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

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

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

Results of a snowstorm, March 2016.

Results of a snowstorm, March 2016.

Snowstorm, April 2016.

Snowstorm, April 2016.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Gunflint Narrows, April 2016.

Gunflint Narrows, April 2016.

Bottom end of a switchback, April 2016.

Bottom end of a switchback, April 2016.

Gunflint Lake, April 2016.

Gunflint Lake, April 2016.

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

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

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

 

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Hijacked by the refrigerator!

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

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

Belize temps, February 2016.

Belize temps, February 2016.

Thunder Bay temps, February 2016.

Thunder Bay temps, February 2016.

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

Bye Miami, February 2016.

Bye Miami, February 2016.

Our boat, February 2016.

Our boat, February 2016.

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

Chaak-Tun, February 2016.

Chaak-Tun, February 2016.

Inside Chaak-Tun, February 2016.

Inside Chaak-Tun, February 2016.

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

El Castillo, Xunantunich, February 2016.

El Castillo, Xunantunich, February 2016.

El Castillo, Xunantunich, February 2016.

El Castillo, Xunantunich, February 2016.

El Castillo panorama, Xunantunich, February 2016.

El Castillo panorama, Xunantunich, February 2016.

Xunantunich selfie, February 2016.

Xunantunich selfie, February 2016.

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

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

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

Railway timecard, October 1902.

Railway timecard, October 1902.

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

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

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

 

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Being resilient

Resilience-the ability to recover readily from illness, depression, adversity, or the like; buoyancy. We all are aware of the textbook definition of the word, but what does it really mean? I think that one doesn’t fully comprehend the meaning until you experience a situation that requires it. Life is about ups and downs, which we all go through, but sometimes there are events that completely transform our lives. They often happen when we least expect it and leave us struggling to deal with the fallout. We are either consumed by them or emerge stronger because of them. I hope I am with the latter.

So it’s been a long time since I last wrote…by now you can figure out what has gone on. I won’t get into the details, but it was something tragic and has effected my family a great deal. It was a tough couple of months and things are still difficult. We spent as much time as we could during August at camp as it was a place that brought us some comfort and is somewhere the boys really enjoy being. It’s too bad things are too hectic right now to be out there as it the weather has been so beautiful.

Bass Lake, August 2015.

Bass Lake, August 2015.

Speaking of hectic, it is now October, and I am clearly back at work. It has been a whirlwind since the beginning of September and it’s hard to believe a whole month has already flown by. But I say that all the time, and I also say that it seems like it goes by faster every year. Maybe it’s just that I’m busier each succeeding fall. I don’t know. I know that I am tired..bordering on burnout. Between the stress of our family situation, work and life, I am really exhausted. There is a light at the end of the tunnel though. There are only 4 more months to go until I am on sabbatical from work for a whole semester. Thank Jesus! It is really time for a break…maybe I’m having a midlife crisis.

One of the things keeping me busy is football and it was quite the start to the season. Up to the last couple weeks of summer, there was going to be no football due to labour issues with the government, but that changed very quickly. It was tough turning my brain back into coaching mode. It has been a challenging year so far; we have a lot (a lot) of very enthusiastic kids, but many have never played before so there is a lot of coaching to do. We are currently 1-1 but are improving every week. All teams make the playoffs, so we’ll see how things go from there. I’m also coaching Noah’s team as well, so there are nights that I do not get home until 8pm. Makes for some very long days!

With all that has been going on, things have been very quiet on the railway front. I did manage to do some research in early August at the Cook County Museum in Grand Marais. If you remember I was there last year and again in late June looking through documents pertaining to the Pigeon River Lumber Company. I finally was able to get through all the Arpin Papers, though I have a feeling I’ll need to go back and re-visit them at some point.

Lake Superior, August 2015.

Lake Superior, August 2015.

Arpin Papers, August 2015.

Arpin Papers, August 2015.

Arpin Papers, August 2015.

Arpin Papers, August 2015.

A few weeks ago I had the opportunity to present some of my research at the Northwestern Ontario Historical Assembly which was hosted by the Thunder Bay Museum. I was one of the several historians speaking that day and it was great to hear what other people were up to, in some cases working on related information. It was tough trying to cram everything I had to say in 15 minutes, but I managed. Hopefully this exposure will lead to the possibility of a book in the future…fingers crossed!

So this coming weekend is the Thanksgiving long weekend here in Canada, and as usual, I’ll be spending it in the States. As I mentioned earlier I really need the break and it will be good to spend some quality time with the boys. Hopefully the weather will cooperate as the plan is to get more field work done on the Gunflint and Lake Superior Railroad for my research. It also give me something to write about in my next post!

Anyway, I better get rolling. I have to finish packing for the trip and I need some sleep. I’ll be back very soon with details from the weekend. Until then…

 
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Posted by on October 7, 2015 in Hiking, History, Railway, Research, Writing

 

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And so it continues…

*Sigh* It seems like the more things change the more they stay the same. In my last post I wrote about how bloody cold it was and how tired I was of the weather. Well, guess what? Yup, it’s the same ‘ole story three weeks later. Yes, we did get a little reprieve in there, but come on! This has definitely been the crappiest winter I can remember. Now don’t get me wrong, I did sign up for this (as in I decided to live here), but there’s got to be a limit to it. It hasn’t been as cold as it was at the beginning of the month, but -41C is still flippin’ cold. We better have a kick-ass spring and summer to make up for all the BS we’ve been putting up with. Rant off!

So it’s almost the end of January and that means the end of another semester and the start of a new one. I finished marking all my exams and submitted my reports, so I’m done with the first half of the year. Yay! It’s not that I didn’t like my classes, but after 5 months it’s time for a change; new kids, new classes. A new semester always energizes you a bit, like a breath of fresh air in your sails. Second semester also means that we’re on the downward slide toward June and the end of the school year. Geez, it just keeps going by faster and faster every year!

One of the most exciting parts of moving into February is that we are inching ever closer to the March break Europe trip. One of the students stopped by room last week and said that when we started the countdown it was like 500 and something days before departure. Wow, time has certainly flown by! I am very anxious to go, but as the group leader I always have that bit of nervousness that accompanies a big event like this. The reality I guess is starting to set in. It’s probably just me though, just like I get nervous before every football game. In any case, our EF backpacks and trip water bottles have arrived, so all the little pieces are starting to fall into place. 35 days until we leave!

The craptastic weather we’ve been experiencing over the last month has certainly put a big damper on any outdoor activities one would expect to do in winter. So far I’ve only made it up the mountain twice since Christmas, and haven’t gotten out the last few weekends (see the reason above). I’m hoping that the -14C they are calling for Saturday is warm enough to get out and about, since Sunday is Superbowl Sunday and you know what that means! Yup, it’s time for the annual Superbowl party and I have a million things to do to get ready. It would be nice to squeeze in a little fresh air before I spend the day on Sunday cleaning up and preparing food. This is the first time in a while that I am not cheering for a particular team, since I actually like both Denver and Seattle. Maybe there will be some real football weather for this year’s edition ie. snow and cold!

Snow-obscured Loch Lomond, January 2014.

Snow-obscured Loch Lomond, January 2014.

So I actually have some things to report on the railway front for a change. I have some really exciting news to talk about, but I’ll save that for last. However it started me thinking about writing another article on a railway related topic, so I did spend time doing some research over the weekend. I’d like to write about the Gunflint and Lake Superior Railroad, which was a little logging line built by the Pigeon River Lumber Company in 1903. It connected to the PAD&W at Gunflint Lake and was in operation until 1909. It was very unique in that it was an American railroad that had no connection to any other American railroad; its only link was north through Canada. Very odd indeed.

The president of the G&LS was one Daniel J. Arpin of Wisconsin and I’ve been trying to track down a photo of him for some time. That led me off on a search for the gentlemen who manned the Canadian customs house at Gunflint between 1903 and 1909, Thomas Roberts and Peter Chausse. I’ve mentioned on several occasions that I love to do this type of investigation and see what I can come up with. It can be very frustrating at times, but also great when you make a big discovery. Most of my time was spent trying to scrounge up some pictures, which was fairly unsuccessful. But you never know though, maybe a breakthrough will come at some point.

While I was on the topic of the G&LS, I moved into looking at some maps of the area. Hiking the G&LS is on my agenda for this year, weather permitting, since I haven’t really looked at the Minnesota portion since 1997. It`s really too bad the amazing wood trestle near Bridal Falls is gone, as it was quite the sight to see (it burned in the 2007 Ham Lake Fire and had to be dynamited to put out the fire smoldering inside the logs). When I did walk the railway all those years ago, I did not follow the whole length of the line. The question I need to answer is where did it go from there. Documents suggest that the railway ran down to Crab Lake and then possibly a mile east to Whisker Lake. To help me locate the route, I turned to Lidar.

Gunflint & Lake Superior RR map, International Boundary Commission Map (1929).

Gunflint & Lake Superior RR map, International Boundary Commission Survey (1929).

Top of the G&LS log trestle, August 1997.

Top of the G&LS log trestle, August 1997.

G&LS log trestle, August 1997.

G&LS log trestle, August 1997.

G&LS log trestle, August 1997.

G&LS log trestle, August 1997.

G&LS log trestle during the Ham Lake Fire, May 2007. (T. Kaffine)

G&LS log trestle during the Ham Lake Fire, May 2007. (T. Kaffine)

Remains of the G&LS log trestle, August 2011.

Remains of the G&LS log trestle, August 2011.

Lidar is a remote sensing technology that uses lasers to collect elevation and other data from the ground. It is very useful at finding old railway grades, especially where embankments and cuttings were made as they stand out in the ground around it. It`s not always perfect, especially in wet or low areas where the grade has settled into the ground, but it`s better that nothing. Hopefully it has given me a few clues as to where to look for the G&LS south of Bridal Falls; I guess we`ll find out in the fall when I`m planning to go there!

Lidar image, Gunflint Lake.

Lidar image, Gunflint Lake.

By far the most exciting news from the past week was the publication of my article on Leeblain. Yes, I am now officially an author and historian! It is amazing to see my work in print and out there so people can read what I’ve discovered. Unfortunately things are not all roses though; part of my article is missing from the 2013 edition of Papers & Records. After a bit of digging, we were able to determine that a little technical glitch omitted the last third of my article. However, the Thunder Bay Historical Museum Society has graciously agreed to reprint it in their 2015 issue. Better late than never and maybe if they like my G&LS article, I’ll have two entries for the book!

Leeblain article, Papers & Records.

Leeblain article, Papers & Records.

Anyway, it’s time to run. I’ll be back in the next few weeks with more news…maybe the weather will have warmed up by that time. Until then…

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

 

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