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The Scary First Step…

Space, the final frontier. These are the voyages…oops, wrong blog! Or is it? Not very many people have gone into space, but most us have done what was described in the opening of Star Trek-venturing into the unknown. And while not quite on the same plane as space exploration, our personal journeys are no less imposing and challenging. As well, these personal experiences can generate just as much angst and stress. But we know that without these experiences, we would not grow and mature as people.

Hey, welcome to 2017 kids! It’s a new year, with new challenges and new opportunities. As usual, things are no less busy than they were in 2016. The school semester is winding down, so there are always a million things going on. Next week we will be into exams and soon thereafter we’ll start all over again with a new semester. Hopefully I’ll be able to manage all the stress without burning out too much.

One of the things that is keep me busy of late is planning our upcoming school trip to Europe. If you read this blog regularly, you’ll know that I’ll be leading 23 students to the Netherlands, Belgium and France for the 100th anniversary commemorations of the Battle of Vimy Ridge in April. We’ve been planning this for nearly 3 years now and it’s hard to believe it’s almost here. I just received our flight information, which makes it all too real. Things are going to get a little crazier as we move closer to our date of departure. You can read more about the trip here.

Beny-sur-Mer Canadian War Cemetery, March 2014.

Beny-sur-Mer Canadian War Cemetery, March 2014.

I guess I would be remiss if I didn’t say something about the weather, which is one of my usual things to rant about. So how has the weather been Dave? Well, how about crazy as usual? It’s all over the place, ranging from low of -30C last week, to highs above 0 this week. Hey, I’m not complaining, but it makes it awfully difficult to get to use to things when there are thirty degree swings in temperature. No climate change huh?

In a break with what has been happening over the past few months, I have done a lot of work on the railway front recently. My goal for the new year was to begin writing my planned book on the Gunflint & Lake Superior Railroad. I’ve never written a book before; the closest I’ve ever come was my recent article on Leeblain for the Thunder Bay Historical Museum Society’s Papers and Records (which, by the way, is now available online). The whole idea is very scary and very intimidating. I am very much out of my element…research is definitely my forte.

Surprisingly, despite my fears, things have gone relatively well. In just over a week of writing, I’ve managed to complete about a chapter and a half. Now, this is not saying that I’m the next Ernest Hemingway and there are Pulitzer Prizes in my future. All I can do my best and hope it turns out well. I have a lot more to write, plus I still have some research and field work to complete. Then I have to convince someone, hopefully the TBHMS, to publish it. I’m not sure when I’ll be finished, but I already have another project lined up.

Speaking of the Gunflint & Lake Superior, I’ll have to take a break from my writing next week to deliver a lecture at the Thunder Bay Museum on this topic. It will be the Canadian debut of this presentation and there appears to be a number of people planning to attend. Hopefully it will generate interest in the book and facilitate its publication.

Anyway, I better go. It’s still early and I can get some more writing done. I’ll be back in a few weeks with all the latest news. Until then…

 
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Posted by on January 18, 2017 in History, Railway, Research, Writing

 

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How to shred your legs the easy way

Oh, did you come here looking for leg workout information? Ya, well you’re in the wrong place my friend. But you mentioned shredding your legs didn’t you? Yes I did, but you didn’t think I was being figurative did you? I was being quite literal; when I say shredding your legs, I mean precisely that. Say what Dave? Yup, I mean beat the crap of them until you can’t lift them, abuse them until you’re cramping up in agony shredding. Why the hell would anyone do that you ask? Well, you’ll need to keep reading to find out.

So here we are at the end of November; where did the month go? That means we’re less than a month away from Christmas…craziness! Before I know it ole’ St. Nick will be coming down the chimney with his bag full of gifts. Unfortunately there is still a ton of things that need to get done before that day, particularly with work. I still haven’t caught up on all my marking from football season and I know it will take a big push to ensure I don’t have too much to take home over the break.

Now speaking of Christmas, I think this year we’ll have a white one for sure. Last year it was in serious doubt, only saved by a few dumps within days of the big event. Our weather has once again been very bizarre. The first half of November was gorgeous, with temperatures many times in the double digits. It was so good, I decided to go on a hike along the railway in the middle of the month. The temperature reached 16C and I was soaked in sweat by the time I was done. Just ridiculous for November! However, it was not to last. That hike was on Sunday and by Friday we were on the receiving end of a winter storm. The temperature dropped in the next few days and it was -17C with the wind. Oh Mother Nature, you are a cruel mistress!

November 2016 Temperatures

November 2016 Temperatures

November 18, 2016

November 18, 2016

Well since I mentioned it, I guess I should talk a little about my recent hike along the railway. My railway work has been on the back burner lately, so I was really itching the do something. The weather was fantastic, and the fall had been fairly dry, so I thought why not give it a shot. I have a few areas that I’ve wanted to re-hike in the fall, when the leaves are down and it is much easier to see things. I picked the area around Hillside, which is located between Nolalu and Silver Mountain. Here the railway winds its way along the Beaver (Dam) Creek, crossing it 12 times. Because it’s not easy to get to, there are many remains of the bridges to be found.

My first visit to this area occurred back in that inaugural year of my research on the railway in 1994; I was absolutely stunned by all the remains of the bridges I found. Without Google and any decent maps, I had no idea that the railway had crossed the Beaver Creek 12 times in this 4km section. In some spots, there were just cut-off pilings left, while in one in particular, all the bridge lacked was the decking. I went back to this area in 1995 and then again in 2010. I really wanted to record what was left of those bridges in HD video.

The railway stop at Hillside (milepost 36) was located west of Nolalu, where the railway left the Whitefish River and then travelled along the Beaver or Beaver Dam Creek towards Silver Mountain. In my previous hikes, I had not been able to locate the grade between Highway 588 and the first bridge. With all the leaves down, I picked it up very quickly. South of the road it passes through a nice, but very grown in cutting which lasts almost right to the first crossing.

Cutting, November 2016.

Cutting, November 2016.

When I arrived at the first bridge, I was a little shocked at the damage that had been done to the grade by recent floods. In 2011, 2012 and 2015 the area was hit by some pretty heavy rainfalls, which had washed away sections of the grade and left piles of debris near the bridge sites. You could also see that the water had damaged some of the bridge remains. Despite this, the low water allowed me to get a close examination of the piles.

Bridge I, November 2016.

Bridge I, November 2016.

One hundred metres to the south past another cutting lies what was left of bridge two. These remains had not suffered the same washout damage as the previous bridge, leaving the crossing and piles in excellent shape. This was in great contrast with bridge three, located 250m to the southwest. All that remains of this crossing are a few small piles on the south side of the creek…definitely in the worst condition of the 12 bridges.

Bridge II, November 2016.

Bridge II, November 2016.

As I travelled the 120m from bridge 3 to bridge 4, I came across a neat piece of the railway that I had not seen before. The PAD&W made extensive use of wooden box culverts along the line, a few of which are still functioning. In this case, I came across a large hole that had opened in the middle of the right-of-way. It appears as though the water still flows through it reasonably well, and the western side looks like it is in decent shape.

Culvert, November 2016.

Culvert, November 2016.

Bridge four is another great set of remains, and it this case, the flooding on the creek help to remove debris and growth away from the piles. While they have deteriorated over time, these piles are much more visible than they have been in the past. Past this point, the grade winds it way 160m to the next crossing. Once again this section has suffered a lot from the changing course of the creek and there are a few badly eroded sections. From evidence found at the bridge sites, it must have been a problem back then too. There were spots where rocks had been dumped beside the abutments and at bends to prevent the water damaging the grade.

Bridge IV, November 2016.

Bridge IV, November 2016.

The benefits of visiting this area in the fall was quite evident at bridge five. I can remember a lot of the remains of the piles being obscured by brush and trees. This was not the case this time, with the all of the piles as well as some metal objects being totally visible in the creek. It is interesting to note that a few of the piles, but not all, have been cut off close to the waterline. I wonder why it was done and when?

Bridge V, November 2016.

Bridge V, November 2016.

Bridge six is actually visible from five, as the distance is a scant 40m through yet another cutting. The remains at six are again very good, although clogged with a bit of debris and the northern side has suffered some erosion. I can’t quite remember what this crossing once looked like, but I certainly remember something that I came across in great quantities there.

Bridge VI, November 2016.

Bridge VI, November 2016.

Back in 1994 I became acquainted with the Thorn Apple or Hawthorn tree and what an introduction it was. Sporting 1-3cm thorns, I learned to give them a wide berth, but that wasn’t always possible. They are literally the most painful things I’ve had to deal with in my explorations of the railway. How painful? Well, if 2010 is any indication, extremely painful. That year I had two run-ins with them. The first ironically occurred on my last hike at Hillside, when I didn’t duck enough and ended up with a 1/8” of thorn embedded in my head. Ouch! You think that’s bad, it gets much worse.

Thorn apple, November 2016.

Thorn apple, November 2016.

Weeks later while hiking at Silver Creek (east of Hymers), I somehow was gored by one in the lower calf. Not only was I only halfway through the hike, so I had to hobble back in excruciating pain, but it took weeks for the thorn to work its way out. Turns out I was carrying a ½” fragment and it was such a relief to have it out.

The distance to bridge seven was a bit longer at 190m, but it did pass through a very long and pretty cutting. Hiding beside the grade was a telegraph pole (that I last saw in 1994), which was resting against a barbed-wire clad fence post. What purpose a fence served in that area is unknown, but things were quite different back then. The crossing itself was in decent shape, though again suffering a bit from erosion.

Cutting, November 2016.

Cutting, November 2016.

Beyond this bridge is yet another nice cutting, again harbouring a telegraph pole. This one still had the cross member attached and at least one peg, but I could not find any wire or an insulator. Bridge eight was at one time one of the better-preserved remains in this area, but time has not been kind to it. On the northern side was a nice of piles (or bents) with the top beam still intact. They are all gone now, with just the stubs of the piles remaining. I have no doubt that the floods are mostly responsible for its demise; I can see debris accumulating against it and then finally giving way. Too bad.

Telegraph pole, November 2016.

Telegraph pole, November 2016.

Bridge VIII, July 1995.

Bridge VIII, July 1995.

Bridge VIII, November 2016.

Bridge VIII, November 2016.

The line again passed through a pretty cutting as it travels the scant 40m to bridge nine. The remains here appear to be in decent shape, but it’s clear that the creek has shifted its course substantially. Here you can see more stonework and a scattering of metal objects such as tie plates. South of this crossing, the grade is badly eroded in several spots as it travels the 270m to the next bridge, though I did find a very long strand of telegraph wire.

Bridge IX, November 2016.

Bridge IX, November 2016.

When I first saw bridge ten in 1994, I was in complete awe. This was the bridge I mentioned earlier that was almost completely preserved, just lacking the decking between the abutments. There appeared to be one central set of piles or bents and it was in excellent shape. The reason for its longevity would seem to be the fact that it was located not on the creek, but rather over a seasonal stream that flows down from the ridge above and empties into the creek.

Bridge X, July 1995.

Bridge X, July 1995.

Sadly, bridge ten’s days are numbered. In the past 22 years, both diagonal cross members on the central piles have fallen off and the top beam is badly rotted. The northern abutment has been completely engulfed a large tree, while the southern one is hanging on. I’m glad that I’ve been to document it on several occasions and hopefully it will serve as a great historical record of the railway.

Bridge X, November 2016.

Bridge X, November 2016.

Bridge X, November 2016.

Bridge X, November 2016.

Bridge eleven and twelve are almost equaled spaced apart by nice cuttings, sitting 110m and 120m from the previous bridge respectively. Both are in good shape, though somewhat clogged with debris from the creek. Maybe due to the more remote location, the grade and bridges here have had less human interference over the year (it’s hard to believe that it’s 78 years since it last saw a train).

Bridge XI, November 2016.

Bridge XI, November 2016.

Bridge XII, November 2016.

Bridge XII, November 2016.

As I worked my way back, I could feel my legs beginning to tighten up. By that evening, I was in total agony. It had been a while since my last hike, so I was not in the shape I should have been. My hamstrings and adductors were cramping something fierce, to the point where I could not straighten them and were causing my legs to spasm. No pain, no gain right? In any case, you can view the 2010 footage from Hillside here, as well as the six-part 2016 footage here.

So now that hiking is done for the year, I can turn my attention back to research. My plan in the near future is to start writing parts of my planned book on the Gunflint & Lake Superior Railroad. I am very nervous, since my forte is decidedly research rather than writing. I guess we all have to face our fears and take the plunge at some point, so here’s hoping that it goes reasonably well.

Anyway, I need to move along. As usual there is a million things to get done. I’ll be back soon enough with the latest updates and dumb commentary. Until then…

 
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Posted by on November 28, 2016 in Hiking, History, Railway

 

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Long walks and battle scars!

No, I didn’t walk 500 miles, but I did wear boots…rubber boots that is. I did walk like a man, but definitely not like an Egyptian. It was very hot outside, so I may have well been walking on the sun. It wasn’t after midnight, and I definitely did not walk in a line. See what I’m doing here? Do ya? I know you do.

I’m back kids! I’m sounding a little chipper right now, but if you’ve looked at a calendar lately you’ll know that this isn’t a great time of the year. Yup, it’s almost time to go back to work. Sigh. We can’t stop time, so it is inevitable that the end of August comes around. I’ve already started back into parts of the routine; going in to work, prepping for football, getting materials ready, yada, yada, yada. I’m exhausted after two days and I’m not even officially back…it’s going to be a rough start-up.

I just returned from a family vacation the other day and I’m still in that “I need a vacation from the vacation mode,” which might explain why I feel tired. Jo-Anne and I took the boys to Minneapolis and Wisconsin Dells. In Minnie we made our first visit to Valleyfair, which was great, but not quite the same as Wonderland. The boys enjoyed all the attractions, especially the coasters; dad, not so much.

The second part of the trip took us to the The Dells for the first time. The “Water Park Capital” certainly has a lot of waterparks. We got our fill of water rides, coasters and go carts. The boys’ favourite spot was definitely the wave pool at Mount Olympus called “Poseidon’s Rage.” Every two minutes a gigantic wave comes rolling through the pool; we positioned ourselves at the 3 foot level where the wave would break, pummel us with water and send us flying backward. We spent hours in there and I may have left with a slight concussion.

So since I was away for a bit, I haven’t had railway time lately. However, I did manage to get some in before our trip south of the border. If you remember, I had a presentation scheduled at the Chik-Wauk Museum for August 14th. This was going to be my first full-length lecture on the Gunflint & Lake Superior Railroad, so I was pretty excited. It went well, but the turn out was a bit disappointing. Unfortunately there were several other events coinciding with it that contributed to the lack of bodies in the seats. The good news is that I’m going to be back there next summer with the same presentation and hopefully a bigger audience.

Because I had to go there for the presentation, I decided that I would take the opportunity to do some field work at Gunflint. I booked a night with John and Rose at the Cross River Lodge so we could hike the next day before heading home. What would be different for this hike was the fact that I had a larger entourage; in addition to the boys, my wife joined us as well (with a lot of prodding). I was hopefully going to trace the route of the G&LS along the north shore of Crab Lake, if luck was on my side.

After a nice ride across the lake, we beached the boat south of Bridal Falls. From there we walked to the top of the falls, about 700 metres, which was made a little more difficult by a number of trees knocked down on the trail by recent storms. There we split up, with Jo-Anne and the boys continuing east along the Border Route Trail for 1500 metres to where it intersects with the Crab Lake Trail. They would then take the latter trail south for 900 metres and await my arrival.

In the meantime, I would follow parts of the railroad grade south for 800 metres until I reached Crab Lake. From there, the meeting point at the east end of the lake was more than a kilometre away, the temperature was climbing and there was not a stitch of wind. I had no idea how difficult the walk would be and what the bush looked like.

Turns out, it was quite the mess. The last time I walked the railroad grade in the summer it nearly killed me (not literally)…this time was pretty close. The tall grass made it very difficult to see where you were stepping and there was a lot to trip over. The area was burned by the 2007 Ham Lake Fire and there was already a ton of deadfall on ground. Recent storms pushed many dead, burned trees over, making some areas a nightmare to negotiate.

Thankfully I had success in my goal of following the grade. I did find several spikes and one fishplate along the way, as well as a few examples of rock work beside the lake. There were a few spots where I could not find any traces, but in general I was able to get the route down. I did cut the hike a bit short at the east end of the lake as I was completely exhausted and I could literally feel my hamstrings tightening up on me (walking over all the deadfall tends to do that). I’ll have to try and get that part done at some other time, maybe next year.

Railroad grade along Crab Lake, August 2016.

Railroad grade along Crab Lake, August 2016.

Spike at Crab Lake, August 2016.

Spike at Crab Lake, August 2016.

Railroad grade along Crab Lake, August 2016.

Railroad grade along Crab Lake, August 2016.

Fishplate at Crab Lake, August 2016.

Fishplate at Crab Lake, August 2016.

Railroad grade along Crab Lake, August 2016.

Railroad grade along Crab Lake, August 2016.

Railroad grade along Crab Lake, August 2016.

Railroad grade along Crab Lake, August 2016.

I had kept in radio contact with the family the entire way, so they were waiting for me when I was done. At our reunion, I was greeted by the sight of my wife with a large, bloody gash on her forehead. Apparently she had an unfortunate encounter with a dead tree branch, earning herself a nice cut, or better yet, a “battlescar.” Hey, did I mention that battlescar was my nickname when I was in the army reserves? Obviously a play on my last name, I thought it was an appropriate term for her boo boo.

Hiking injury, August 2016.

Hiking injury, August 2016.

The walk back was tough as we battled through the stifling 31C heat. However it was compensated by the beautiful panorama that we passed beside on the trail. It would be great to visit that spot in the fall as the leaves changed colour; I’ll have to keep this in mind for the future. It was a very productive hike and I am excited to get back to Gunflint in October for another round of field work.

Panorama of Gunflint and North Lakes, August 2016.

Panorama of Gunflint and North Lakes, August 2016.

My next big event to look forward to is the Northern Great Plains History Coneference in St. Cloud, MN on September 17th. I think I’m ready, but my brain so isn’t there right now…too much school stuff to think about. I am sure I’ll be good to go when the time comes, but it all adds to my anxiety. It is going to be a quick trip as well; I leave after school on Friday for the six hour drive to St. Cloud. Hopefully I don’t get in too late, because the presentation is at 9am (cst) after which I need to head back home. What a whirlwind visit!

Anyway, I better go. Way to many things to do right now. I’ll be back in the near future, probably after the trip to St. Cloud. Until then…

 
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Posted by on August 30, 2016 in Hiking, History, Railway, Travel

 

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The Final Countdown

You and I know exactly what you’re doing right now…there’s no use denying it. As you’re reading this, the opening bars to the song by the Swedish band Europe are coursing through your head. Yes, no, maybe? Not a rocker? Could you be thinking about F-14 Tomcats screaming through the sky in the 1980 movie starring a grizzled Kirk Douglas and the USS Nimitz? No? Okay, I guess you’re stumped then. You’ll just have to read on…

So here we are in a new year, 2016. It’s hard to believe that Christmas was a month ago; time continues to whip by. The passing of the holiday season also marked another birthday for me…I’m officially one year older. In my mind I don’t really feel 42, but I’m starting to wonder about my body. It feels as if I’m falling apart at times. I know I’ve written about it before, but it’s as if it’s gotten worse. Aches and pains, a nagging tennis elbow…I’m wondering what else will “break” in the near future.

With January rapidly coming to an end, it means that the current school semester has almost run its course. That, as you should be well aware, brings with it some great news. When this school semester is done, so am I! Words cannot express how excited I am to be on sabbatical until next September. I have a lot planned, both on my own and with my family. My goal is to make each day count as I probably won’t have an opportunity to do this again.

Since I brought up my sabbatical, I guess I should talk about a little about what I’ll be doing while I’m off work. My whole intention when I took this leave was to spend most of it working on railway stuff. I do have a few other things on the agenda, such as a nice cruise with my family, but the majority of my time will be dedicated to that pursuit. I have had to modify some of my plans, particularly scrapping a trip to Library and Archives Canada in Ottawa, but that’s the way things go.

Well, what exactly will you be doing Dave? Now that you asked, there’s quite a number of things on my list, but I’ll stick to stuff in the immediate future. Since February is pretty booked up with a football clinic in Minneapolis, a football tackling clinic and our cruise, I’m mostly focused on research. I’ll be visiting the Lakehead University Archives, the Thunder Bay Museum and the Thunder Bay Public Library.

I also have a whole bunch of organizing to do, as there’s a pile of copies that need to be filed in their appropriate folder. I’ve managed to get a little investigating in over the last month and that has led to quite a bit of new information accumulating. If you missed it, I also managed to get a few new videos up on YouTube, the first in more than a year. You can check them out here and here.

To be filed, January 2016.

To be filed, January 2016.

At some point next month I’ll begin work on a project that has been kicking around for a few years. Back in 2014 I was contacted by a professor at Minnesota State University who was interested in the life of John Paulson, the mysterious man behind the iron mine near Gunflint Lake. We spoke about possibly doing a paper, and that has also morphed into a presentation at the Northern Great Plains History Conference in St. Cloud, MN in September. I’m not sure how that’s going to work, since the conference is smack in the middle of my busiest time of the year; I’ll have to do some creative maneuvering for sure.

Anyway, I should wrap things up. For the record, the final countdown is 7 days folks! I’ll be back soon enough with more news. Until then…

 

 

 

 
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Posted by on January 26, 2016 in History, Railway, Research, Writing

 

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It’s beginning to look a lot like…spring?

Well, it’s that time of the year isn’t it? The Christmas season is upon us once more! I have always loved Christmas; the sights, the sounds, the smells. The lights are up (well, seeing as how some don’t come down, that’s kind of a given), the trees are decorated (mostly, since my wife has decided this year to go back to a real conifer in the living room and we need to go get one) and the shopping list is nearly done. Soon Jo-Anne will be in baking mode and filling the freezer with yummy treats…which, despite being delicious, I need like a hole in the head. The Christmas break is only 7 school days away and the boys are getting excited for the big day (though I think this is the last Christmas Santa will be coming for Ethan…I think he’s figured it all out). Family, food and snowy scenes are what it’s all about…err, maybe not the last one in 2015!

So it’s a couple of weeks before Saint Nick arrives and as you can tell its not looking very Christmasy outside. I guess I shouldn’t complain, as there could pile a snow on the ground and 30 below. It doesn’t feel the same though with above zero temperatures and green grass (it was +4C today). We are expecting a little snow before the 25th, but I don’t think it will be all that much. It’s “supposed” to be a milder winter this year with a strong El Nino in the Pacific, but that’s still to be seen.

December 6, 2015

December 6, 2015

December 2015 Forecast

December 2015 Forecast

School is winding down as we head toward the break, and it’s none to soon. I’m pooped! It’s just been such tiring few months. Besides, it’s around that time that the kids (including my own) are starting to get a little squirrely. Everyone needs a little time away from the ‘ole bricks and mortar here on Selkirk Street to recharge the batteries and come back refreshed in the new year.

Speaking of being tired, I don’t think I ever recovered from the end of football season. When I last wrote we were heading into the second round of the playoffs against Hammarskjold. We didn’t come out of the game with a victory, but it was probably our best effort all year. My defense only gave up 180 yards of offense and one touchdown. We drove to their 20 yard line at the end of the game down by 2 points, but unfortunately ran out of time before we could try for a field goal. We have upwards of 25 players returning for next year, so it should be a good squad on the field for the 2016 season.

One of the reasons I’m looking forward to the Christmas break is that it puts me that much closer to the end of the semester and the beginning of our sabbatical from work. It has been a very challenging few months for my wife and I, so we are definitely looking forward to the time off. We will be taking the boys on a cruise toward the end of February, which I am sure they will really enjoy. I’ve started making some plans as to what I will do when I am off and the list is starting to become fairly long…hopefully I have time to fit everything in!

I’ve been so busy with other things that I have not done a lot of work on railway related stuff lately, but that will change soon. I did spend some time in the last few weeks doing some research on the internet, which as usual turned up a few good nuggets of information. One of the big projects I have on tap for the break is to start transcribing the material in the Arpin Papers from my two visits to the Cook County Museum this past summer into the computer file I created last year. It is a bit of a laborious task, especially since the text of the documents can be hard to read and there are nearly 300 pages (or more correctly 300 photographs of pages) to go through. It will definitely take some time to compete.

Something that I’ve been giving a lot of thought to recently is when I will make time for railway research during my sabbatical. The whole reason for this leave from work was to do research on the railway; I’ve had to curtail some of my plans due to financial and time limitations, but I hope to get in as much as possible. Visits to the Thunder Bay Public Library to go through microfilms is a given, as much as it will pain my eyes to do so. I’m trying to figure out a good time to get to Chicago and La Crosse, Wisconsin to go through files related to the Pigeon River Lumber Company and the Gunflint & Lake Superior Railroad. It’s just a matter of timing more than anything else, as I need to fit it in between our cruise and my brother’s wedding in early May.

As well as travelling for research, I also need to figure when I’m going to make it out for some field work. Ideally, I’d like to be at Gunflint in early May, before the trees get too leafed out. The big question is exactly when and for how many days? I have my usual fall trip already booked and hopefully the weather will be as cooperative as it was this year. That leaves the summer and possibly more archaeological work at the site of Camp 4. However, that will all depend on the folks at the Forest Service and if they can arrange another round of field school with the University of Minnesota-Duluth. I’m sure everything will fall into place once we get into the new year.

Well, I guess I should go. I have a stack of marking that needs some attention before the break gets here. I’ll try to post again after Christmas with some updates. Until then…

 
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Posted by on December 9, 2015 in History, Railway, Research, Writing

 

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You win some, you lose some.

Well, it’s pretty much the story of life isn’t it? I think all of us have experienced this at various points during our lives. The ups and downs are all part of the journey and make it all that much more interesting. It can take on many different forms, whether it be about our relationships, careers, school or sports, it doesn’t matter. In this case, I’m referring to something a little different, but when aren’t I? Now that I’ve peaked your interest (or maybe not), I can blather on about a bunch of other stuff first.

So, here we are at the end of June. Despite my best intentions to write more often, it’s unfortunately been over a month since my last post…I guess there are too many other things to preoccupy my time. That means I have a lot to catch up on.

The end of June means that we are days away from the end of the school year. In my case, it’s technically down to one day; in reality I’m on the clock until Saturday, but that’s a story for later. As I’ve stated repeatedly in the past, this year has been a complete blur. The years seem to go by faster and faster. I can’t believe I’m almost done my 17th year of teaching at St. Patrick…geez I’m getting old! With my upcoming semester off, I only have 12.5 years left of teaching. Never mind the year, my life is turning into a blur!

On Thursday I’m forsaking the last couple days of school to travel with the football program to the University of Minnesota-Duluth team camp. We have 25 players heading down with us and as usual it should prove to be a fantastic experience. UMD Head Coach Curt Weise and his staff put on an amazing event for players and coaches alike. The weather is even supposed to cooperate for us while we are there!

With all this talk about the end of school and football trips, we must be heading into summer. Thank Jesus! Yes, I know, poor teacher; life must be rough with all the holidays we get. The fact of the matter is I’m tired and burnt out. It’s not easy teaching teenagers…or any kids for that matter. I know what it’s like being at home all day with my boys and I can’t imagine having them plus another 20 or more for 5 days a week. I’d need to take up drinking! In any case, the time to decompress will be nice and I’ll be able to spend some time with the family (and some me time too).

My railway time lately has been taking a beating with all the other stuff going on, but I hope to change that soon. With the end of the school year, I’ve already planned my first research session of the summer for next week. Last year I spent a whole day at the Cook County Museum in Grand Marais looking through the Arpin Papers, which are the records of Daniel J. Arpin, president of the Pigeon River Lumber Company. I managed to examine four of the books, which at 500 pages per book made for an interesting day. There are still a number of volumes to look at, so I imagine it will take multiple trips to finish it all. I’m sure I’ll be bug-eyed by the end, but I know there will be a lot of great information to come from it.

The beginning of summer of vacation means that I’ll have more time to spend doing field work which will make me immensely happy. At the end of my upcoming trip to Duluth I have a meeting scheduled with all the principals involved in the July exploration of Camp 4. Hopefully we can formulate a good plan to maximize our time in the area. In the meantime, I have a few other hikes on the books along the PAD&W and G&LS to tide me over.

My last trek into the outdoors occurred at the end of May and is reflected in the title of this blog. I was very excited to visit a an unexplored portion of the Gunflint & Lake Superior Railroad, but unfortunately it did not pan out as I expected. One of the biggest mysteries surrounding this little logging railroad is how far it extended into the Minnesota wilderness. It’s route from the PAD&W across the border and 4.5 kilometres to the ridge on the south shore of Gunflint Lake is very well documented. The next kilometre from the ridge to Crab Lake is a little more sketchy but generally known; it is here where the questions begin. According to statistics, the G&LS reached its maximum length in 1907-1908 at nearly 5.5 miles (far short of its planned 30 miles). That means there could have been another 4 kilometres of track beyond where it reached Crab Lake. Where the track was located and how far it extended toward Whisker Lake is unknown.

So my plan was to drive up the Gunflint Trail as far as Loon Lake and then go north to the Crab Lake Trailhead of the Border Route Trail. This access trail extends some 3 km from Loon Lake to Crab Lake and then another 1.5 km to where it meets the Border Route Trail. I would walk and the boys would ride their bikes to where the trail passes between Crab and Whisker Lakes and at that point try and locate any traces of a railroad grade. I hoped my new metal detector would locate any spikes that had been left behind when the rails were removed.

It took us about an hour to reach our destination; along the way I periodically swept the trail with the detector to see if there were any traces of a rail line along the south shore of Crab (I’m pretty convinced that this trail was indeed built in 1936 during a forest fire). At the east end of Crab and on toward Whisker, I swept around with the detector but nothing really turned up. Sometimes you can hype things up too much and end up disappointing yourself. I guess I just assumed I’d get there, find a whole bunch of spikes and see a clearly defined right of way. Most likely if the railroad did extend this far it was a temporary affair and there was not a lot of effort put into the construction of the grade. It’s not that I am giving up, but I’ll have to reload and rethink my strategy. Maybe continuing to follow the grade east from where it meets Crab might help me connect the dots. In any case, it was a nice hike and I got to spend some time with the boys. You win some, you lose some!

Border Route Trail, May 2015.

Border Route Trail, May 2015.

Border Route Trail, May 2015.

Border Route Trail, May 2015.

Whisker Lake, May 2015.

Whisker Lake, May 2015.

Border Route Trail, May 2015.

Border Route Trail, May 2015.

Border Route Trail, May 2015.

Border Route Trail, May 2015.

Border Route Trail, May 2015.

Border Route Trail, May 2015.

Anyway, it’s time to move on. I should be back shortly (I know, I say that all the time) with more news and photos. Until then…

 
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Posted by on June 23, 2015 in Hiking, History, Railway, Research, Writing

 

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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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Digging for Treasure

So we’ve all done it, or at least imagined ourselves doing it. I guess it’s the allure of finding something exciting, or maybe it’s the whole process of discovery. Admit it, we’ve all fancied ourselves being like Indiana Jones, probably without all the people trying to kill us or all the gross snakes and bugs and stuff. Especially the spiders…I hate spiders! In any case, few of us get to actually do anything like that, and besides, archaeology is not anywhere near what it is portrayed in the movies. I’m not one, unless you could the railway archaeology I do, but I do have an idea of what goes on. It generally involves a lot of research and tons of careful, painstaking excavation in the hopes of finding some small artifacts…no Holy Grails or Arcs of the Covenant unfortunately! So where am I going with this? I guess you’ll have to read on.

I know that it’s been a while since I last wrote, but as usual, I’ve been rather busy. It wasn’t my intention to go this long between posts, but it kinda snuck up on me. We’re now just over a week into February and it’s amazing how quickly time is going by. Five more weeks and it will be March break…hopefully with some nice “spring” weather to go along with that, unlike the last few years.

With February comes a new semester and new kids. Things seem to be going well so far and it appears I have some nice kids in my classes. I have Grade 12U History again, along with the Grade 10 AP History and Grade 12U Geography online, which is a nice, little mix. As good as things are, I’m already looking ahead to next year at this time. Although not as bad as last year, this winter is really starting to drag and I need something to distract me from the monotony.

So what’s happening a year from now that’s so exciting? No work, that’s what! Yep, one year from now Jo-Anne and I will be on leave from teaching for the entire semester. Seven glorious months of doing whatever I want to do! As much as I love to teach, I have a life outside of the bricks and mortar on Selkirk Street and I plan to exercise it to the fullest. Although we do have a family trip in the works for February, the main reason for me taking this leave was to work on the railway.

Since I began researching the PAD&W way back in 1994, I realized that I would not be able to fully complete my work without a visit to the National Archives in Ottawa. The trick has always been trying to find first the money, and then the time to get there, so I figured that this would be one of the best ways to accomplish this task, and I’d also have time to do some writing and field work.

I’ve also got a couple of other side trips planned for next year. I’d really like to get a book done on the little Gunflint and Lake Superior Railroad, which has become quite a fascination for me. The US National Archives repository in Chicago hopefully has some files pertaining to the customs operation at Gunflint I’d like to sift through since I cannot find that data anywhere else (unlike here in Canada). There are also some personal letters belonging to Pigeon River Lumber Company VP Frank Hixon located at the University of Wisconsin-La Crosse that might prove valuable. Should make for an interesting road trip, since I’ve been to neither place.

Speaking of the G&LS, I’ve been keeping myself busy of late with more research. I spent an afternoon before New Years at the Thunder Bay Museum looking through some of their files, which yielded a few valuable leads (one of which I’ll mention later). I’ve also spent a bit of time digging on the Internet, which as usual answers some questions and raises a whole pile more. However, this is why I love this type of work; the excitement of the hunt and the satisfaction of making discoveries!

Even though it’s only February, I’m already anticipating the arrival of spring so I can get into the field to do some hiking. I’ve got a lot planned for this year, so hopefully the weather cooperates. I’d like to get out to the G&LS in early May, but that will all depend of how quickly the lake ices out. The past few years it has been very late due to the cold winter, which doesn’t really help me out. I want to make as many day trips as I can during the summer, and I already have the fall trip on the Thanksgiving long weekend booked.

During my Christmas break research I came across some information in one of the files describing some “finds” that were made at the Camp 4 (logging camp of the PRLC) site in the 1970’s or before. I passed along that information to my contacts at the US Forest Service who I know had done a cursory examination of the camp a few years ago. I’ve looked around site a bit over the years, but I haven’t done anything detailed other than examining the Shay line shaft located on the beach. That will change however.

This past week I was invited by the USFS to be a bit of a “historical adviser” for some exploratory work that will take place there this July. The digging will be done by the USFS in conjunction with archaeology students from the University of Minnesota-Duluth. I am very excited to be a part of this research, particularly since I am a historian and have never seen any type of archaeological work carried out. This is the reason why I’d like to get to Gunflint in early May so I can try and identify some potential sites for the experts. I’ll be sure (as usual) to report on everything that happens.

Camp 4 building site, Gunflint Lake, October 2014.

Camp 4 building site, Gunflint Lake, October 2014.

Camp 4 beach, Gunflint Lake, October 2014.

Camp 4 beach, Gunflint Lake, October 2014.

Anyway, I better run. Lots of things to do. I’ll be back soon enough with more news and updates. Until then…

 

 
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Posted by on February 10, 2015 in Hiking, History, Railway, Research, Writing

 

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He’s almost here!

Who? You know silly! He shows up every year around this time; the big, fat, jolly guy! Can we say fat anymore…is that too politically incorrect? Metabolically challenged better? Maybe he’s like the guy from the Rudolph animated show that gains like a pile of weight for December 25-“eat papa eat, no one likes a skinny Santa!” In any case, we’ll be eagerly anticipating his arrival at our house; I’m sure the boys will be on the Santa Tracker this afternoon watching his progress.

The Christmas season has brought with it a welcome respite from work; it has been an insanely busy year since September. Every year I say how much busier it has been compared to the previous year and this time it was no different. I’ve already been able to spend some time relaxing and hanging out with the family and I look forward to doing more of that during the next couple of weeks.

One of the things keeping me occupied during the fall was football, and this year I received a very special surprise when the season ended. On November 19 a very unusual email (and tweet) showed up in my inbox; I had been selected as one of the ten finalists for the NFL Canada Youth Coach of the Year. I was totally shocked…I didn’t even know I was nominated! Turns out one of my fellow coaches, Shaun Berst, wrote a very flattering email that helped me earn the nod. In the end I was not the winner ($5000 for your football program), nor one of the two runners up, but I was honoured to be one of the finalists nonetheless. I coach because I enjoy it and try to make a difference our youth. Besides, in a hockey crazy town like Thunder Bay, it’s nice to get people thinking about some other sports for a change!

On the field, October 2014. (J. Mirabelli Photography)

On the field, October 2014. (J. Mirabelli Photography)

In other school related news, the pieces are beginning to fall into place for our 2017 trip to Europe. From our first student meeting in early October to now, we have come a long way in a short period of time. There are now 21 students enrolled on the trip, with a few more on a waiting list. We are hoping that our tour company, EF, can land us a larger bus so we can take those extra few students with us. Even though we are more than 800 days away from the trip, the excitement is building. Our tour will bring us together with thousands of other high school for this monumental event in Canadian history.

So with things having returned somewhat to normal, I’ve been trying to get back to some railway related matters. Interestingly enough, I’ve received a couple of emails in the last week that have helped me with that endeavour.

The first was a tweet rather than an email, but important nonetheless. The anniversary of Alexander Middleton’s birthday, who was the chief engineer and briefly president of the PAD&W, sparked some interest in his native Scotland. A number of back and forths later I had some new information about Middleton’s past before he began work on the railway.

A few days later I received another inquiry, this time related to my work on Leeblain. There is very little information about what occurred during its existence, but I may have gained a little more insight. The only know person to live at Leeblain was one Adolphe Perras, who previously operated a hotel in Port Arthur. The email I received from a lady in Winnipeg, who is descendant of Perras, has me looking in some new directions and might even lead to a photo of him.

While I’m away from school for a few weeks, I’m going to try and get back to some work on the Gunflint and Lake Superior Railroad. I still have quite a number of files (rather photos) from the Arpin Papers to transcribe, which I’ve started to pluck away at again. I’ve done a little digging on the internet, but I’m planning to get to the Thunder Bay Museum next week to do a little “ole fashioned” research.

Anyway, I gotta run, as there as is a lot to do before the big day. I wish everyone a Merry Christmas and joyous New Year. I’ll be back in 2015 with more news and ramblings. Until then…

 

 
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Posted by on December 24, 2014 in History, Railway, Research, Travel

 

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