Saturday, June 10, 2006

A Little More History

Anyone who has eaten breakfast or lunch in our dining room has seen the map of Gunflint Lake that we use as a placemat. On it the route of the Port Arthur, Duluth and Western Railway is shown along the north shore of Gunflint Lake. There isn't much more information about the railroad on the placemat so I thought you would enjoy learning a bit more.

The railroad ran from Port Arthur for 86 miles in Ontario to the narrows between Gunflint and Magnetic. There a bridge was built (we have a picture of the bridge), You can see the supports for the bridge as you motor through the narrows. The railroad continued for 6 more miles in Minnesota. It ended at the Paulson Mile which is located in on the Kekakabic Trail. The year was 1892.

During this time period it was widely believed that there were great deposits of iron, gold and silver in this area just waiting to be discovered. The town of Gunflint would expand into a city. The American end of the railroad would connect with the Port Arthur, Duluth & Western Railway Company of Minnesota which was just 50 miles away.

For a variety of reason the connection was never made. One reason became apparent when the first and only load of ore was shipped from the Paulson mine. It was low grade taconite which could not be refined at that time. Another reason was that a financial panic in the U. S. in the early 1890's dried up investment funds. Also the Canadian company was bought by the Canadian Northern Railway as part of their system for bringing western grain to Port Arthur. After this purchase the Duluth Extension was used only for silver and lumbering. Once those died, the line ended.

Talking about the dry facts of this railroad makes one forget that there is a human toll to building such a railroad. We have a reminder of that toll just across the lake from us. In a rock cut along the railroad route is a nicely chiseled cross. It marks the spot where one of the workers was killed by a dynamite blast. Charlie Cook, our Native American friend, told Justine about it years ago but that is all we knew.

Just recently Kevin Roalson, a former sales manager for us, sent me an article telling about this lethal blast. It seems that Joseph Montegen and 3 other men were blasting three holes with dynamite. Two blasts went off perfectly but the third never ignited. They waited 15 minutes and then went to look. One man poured water into the hole while Mr. Montegen dug out the loose rock that had been put on top. Suddenly the blast went off and Mr. Montegen caught it in the front of his body. He was killed instantly. It is a sad story but probably not unusual for the times.

On a cheerier note, the railroad has had a couple interesting nicknames. In Canada it was known as the "ghost railway to nowhere." Here at Gunflint Bruce's parents called it the "Poverty, Want and Dispair." Certainly nothing much ever came of it.

Between 1904 and 1916 the track between Gunflint and North Lake was abandoned. We have several pictures of a speeder care being used on it including one with Grandma Spunner and guests. The trestle that crossed Burnt Trestle Bay was burned by two men who lite a fire under it to stay warm when stranded one the winter. The station at North Lake was used for many years. Eventually it was moved to Addie Lake to become a summer cabin.

That's your history lesson for today.

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