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Older, and unfortunately dumber!

Yep, that about sums it up! Older? Well, I am going to be 40 this year, but it is more of a reflection of the fact that I can’t do everything I once did effortlessly like I did in my 20’s. Dumber? How can you be dumber Dave? You are almost 40, right? With age comes experience and knowledge! Yes it does, but it doesn’t necessarily prevent me from being a bonehead. One can still be *gasp* middle-aged and still be astoundingly dumb…case in point. So, how were you a dummy Dave? Please, read on.

So summer is now in full swing, as we are now into the third week in July. The weather has been all over the place; one day hot, one day rainy…it just can’t make up its mind. Yesterday was just plain stupid hot. Stupid hot you say? Well, it hasn’t been anywhere close to that temperature all summer, then all of sudden it is 40+ Celsius with the humidity. Craziness! Hopefully this means things will start to settle down, especially with all the rain we’ve been receiving lately. The rivers and creeks are high, which makes my hikes a little more challenging (as mentioned later).

As I write this I am sitting in a hotel room in Sault Ste. Marie…Ontario. The family and I are on the first leg of our trip to Toronto and we’ll be in the centre of the universe by tomorrow afternoon. The boys are very excited for the trip; first to see their uncle, and second to experience all the cool things to see in the Toronto area. We’ve never come here as a family, and I have not been to southern Ontario since 2006.

Day One was fine, though eight hours behind the wheel was a bit tiring. I do love the drive though; the scenery is spectacular! What wasn’t exciting were the constant stops for construction. If you’ve never heard this one, the joke is that there are two seasons in Canada-winter and road construction! I’ll have more to say about our trip in my next post.

Things have been busy on the railway front. I did get out for a hike last week, which was much more successful than the previous week (which I’ll talk about shortly). We’re also slowly putting everything together for History Day, which is less than a month away. There are so many little things to plan and prepare. I’ll put up a copy of the poster once it’s ready.

Obviously the highlight of the past week was my hike at Leeper (mile 31 of the railway). Where is Leeper you ask? Well, it doesn’t really exist anymore, other than a road that runs off Highway 588. It is located about halfway between Hymers (mile 28) and Nolalu (mile 34). It is marked by several crossings of the Whitefish River, the remains of which are still very visible. I was last there in 2009, but I didn’t shoot any video, which was the reason for my re-visit.

The trick for this hike was going to be where to start. Leeper was located on the south side of the Whitefish River, just east of a crossing of the river. It has rained quite a bit lately, so I figured it would be a challenge to get across without getting wet (I hate walking with wet boots). So I decided to park north of the river, near the old highway crossing (the new bridge is about 85m east of the old one). From there I would walk to where the first bridge was located; what I didn’t take into account was how far away that bridge was. Thankfully there was an old road that brought me right to that spot after a 430m walk.

Finding bridge remains is always a challenge due to the shifting course of the Whitefish. It has moved quite a bit since the railway was built through the area in 1890, obliterating some sections of the railway. The crossing at Leeper is no exception. There are pilings and parts of the abutment in the west bank, but I cannot even find where the eastern side might have been. I have looked around on several occasions, but have come up empty. Right now the bridge looks to be about 60m long, but in actuality it was probably shorter than that.

Bridge crossing, Leeper, July 2013.

Bridge crossing, Leeper, July 2013.

Bridge remains, Leeper, July 2013.

Bridge remains, Leeper, July 2013.

Immediately west of the western abutment (about 50m), I encountered the first effects of the river erosion. The river has shifted again, but at some point after 1938 it washed out a 75m stretch of the rail bed. These detours make hiking a bit challenging, as picking up the grade on the other side isn’t always easy.

It was at this point that I realized that I had not calibrated my GPS for the altitude of Leeper station (I like to try to plot the rise in elevation of the grade). I didn’t have the number on me (it’s about 1000ft), so I thought I’d be smart and call my wife for it. Her reaction was quite interesting; after explaining what I wanted her to do, she answered with “why don’t you look it up yourself?” She did give me the data, and as I hung up I stared blankly at my iPhone in my hand. It took a few seconds to realize that I called my wife on a device that has a connection to the internet. I thought, “man, you’re a dummy!’

The major feature of the grade in this area (other than the bridges), are the near constant cuttings that are present. The railway skirts along the south side of a large ridge and the grade is cut into the side of that ridge. It makes for a very well defined, picturesque area.

Rail bed, Leeper, July 2013.

Rail bed, Leeper, July 2013.

Almost 500m past the previous washout, I arrived at yet another area of erosion, this one for about 90m. This area had fallen victim to the hydraulic effects of the river, but it was very evident that the railway engineers were concerned about this along the whole section. I passed several areas where rock fill had been placed at the bottom of embankments and it was clear that the river had once passed alongside.

Erosion, Leeper, July 2013.

Erosion, Leeper, July 2013.

One hundred and eighty metres past the erosion I encountered an approximately 20ft creek that appeared to have been ravaged repeatedly by torrents of water; what remained of the bridge or culvert was displaced and pushed downstream several feet. Again I had to fuddle around trying to pick up the grade on the west side.

From here the railway continues another kilometre to the second river crossing, dominated by very long cuttings and embankments. In many places the grade opens up and is very easy to walk along. In my head I thought about how it would have looked when the trains were running and how pretty it must have been alongside the river. It would make an awesome hiking trail!

Cutting, Leeper, July 2013.

Cutting, Leeper, July 2013.

Cutting, Leeper, July 2013.

Cutting, Leeper, July 2013.

Cutting, Leeper, July 2013.

Cutting, Leeper, July 2013.

Cutting, Leeper, July 2013.

Cutting, Leeper, July 2013.

One of the other reasons why I wanted to return to this section was that it contains a few well-preserved telegraph poles. I had found two on my previous hikes and I was hoping to find more. Locating them is a bit of a challenge, especially given their age (it’s been 75 years since the line was abandoned). I found the remains of a few more, but they were both in very bad shape.

Telegraph pole, Leeper, July 2013.

Telegraph pole, Leeper, July 2013.

Telegraph pole, Leeper, July 2013.

Telegraph pole, Leeper, July 2013.

My original intention for the hike was to push about 500m past the second river crossing to the third crossing, but my efforts were thwarted by the river. It was much higher than I expected (higher than it was in 2009 and that was high) and would make any attempt to ford very dangerous. I’ll have to cover this section when I do part two of the hike, this time coming in west from Nolalu…I can’t wait!

1960 Ontario Geological Survey.

1960 Ontario Geological Survey.

Anyway, time to wrap up. I have another long day tomorrow and I need my rest. I’ll be skipping a post due to the trip, so I’ll be back in a few weeks. Until then…

 
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Posted by on July 17, 2013 in Hiking, History, Railway, Travel, Writing

 

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Can’t win for trying!

We’ve all been there. Trying hard to do something and it’s just not working out the way you want it to. Oh the frustration! What is going on you ask? Well I’m sitting here watching my eLearning website spin its wheels and refuse to load. This is supposed to be my eLearning period, and I’ve got a ton of stuff to do since I’ve been out of the school the past couple of days, but I cannot get into the Learning Management System. Grrrr! I’ve written in the past about technology and how great it is, when it works. And right now, it’s not working for me. I guess it gives me time to write my blog, but that’s not really what I need to be doing right now.

So things are humming along as we push into the end of March and the Easter break. I’m back to 100%, which has made dealing with all the usual craziness a bit more bearable. It’s hard to believe that it’s almost April…where does the time go? Soon it will be mid-semester, and as the weather warms it will be harder to keep the kids focus. Hang on and keep pushing forward right?

The railway has been very busy yet again, with what seems like a million and one things going on. One of the biggest pieces of news from the past week was the completion of the new logo for the Silver Mountain Historical Society. We are truly excited! The logo allows us to move forward and really begin to market and promote the society. You can read more about this exciting event on the SMHS blog.

Silver Mountain Historical Society logo.

Silver Mountain Historical Society logo.

Progress continues to be made in our attempts to preserve the sites at Leeblain, albeit at a much slower pace than I would like. I never worked on anything of this nature, and certainly never worked through government bureaucracy which can be a tad bit frustrating. I am sure things will move ahead in the coming months, but am anxious to get some safeguards in place before the area is even further disturbed.

Now speaking of Leeblain, I did receive some great news from the publication committee at the Thunder Bay Historical Museum Society. They have agreed to publish my article on Leeblain! I could not be more thrilled at this news…I am finally going to be published! I can then truly call myself a “historian.” Not that I am all about the title or anything; to me it’s more about the acknowledgement of all the work I’ve done on the railway over the years.

To go along with the article, I will also be presenting a lecture at the Thunder Bay Museum in September. I’ve actually been asked to kick-off the 2013-2014 lecture series…what a great honour! I’ve waited a long time to be able to speak at the museum, to be able to share the work I’ve done on the railway. I’ll be sure to write all about it when the time comes.

On Saturday I had the opportunity to head down to Gunflint with the family (not that I needed an excuse anyway) to meet with Gunflint Lodge owner and long resident Bruce Kerfoot. I had been looking forward to this for quite some time, as Bruce was away when I did my presentation back in February. Growing up on the lake, Bruce’s experiences and those of his mother Justine (who was a legend in the area), are important to my research. I really wanted to pick Bruce’s brain!

Back in January Bruce had sent me a map of Leeblain and it had radically changed my understanding of what that town had really been like. Bruce’s explorations and excavations at the site in his younger years revealed more buildings than I knew existed. Then again, all I had to work with was a map that was surveyed in 1911, nearly 20 years after the town was founded. His information has provided me with a wealth of information, and a whole pile of work to do when I next visit the area.

My conversation with Bruce also enlightened me to some of the other history of the Gunflint area. He told me about logging camps that I never knew existed! Of most interest to me however, was the information regarding the removal of rails along the Canadian side of the lake. I had come to the conclusion, based on some historical documentation and maps, that the rails west of North Lake had been removed circa 1915. However, Bruce emphatically stated that his parents removed some of the rails, at least to the eastern end of the lake, during World War II. This radically changes my interpretation of how things unfolded with the railway along this portion of the line.

While I was in the area, I did take a few minutes to snap some photos of the railway in Minnesota, particularly the area around the double trestle at Round Lake. It has peaked my interest again, and I’ve decided that I am going to try and get down to that area around the beginning of May to poke around and shoot some new video. Getting exciting for hiking season!

Railway grade, Minnesota, March 2013.

Railway grade, Minnesota, March 2013.

Double trestle area, Minnesota, March 2013.

Double trestle area, Minnesota, March 2013.

Railway embankment, Minnesota, March 2013.

Railway embankment, Minnesota, March 2013.

Anyway, time to wrap up; more to say next week as usual. Until then…

 
 

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Technology sucks!

That’s probably the last thing you’d ever expect to hear from me, as I am a self-professed technology geek. But at times it can and does suck! Case in point: trying to update the maps on my Garmin Auto GPS. Cannot get it to work, even on two different computers. Why? Why? I don’t want to call tech support, I just to plug the f’ing thing in and have it to what it is supposed to do. Is that too much to ask? I guess it is.

Anyway, hey, I’m back! After a much deserved break following four straight days of blogging in the states, its back to the regular Monday ramble. Since it has been about a week and a half, I do have a lot to say; so take a bathroom break, grab a drink and get ready for some literary magnificence!

Okay, so where to start? Well, I last wrote about Day Four in Minnesota and the great time I had on that trip. A few days later, I was immersing myself back into the history of the railway. On Saturday, August 11th owner Shelley Simon was hosting the first ever “History Day” at the historic Silver Mountain Station. The station is the sole remaining significant building left from the railway and dates from 1907.

My journey would be an interesting one that day, since my wife and I were entertaining some friends at camp. My in-laws camp is situated east of Thunder Bay, while Silver Mountain is located to the southwest. I would thus have a 110km drive just to get to the presentation, and unfortunately have to depart prior to the dinner portion of the day-missing the prime rib buffet!

The day was designed to celebrate the history of the railway, the station and its most celebrated occupant, Dorothea Mitchell, the famous Lady Lumberjack. For this event, I would be joined by other historians and authors associated with the area; Elinor Barr, author of her own book on the railway and esteemed historian, Professor Michel Beaulieu from Lakehead University, Canadian best-selling author Elle Andra-Warner and Nolalu-area author Leo Hunnakko. Also present was artist Brian Nieminen, who created a famous painting of the railway for its 100th anniversary. Quite the notable company!

The social part of the day lasted from 3 until 6, which gave me an opportunity to chat with people at event. I made some good contacts and had some great conversations. I even got a chance to say a “few” words (you know my issue with brevity)! More importantly, I was able to spend some time Michel Beaulieu and Elle Andra-Warner. Elle is a fellow member of the Thunder Bay Historical Society and on the publications committee. This may help with my plans to get published and may even lead to another speaking engagement!

Speaking at History day, August 2012.

All in all it was a great day and I am glad I was invited to participate. I think that Shelley has plans to make this an annual event and I am certainly excited about the 2013 edition. The gears are already turning on how I can increase the exposure of my work!

At History Day I had the good fortune to meet a seasonal resident of Whitefish Lake by the name of Rocky McCutcheon. In our conversation, Rocky mentioned that he had explored some of the railway around the lake and we should get together for a hike. So last Friday I loaded up Loki and we drove down to Whitefish for what would prove to be an interesting adventure.

Now one of my objectives for that day was to try to locate, hike and mark the location of the one-time turning wye just east of the lake. Before my planned meeting with Rocky, I decided to stop by the road and quickly take a look at the area where the wye was located. I learned two very important things from that short exploration; the grade was very difficult to navigate in that area and following the wye might prove difficult as the ground there was quite wet.

When I met Rocky at 10:00, the first thing he did was to take me over to Maki’s Resort as he wanted to show me what turned out to be the Whitefish Lake spur. I had no idea this spur was even there. We made our way northeast, and it was apparent that there was something running across the ground toward the lake.

Rocky and I spent some time poking around the area where the west leg of the wye should have been, but I was unable to locate it in the wet, heavy undergrowth. As we returned, we located the junction between the spur and the mainline. We followed the prominent grade toward the lake, finding the remains of a wooden culvert in the process. We then worked our way closer to the lake until we reached a spot where the grade appeared to disappear into the water.

Culvert remains, Whitefish Lake, August 2012.

Rocky then told me that at one point this area had been dry, and the grade probably had crossed what is now a small bay. Sure enough, on the west side we found a continuation of the grade, and we resumed our journey westward. Soon thereafter we made an interesting discovery; a curved rail close to the lake shore. We pulled this roughly 12 foot piece out of the tall grass along with a curved fishplate. The rail was stamped “Cammell Sheffield Toughened Steel 1887.” I had never seen a pre-1890 dated rail, and wondered if it had been placed there. The curved fishplate told me that it was probably an original piece, but the date was baffling. However then I remembered that there was an abortive attempt to build the railway in 1887; was this rail purchased at that time and then left over? We can never be certain, but it is a tantalizing find.

Steel rail, Whitefish Lake, August 2012.

From there we moved on the property of resident Helen Morrison who took us a short distance further to where it looked like a gravel pit had been. When I returned home, I found a reference to the spur and that it was approximately 2250 feet long. Taking into account the section through the bay, the distance we covered from the junction to the gravel pit was about 670 metres, or 2197 feet…that’s pretty remarkable!

It was in conversation with Helen that I learned another interesting piece of information that relates to the events that are happening on Gunflint Lake. Over the last few weeks I have discovered that the grade is no longer owned by the railway, but rather it is now crown land. Helen told me that in the late 70’s the railway grade was offered up for sale. There were some people that did take advantage of that, but others were not aware or decided not to spend the money on the right of way. The big question now is which sections were sold.

From the spur, Rocky and I headed back to the mainline and proceeded to walk most the 930 metres from the junction to where the railway crossed Highway 588. Sections were heavily grown in, but others made for a rather nice walk through the conifers. We were able to locate and mark where the railway crossed the highway and paved the way for another hike west of the road, probably for another 500 metres or so until it reaches some private property?

Rail bed, Whitefish Lake, August 2012.

I’m planning one last hike before the days tick away to the start of the school year (sigh). When I was looking at the document with the spurs, I noticed the 1100 foot one at Leeblain. I’ve never been able to locate it, as it is not marked on the 1911 map of the area. Google Earth to the rescue! After staring at my geographical saviour for a while, I think I have a probable location. So I’m off to Leeblain next week, not that I need extra incentive to go there. The plan is to stay in that one area and hopefully turn up more railway related stuff.

Well, I think 1400 words are good enough for today. On Wednesday I’m off to the states for a week, so my next blog will be from the wonderful city of Minneapolis, Minnesota. The boys are really looking forward to the trip, but it’s sad that it will be the last hurrah of the summer. Anyway, time to go. Until then…

 
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Posted by on August 20, 2012 in Hiking, Miscellaneous, Research, Travel, Writing

 

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Technology: The good, the bad…

The ugly? Haha. I think this title appropriately sums up the week I’ve had and how technology has flavoured it, both positively and negatively.

I always say that technology is a double-edged sword; great when it works and a pain when it doesn’t (I guess so does everyone else). I experienced both, but it’s funny that technology usually picks the worse time to fail. For me it was on Thursday, which was the first day of semester 1 exams. For the last few years I have been using response technology on the multiple choice sections of my exams. While there is some inherent laziness, since I do not have to mark, the “clickers” allow me to analyze the data and use it to improve my teaching/questioning. Last year I switched to a new system, the CPS Pulse by eInstruction. Everything went fine, as did the trial run I did on the Monday before the exam. However, when my period 1 class arrived (Grade 10 Canadian History, Academic/AP split), the program would crash when I tried to activate it. After many restarts and failures, I told the students to go to plan “B” and use the answer sheet. Shortly thereafter, it started working. ????? There were a few choice words muttered to myself but I was glad it was working (worked fine for the most part for the next 2 exams).

On the upside, there were some great things that technology did for me on the research front. I have spoken before about how great the digitization of old books has been and the impact it has had on researchers like myself.  This past week has been a flurry of discoveries, which unfortunately had an impact on the article writing I was supposed to do (sorry Lee). However, I could not resist the temptation to continuing digging, which is clearly more my forte than writing. I began probing a site that I had visited before, but now I’ve realized that there is way more material available than I initially thought. Hathi Trust has been an absolute gold mine of information and I continue to find more and more material (I was just on it prior to writing this and looking up Poor’s and Moody’s Railroad Manuals). You must download each page individually, but that isn’t such a terrible problem since you never really need more than a few pages from each book or article. Everything has not been entirely perfect, as there are a few sources that are not available even in a digital format. Take for example the 1897, Volume 67 issue of Railway News which has some very important information. It cannot be downloaded and the closest library that has copies is in Kansas City (1250km from my house in case you’re wondering). I’ve tried to get a copy from that library, which hopefully works.

The one by-product of all this new research is that it has left me with stacks of paper that needed to be properly filed. They have been accumulating for a few months now and on the weekend I decided it was time to organize it all. I ended up with 21 piles of paper; I couldn’t resist taking a photo. It started me thinking about the time and money I’ve devoted to this project. There are hours on the internet, in the library and in particular tromping through the bush in the heat and bugs doing field work. Cost? I can’t even begin to calculate what I’ve spent on printing, gas and in the “old” days postage and film developing. Some people golf, some people drink…I research a “dead” railway (that’s what my wife calls it). We all have our vices right?

So speaking of this vice of mine, I finally decided to try to complete some of the critical research that needs to be done before I can contemplate any real writing. For years I have been making plans to visit the National Archives of Canada in Ottawa where some of the most important railway files are located. I also need to go back to the Archives of Ontario in Toronto and re-examine some of the material I looked at in 1999. I am very fortunate that my job allows me to take a deferred salary leave and pursue this goal. Therefore, if everything goes smoothly, I will be off from February to September 2016! I know it is a long way away, but I’m sort of excited already. Now the big decision is going to be how many days do I need in each city?

I guess the last thing I will leave off with this week is the fact that there are some really great people who share my interest in the railway. In the past few weeks I have received some awesome pictures of the railway and some of its associated history. First was a picture from Brett showing an aerial view of Trestle Bay on North Lake, where you can clearly see the pilings left from when the 1000 foot bridge burned c.1909. Today it was a series of pictures from Don of the old Bishop’s property also on North Lake. North Lake is a bit of special place for me as it was where I first encountered the railway way back in 1990. The photos showed the old Bishop’s cabin where I stayed on my first moose hunting trip. It also makes me think about how fragile history is and how quickly it moves and changes. Maybe this is what motivates and drives me; just as these gentlemen have shared history with me, I want to share history with others. Until next week…

 
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Posted by on January 30, 2012 in Miscellaneous, Research, Writing

 

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