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How can I be tired already?

The simple answer is yes, yes you can be tired Dave. But after only 4 days back at work? Yup, you sure can…it doesn’t matter if it’s 4 days, 4 weeks or 4 months. However, you know what would make the fatigue more epic? How about throwing a cold on top of it? Ya, that sounds like a great idea, because nothing makes the situation better like a stuffy, snotty nose, a sore, burning throat and horking up phlegm. Yes folks, the last few days have been absolutely fantastic!

It’s September and I’m back kids! It may seem that it has started as well as a train wreck, but in reality, it’s pretty good. It’s just hard to go from being on vacation for two months to extreme craziness in a few days. The worst part is that it has just become even worse as the boys’ football season has started up. I know, poor hard done by teacher complaining about how busy things are after a summer off. I get it, but that doesn’t make it any easier. I really feel like poop.

If it’s September, it means that summer is over; well, not officially but close enough. I wrote in my previous post back in July that the weather had been good and that is how it continued. This summer was one of the best we’ve seen in recent memory. We didn’t spend as much time at camp in August as we did in July, as the boys had football practices 3 days a week. Nonetheless, we were able to make the most of the time we were there.

Sunset at camp, August 2018.

Calm morning at camp, August 2018.

Last camp sunset, August 2018.

So as I mentioned, I began football early this year. The boys wanted to play summer ball again, especially Noah who missed the tournament last year and the entire fall season after suffering a very unfortunate concussion in practice. The only issue this time around was the format of the tournament, which changed venues from last year. On the Saturday, the teams were supposed to play some squads from Orono, MN, which is just west of the Twin Cities. A week or so before we left, we were informed that things had changed for a third time. Orono had been invited to play in a jamboree style exhibition and they stipulated that the organizers had to invite the Thunder Bay Minor teams too. The best part, the games would be played at US Bank Stadium, home of the Minnesota Vikings. The players (and the coaches too) were beyond excited as it is not very often that you get a chance to play in an NFL stadium.

The games were to be played on August 25th and 26th, so we left Thunder Bay on the 22nd. Our journey began with a one day detour to La Crosse, Wisconsin (which I’ll discuss later). I really enjoy La Crosse as it is a beautiful city, though we didn’t really see too much of it. The next day we headed to Minneapolis and I decided that instead of taking the interstate, we would take the more scenic Highway 61 along the banks of the Mississippi. It was worth the extra 20-25 minutes it added to the trip, as the views along the river were fantastic! Once in Minnie, we were able to spend a couple days shopping and relaxing before the boys had to play.

Scenery near Arcadia, WI, August 2018.

Mississippi sunset, La Crosse, WI, August 2018.

Lake Pepin, MN, August 2018.

On Friday night, the Vikings were hosting the Seattle Seahawks for a pre-season game, so we decided to take it in. Neither myself nor the boys had ever been to an NFL game, so it was going to be a very exciting experience. Our seats were in row 3 in the endzone, which gave us a fantastic view of parts of the game. You can view some of the great video I shot here.

US Bank Stadium, August 2018.

Seahawks vs. VIkings, August 2018.

The experience at US Bank Stadium was awesome. The stadium is both huge and small at the same time, if that makes sense (the stadiums look so much bigger on TV). The kids had a blast and I’m sure they won’t soon forget this opportunity. The only downside was that it was a warm day and there was no air moving inside the stadium; by late afternoon it was like a sauna inside there.

US Bank Football Jamboree, August 2018.

Field level at US Bank Stadium, August 2018.

Field level at US Bank Stadium, August 2018.

So unlike my last post, there has been a bit of movement on the railway front. In early August I paid a visit to the Lakehead University Library to do some research. I first had to find a few books that would help me fill in some missing areas in my book. I later had an appointment at the university archives, which held some files related to the Pigeon River Lumber Company (PRLC). These documents were from a much later period than I am working on, but I thought there might be a few tibits that might help me out. I didn’t find anything explosive (which I did in the States), but there were a few useful things.

PRLC fonds at the Lakehead University Archives, August 2018.

As I mentioned earlier, our trip to the States included a brief visit to La Crosse, WI. Now you might be wondering what is in La Crosse, but if you read this blog regularly, you’ll know that I’ve been there before. La Crosse was the hometown of PRLC vice-president Frank Hixon, and the Murphy Library at the University of Wisconsin-La Crosse holds his very extensive personal records. During my June 2016 trip I compiled a veritable gold mine of information, but I inadvertently missed records from the fall of 1905. Hence the return.

Murphy Library, August 2018.

Working very quickly in the limited time I had, I was able to gather all the documents I required from the fall of 1905. I had decided, before I left, that I would look at some other records if there was time. I wanted to review those from 1909, when logging operations concluded at Gunflint, to see if I missed anything. I also wanted to look and see if I could find anything important from the 1897 to 1899 periods, before the PRLC was formed. In the end, my discoveries were extremely important.

Hixon Papers at the Murphy Library, La Crosse, WI, August 2018.

One letter from 1905 helped affix a date to the construction of the wood trestle alongside the Crab River. Others pointed to some internal turmoil in the company following Herman Finger’s departure from the board. Some of the 1909 records helped clarify and confuse what I already knew about the Gunflint operation. And finally, pre-1900 records gave me a better understanding of how the company was formed and where I should look for additional sources of information. In the end, the materials I uncovered were all critical pieces for my research.

Anyway. it time to get going. I’ll be back in mid-October, as I have my usual field work scheduled for the Canadian Thanksgiving weekend at Gunflint. I’ll have all the information and news from that visit. Until then…

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Posted by on September 11, 2018 in History, Railway, Research, Travel

 

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Here comes the sun!

I bet right now the words to the Beatles’ song is running through your head. No? Well, maybe it’s a generational thing. In any case, that’s not what I’m talking about. So, what exactly am I referring to you ask? It’s a history reference, right? You know, history teacher, Dark Ages, Western Europe emerging from the “darkness” after the fall of the Roman Empire. That would be a big no; nice try though, and bonus points for making it about history. As usual, you’ll just have to keep going to get the real answer.

It’s spring kids! Well, on paper anyway. April is just around the corner, which means the school year is really flying by. This coming month is going to be crazy busy, which I am/am not looking forward to. Don’t get me wrong, there is going to be some great stuff, such as a conference in Vancouver, which I’ve never been to before, but that also means it’s going to be a struggle to keep up with things. The kids start some spring activities, flag football and baseball, which coupled with another trip out-of-town to Minneapolis, will make for some interesting times.

In my last post, I wrote about the next trip to Europe coming up in a year. After a lot of effort, we have been able to fill all the student spots on the trip, and even have a few on a waiting list. We have a good group of kids and I’m really looking forward to help them explore some of the sights, culture and history of a different continent. I’m sure before I know it, we’ll be on our way there!

So it is technically spring, which means some days it feels like it and others it doesn’t. For once I can’t really complain about the weather, as it has been relatively decent this past month after a really crappy February. The temperatures have been about average and the snow is disappearing slowly and steadily. I looks like we might have a bit chillier start to April, but the writing is on the wall and as long as we get some good dosages of sun, I’ll be happy.

Early spring at camp, March 2018.

March continued to be a busy month for railway work. I managed to get more writing done on the Gunflint & Lake Superior book, which definitely makes me happy. I have now completed the better part of the first 12 chapters and just have some additional information to add to them. I’ve started Chapter 13, which is the second last, which means I will not have too much to do next winter to finish it all up. The last time I totalled the word count I was over 36,000, an amazing amount for an amateur like me. As I described in my last post, I have some field work to complete this summer and need to review a few things in the archives to wrap up.

Speaking of field work, I am ready to start gearing up for another season of hiking and exploring. Right now I only have two trips planned; one coming up in May and my usual Thanksgiving weekend one in October. For the one coming up in May, the plan is to finish locating the grade of the G&LS, hopefully to definitely give it an exact length. This was something I was not able to do last year. Also, I want to spend some time exploring the logging camp I discovered last May, which I believe was Camp 8 (which I think was renumbered to Camp 11 at some point) of the Pigeon River Lumber Company. I am really hoping that some of the US Forest Service guys can join me for this one, for while I know the technical/historical stuff about logging camps, I am not a trained archaeologist and am not really sure of what I am looking at on the ground. Also, they have the authority to touch/dig/remove items from the ground, which I do not. I really need this information to help complete that section of my book and hopefully tell the story of this unique operation.

Building foundation, Camp 8?, May 2017.

This month marks a sad anniversary, for it was 10 years ago that this area lost one of its most important historic treasures. To climb the ridges south of Gunflint Lake, the G&LS had to build a structure that was both practical and inexpensive. The “corduroy trestle” they constructed was one of the most unique rail structures to be found and was legendary in the area. It was used for many years as part of hiking and recreational trails after rails were removed circa 1915. I first saw it in 1997 and was awestruck, which you can clearly hear in the video I made. In 1999, the trestle was damaged by a large windstorm that hit the Boundary Waters and then was burned by the 2007 Ham Lake Fire. The flames penetrated deep into the structure and continued to smolder for months afterwards. In March 2008, the US Forest Service was forced to use dynamite to extinguish the fire. It’s too bad it is gone, for it was an amazing piece of engineering, but I am glad I was able to save it on video for everyone to see. You can view the video here.

Corduroy Trestle, August 1997.

Corduroy Trestle, August 1997.

Article from the Cook County News-Herald on the trestle, March 2008.

Anyway, I better get going. I’ll try to get back before the end of April with the latest updates. Until then…

 
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Posted by on March 30, 2018 in History, Railway, Research, Travel, Writing

 

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Watch what you wish for!

We’ve all heard of it. It’s the best way to describe how what goes around, comes around. And we all know how Karma has a tendency to be…you know. No, we don’t know Dave; please describe. Well, this is a family friendly blog, so I hope you understand what I’m referring to. How about a word that refers to things being unpleasant? Catch my drift now? In any case, you need to be careful what you wish for because not only can it come true, you can get something worse!

Wow, it’s hard to believe it’s almost March kids! It didn’t seem that long ago I was working on my last post. Time has just flown by! One semester finished, we had exams and are already a month into second semester. My new classes are good and that definitely helps. In a couple weeks it will be March break and things will pick up more speed from there. Before we know it, the year will be done!

So, the weather. Well, no post would be complete without a nice long gripe about that. The last time I wrote I was complaining about how cold it was; guess what? It’s warmed up, but in the last week, we’ve received three big dumps of snow. Yay, I love spending hours cleaning it all up! To make it all better, my mom was out of town during that time, so I had to go and clean her snow too. Ugh! Why do I have to open my big mouth? I know that’s a redundant question, but sometimes I think out loud (or on paper in the case). I guess as the saying goes, if we didn’t complain about the weather, we’d have nothing to complain about. In any case, today was +5C and the temperatures are supposed to be around the freezing mark for at least the next couple of weeks, so hopefully it will make a dent in all the snow we received.

Fresh snowfall, February 2018.

As we move into March, it means that we’re approaching the one-year mark until I lead another trip to Europe. We did some recruiting in the fall, and there is another parent meeting tomorrow. Hopefully we can fill out all the remaining spots we have available. I am really excited for this excursion, for while we are visiting some places I’ve already been to, there are a number of new spots to explore, including Berlin and parts of the Netherlands. You can read more about the trip here.

In the last couple of months, I’ve spent a lot of time working on railway related stuff. Most of it has been devoted to my book, but there have been a few other things that have come up. It looks like I’ve picked up a couple of speaking engagements, one in April locally and another at the Chik-Wauk Museum in July. Check the events page for more details. I’ve also begun plotting my adventures for when the snow is gone. I will be heading down to Gunflint in May, and I’m trying to decide if I want to do some work after my lecture in July. Two years ago, I was in La Crosse, Wisconsin to examine the files of Frank Hixon, vice-president of the PRLC. It now looks like I need to go back to look over a few things to fill out my research; I just need to figure out how I’m going to get there.

Murphy Library, La Crosse, WI, June 2016.

Back in January, I reported that I had resumed writing my book on the Gunflint & Lake Superior Railroad. At the time, I had finished chapter six and begun chapter seven; after two months laborious work, I am now on chapter eleven of a planned fourteen. Some of the previous chapters are not 100 percent complete, as they require information from field work or the aforementioned research trip, but I think I’ve made good progress. The biggest challenge is the constant re-organization of information and chapters, so things flow properly and make sense to the reader. I have no idea if this book reads well or is even interesting; once I get most of it done next winter I’ll have some people look it over to get their thoughts. Fingers crossed that it all pans out!

Anyway, it’s time to move on. I need to get back to my writing. I’ll be back soon enough with the latest updates. Until then…

 
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Posted by on February 27, 2018 in History, Research, Travel, Writing

 

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It’s been 20 years?

Do you ever sit back and wonder where the heck time went? You know, like one day you’re single, hanging out at the university bar and the next you’re 40 something years old with a wife, kids and a million adult responsibilities? It’s like you blink and a good chunk of your life flies by. I think it’s most evident in your job, your career if you choose to call it that. One day you’re a bright-eyed, eager rookie and then next you’re a grey-haired old guy teaching kids whose parents are younger than you.

Welcome to December kids! Speaking of time flying by, it’s hard to believe that Christmas is three weeks away. It’s already been a month since football season ended, which occurred on a disappointing note. We finished third yet again, but it was great to work with another awesome group of players. Unfortunately the boys weren’t successful either, both of their teams falling in the finals, Noah’s in quite dramatic fashion. I guess there’s always next year!

Since we’ve reached December, that means things are winding down as we approach the Christmas break. The Thanksgiving to Christmas period is a long stretch and it’s nice to have some time to recharge before the end of the semester. I found this fall really physically tiring, but that’s probably because I am getting old. Thankfully I’ve remained relatively healthy, that was until yesterday. I could just feel it coming on, and sure enough this morning I awoke stuffy and with sore throat. I guess better now than at Christmas.

So speaking of work, this past month marked a special milestone for me. I officially began my teaching career with the Thunder Bay Catholic District School Board in November 1997, just over a year after graduating from university. That means I’ve been teaching for over 20 years! I really have a hard time fathoming that it’s been that long. which is why I feel like it’s all been a huge blur. I don’t feel like I’m old enough to have been teaching all those years, until I look at my grey facial hair and remember I’m turning 44 in a few weeks. It’s been an amazing experience though, and I feel privileged to have had the opportunity to teach some great students over the years. 

As you’re well aware, no blog post would be complete without some mention of the weather. Honestly though, I don’t have much to say. After a rather lousy summer and fall, including some early snow and cold, things have been okay of late. The forecasters are calling for a snowy and cold winter, but so far we have not seen much of that (fingers crossed). If we don’t get more snow, it will be a pretty brown Christmas. The past week has been unseasonably mild and I hope that trend continues. I know I am just fooling myself, but one can dream right?

Early snow, October 2017.

Frigid football practice, October 2017.

Snow at camp, November 2017.

A scattering of snow, November 2017.

Now that I have a bit more time on my hands, I have had more of an opportunity to resume my railway work. It’s been a combination of research, revising and editing. That probably doesn’t make a lot of sense, so I’ll explain.

As you may or may not be aware, depending on how regularly you read this blog, I am immersed in writing a book. I began researching material for this project more than 3 years ago and I started the writing process this past January. I really thought I was done most of the research, with just a few loose ends to tie up so I could finish writing. Being new to this whole book writing thing however, I’ve learned that you’re never really done research. As you write, there are always new leads that you uncover, or topics that require further elaboration or clarification, so you’re always looking into things. Just last week I received a book I purchased on forest railroads and it led me to a whole new source of information. It can all be exhausting!

Steam and Thunder in the Timber

Revising and editing are elements that are continually evolving as well. If you’re digging up new material, guaranteed you’re changing your plan of attack. The aforementioned book I received provided me with a ton of new information, which forced me to go back to reexamine the contents of my chapters and tweak the details. I don’t know what other authors do, so maybe it’s just me. I am a bit of a perfectionist, so I could be taking things too far. I don’t know; all I can do is what feel right for me.

Besides the research and revising, I plan to get back to full-scale writing, which will most likely occur during the Christmas break. If I can get another big chunk of writing done this winter, I will only have some minor details to fill in after the spring and fall season of field work. Well, that’s plan anyway; we all know that things don’t always work out the way intend them too in most cases. I’ll let you know how things are going in a few months.

Anyway, it’s time to go. I’ll try to get back before Christmas

 
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Posted by on December 1, 2017 in History, Railway, Research, Writing

 

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Goodbye old friend…

We have all been there. We have all had to say goodbye in our lives; many times, it’s a temporary good bye…sometimes it’s a forever goodbye. It’s never easy whatever the case, but certainly the forever kind leave an indelible mark on our soul. We are impacted by the departure, but also by the memories we shared with those that are leaving. It is a part of life that we cannot change or stop; the best we can do is make the most of the time that we are given.

Welcome to summer kids! I know it’s been a really long time since I last posted, but I’ve been busy. Another school year has come and gone and now I’m reveling in the glory of summer vacation. The month of June was nuts and I’m glad to finally start to de-stress. This is not to say that I’m sitting around doing nothing, but having that mental weight lifted is a huge relief. I can’t believe though that a week and a half has already gone by, but who’s counting?

The only downer of late has been the weather. Shocked? Me, rant about the weather? Never! Seriously though, the mother nature is really ticking me off (I so wanted to use a different metaphor, but this is a family-friendly blog). After that ice storm in April, things have not been the same. June was an absolute disaster and the beginning of July has been much of the same. Maybe disaster is a bit harsh, but I am so tired of this crap. The weather has been so unsettled; we just can’t seem to get any consistency. It seems as though every second day we get precipitation. I really hope we turn a corner soon and get a bit more “summer” like conditions soon.

One of the reasons I’m so irked by the weather is that I have been spending most of my time at camp. I feel bad for the boys since spending time indoors is not what you want to be doing, and our summer is so short to begin with. My time has been consumed with a fairly large project, which is the construction of a new storage shed. I’ve never built a shed before, but last year I had never built a dock before either. It’s going well, though I put in some long hours this past weekend and I am still feeling the after effects. I may have over did it as well, as my tennis elbow is flaring up again and it’s quite annoying. Hopefully I’ll have the door and shingles on it this week, so then I can slow the pace of construction down.

Camp, July 2017.

Storm clouds at camp, July 2017.

With all the excitement going on, my railway work has taken a big backseat. The only thing that I’ve done is begun the process of overhauling my web-based information. I’ve had an online presence for the railway for almost 10 years now, and launched padwrr.ca six years ago. That site has become a bit dated, but since I’m not very proficient in web design, I decided that the easiest thing to do is to migrate all that info on to this page. Therefore, you’ll notice several new tabs at the top, which marks the start of the process. There’s still a lot of work to do, so it will be a while before it’s all complete. Please bear with me.

Probably the biggest piece of news is my upcoming lecture on the 23rd. I will be making my fourth appearance at the Chik-Wauk Museum for a presentation on the Gunflint & Lake Superior Railroad, which will be very similar to the one that I did this past January at the Thunder Bay Museum. I hope it generates a lot of interest south of the border as well, since this topic encompasses the history of both countries. With my hike back in May, I have quite a bit of new information to discuss. If you’re looking for something to do in a couple weeks, why not take a drive up the Gunflint Trail to have a listen.

While I’m there, I decided to spend the night and take the opportunity to do some field work. I haven’t quite made up my mind as to what I want to do, but I guess I’ll have to fairly soon. I’m either going out on Gunflint Lake and shoot some video or make a return visit to what I believe to be the site of Camp 8. I need to do both, but it will really depend on what I think is the higher priority. It also might rest of whether I have the family with me or not. I’ll let you know in a few weeks.

So, back to the title, which refers to saying goodbye. Recently, I too had to say goodbye to an old friend, one who has been a big part of my railway research over the past number of years and has been featured in this blog. Thirteen years ago my wife and I adopted a dog, the first dog I ever owned. Rather quickly, Loki became one of our family and a loyal companion; he came with me on almost all of my railway hikes until he was hobbled by old age. Last October he was diagnosed with a tumor and the vet gave him months to live. We knew we were on borrowed time and made sure we enjoyed what time we had left with him. He made it another 8 months. Right up to the end, Loki was still soldiering on, including coming to camp. Unfortunately we had to let go of him on June 26th. I guess it’s fitting that in a few days it will be the 10th anniversary of the passing of my father, who obviously had a profound impact on my life as well. They both loved the outdoors, so I truly hope they have found each other and are enjoying a long walk together.

Loki, July 2004.

Anyway, I need to move along. As I mentioned, I’ll be back in a few weeks to report on how the presentation and field work went. Until then…

 
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Posted by on July 11, 2017 in Hiking, History, Railway, Writing

 

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I’ve been working on a railroad…and I got lost!

I was going to title this post “How to get lost in the bush and other exciting stuff…Part II” in honour of the last time I got lost hiking, but I thought this sounded better. If you read that post, I didn’t really get lost, I just went slightly astray. This time there was a bit more consternation though, as I was quite a distance from any civilization and I had been walking for a very long time. I do tend to go for long walks, don’t I? And I don’t really do any normal hiking either for that matter, which is probably why I get lost in the first place. I see a pattern emerging here…do you?

So, we’ve arrived at the end of May kids; the year continues to fly by! It’s hard to believe that in a month school will be over. Craziness! Unfortunately, there is so much to do between now and then I can barely wrap my head around it. In fact, I don’t even really want to think about it either. It makes me depressed. The kids have already checked out, so it’s like pulling teeth to try to get them to do anything, and that makes me even more exhausted. I guess like every other year, this too shall pass.

No blog post would ever be complete without me saying something about the weather. Talk about a dog’s breakfast! The temperatures and conditions have been all over the place, almost like the proverbial box of chocolates, you’ll never know what you get. As I write I’m sitting on my couch at camp watching a slight drizzle fall…it’s supposed to be mostly sunny and only a 25% chance of rain. Yesterday was gorgeous, one of the best days so far this spring. However, the blackflies were atrocious! Like I mean underneath your sunglasses, in your nose, in your ears, swallowing more than I’d care to atrocious. I have not seen them this bad in quite some time. I toughed it out most of the day, but it was not fun. The boys and I couldn’t even have a fire last night, as no one wanted to stay outside in that mess.

It’s a good thing that I decided to go for my first railway hike of the year last weekend, because thankfully (or mercifully) there were no blackflies to found. I had a great time, though I may have pushed myself a little too hard, which I’ll explain later. My plan was to continue following the grade of the Gunflint & Lake Superior eastward from Crab Lake, hopefully to its terminus, wherever that was. To accomplish this, I decided to spend a night with John and Rose at the Cross River Lodge, which would allow me to get an early start on the hike. It was a nice night and I got to spend some time chatting with the other guests.

Rising fairly early, I started my hike around 0800 (Central time). It was going to be a long one; it was nearly 3 kilometres to my starting point, a then I would have another 3 kilometres to my turn around point. By 0900 I had reached the western end of Whisker Lake, a short distance from where I had ended my hike the previous year and went over a part of a section I missed last time, making a big discovery. I had determined that a telegraph line had been run to Camp 4, but last year I found evidence that it may have gone further. At that west side of Whisker, I found another section of wire, but where did it go?

After making my way to my previous end point, it was another 600 metres to the east end of the lake. Along the way I uncovered many spikes, a few fishplates and a large coil of wire. That section, for the most part, went pretty smooth, or what passes for smooth in this line of work. Unfortunately, things were going to get way more difficult for the next 2 kilometres I hoped to cover.

Spike, Whisker Lake, May 2017.

Wire, Whisker Lake, May 2017.

Fishplate, Whisker Lake, May 2017.

Grade, Whisker Lake, May 2017.

Grade, Whisker Lake, May 2017.

Fishplate, Whisker Lake, May 2017.

Wire, Whisker Lake, May 2017.

The first 4 kilometres or 2.5 miles of the Gunflint & Lake Superior grade is well pronounced and easy to follow. Once it passes the top of the ridge south of Gunflint Lake, things become much less discernible. Using an old and inaccurate 1926 map of Cook County, I theorized that the railroad followed the Crab River south to Crab Lake and then turned eastward. The banks of the river and shore of Crab and Whisker Lakes gave me a reasonable area to work with to locate the grade. However, once past Whisker Lake, things became very dicey.

Logging railroads were well-known for their methods of construction, especially given their temporary nature. Rails were often thrown down in the most expedient location, with little grading work, since they would be removed once all the timber had been harvested. This is what I had to deal with. Away from the shore of the lake, I had no idea where the railroad went. I was reduced to zigzagging back and forth, hoping for a lucky hit on the metal detector. And to make matters worse, the vegetation changed significantly, as I moved away from the area that had been burned by the 2007 Ham Lake Fire.

It’s interesting how we (or in this case I), build up an idea of what an area will look like before we get there. I guess in my mind I envisioned towering trees and an easy stroll through the bush. There are two problems with that idea; one, the PRLC cut down all the towering trees, which is why I’m doing all this research. Duh! Two, this is the Canadian Shield, and it is messy in the bush. On top of the “messiness” is the fact that I was in an area that is partly swamp, so it can be rather wet and sloppy. So, it was not an easy stroll.

As I moved eastward, I found that hits came in batches. I’d walk 80-90 metres and then find some stuff, in this case strands of wire and spikes. Then it was another 100 metres or so before I found a spike and wire, in a spot so grown in that I could barely move. After 250 metres and some thought that I might be lost, I started finding spikes and wire again. This continued for another 450 metres before I completely lost the trail and I guess lost myself. Somehow, I got my bearings messed up and instead of continuing east, I ended up 100 metres south. It took me a bit to get myself pointed in the right direction and back on track.

Grade, Whisker Lake, May 2017.

Grade, Whisker Lake, May 2017.

Grade, Whisker Lake, May 2017.

Grade, Whisker Lake, May 2017.

I walked, or rather stumbled on for another kilometre before I pulled the plug on the hike; I had been at it for hours and exhaustion was starting to set in. I had gone into the water above my boots early in the hike (a “booter” as we would say where I grew up) and when it happened a second time, in a nasty muck hole, it was the proverbial straw that broke the camels back. Besides, it was getting late and I had a long walk back my truck. By the time I made it back it was 1500 and I had walked some 14 kilometres; I was sore and tired.

My physical state was mitigated by the great discovery I made. Since last year I had known of the existence of another logging camp, Camp 8, along the Gunflint & Lake Superior. I thought I had located it last year, but I there was this nagging feeling that what I found was not quite right. As I was hiking along the railroad, I came across a debris field near the grade that caught my attention. The first things I located were a spike and a fishplate using the metal detector; as I looked around I noticed that there were quite a number of items lying close by. This included a section of pipe, a light gauge rail, buckets, other chunks of metal, coal, slag, ceramic insulators and a snuff jar. The snuff jar was an interesting find, as the folks from the US Forest Service found the exact same jar at Camp 4 back in 2011. Close to the jar, I found an intact bottle of Davis Vegetable Painkiller, which was first patented by Perry Davis in 1845 (more info here and here). Right beside it was what appeared to be a chunk of metal, but in reality was the blade from a double bit axe. What a cool find!

Ceramic insulators, Camp 8?, May 2017.

Snuff jar, Camp 8?, May 2017.

Davis bottle and axe blade, Camp 8?, May 2017.

Based on what I found, I knew that these items are not randomly strewn about the railroad; something had to be close by. A short distance away I found another debris field, which included more buckets, wire and cable, a lantern, a shovel, and quite a number of barrel hoops. Then I saw it. At first my eye was draw to what appeared to be a berm rising up from the ground, then I noticed there was there remains of a log wall sitting on that berm. The berm appeared to made of stone, and the northern corners still had logs resting on them. It was a very large structure (I didn’t think to estimate a size) and contained metal and sawn lumber remains within the berms. As I moved around, I located what I believed were the foundations of another two structures, both smaller than the first. Both had more sawn lumber inside, while one contained sections of what appeared to be stove pipe. There could be more foundations and more debris in the area, but I did not want to disturb the site and I did not have a lot of time to linger.

Barrel hoops, Camp 8?, May 2017.

Lantern, Camp 8?, May 2017.

Building foundation, Camp 8?, May 2017.

Building foundation, Camp 8?, May 2017.

Building foundation, Camp 8?, May 2017.

Sawn lumber, Camp 8?, May 2017.

As you can tell, I’m being very short on details and coy about its location. While I was there, it was my impression that the site has not seen any visitors in quite some time, I would assume because of its location. It appears relatively undisturbed, which could be a boon to my research (on top of what I already discovered). In my discussions with the archaeologists from Superior National Forest, they have no records of this site. It’s also a rarity, since almost every other logging camp inside the 16,000 square kilometre national forest has long been picked over, including Camp 4. I really hope the Forest Service guys let me tag along when they decide to explore what I hope turns out to be Camp 8.

Anyway, I better move along. I hope to get out hiking again in a few weeks, but that will depend on the weather. I’d like to do some explorations on North Lake and I’ll pass along the details if and when it happens. Until then…

 
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Posted by on May 29, 2017 in Hiking, History, Railway, Writing

 

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It’s been that long?

Have you ever been doing something, anything and suddenly become aware that a long period of time has gone by without even noticing? Like say years. Years Dave? Yup, years. So what has prompted this line of thought you ask? Well, it was actually something I saw on Facebook. There were a number of posts a few days ago regarding an event that occurred in 2007, which was a very significant year for me for a bunch of reasons. Confused? Please, read on.

Welcome to May kids! Speaking of time flying by…wow, where did the year go? In any case, I’m back to my usual posts after all the travelling related ones I did last month. May means that the school year is almost over and it’s getting to that crazy time with a million things going on. I’m trying to get my classes all planned out to the end of the year, mark, prep for football spring camp…wow. Sometimes I wonder how I manage to juggle all of this stuff at the same time, and that’s in addition to everything going on at home. Oh well, it will be summer holidays soon enough and some even better news arrived last week. My wife and I have been approved for another semester leave starting in February 2022. Yay!

I guess I would be remiss in not mentioning the weather. I know, I always gripe about the weather, but this time it’s for real. Up until a few weeks ago, it had been a gorgeous spring. And then the wheels fell off. It started with quite a bit of rain one day, then some snow and then a massive ice storm. Ice storm? Yes, you read it right, ice storm. In April? Yup, and it was so bad the schools and the city were shut down for two days. Craziness! The last time that happened was in 1996, when I was still in university. The snow and ice melted quickly and things are relatively back to normal, but that made things around here a rather soggy for a while.

Ice storm, April 2017.

Ice storm, April 2017.

Alright, so I should rewind the clock 10 years and discuss what happened way back in 2007. I don’t think I’ll ever forget that year for a number of reasons, some good and some bad. In July, my wife and I welcomed our second son, Noah, which obviously was one of the happiest days of my life. Sadly, only a few days later, my dad lost a very short battle with cancer. It’s extremely difficult to describe the overwhelming emotions you feel when confronted by joy and tragedy all at the same time. However, the passing of my dad helped push me back into my railway research and field work which at the time had been on the back-burner for a number of years. I guess it was my way of honouring him by making the most of every moment that I have. My dad loved the outdoors, and being in the fresh air brings back a lot of memories of our time together. I also have a living reminder of him in Noah, as he shares so many personality traits with his grandfather.

Another event that took place in 2007 was one that I overlooked at the time. That year the bush was very dry after several years of relatively dry conditions. Back in 1999 there was a massive windstorm that hit our area, a derecho, which toppled millions of trees in the border areas. The lack of moisture and all those trees turned some places into a tinderbox. The spark came in early May, when a human caused fire broke out at Ham Lake, approximately 3 km southwest of Gunflint Lake. When it was finally extinguished, it had burned over 30,000 hectares on both sides of the border.

My first visit to the burned areas took place a year later, when I went to Gunflint Lake for the first time since 2000. It was also my first time driving to the Canadian side of the lake, coming down from Northern Lights Lake. It was quite the harrowing journey, as the road was in in terrible shape and a burned culvert over a deep stream had been replaced with a rather sketchy alternative. The burn zone was quite extensive, and without the trees the true character of the “Shield Country” (Canadian Shield) was visible. However, I was able to see a lot of things that had previously been hidden in the foliage. I wish I had explored more than year when all the vegetation has just starting to grow back.

Gunflint Lake, August 2008.

PAD&W grade, Gunflint Lake, August 2008.

Beach at Leeblain, August 2008.

PAD&W grade, Leeblain, August 2008.

PAD&W rock cut, Gunflint Lake, August 2008.

One positive thing that came of the fire was the construction of the Centennial Trail in Minnesota. Portions of the railway in the area had been exposed by the fire, along with a number of the mining sites that had been worked back in the early 1890s by John Paulson and his associates. The US Forest Service decided to convert portions of the grade into a trail, along with interpretive stops at key railway and mining features. It opened in the fall of 2009 and I was able to visit it in the summer of 2010. It was my first trip to that area since my initial exploration in 1998. It was a very different place after the blowdown and fire; however, I was able to see many new things, such some of the test pits I missed the first time.

Akeley Lake Shaft, August 2010.

Mine shaft, August 2010.

PAD&W rock cut, August 2010.

PAD&W rock cut, August 2010.

PAD&W rock cut, August 2010.

Sadly there were some negative consequences to the fire as well. Areas that were previously hidden and relatively free from human interference were now much more accessible. Places that had been neatly tucked under the umbrella of trees were now exposed and becoming overrun with new vegetation. Some physical traces of the railway and mining operation, particularly those made of wood, were unfortunately consumed in the conflagration.

The biggest victim of the flames was one of the most important and well-known historic sites in the area; the corduroyed wood trestle on Gunflint Lake. I’ve mentioned this spot before, as it was one of the greatest legacies of the Gunflint and Lake Superior Railroad. It was constructed sometime around 1904-1905 and was used by the railroad to climb the very steep ridge on the south side of Gunflint Lake.

The elevation change from where the railroad passes Camp 4 on the lake (1543 ft.) to where it crests the ridge is nearly 200 feet. Logging lines typically did not want to expend large amounts of capital on construction as they are generally temporary in nature. Therefore, the Pigeon River Lumber Company had to build something that was cheap but functional; the structure they designed was simple yet ingenious. They began the ascent nearly a kilometre to the east, just south of Camp 4 by climbing a ridge that parallels the lake. Upon reaching the Crab River, which spills over the big ridge to form Bridal Falls, the line turned south. A lengthy rock cut was blasted alongside the river the lower the grade, but there was still a sizable chasm that needed to be spanned. Rather than build a trestle or rock embankment, the engineers simply stacked logs (presumably non-valuable species) in a corduroy fashion until they had the correct angle and topped it gravel. The grade was atrocious, somewhere from six to ten percent (two percent is considered bad for a railroad), which necessitated the use of a special Shay locomotive to negotiate it. However, it was a sight to behold; a narrow embankment of logs, little more than ten feet wide, towering some twenty to twenty-five feet above the ground and covering more than four hundred feet.

G&LS Corduroy Trestle, August 1997.

G&LS Corduroy Trestle, August 1997.

G&LS Corduroy Trestle, August 1997.

I saw the corduroy trestle during my first visit to the G&LS back in 1997 and was amazed at how well it had aged. I am glad that I had the opportunity and that I documented it as well (watch the video here). The 1999 blowdown caused some damage to it, but it was the fire that sealed its fate. It ripped through the area, scorching some spots and leaving others untouched. The corduroyed logs caught fire, the flames smoldering deep inside the stack of logs for months afterwards. The Forest Service hoped the winter would extinguish the embers, but it continued to flare, even buried in snow (read a story here). There was no other option than to dynamite the structure to put out the last vestiges of the fire; the great corduroy trestle which had endured for more than 100 years (and no doubt would still be around) was forever lost.

Corduroy Trestle burns, Ham Lake Fire, May 2007. (T. Kaffine/USFS)

Article from the Cook County News-Herald on the trestle, March 2008.

With all the excitement of the past month, I haven’t really had any time to do railway stuff. I can’t remember the last time I even looked at the one of the chapters of the book. In any case, it’s almost hiking season, which has me excited. I’m scheduled to go out next week, so hopefully the weather cooperates until then and the ground continues to dry up. It’s always a gamble going out at this time of the year; it’s the best time to see things in the bush, but it still can be a bit wet. I’m hoping that I can finish locating the route of the G&LS as it winds it’s way south of Gunflint Lake. It’s a long and difficult hike, so my fingers are crossed that everything goes well.

Anyway, it’s time to go. I’ll be back in a few weeks with details from the hike. Until then…

 
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Posted by on May 10, 2017 in Hiking, History, Railway

 

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