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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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Hijacked by the refrigerator!

Relax folks, I’m fine; however I do appreciate the concern you feel for me. I know you’d all be heartbroken if this blog went away for good. Was it scary? Were you hurt? Well, I actually just noticed I have a scabbed over scratch on my leg, but otherwise I’m in one piece. Why? Did you envision a bandana adorned, Kalashnikov toting Maytag firing wildly in the air and making angry threats in some foreign language? Makes for an interesting visual doesn’t it? Okay, so I did embellish just a little bit…it’s really a Whirlpool. Hahaha. I crack myself up sometimes…maybe I should do this for a living!

So I’m back. I’ve actually been home for a couple of weeks now, but I’m finally getting around to writing this blog post. It was a bit of a shock going from the tropics back to Thunder Bay (the first title of this post was reality sucks). The day we were in Belize it was well over 30C (40+ with the humidity) and when I got off the plane  it was -34C with the wind. Yuck! In any case, the weather has been fairly merciful, even downright balmy. Saturday was +16 and gorgeous…the snow is going away quickly and hopefully spring is just around the corner.

Belize temps, February 2016.

Belize temps, February 2016.

Thunder Bay temps, February 2016.

Thunder Bay temps, February 2016.

Speaking of the cruise, it was a fantastic experience. My wife and I had been on one during our honeymoon, but this was the first time for our boys. To say that they loved it is a bit of an understatement! We flew to Miami on a Saturday after a long layover in Toronto. The next morning we took a shuttle to the port and boarded our ship, the Carnival Splendor. By the afternoon we had checked out our cabin, grabbed some lunch and then proceeded to spend some time at the pool.

Bye Miami, February 2016.

Bye Miami, February 2016.

Our boat, February 2016.

Our boat, February 2016.

Monday was a beautiful day at sea and the kids had a blast (I burnt my legs pretty bad since I’m not used to just loafing out in the sun). Tuesday brought us to Cozumel, Mexico where we boarded a ferry for the mainland and a trip to the cenotes of Chaak-Tun. What an amazing experience it was to swim in the underground caves and witness the breathtaking beauty of these natural wonders. After lunch we were treated to tequila tasting before heading back to the ferry and our ship.

Chaak-Tun, February 2016.

Chaak-Tun, February 2016.

Inside Chaak-Tun, February 2016.

Inside Chaak-Tun, February 2016.

The next day we arrived in Belize City and this time our excursion would take us two hours to the west, smack on the border with Guatemala. The Mayan ruins at Xunantunich are a well-known attraction and I was excited to see this piece of the area history, especially since my knowledge of Mayan history is very vague. Xunantunich means “stone lady” and refers to a ghostly apparition that is said to haunt the site. The highlight of the ruins is “El Castillo,” which rises about 130 feet above the complex. We climbed to the top, which gave an remarkable view of the surrounding area. I was a bit timid though, since the swaying one feels after being on a ship made me feel like I was going to fall over the edge. Our visit was concluded by a great lunch at Hodes Place, in nearby San Ignacio.

El Castillo, Xunantunich, February 2016.

El Castillo, Xunantunich, February 2016.

El Castillo, Xunantunich, February 2016.

El Castillo, Xunantunich, February 2016.

El Castillo panorama, Xunantunich, February 2016.

El Castillo panorama, Xunantunich, February 2016.

Xunantunich selfie, February 2016.

Xunantunich selfie, February 2016.

The weather unfortunately threw a wrench into our visit to Roatan, as the ship was unable to dock due to the wind. We spent a somewhat rainy day at sea but were comforted by the fact we would have more time at our next stop, Grand Cayman. We got off the ship there, but the weather gods were against us again, forcing the cancellation of our visit to 7 Mile beach. We spent some time in the capital, Georgetown, before we headed back to the ship. But I guess a marginal day in the Caribbean is better than a good day in the snow.

Even though I’ve been busy with travel, I have managed to get in some railway work in between being hijacked by the fridge. I guess I should explain that huh? So I’ve been trying to get myself back into shape after putting on a few pounds on the cruise (way, way too much food). The other day my plan was to get on the treadmill after I put the kids on the bus to school. In the process of making lunches I discovered water dripping into the refrigerator from the freezer; that told me that the drain pipe in the freezer was plugged with ice. So my wife and I spent the next hour and a half removing everything from the freezer, unplugging the drain, cleaning the fridge and putting all the food back. There went my treadmill time…the fridge wants me to stay fat!

Anyway, I spent the better part of  two afternoons last week at the Thunder Bay Museum looking through their digitized newspapers. Though there are gaps in the coverage of the papers, the searchable .pdf files represent a huge step forward in the tedious and time consuming process of examining these records. I’ve already accumulated a ton of new information and I will be back at it next week to see what else I can dig up. The only bad part is now I need to go through, print and then file it them, which is the least exciting part of all!

Railway timecard, October 1902.

Railway timecard, October 1902.

In the next few weeks I will need to start work on my paper/presentation on John Paulson for the Great Plains conference in September. I know it is a long way away, but I’ll get busier as the weather gets warmer and I will be less inclined to spend my days inside. My brain is already thinking ahead to when I’ll be able to get out into the field to do some “hands on” investigating.

Anyway, I’ll wrap things up for now. The family and I have spent the last few days on a mini vacation here in Duluth, Minnesota and now we are marooned here for another day due to a bad storm that has made the road home pretty treacherous; hopefully it will be okay for tomorrow. I love how Mother Nature teases us and then slaps us in the head. I’ll be back soon enough for with more updates; there’s always a lot to tell. Until then…

 
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Posted by on March 16, 2016 in History, Railway, Research, Travel

 

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It felt so good…

Yes, yes it did. You know the feeling don’t you? Well, I guess everyone does for that matter. What feeling you ask? It’s that “oh my god, I have not done this in forever” feeling. Catch my drift now? I bet you’re still confused though, because I could be referring to a million things right now. I hate to burst your bubble, but it’s not what you’re thinking of…especially if you’re thinking of that! Some of you may have figured it out, but the rest of you will have to keep reading.

So we have reached the middle of May and I’m not sure I’m going to make it another month and a bit. I am burning out very quickly. I have wayyyyyy too many things going on right now…I can barely keep my head above water. Funny thing is if you look back on posts from previous years at this time, I probably wrote the same thing. Not much changes from year to year I guess. What’s keeping me busy you ask? The answer is pretty easy; what isn’t? This is my “other” crazy time, with work, football and family all piling up.

As we near the end of the school year, there is a push to finish my marking, especially big items such as essays. There are a lot of meetings plus the usual timetabling for next year. Football spring training is creeping up fast and then there is the trip to Duluth for the UMD camp to plan for. The kids are busy with swimming and soccer and there are a thousand things to do in the yard (we all know how much I love yard work!).

I don’t think I could write a blog post without commenting about the weather can I? So, what to say…well, how about crap? The sun and warmth of April and the first part of May has been replaced with cold and rain. Makes me happy doesn’t it? Just when I thought things were looking up for a dry and hot spring and summer, Mother Nature has decided to dump all over that idea. I guess the up side is that there is still a lot of time for things to turn around…I hope!

With all the craziness of late, I have had a little time to spend on railway stuff. There has been a lot going on with the Silver Mountain and Area Historical Society as I reported in my last post. On the 4th the board was present at the city council chambers as we made our deputation to ask to have the CN Caboose donated to the society. I was very nervous as I had never done anything like this before and it was made worse by having to wait a long time for our turn to speak. I did my best to make our case to council; it is now up to them to decide if they want to keep it or donate it to us.

Alright, so let’s get to this feeling stuff shall we? Well, if you’ve read some of my recent posts you’ll know that I’ve been really looking forward to getting out and doing some hiking. Fortunately I was able to do just that last weekend. The plan was to drive down to the Minnesota side of Gunflint Lake and then take my boat across the lake to do some exploring on the Gunflint & Lake Superior Railroad.

Things went fairly well, though I did have to deal with a few wrenches in my plan. The day was supposed to be partly sunny, but the sun decided not show up until we were ready to leave. Then there was the boat. So last fall when I was at Gunflint, the motor seemed to be acting up a little bit. At the end of April I had it looked at and apparently it needed a new carburetor kit and had a loose ground in the throttle assembly. A week of waiting and $400 later I assumed everything was peachy. Wrong!

Gunflint Lake is approximately 7 miles long and normally it would take about 20 minutes or so for my boat to travel that distance. Not on this day. About two minutes into our journey, the motor started to sputter and then would not accelerate beyond 1/3 speed, even with the throttle wide open…obviously something was up. In any case, I was not about to let the day be ruined, so we puttered along at a snail’s pace. Twenty minutes became almost an hour to get across the lake!

Because of the delay, I had to modify our plans for the day. The first stop on agenda was the former Pigeon River Lumber Company logging camp at the east end of the lake. I mentioned back in February that I would be participating in some archaeological explorations at the site this summer, so I wanted to do some preliminary work to prepare. With the GPS in one hand, metal detector in the other and the boys in tow, I spent an hour or so documenting and photographing the area. For obvious reasons I don’t want to say too much about what I found, but I’m sure I’ll have more to say once the professionals have a chance to do their thing.

From Camp 4 we crawled our way north, first to the site of the second bridge crossing at the next bay and then to the international boundary. The water level is down a bit from last year, so I wanted to see how much more was visible of the bridge pilings at that second crossing. I think if it drops a bit more, there will be a lot to see, but it may be a challenge getting into that shallow bay!

At the international crossing, I had more exploring to do at the site of the former US customs house. It’s another place that does warrant some investigation and maybe that will get some attention once the logging camp is done. My big task was to try and see if an image in the files of the Cook County Historical Society was in fact the customs house. After taking some pictures and comparing them to the one in question, I’m pretty positive I’ve made a match. At some point I’ll have to get some exact measurements that will help with the identification.

International Crossing, May 2015.

International Crossing, May 2015.

G&LS Grade, May 2015.

G&LS Grade, May 2015.

Custom house flagpole, May 2015.

Custom house flagpole, May 2015.

Custom house location, May 2015.

Custom house location, May 2015.

G&LS Grade, May 2015.

G&LS Grade, May 2015.

Fishplate connector, May 2015.

Fishplate connector, May 2015.

G&LS Rock Cut, May 2015.

G&LS Rock Cut, May 2015.

G&LS Grade, May 2015.

G&LS Grade, May 2015.

With an hour ride back to Cross River lodge, that was my last stop for the day. Hopefully I’ll have a chance to get back to Gunflint in the next few weeks…if the weather cooperates. There are so many things to look at and such little time. Maybe next year when I’m off I’ll have more of an opportunity to get out into the field. Of course that will also depend on what Mother Natures has in mind.

Anyway, I think it’s time to get rolling. It is in fact Victoria Day, so I should get out and enjoy this wonderful holiday; oh wait. In any case, I’ll be back soon enough…until then.

 
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Posted by on May 18, 2015 in Hiking, History, Railway, Research, Writing

 

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Breathing is overrated!

Overrated? Well, I guess that’s a little too far. As usual I’m being a facetious, but I think it accurately reflects my life over the last few weeks. Breathing has certainly been a challenge and it really makes you realize how we can take something so simple and vital for granted. You’re confused right?

As some of you may have guessed, I’ve been sick…very sick. Actually, it’s probably the worst I’ve been in a long time. My oldest son Ethan became sick over the March break with a fever and a lot of coughing. Turns out he had a bronchial infection. From him it went to my younger son Noah, and of course to me. I had a number of days of fever, chills and headaches and then the fun started. I too must have had the bronchial infection because breathing became a chore. It felt like I had phlegm in my lungs, which made me cough, but nothing would come up. It was like I had smoked for 50 years! I was always out of breath and felt so run down because of it. It’s been over three weeks now and I finally feel like I’m getting back to normal. I’m still a bit sniffly, but it’s a million times better than what I was.

So despite my ill health of late, I am very happy. The snow is all gone…thank the Lord! We had some rain last week and a little dip in the temperatures that resulted in a dusting of snow, but I don’t care. The last two springs were brutal and it took forever for the snow to go away. This year is much closer to normal and hopefully that will translate into warmer days and a much better summer. That should help dry out the bush as well, so I might have more opportunities to go hiking!

April 27, 2014.

April 27, 2014.

April 2015.

April 29, 2015.

It’s hard to believe we are almost through April and by the end of the week we will be into May. Holy cow time is flying by! Before we know it, the school year will be over. May and June are usually a very busy time between work and family, so it will go by even faster. Things are starting to pick up with football and will get even more hectic in the coming months. Noah has had skills and drills the whole month of April, which I’ve been involved with. In June our school program will start our spring training camps, which will then spill into our trip to Duluth for the UMD team camp from the 25th to the 27th. Good thing I get paid lots to do it!

With everything that has been going on, and being sick, I have not had a lot of time to devote to railway matters. Much of my “railway” time has gone into the historical society. On March 29th we had our annual general meeting and I was acclaimed as the new president until 2017; new title, same responsibilities. We have a number of projects on the go, the chief of which is an effort to re-locate the “CN Caboose” from its current location at Prince Arthur’s Landing to Silver Mountain. It was originally donated to the City of Thunder Bay in 1990, but the group that was supposed to maintain it has since dissolved and it is in a state of disrepair. I have to go before city council and make a deputation to have it donated to the society…then we have to move it should they approve our request!

Although I have not had a lot of time to spend on the railway of late, I am looking forward to the start of hiking season. Last week I took my boat to have some repairs done and hopefully it will be ready for a trip to Gunflint by the second week of May. I’d like to take a look at a few things and possibly do a little site survey at the logging camp in preparation for the archaeological work happening in July. There is ice still on Gunflint Lake, but from what I understand, it should be gone by next week. Now I just need the weather to cooperate and I’ll be good to go. I’ve got a lot of explorations planned for this year and hopefully I’ll be able to get to as many places as possible.

Anyway, time to roll. I’ll be back before you know it with the latest news. Until then…

 
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Posted by on April 29, 2015 in Hiking, History, Railway, Research

 

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I can smell it!

It’s definitely in the air and we all know it. It’s one of the most anticipated events of the whole year and I know everyone (myself included) cannot wait until it’s in full effect. Technically it has already happened, but as you know there is normally a little lag. Confused? No you’re not; you know I’m talking about spring. Yes, glorious spring, when we shed the cold of winter and watch nature new itself once again. I love the smell of the air in spring; so crisp, clean and wonderful…and of course, sprinkled with the aroma of dog crap. Gotta love spring!

Well, as you can probably tell, I’m excited for the change in seasons. Not that this winter has been particularly terrible, but certainly it has not been pleasant since my last post. Things seemed to be fairly normal this year until we hit February and that’s when the fun started. It was cold, really cold; we actually broke a record set way back in 1936. The mean temperature in February was -19.6C, which is freakishly cold. The month of March seems to be going much better, with relatively normal temperatures. With the very cold springs we’ve had the last couple of years, it will be nice to see some warm weather and have the snow go away by April. In that regard, things are well on their way. A lot of the white stuff has melted in the last few weeks and it won’t be long before the rest goes. Good riddance!

Early March, 2015.

Early March, 2015.

Mid-March, 2015.

Mid-March, 2015.

Up the mountain, March 2015.

Up the mountain, March 2015.

Up the mountain, March 2015.

Up the mountain, March 2015.

Up the mountain, March 2015.

Up the mountain, March 2015.

So here we are nearing the end of March and are almost into April. The time continues to fly by! Now that the March break has passed, we are on the downward slide to June and things will only go by even faster. Unfortunately there are still a million things to do between now and then. Work, kids, football…the list goes on and on. It actually makes me tired thinking of all of it. Oh well, I’m sure I’ll get by just fine like I always do.

Speaking of keeping busy, there are many things on the go on the railway front. This coming weekend we have the Annual General Meeting for the Silver Mountain and Area Historical Society which I am in the process of preparing for. In addition, we have a lot of projects on the table, which while not generating a steady amount work, do get intense from time to time. I have one on-going email conversation for one project, while I had a meeting today for another. I’ve been nominated for re-election at the AGM, so it appears I’ll be working away on this for at least the next few years!

My research on the railway continues unabated as usual. Last month I sent a proposal to the Thunder Bay Historical Museum Society to gauge their interest in publishing a book on the Gunflint and Lake Superior Railroad. I have not heard anything official from them to date, but I am optimistic that they will like where I am taking this. The more I dig, the more intrigued I become in this project. It’s amazing how something that only existed for 7 years can have so facets to it.

With the prospect of a somewhat normal spring on the horizon, I am very hopefully that I can get an early start on the hiking season. It would be nice to get out in late April or early May before the trees start to leaf out. Maybe the bush won’t be so wet as it has been over the past few years and the lake levels will be lower. That will certainly make my life a little easier. Fingers crossed!

Anywho, I better get rolling…busy as you know! I’ll be back as soon as I can with more information and updates. Until then…

 
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Posted by on March 24, 2015 in Hiking, History, Railway, Research, Writing

 

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Three times is not a charm!

We’ve been here before right? This is now the third year in a row that this has happened. Déjà vu? (from French, literally “already seen”, is the phenomenon of having the strong sensation that an event or experience currently being experienced has been experienced in the past, whether it has actually happened or not). A very clinical answer from our friends at Wikipedia, but it seems to be the best way to describe what has gone on. Unfortunately this is not the good type of repetition and it is very frustrating, in my opinion anyway. Cryptic? For sure…I haven’t done that in a while.

So what’s new and exciting Dave? Well, there’s not a lot of “new” stuff, but there’s certainly a lot of “excitement” going on. I guess I should clarify, for “excitement” may not be the correct term to use…maybe controlled insanity is better. Ya, let’s go with that. It’s now June, obviously, but this generally is one of the busiest times of the year for me. So many things going on!

Work is a big part of the current craziness. There is the ever-present marking that I can never seem to get ahead of (the only time you’re ahead of your marking is at the end of the year). We’re down to our final 10 days before exams and there is the usual rush to get everything wound up on time. Isn’t it supposed to get easier as you get older and more experienced? I’m finding it gets more challenging!

This week we started into the annual spring football season, though it began on a sour note on Monday, which led to a cancellation of that first session (ya, it ties into to the title). That left us with only two days of camp, but it still turned out to be very productive nonetheless. Now my time on the grid iron is not over though; our whole program (junior and senior) will be travelling to Duluth, MN at the end of the month to take part in the annual University of Minnesota-Duluth team camp. So I’m staying on the field for two more days to help get the kids ready to participate in that event.

Well, I should get to the title of the post shouldn’t I? What’s your best guess? If you said the weather, you’re the grand prize winner…cheque is in the mail! The end of May was absolutely fantastic; it was sunny and very warm. June unfortunately hasn’t been so kind, especially with regard to the rain. In May 2012 we had a pretty massive storm that dumped a lot of rain on the city and caused some flooding. Last year it was the same story; almost the same itme of the year, but with a little less rain. It was like a broken record this past Monday, with a good dose of rain that put a damper on just about everything. It is so frustrating! We had such a long and terrible winter and things were just starting to look up. Don’t get me wrong, it’s not the end of the world, but the ground is still very wet and it’s been a long wait for it to dry up. Now we’re starting all over again.

Why am I so concerned about how wet everything is? Well, as someone who likes to spend a lot of time in the outdoors, it makes it very challenging to get out there and hike. I was hoping to go out again this weekend to North Lake, but I had to push my plans back another week. Fortunately I was able to go on my first walk of the year a couple week’s ago and it was great to get out.

This hike took me to the Minnesota portion of the railway and I had been planning this for quite some time. I was really anxious to try out my new video camera and capture the grade in the grandeur of 1080p! The boys accompanied me on the hike, along with my old friend Terry (our hiking adventures go all the way back to high school) and my friend John from the Cross River Lodge. I actually needed some help on this walk since I had been itching to shoot some wireless footage of the 400-foot trestle near the Paulson Mine.

It was a nice drive down to Gunflint Lake as it usually is. After a brief stop at the Lodge to pick up John (and for Terry to get his caffine fix), we made our way to the southern trailhead of the Centennial Trail. After a short walk the trail merges with the former right of way and then it is about 600 metres to the trestle. On the way I decided to re-shoot a few areas that I previous taped in the fall (I really wanted to see what it would look like with the new camera). When we arrived at the trestle location I was already sweating; it was a beautiful, sunny day with temperatures already pushing the mid-twenties before 11am. The sweat would become profuse very quickly!

We set everything up and John would man the camera as I made my way into the valley and then up the fairly sheer face of the western side of the trestle. My biggest concern was if the wireless mic would work at such a distance (I tested it to over 450’ at home); thankfully it performed flawlessly. The leaves had yet to open on most of the trees, so it made for a pretty clear shot across the valley. After the filming was done, we all headed over to the western side to resume the hike. It was pretty interesting trying to get everyone up that cliff safely, especially the boys, but we able to do it without any incidents. On the way we came across a lot of metal bridge remains, even a spike still embedded in a piece of wood.

The grade on the west side of the valley had been blasted right out of the side of the cliff. The valley is over 100 feet below the railway (I approximated 50-80’ in the video) and the cliff above is rough 30 feet above the railway. It is really something to see! In the past 122 years many large boulders have fallen from the blasted cliff face and now sit on the grade, making it very challenging to walk. From the western side of the trestle it is approximately 300 metres to where the Centennial Trail re-acquires the grade; at points it is very heavily grown-in and not easily navigated. We ended our hike here, and slowly made our way to back to where we started. The video turned out great (with the exception of me repeating myself a lot); you can watch it here.

Lower grade from the Centennial Trail, May 2014.

Lower grade from the Centennial Trail, May 2014.

Looking west at the 400' trestle, May 2014.

Looking west at the 400′ trestle, May 2014.

Spike in wood, May 2014.

Spike in wood, May 2014.

Metal bridge parts, May 2014.

Metal bridge parts, May 2014.

Blasting hole, May 2014.

Blasting hole, May 2014.

Looking east at the 400' trestle, May 2014.

Looking east at the 400′ trestle, May 2014.

John graciously invited us to stop in to the lodge for some lunch and it was nice to relax for a bit. Afterwards we headed farther up the Gunflint Trail so Terry could take a look at the Chik-Wauk Museum. The visit also gave us some time to walk around on some of the trails at the site. From there it was getting close to supper time, so we drove back to the Gunflint Lodge for what would be a great meal. The temperature was now topping 28C and it was almost *gasp* too hot to be outside! It did cool off considerably as we headed home and got closer to Lake Superior. In any case it was a great day and I’m looking forward to my next opportunity to visit Minnesota.

Gunflint Lake, May 2014.

Gunflint Lake, May 2014.

Anyway, I better get rolling. I was planning to add more recollections from my twenty years of railway work, but I’ll save that for my next post. Until then…

 
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Posted by on June 5, 2014 in Hiking, History, Railway, Writing

 

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It was a really long walk!

Have you ever wondered how far you’ve walked in your lifetime? Too bad we don’t come with built-in pedometers. We’ve all probably walked a lot during our lifetimes, but is it always with a purpose? I know I’ve walked a lot in my forty years, and I can honestly say that there has been a lot of purpose in my steps. Yes, I’m referring to my many walks along the railway; I wish I had a pedometer for that as well. Ninety-two miles of railway were built and I’ve covered a lot of those sections many times over. I wouldn’t even begin to guess how many miles I’ve done over the years. There was one time in the last twenty years that I knew exactly how much of the railway I covered, but that’s a story for later.

So it’s been a crazy couple of weeks since I last wrote. It’s to be expected though, as the approach of the end of the year always brings with it a plethora of things to do. Thank God it is nearing the end of June as I don’t think I could handle much more of this.

Well, what’s keeping you busy Dave? I guess the answer is what isn’t keeping me busy! School is very hectic as usual. I’m trying to keep up with the marking and we are going to be timetabling for next year very soon. Things are ramping up in football as well. A couple weekends ago the coaches from the University of Minnesota-Duluth were in town putting on their annual coaching clinic and camp. I spent the Friday night learning a few new things about coaching defense, while Saturday and Sunday were spent at the LU Hanger watching Ethan go through various drills. This week we met with our Grade 9’s and travelled to our feeder school, Pope John Paul II, to talk about our upcoming spring camp.

The weather is slowly warming, though as is typical in the spring around here, the temperatures can be all over the map…beautiful one day and freezing cold the next. We seem to be about three weeks behind where we should be in terms of the progress of the season. I’m desperately trying to catch up on things around the house that should have been done a while ago but that I couldn’t due to the weather (and we all know how much I love yard work!). A few weeks ago I trashed part of my backyard pulling the boat to the front yard; it’s going to be a treat trying to fix the damage once everything dries out.

This past weekend was a little bit longer due to Monday’s Victoria Day holiday. Traditionally this marks the beginning of the summer camping, fishing and hiking season, but it wasn’t the usual hub-bub due to the delayed spring conditions. I had been planning to go down to Gunflint to do some hiking, but I had to postpone. I’m going to try again this weekend…hopefully we get the +20C they are calling for! I’ll be hiking the railway along portions of the Centennial Trail with the intention of shooting some new video of the area (with my fancy new video camera). Fingers are crossed!

So if you recall I left off in my last post talking about my twenty year involvement with the railway. It was the summer of 1994 and I was in the midst of a great trek to explore a remote, neglected part of the railway along North and Gunflint Lakes. At the time the area was very inaccessible due to the lack of direct roads; the only real way to get in was via North Lake, which was an ordeal in itself. Fortuitously some family connections gave me a little bit of help in making this trip happen.

In those days one could not simply drive in to North Lake; due to some terrible road conditions, I had to walk the approximately 9km in from Addie Lake while carrying all my gear with me. You can do those things with a little more ease when you’re 20 years old! The next obstacle in my path was the famed Trestle Bay, which was spanned by a 1000 foot trestle from 1892 to 1909. It would take an hour plus ride by boat from the east end of North Lake to the narrows between Little Gunflint and Gunflint Lakes where I left my gear, and then another half hour back by boat to my drop off point at the western side of Trestle Bay. The searing late August heat made the 6km hike from Trestle Bay westward to my campsite at the eastern side of Gunflint Lake quite the ordeal, but I made it.

The next morning I was up bright and early as I had a daunting task ahead of me; I would be walking the remaining 12km of railway right to the Gunflint Narrows where the railway crossed into Minnesota. I had never seen this part of the railway and I was amazed at all the rock work that had been done along the shore of Gunflint Lake. Walking through Leeblain I saw the remains of the rock ovens for the first time; I was disappointed that I could not find the location of the Gunflint Cross which was approximately 1.5km west of the ghost town.

My original intention was to spend another day on Gunflint before I was picked up by boat, but after two straight days of walking and a big thunderstorm after day two, I was done. The question was how to get back? I formulated a pretty bold plan. I packed my gear and hiked the 6km eastward to Trestle Bay. When I arrived, I stripped down to swimming shorts, put my hiking boots and clothes in a garbage bag and proceeded to swim the 1000 foot expanse while fighting white-cap conditions and praying not to get impaled on an old trestle piling. The stupidity of youth! I made it across, got dressed and walked another 5km back to the east end of North Lake.

Rock cut, North Lake, August 1994.

Rock cut, North Lake, August 1994.

Rock cut, Gunflint Lake, August 1994.

Rock cut, Gunflint Lake, August 1994.

Rock oven, Gunflint Lake, August 1994.

Rock oven, Gunflint Lake, August 1994.

Rock cut, Gunflint Lake, August 1994.

Rock cut, Gunflint Lake, August 1994.

My North Lake hosts were shocked by my unexpected arrival and astonished by tale of how I got there. A short boat trip later I had retrieved my gear and was back on the trail toward Addie Lake and home. If you’ve been keeping track, the finally tally looked something like this: 9k+6k+24K+6k+5k+9k. I’m not sure about your math, but that equals nearly 60km in my calculator. I walked 60km in three days! This was either an incredible display of determination and fortitude, or just really stupid…I guess it depends on your perspective. Needless to say I’ve never done anything like that since, though I have contemplated a 60km journey along the Kekabekic Trail from Gunflint to Ely (I want to see the planned route of the railway between those two points). Maybe I’ll do it someday when the boys are older.

Anyway, I should get rolling. I’ll probably be back next week with more reflections of the past and some details from the weekend’s hike. Until then…

 
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Posted by on May 22, 2014 in Hiking, History, Railway, Research, Writing

 

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Reflecting on two decades.

Twenty years; for me, it amounts to half of my lifetime. Wow! I spent some time searching the internet looking for a quote to accurately describe my thoughts on this journey but I couldn’t find anything that fit. I guess that is a sign that I need to come up with something on my own; unfortunately I’m not really a master of the profound. Maybe I just need to speak from the heart, to say what I’m really thinking. However, that is usually easier said than done. I’ll give it a try in any case…but you’ll have to wait for it.

So, what’s new and exciting Dave? Well, here we are on the cusp of May and I’m still complaining about the weather. Yup, I went there. This has been quite the on-going saga with me (and everyone else for that matter) for the last year, but who can blame me. This winter does not want to end. It is so utterly depressing I cannot stand it any longer. The temperatures over the last month have warmed up a bit, but just as we seem to get ahead with the melting of the snow, we get blasted with another storm. This has happened three times in the last month-I’ve put together a nice little montage of photos to show you our progress, or lack thereof. I really hope that this it for snow; I and everyone else just wants to put this miserable winter behind us and hopefully move on to some warmer temperatures!

April 17, 2014.

April 17, 2014.

April 18, 2014.

April 18, 2014.

DSC_4788

April 19, 2014.

April 21, 2014.

April 21, 2014.

April 25, 2014.

April 25, 2014.

April 27, 2014.

April 27, 2014.

April 30, 2014.

April 30, 2014.

So with the arrival of May, we are now down to our last two months of the school year. It keeps getting faster and faster every year…it’s just a big blur! The worst part about it is there is so much to do in a little bit of time. You can never seem to get ahead on your marking, exams will be coming up in June and we will be starting to timetable for next year very shortly. On top of that there is a ton of football stuff coming up, such as spring camps and our trip to Duluth for the UMD team camp. Craziness!

Things have been fairly active on the railway front of late. As we move toward summer, planning has begun on our agenda for the historical society. We held our Annual General Meeting at the end of March, and we have a board meeting coming up next week. Planning for our flagship event, History Day, will be commencing at the meeting. There has been some discussion about moving the day into the fall, but my personal preference is to leave it where it is (I’m too busy in September). I’m sure we’ll get it all sorted out so we can start publicizing it as soon as possible.

Another reason why I’m anxious for the snow to go away and things to dry up is that I am itching to get out on the railway. I have a lot of field work planned this year and the sooner I can get out the better; besides, I just bought a new video camera and I’m dying to get things recorded in 1080p! First on my agenda is a visit to Minnesota to get some video of the grade before the trees leaf out. I also want to do the same with the Canadian portion of the Gunflint and Lake Superior Railroad before things get too green as well. In addition to day hikes, I’ve already booked two trips to Minnesota for the summer and fall; hopefully the weather cooperates with me.

So I actually have an ulterior motive for the July trip to Minnesota (well, besides visiting with my friend John at the Cross River Lodge), which is that I’ve been booked for another lecture at the Chik-Wauk Museum. If you remember I spoke there back in August 2012 and they’ve asked me to come back. I’m pretty excited; there was a great turn-out last time and I’m hoping it will be the same this time. If you’re in the area July 20th, you might want to stop by!

Alright, I guess this is the point at which I should explain the whole title thing, right? So here goes. In April 1994 a young guy was just finishing his second year of university and decided to satisfy a long-standing curiosity about a little know railway. What was supposed to be a short trip to the library to find a book to read became multiple trips and then became an odyssey once he realized that there were no books to be found. For some reason this railway seemed to fit all of his interests; history, the outdoors, research and a love of exploration. I was all of 20 years old.

In those early days there was very little information about the Port Arthur, Duluth and Western Railway, or Pee Dee (PD) Railway as it was often referred to as. There were a few maps, some relatively recent newspaper articles and a number of old photos. They all began to slowly form into the story of a long-forgotten railway. Eventually the visits to the library led to trips to Thunder Bay Museum and the files of one Clifford Brown.

Cliff Brown had recently passed away in 1991, but he had dedicated a large portion of the latter part of his life to unravelling the story of the railway. Many knew him as Mr. Pee Dee and were very aware of his work and presentations. His file at the museum was filled with old newspaper clippings, letters of correspondence and many personal notes. They were a huge source of information and provided many helpful insights into where to look for more information.

Research notes, April 1994.

Research notes, April 1994.

Besides rooting through archives and information, I really wanted to go out and explore the railway. My first experience with the PAD&W had been four years earlier in 1990 on my first ever moose hunting trip at North Lake. I had never been to this area before, and the property on the lake had only recently been purchased by friends of the family. I very quickly became enamored with the area, especially with all the discussion and mention of a “railway” that had once gone by. Walking the old grade and finding spikes and the remains of old buildings really intrigued me; I wanted to know more.

I found many old maps in the library, but looking at a map and determining where exactly the railway had been after been abandoned for 56 years was another matter. In some cases it was fairly simple, but in others it was a really challenging. You have to remember that the internet was just starting out, there were no Google maps or GPS and nature is very quick to take back what is hers. I was determined to trace the entire railway before I had to head back to school in September.

West of Rosslyn, April 1994.

West of Rosslyn, April 1994.

I spent a lot of time that summer slogging through rivers, getting eaten alive by bugs and often getting temporarily lost as I struggled to follow a grade that was now obscured by brush, washed out by floods, settled into swamps or rendered impassible by long burned out bridges. It was an ordeal at times to say the least. My journey that year culminated in a 3 day journey to probe the most remote area of the railway, the stretch west of Trestle Bay on North Lake all the way to the Gunflint Narrows. However I’ll save that story for the next post!

Anyway, I need to get rolling. Stay tuned for Part II of this retrospective coming shortly. Until then…

 
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Posted by on April 30, 2014 in Hiking, History, Railway, Research, Writing

 

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Europe 2014 Day 9

If you read the Day 8 post, you know why this is delayed.

Day nine, our last day in Europe 😦 Man, the time has just flown by. I guess as they say that’s what happens when you’re having fun right? We’ll have to make the most of today and enjoy every moment.

So the internet (or as they say here the “wefe”) is still down, so I still cannot post yesterday’s blog. Hopefully it will be working by the time we return today so I can catch up and everyone knows we’re still alive. It’s amazing how we come to depend on it…first world problems right?

Anyway, we will be leaving the hotel at just after 8:00 so we can start a sightseeing tour of Paris. Should be interesting and give us a good sense of the city (well, maybe the kids since I’ve seen it before). Not quite clear on this afternoon’s agenda, but I know a lot of them wanted to go up the Eiffel Tower. Great, more stairs!

Well, I’m sitting here at the north gate of the Hotel des Invalides as the kids work through the museum with Mr. Cappello and Ms. Borgo. Normally I wouldn’t pass up a chance to visit a military museum, but I just wanted to sit for a bit and while I did that I could work on the blog. I figure it’s going to be another late night and I have two blogs to post.

I’m resting in the shade as it is probably well over 20C outside…it is absolutely gorgeous! I’m going to be sad to leave this behind for the snow and cold of Thunder Bay. I do miss the boys though and I guess it is time to head back to realty.

So the day has been great so far. A bus picked us up at the hotel and brought us into the centre of Paris where we met up with our guide for the morning. Corine would take us around the major sites in the city to give us a bit of sense of what Paris is like. We made a few stops along the way, the last of which was at the Place du Trocadero, which gives a good view of the Eiffel Tower. Unfortunately there is a lot of pollution in the air, which made the view less than ideal.

Place du Trocadero, March 2014.

Place du Trocadero, March 2014.

Afterwards the bus dropped us off near the Tower. The original plan was for most of the kids to go up the Tower, but the poor visibility and long lines made us change our minds. Instead we would head east toward the Hotel des Invalides, stopping for lunch along the way. Here we would split up, with St. Ignatius remaining at the museum and St. Pats heading toward the Champs des Élysées after a short visit. So here I sit…

Eiffel Tower, March 2014.

Eiffel Tower, March 2014.

Sigh. I’m sitting again, this time outside a perfume museum just north of the Paris Opera. I’m tired…exhausted would probably be a more apt term. It’s been a long day!

So after the Hotel des Invalides, we headed north across the Seine to the Champs des Élysées. The kids had a little time to look around before we were off again, this time to the Opera and a rendezvous with Felicity and the St. Ignatius crew. We walked the short distance to the perfume place and soon we’re off to dinner.

Alexandre III Bridge, March 2014.

Alexandre III Bridge, March 2014.

Paris Flowers, March 2014.

Paris Flowers, March 2014.

I’m beat! My feet are killing me! It has been a very long day. We are waiting for the bus to come and take us back to the hotel. I can’t wait to go there and put my feet up. I’m sad that we leave tomorrow (especially since we have to be on the bus at 7:30), but we’ve had a great trip.

Dinner tonight was at a place called “L’Arlequin Cafe,” which was quite a distance from the Opera. That made for an interesting ride on the Metro in which we were packed into the cars like sardines. Dinner was some sort of beef stew with carrots and potatoes, which was okay. Dessert was fruit salad.

Our night would conclude with a visit to the Louvre, which involved another packed ride on the Metro back in the direction of the Opera. A lot of the kids were excited to visit this fantastic museum. We didn’t have a lot of time, so our little band did the Mona Lisa, Venus di Milo and Hammurabi’s Code.

The Louvre, March 2014.

The Louvre, March 2014.

Hammurabi's Code, March 2014.

Hammurabi’s Code, March 2014.

Anyway, I better go. I need some sleep and morning will come way too soon. The bus leaves at 7:30 for the airport. Until then…

 
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Posted by on March 15, 2014 in History, Travel, Writing

 

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Mother nature sucks, but lunch was epic!

Cryptic? Of course; you wouldn’t expect any less of me! I think the title pretty much sums up the state of affairs around here. It has been a crazy, depressing and frustrating past seven days…I’ll try to express it all in words!

So I might as well start off with the crappy part, namely…wait for it…you probably know it already…the weather! Yes, the weather. The stupid freakin’ weather. If I talk about it anymore, people will start to think I have some serious issues (maybe I do-I did say Mother Nature sucks). I can’t help it though, it’s really starting to make me (and everyone else) rather crazy. What is driving most of this angst is that I cannot go out and do what I want to do, which is hike.

So if you read this blog with any regularity you’ll know that I’ve been dying to get out hiking for the past month. First it was the cold, then snow, and now rain. Obviously I did not get to do my planned hike in Minnesota for the long weekend; I unfortunately spent it cooped up in the house all 3 days (well, accept for a few hours on Saturday morning). Remember this time last year when we had that biblical flood? Well, let me tell you a story!

So the forecast called for some rain this weekend, which here in Canada is the traditional start of the summer camping/outdoor season. Then the rain was upgraded to a lot of rain; then it was a flood. Talk about déjà vu! We had a huge deluge last May 28th, and they were talking about rain in the same proportions. So it rained most of Saturday, Sunday and off and on Monday. I thought it was over, but we’ve gotten another big dump of rain today. Fortunately there has not been the widespread flooding that we had last year, but are some flooded areas and road closures. I’m not sure of the exact count, but we’ve had something like 70-80mm of rain so far…I guess hiking in this area is out for a while.

Backyard flooding, May 2013.

Backyard flooding, May 2013.

Backyard flooding, May 2013.

Backyard flooding, May 2013.

Anyway, now that we’ve passed the May long weekend we’re on the downward slide toward the end of the school year. It’s going to be a crazy, hectic 23 days. Teaching, football and graduation will make it all interesting. On top of all of that, I have 6.5 days that I’ll be out of the classroom for various workshops; that’s more than a quarter of the remaining time. Insanity! I will do my best to keep my feet firmly planted.

Now one of things that will help is that our crew at work will try to squeeze in one more epic lunch before the end. Yes, you heard it, an epic lunch (hence the title). This is something we came up with last year and we have continued the tradition of excellence. What is it you ask? Well, it’s what it says, lunches of epic proportions. It was mostly inspired by the YouTube videos of Epic Mealtime. So we try and find culinary challenges to complete, which are usually not always to healthiest choices, but it makes for good time and company. So far we’ve done the 6 foot sub, 3-65” pizzas, Taco Time tacos and burritos, Chinese chicken balls and bonbons, chicken wings and the McDonald’s triple double (double Big Mac, quarter-pounder & cheeseburger). What’s next? Some dirty bird (aka KFC)?

The challenge revealed, May 2013.

The challenge revealed, May 2013.

About to dig in, May 2013.

About to dig in, May 2013.

Things have been very busy on the railway front, mostly with the historical society. We had a board meeting last week to plot our strategy for the upcoming months. A lot good stuff is coming up for the summer. At the beginning of July there will be a Horseback Riding event with proceeds going to the society. In August, the Silver Mountain Station will be hosting the 2nd Annual History Day, which brings together local historians and writers and allows people to learn more about the history of the area.

We’re also starting our first ever membership drive, which we hope attracts more people to the society. To help publicize our efforts, our website is undergoing a major overhaul, and we’re having an advertising poster created (much like the one for the railway). It’s a pretty exciting time, and we hope that society grows and prospers. Be sure to join us if you’re interesting in preserving history!

So as I mentioned earlier, my plans to go hiking last weekend were derailed by the weather. I am hoping to try again this weekend. It might be a bit wet, so for the first time ever I may have wear my stylish rubber boots in the bush. Let’s hope it’s not too bad. I am very glad however that my oldest son, Ethan, has decided to join me. It’s awesome that I can share my love of the outdoors and history with my boys, and teach them to appreciate what we have around us. My youngest, Noah, will soon be six and I imagine he will be joining us on longer hikes soon enough.

Anyway, time to roll; lots of stuff to do in a short week. Hopefully I will have good news to report next week. Until then…

 
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Posted by on May 21, 2013 in Hiking, History, Miscellaneous, Railway, Writing

 

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