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Happy Frigid Year?

Do you ever wonder why people live where they do? Ya, I know, we can’t really control the place of our birth or where our parents raise us, but it’s interesting nonetheless. Some families have been in the same place for generations, others may have recently moved to a new place and others bounce around regularly. I’ve been in the same place all my life, but my parents were immigrants from Italy. But why here? In my dad’s case, it was all about family, but what about others? Some people hear about our winters and go “why the heck?” like those internet memes that ask, “why do I live where the wind hurts my face?” On the other hand, some places have really nasty insects and animals and I say “ah, no,” just like the internet memes. Fascinating isn’t it?

Happy New Years kids! Hopefully 2018 will be a productive and exciting year. The Christmas break has been a great reprieve and very relaxing. Santa, as usual, was extremely generous to our family. The only thing hanging over my head is the pile of marking that I am struggling to get through before I return to work on Monday. It is very difficult to not procrastinate when all you want to do is anything not work related. So goes the battle!

The only issue during the break has been the detestable weather. What, me, complain about the weather…never! Holy frick it’s been cold! Not the coldest I’ve seen, but the warmest it’s been in the last two weeks is -14C; when you consider that balmy, something is wrong. Nothing like it was this time last year! I guess it could be worse, but it just sucks when you can’t really leave the house because it’s so cold outside. We did a few things, including going to camp for a few hours, but we spent a lot of time indoors. The only thing that makes me feel better is that simply looking at a weather map will tell you that many other people are sharing our misery. Hopefully dealing with this Arctic air mass now will translate into a warmer summer.

Camp in winter, January 2018.

Late December/early January weather.

The family and I decided, despite the cold, to take a little mini-vacation to Duluth. It was rather impromptu, but it was nice to get away for a couple days. While I was there, I stopped in to Barnes and Noble to pick up a book that I had heard about a little while ago. It was a bit expensive at $40US, but it is a hardcover with a lot of amazing photos. Based on the journals and photographs of Howard Greene, it features a visit to one of the Pigeon River Lumber Company’s Minnesota camps in 1914.

Border Country: The Northwoods Canoe Journals of Howard Greene, 1906–1916

So, the only positive side effect of being stuck inside for extended periods has that there has been plenty of time to devote to railway work. I guess in that way the weather was a blessing, as there is a lot of work to do.

If you haven’t heard, I’m writing a book; I’ve probably said it a lot lately. It’s pretty ambitious endeavour, considering the most I’ve ever written is a 3000-word history article. So far, I’ve completed six chapters totalling over 20000 words; that’s a sizeable jump. Scary thing is that I have about 5 more chapters to go. I wrote the better part of those initial six chapters last year, and after an almost one-year hiatus, I’m back at it.

I spent quite a bit of time finishing chapter six and starting chapter 7, but it has been a difficult slog. As the book progresses, there is a lot more going on, which requires much more sorting and organization (and re-organizing) of information and chapters. I am hoping that in the next few months I can get most of the book finished. I know there are going to tweaks to be made, especially after I complete more field work this year. I also have a sneaky suspicion that I am going to have to make another trip to Grand Marais to re-examine the Arpin Papers at the Cook County Museum.

My wheelhouse, January 2018.

Anyway, it’s time to move on. Since I’ve been so busy lately, there will be a lot to say soon enough…check back soon. Until then…

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Posted by on January 6, 2018 in History, Railway, Research, Writing

 

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It’s been 20 years?

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

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

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

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

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

Early snow, October 2017.

Frigid football practice, October 2017.

Snow at camp, November 2017.

A scattering of snow, November 2017.

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

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

Steam and Thunder in the Timber

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

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

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

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

 

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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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The weather is certainly frightful!

Is frightful the correct metaphor? Maybe. Probably the more appropriate term would be weird, or possibly inconsistent. What about unpredictable or erratic? Eccentric? Illogical? Not sure how those terms mesh with the opening lines of the song; “Oh the weather outside is erratic?” However, I think those represent the situation much better. Why you ask? Well, you know that you’re gonna have to keep reading.

Hey, it’s Christmas break kids. Actually, it’s Christmas Day today, so Merry Christmas! It doesn’t quite feel like feel like it though, since our school year took us right up to the 23rd before vacation started. More than anything, it’s nice to be off as it’s been a very tiring few weeks. With the late timing, it means that we’ll have a whole week after New Years. I guess that it is fortuitous, as I have a literal mountain of marking that needs to be done before we go back. Bah humbug!

So I as I sit here and write this, we are bracing for a potentially large dump of snow. They are calling for high winds and possibly freezing rain. Yay! As I mentioned in the intro, the weather has been a complete mess the last month. In my previous post, I wrote how it was +17C on Sunday, which was followed by a winter storm less than a week later. A few weeks after that, it was so mild that we received 80mm of rain that washed all the snow away and caused flooding. Then the temperatures dropped for a whole week with windchills in the -20s and -30s. The last few days we’ve been hovering around 0C; there’s no global warming right?

December 2016 Temperatures.

December 2016 Temperatures.

With the two-week break from work, I am hoping to get some work done on the railway front. I haven’t been able to do much recently with everything that has been going on. I have managed a little research, but nothing too strenuous. Those efforts have yielded some excellent results though, namely the discovery of a photo of what purports to be the Pigeon River Lumber Company (PRLC) mill in Fort William circa 1900-1901. If it is in fact the PRLC mill in Fort William, it had to be taken between late 1900 and early 1902 as the company left the old Graham and Horne Lumber site in the spring of 1902 for a new location in Port Arthur.

Pigeon River Lumber Company Mill, Fort William, ON c. 1900

Pigeon River Lumber Company Mill, Fort William, ON c. 1900

In the coming months, my goal is to begin work on what I hope will be a book on the PRLC and the Gunflint & Lake Superior Railroad. My research on this topic is winding down and it is time to start putting information into words. I am very nervous though, as writing is not my forte compared with research. I did manage to do a decent job on my last foray into academia, so I have the utmost confidence in myself. However, that was just an essay and not a full-fledged book. This is literally a step into the unknown and maybe that is what is the source of my apprehension.

On January 24th I’ll be giving my first lecture of 2017 at the Thunder Bay Museum. I have been looking forward to this presentation for quite some time, as it will the Thunder Bay premier for this intriguing chapter of local history. Hopefully it will also generate interest in the Gunflint & Lake Superior Railroad ahead of my writing sessions. You can read more about this topic here.

Anyway, I better go. I still have a turkey hangover and need a serious nap. I’ll be back soon enough with the latest news. Until then…

 
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Posted by on December 25, 2016 in History, Railway, Research

 

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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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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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