as one of my happy places, somewhere I can decompress. It was also nice to visit my good friends John and Rose at the Cross River Lodge…it’s like a home away from home.

Sunrise, Gunflint Lake, May 2018.

The goal of the hike was two-fold; finish locating the grade of the G&LS and explore more of Camp 8. It was a beautiful morning, and I had a long walk ahead of me. From the parking area, it was a 6km walk to where I would start my work. As I walked east along the Border Route Trail, I could already feel the heat building and I knew it would be a very challenging day. It was about two-thirds of the way to my destination that it happened.

Whisker Lake, May 2018.

I was in a hurry to get to my starting location, so I was walking quite quickly along the trail. And then I heard it…the distinctive “crack” of a branch breaking. Small animals don’t break branches like that, so my mind starting racing; bear? Proceeding slowly forward, my heart stopped when a large moose wheeled about 25 feet in front of me and took off through the bush. It took quite a while for my heart rate to recover from that!

Once I reached a point just northwest of Topper Lake, I proceeded south to where I thought the railroad grade would be. It was strictly a hunch; the previous year I had lost the line well to the west and hoped by starting further to the east I might luck out. Turns out, I did. Not far from the trail, the area was flooded by a large beaver pond, and fairly quickly I found the first trace of the railroad, a spike. That forced me into a tough decision; keep going west or try to see if there were more traces to the east. I decided on the latter.

Within a short distance I had located a couple of fishplates, which were used to join sections of rail together. Metres away, I made an amazing discovery; an axe blade. To find something like this away from any camp or settlement I would imagine is rare and it happened just by fluke. It made me wonder though, how did it end up there? Was it forgotten, abandoned…I’m sure if axes could talk! I so wanted to pick it up and get it to a museum, but I promised the guys at the Forest Service (these are Federal lands) that I would not remove anything.

Fishplates, G&LS Grade, May 2018.

G&LS Grade, May 2018.

Axe blade, G&LS Grade, May 2018.

Farther east, past the beaver dam, I located another couple pieces of fishplate and a mystery object. It was in the creek flowing into Topper Lake, so I root around in the mud to find it and when it emerged, I had no idea what it was. I figured it was something from a horse harness, which as it turns out, it was. Closer to the lake, I came across a coil of wire, which resembled some of the “telegraph wire” I encountered along the grade. This means the railroad grade actually corresponds with what is shown on a 1926 map of the area.

Horse harness piece, G&LS Grade, May 2018.

Turning around, I retraced my steps back to where I started and continued westward. I located another spike a hundred metres or so from my initial find, and that was it. From there it was a difficult slog more than 700 metres to where I had last found traces the previous year. It was a wet, swampy area, full of thick bush and deadfall, which made the going very challenging. On top of that, the temperature was climbing the whole time, so I was sweating like a hog and getting winded. It is at times like these that you wonder why you put yourself through this type of abuse. Like, why can’t I be normal and sit on my deck and drink like other people on their day off? Then I remember that conforming is boring!

Once I had re-acquired the grade, it was another few hundred metres to reach the site of Camp 8 (which I am pretty sure was renumbered Camp 11 in February 1908). I hoped to have a decent amount of time to explore the old logging camp, which has seen little human interference since it was used from circa 1906 to 1909. After my visit last year, and a quick examination by technicians from the US Forest Service a week later, I had a better idea of what was at the site.

My first goal was to try and pinpoint each structure. In 2017 I had found 3, and the Forest Service guys had located another 3; from some research I did, I believed there were 2 more, raising the total to 8 (which would match the same number at Camp 4 on Gunflint). I would then attempt to measure each structure and the distance between them. This was rather tricky to do by myself, but I think I did an okay job.

So I was able to determine, at least in my mind, that there were in fact 8 structures. There are 5 located just north of the grade, 4 of which are fairly large. The two westernmost are approximately 33 ft. x 52 ft. and are situated close together. Their berms are not well pronounced and they are 50 ft. away from the other buildings, so I am assuming that these might be the horse stables. According to statistics, there were 19 teams of horses working at the camp in the winter of 1908.

The next three southern structures are about 20 ft. from each other, with two larger ones bookending a small one and have very well defined berms. Both larger buildings are approximately 35 ft. x 60 ft., though the eastern one has a 20 ft. x 20 ft. section on the back. The middle building of the three is considerably smaller at 24 ft. x 26 ft. If I had to guess, I would say that they are, from west to east, the bunkhouse, van (office) and cook house. The only way to know in any certainty is to do some excavations inside the berms. The same 1908 data quoted previously states that there were 55 men living at the camp.

PRLC Statistics, February 1908.

That leaves 3 structures just to the north. One, off by itself between the stables and bunkhouse, would in my estimation, be the blacksmith shop. I don’t have any definitive evidence, but my assumption is based on the debris located close by. The two other buildings are close to each other and are north of the bunkhouse and van. One is very small, 12 ft. x 14 ft. and has a deep hole in the centre of the berms; there can be no doubt that this is the outhouse. The other is slightly larger, but its purpose is a mystery. Again, the only way to make a determination would be to dig, but that not a decision I can make.

Outhouse, Camp 8 PRLC, May 2018.

Outhouse, Camp 8 PRLC, May 2018.

Glassware & pot, Camp 8 PRLC, May 2018.

Building foundation, Camp 8 PRLC, May 2018.

I wish I could have lingered longer, but I had a long walk back to my truck and a 2.5-hour drive home. It was 24C and I could feel the exhaustion setting in. I am planning to go back next May and devote the whole time to exploring the camp. Hopefully the archaeologists from the USFS can join me so there can be a more thorough exploration. I certainly have the knowledge of what was in a logging camp, but I lack the train eye and background to understand everything I see on the ground. My fingers are crossed that we can make it happen.

Anyway, it’s time to go. With all the craziness, it might be a while before I’m back. Hopefully I’ll have more news to report. Until then…

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Posted by on May 14, 2018 in Hiking, History, Railway


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Tag, you’re it!

Who’s it? You’re it. Or is it me? I don’t know anymore, I think I lost track. I guess it doesn’t matter, since it’s not a real game of tag anyway. Well, why does someone need to be it if it’s not real? It complicated. Complicated? Yes, complicated. Just as complicated as pushing a small button on your steering wheel or column. Huh? You’re not making any sense Dave, you’re way too confusing. Exactly my point! This is how I felt on my recent road trip to Minneapolis, as I played the proverbial game of tag with people who refuse to use their cruise control. Speed up, slow down. I pass them, they pass me and then repeat. Why do people not want to use this piece of technology? Are they that enthralled with pushing the gas pedal continuously? It’s not like I haven’t complained about this before. I guess it’s all too logical.

Welcome to May kids…thank Jesus for that! Boy are things stupid busy right now. The last month was an absolute blur, which I’ll talk about a little later. I can’t believe there is only 8 weeks left of school. Not that it’s a bad thing, as I am quite looking forward to summer, but the pace of things is brutal. There is still so much to do and there is so little time left. I’m getting tired just thinking about it all.

One of the things keeping me hopping is football. Football? It’s May. Yup it is, but that doesn’t stop things though. This year, instead of the usual skills and drills, Thunder Bay Minor decided to run a flag football league. The one hour practices/games run Mondays and Wednesdays, and both of the boys are participating. I’m coaching Noah’s team and helping out with Ethan’s when they are short, so there’s no slacking. I’ve also had to take some certification classes, one of which is done and the other is coming up this weekend. No wonder April is flying by!

Thankfully, after a cold start to April, the weather has begun to turn. It now definitely feels like spring. Most of the snow is gone in town and things are starting to dry up. With all the cold weather we had, it will take some time for the frost to come out of the ground, but it’s just a matter of time. Many of the lakes are still frozen over, and a lot of people are hoping it goes before the fishing opener on the Victoria Day long weekend. As long as things stay relatively dry so I can get out hiking in a few weeks, I’ll be happy.

Spring, May 2018.

One of the reasons I’ve been so busy is that I’ve been out of town a lot. Our board decided to send me, our principal, vice-principal and a number of the teachers in my department to a conference in Vancouver. I’d never been there before, so Jo-Anne decided to join me and we left a few days early so we could see some of the sights of the city before the conference started. We left early on a Saturday morning, 5am to be exact, which was way too early, and arrived in Vancouver by 10:00 local time via Toronto.

Foothills of the Rockies, April 2018.

We had most of the day Saturday to explore, which took us from the downtown to Granville Island. It was an interesting place to visit and see some of the local shops and markets. On Sunday, we did a hop on, hop off bus tour with some of our colleagues. Our first stop was Gastown, which is one of the oldest parts of the city. It was neat to see some of the older buildings as well as the Steam Clock, which is one of the few operating steam clocks in the world.

False Creek, Vancouver, April 2018.

Setting out on our own, Jo-Anne and I jumped back on the bus to Stanley Park. We stepped off near HMCS Discovery and proceeded to walk over 6km around the perimeter of the park to Third Beach. What a beautiful place! I took a lot of pictures and it was amazing to experience this amazing part of Vancouver. At Third Beach we hopped back on the bus and rode all the way back to Gastown, which was only a short walk to our hotel.

Lions Gate Bridge, April 2018.

Siwash Rock, April 2018.

The conference ran Monday to Wednesday, though we had to leave early on Wednesday to catch our flights back home. The conference was on NPDL, which stands for New Pedagogies for Deep Learning, a global initiative that involves teachers in many countries such as Canada, the US and Australia. We began working on this concept in September, and it involved our school and several of our elementary schools. It is designed to enhance learning by providing more student voice, and co-constructing goals and activities. It was great to see what other schools and teachers are doing in their classrooms and to meet educators from all over the world.

High over the Border Lakes, April 2018.

A week after we returned, we were back on the road again, this time driving to Minneapolis (and playing tag with all the people who hate their cruise control). My wife is a huge Bon Jovi fan, so I promised to accompany her to the concert. I had been to 3 previous concerts with her, during one of which I got to shake Jon Bon Jovi’s hand…it was definitely more of a life moment for Jo-Anne than for me. Anyway, this time we would be sitting 4 rows back from the stage, which would be the closest either one of us have been. It was good, but I was certainly not emotionally spent like my wife, although I could not hear out of my right ear from her continual screaming during the concert. The things we do for our spouses!

Bon Jovi, Xcel Energy Center, April 2018.

Needless to say, with all of the things going on lately, I haven’t had much time to devote to railway work. I did manage to squeeze in a presentation on the railway last week at the Rosslyn Community Centre. It’s been quite a while since I did anything strictly related to the PAD&W (it’s all been Pigeon River Lumber lately), so it felt good to get back to talking about the railway. I played to a full house and the crowd was very interested to hear about the early history of the PAD&W. Soon enough I’ll be gearing up for the next presentation which will be in July at the Chik-Wauk Museum.

Since it’s May, it means that I’m only a few weeks away from my first field work of the year. I’ll be heading down to Gunflint right before the Victoria Day long weekend to complete my explorations of the Gunflint & Lake Superior and Camp 8. Hopefully the weather cooperates and I’ll be able to get everything I want to done. Fingers are crossed!

Anyway, I better get moving. I’ll be back in a few weeks with a full report of my hike. Until then…

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Posted by on May 4, 2018 in History, Railway, Travel


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Stress is a bad thing right?

Stress [stres]- is a response to environmental pressures or demands (“stressors”), in particular when we feel they are a threat to our coping strategies or well-being. Well, the clinical definition certainly makes it appear a lot better than it actually is, but unfortunately, as we all know, it’s not. People everywhere are either thriving from it, managing it or floundering in it. And the worst kind, mental stress, just doesn’t go away very easily. Dealing with the stress in our lives can be one of the most important things we do.

So, on that gloomy note, what’s stressing you out Dave? Well, I guess the answer would be what isn’t stressing me out. I can tell you for one, it’s not the weather. We’ve officially made it to spring, which is a very good thing and for the most part, it’s been decent month. There’s been a few hiccups here and there, but I am really looking forward to the day all the snow goes, hopefully sooner than later.

Now, I usually complain how busy things are and how tired I am, but lately it has become nuts. The source of a lot of my anxiety is work, more so than usual. What’s the deal you ask? Partly the everyday stuff-classes, marking, you know. However, we are less than two weeks away from our trip to Europe and there are so many little (and big things to worry about).

We had our last parent meeting on Tuesday, and yesterday I spent almost half an hour Skyping with our Tour Director Jason on some details of the trip. We have a few more student meetings coming up before we leave and I need to start the process of packing. The “big stressor” though, is something that is completely out of my control. For security purposes, anyone attending the ceremony had to register with Veterans Affairs Canada who is running the event. We did have some issues with the registration process, but now only 2 of the 26 in our group have received the entry tickets. They were supposed to be sent out by the 21st, but apparently due to computer issues, they are delayed. The revised date in now early next week, which is cutting it close to our departure date. Once they all arrive, and I have them printed out, I will feel much better.

I must say that I am getting excited for our journey in spite of all the issues. The kids are getting very pumped up too, though I can imagine there are some nerves as well. For many, this will be their first trip away from home without their parents. For 11 days, I am “in loco parentis,” which makes me nervous! Amsterdam, Ypres, Vimy, Beaumont Hamel, Normandy and Paris…it’s all going to be great. Having visited many of these places before, I can’t really decide what is my favourite. If I had to choose though, I would certainly say Ypres; I specifically asked to visit the city after our stop at Tyne Cot Cemetery in Passchendaele. It is such a beautiful and historic place. As I have done in the past, I will attempt to blog everyday on the trip. I’ll also be posting updates to social media, so you can follow us on Facebook and Twitter as well.

EF Backpack and Jacket, March 2017.

With all of the school-related things going on, my railway work seems to be a bit of an afterthought. However, I’m still plugging away on the book, albeit more slowly. I have nearly six chapters done, totalling some 18,000+ words. As I have described before, it is a challenge at times. Sometimes I’m on a roll and the words just fly onto the pages. and other times I can stare at the screen and barely manage a few sentences. I think part of my struggle of late has been that the subjects of the chapters have become more complex, which requires me to spend more time revising and clarifying my outline. I just need to remind myself that there is not a huge rush and even Rome was not built in a day.

With the onset of spring, my thoughts have also drifted towards the upcoming hiking season. I still have a number of field work sessions that I need to complete, in particular my plan to locate the final pieces of the Gunflint & Lake Superior grade. I am scheduled to do this during the Victoria Day long weekend, which seems like a long-way away, but will be here before I know it. I do have a few others to complete, but this is the important one which will help my finalize details for the book. Hopefully the weather will cooperate and keep things fairly dry to let do what I need to do.

Anyway, I better get rolling. Lots of things to do. I’ll be back right before we leave for Europe with my final thoughts on the trip. Until then…

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Posted by on March 24, 2017 in History, Railway, Travel, Writing


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If they don’t find you handsome…

They should find you smart? Reliable? Funny? Come Dave, tell us! What, you couldn’t think of any other adjectives? I’ll give you a hint; it’s from a TV show. Still stuck? Maybe you aren’t Canadian, because most people who live in the top half of North America would know it. Need another clue? The guy who quoted it was the King of Plaid, the man who introduced duct tape as the handy-man’s secret weapon. If you didn’t recognize Red Green from The Red Green Show, you need to watch some syndicated TV. The program was a parody of other shows, notably home improvement ones, and the most memorable quote from Red himself was, “If the women don’t find you handsome, they should at least find you handy!” Consider yourself educated.

So here we are in May; it’s kinda one of those good thing bad thing situations, this year anyway. Why what do you mean Dave? Well, I’m very happy that it is now May and we’re that much closer to summer, but that also means my leave is going by very quickly. Sigh. Thankfully I’ve been enjoying every minute of it.

Now, one of the things that has brought immense joy to me is the weather. I know I gripe a lot about it, but when you have as long as a winter as we do, I think there is a good excuse. Anyway, conditions have done a complete one-eighty since my last post; it’s like someone finally remember to flick the switch and turn the heat on. The snow went away very quickly, the ice has left the lakes and the grass is starting to turn green. Hallelujah!

April 2016.

April 2016.

The only blemish on this otherwise great situation is my health. No, I’m not dying, but there was a point that I felt like I was. What is ironic is that you often have a short memory; it was at this time last year I was complaining how sick I was. Thanks to our friends at Facebook and their handy “You have memories to look back on” feature, I looked at my post from April 2015 and read about how awfully afflicted I was. Talk about déjà vu!

One thing that has me feeling better though is the fact that our school trip to Europe is less than a year away. Wow, it’s hard to believe it’s coming up that fast! While there has been some ongoing planning, things will start to get more hectic in the fall. I know I have been on similar trips twice already, but this is the big one. The commemoration of the 100th anniversary of the Battle of Vimy Ridge will be one of the most important events in recent Canadian history. Estimates put the number of people who will be attending in the 10,000 plus range. It will be an amazing experience.

Despite being somewhat handicapped by whatever plague I mean virus I contracted, I have not stopped making effective use of my time off. There are a lot of projects that need to be completed around the house and there is a ton of work to do out at camp. The ones at camp will have to wait until we get closer to summer, but we did get a bit of a head start last week. Meanwhile at home, a lot of my efforts have been dedicated to completing our basement office.

Camp, April 2016.

Camp, April 2016.

Back in March, Jo-Anne and I finally installed some bookshelves we ordered from Ikea, which allowed us to empty some boxes of books that had been in storage for many years. The next step was to try and hide two big, ugly filing cabinets that need to be in the room; some spray paint and some fancy wheeled platforms I whipped up took care of that while still allowed them to be moved around. The desk was going to be another story.

My wife spends time browsing Pintrest for ideas (shocking), and she came up with the plan of using kitchen cabinets and a simple countertop to make a desk. We were going to buy pre-finished cabinets, but then we came across a truckload sale of unfinished ones at Home Depot. The trick was that I now had to add panels to the sides and then stain and seal them. I really enjoy carpentry, and I’m getting pretty decent with fine detail work (except baseboards…I flipping HATE baseboards and trim). Anyway, things went great until it came time to stain. So I’ve learned that staining wood a very dark black-brown colour is not easy; it made me want to drink. I’ve put off the varnishing until I’m back from Toronto…I think I had enough stress for a while.

So with all of this time spent trying to be the next Bob Villa, I have not had a lot of time to work on any railway stuff. I also learned a long time ago that it is important to step away at times, take a break and come back refreshed. My last foray was about three weeks ago, when I made my last trip to the Thunder Bay Museum. While I did not uncover a whole lot of material, the quality made up for the lack of quantity; in actuality, my discovery was a game-changer.

Back about a month and half ago when I was transcribing letters from the Arpin Papers, I came across references to a “Camp 8,” which by all appearances was situated along the Gunflint and Lake Superior Railroad. It is commonly known that the principal camp of the Pigeon River Lumber Company was Camp 4, located on the southwest shore of Gunflint Lake. I wasn’t really sure what to think until a couple of things fell into place.

On my visit to Duluth during March break, I had chance to sit down with Lee Johnson, whom I’ve known for a number of years now. Lee is the head archaeologist for the Superior National Forest and during the course of our conversation, Lee described a site he located while battling the Ham Lake Fire in 2007. It sounded a lot like a camp of some sorts. The second piece came while searching the newspapers at the museum; I found an article that described “Camp 8” in the Gunflint Lake area. Hopefully I’ll be able to confirm a location in the next few months.

This week I’ll be departing from my brothers wedding in Toronto. I do have some research time scheduled for Thursday morning when I will be visiting the Archives of Ontario. I have three things to take a look at; one related to the PRLC and the two others are of the PAD&W. I’ll provide a full re-cap in my next post.

Anyway, I should get rolling…I need to finish packing and I have a busy day ahead. I’ll be back soon enough with the latest news. Until then…


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Posted by on May 3, 2016 in History, Railway, Research, Travel


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It’s a good thing I left the snow tires on…

April showers bring May flowers right? Wrong! Horribly wrong. More like April snow brings spring misery. For the love of God it needs to stop snowing! Snow? In April? Yes, unfortunately…the truth hurts. We’ve had more snow in the last 3 weeks than the rest of winter combined, or at least it seems so. Winter wonderland is great in December, but not now. Speaking of December, remember that brown Christmas I wrote about back then? Ya, well we’re paying for it now. Climate change deniers need a kick in the head. Ugh!

Hey, so I’m back. Maybe a little testier than usual, but if you just read my rant, you’ll understand. So yes, it is now April and the weather blows. My apologies for the somewhat profane language since this is a family-friendly blog, but hopefully it’s understandable. I am just so done with winter! Since my last post we received a huge dump of snow during March break (my deck had over 40cm or 16in on it). It will then warm up for a few days, melt that snow, and then we will get more to replace it. It is a frustrating vicious circle. Good news is on the horizon though; even though today is supposed to be 2C for the high (normal are around 7-8C), it is supposed to be in the double digits by the end of the week. Here’s hoping. Maybe I will listen to my wife and move somewhere warm and buy one of those much cheaper we keep seeing on House Hunters!

Results of a snowstorm, March 2016.

Results of a snowstorm, March 2016.

Snowstorm, April 2016.

Snowstorm, April 2016.

So besides the climatological issues, things are good. I am certainly enjoying the time off, though it is flying by way too quickly. This week is already the middle of April! I know I always complain that it goes by quick while I’m at work, but time typically moves more quickly when you’re on vacation. What that all means is that it’s time to start moving past winter and thinking ahead to all the stuff goes on in spring and summer…if the snow ever goes away.

One of the things that is starting to gear up again is football. Yes, football…in the snow. Okay, I’ll stop! Anyway, Noah just started skills and drills, which will last throughout the month and as usual I am helping out. Even though it’s a while away, planning has already commenced for our annual spring camp, which will be held in again in June. In preparation for that, I’ll need to finish filming and editing our recruiting video, which always takes up a bit of time.

I guess the one thing that the weather has not hindered is my work on the railway. In actuality, I’ve been quite busy with it since the last post. I finally managed to complete transcribing all the Arpin Papers from my visits to the Cook County Museum last summer. The end result? Thirty-one landscape pages of details from those letters, organized by date and who the letter was addressed to. And unfortunately I’m not done yet; a few of the early letters from 1900 are very difficult to read, so I’ll have to go back and see if I can decipher them from the original documents. That however will give me a chance to go to the Grand Marais Library while I’m there to look up a few things.

As I reported previously, I have been spending a lot of time at the Thunder Bay Museum examining digitized newspapers. They have been a great source of information, both about the Pigeon River Lumber Company and the PAD&W. There are still many years to look through, but I think I will wrap things up for now with one more visit this week. I have a feeling I will still have to do some manual searching at some point.

Since we’re on the topic, I’ve already begun planning my research trips that will be coming up rather quickly. At the beginning of May I will be in Toronto for my brother’s wedding and I’d like to get to the Archives of Ontario for a few hours. They have some photos I’d like to look through, as well as an early plan for the North Lake Station location and an Order-in-Council related to the PRLC.

However, it is a lengthy excursion to La Crosse, Wisconsin and Chicago that will take the most time, and planning. I’ve already mentioned that the University of Wisconsin-La Crosse Archives holds the personal papers and records of PRLC vice-president Frank P. Hixon. Email inquiries have indicated there are extensive records at that facility; I have a feeling that I will have to go back in the future, possibly next summer.

Chicago is a regional repository for the National Archives and Records Administration, and they might have records for the Gunflint Lake customs house. Unfortunately I will not know what they have until I look through their files. I’ve never been to Chicago before, so my wife and I will be spending a few days there once I complete my archives research. I know it won’t be enough time to do the Windy City justice, but it’s better than not at all. I’m sure I will be able to get there again in the future.

In the meantime, I was able to do a little research a bit closer to home yesterday. The drive to Gunflint Lake never disappoints, even though the scenery was a little snowier than I would have liked. Bruce and Sue Kerfoot, always the cordial hosts, were gracious enough to take time out of their busy schedules to chat with me again about the local history. Bruce’s knowledge of the area is amazing and he has a lot of experience exploring many of the historic sites, whether by himself or with the First Nations people who used to live at Gunflint. I’m looking forward to going back as soon as possible, hopefully when I get back from Toronto.

Gunflint Narrows, April 2016.

Gunflint Narrows, April 2016.

Bottom end of a switchback, April 2016.

Bottom end of a switchback, April 2016.

Gunflint Lake, April 2016.

Gunflint Lake, April 2016.

I do have one trip to Gunflint already planned for the summer with a very familiar agenda to it. I have been invited once again by the kind folks at the Chik-Wauk Museum to come and give a lecture on a piece of local history. If you recall I’ve been there twice in the past, in 2012 and 2014. I decided to talk about my current research, especially since a lot of people are not very acquainted with the Gunflint and Lake Superior Railroad and I thought it would provide a refreshing change. Previously, lectures were held on the museum porch, but they have a newly constructed facility at Chik-Wauk which will bring everything inside and allow me to include a visual component as well. The date of the presentation is Sunday, August 14th and you can visit their website for more information.

Anyway, it’s time to move on. Shockingly, it’s snowing again, so I have to go clean off the deck for the sixth or seventh time in the last few weeks. I’ll be back soon with more news and hopefully in a better mood. Until then…

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Posted by on April 10, 2016 in History, Railway, Research, Travel


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