13 August 2015

Pioneer life in the Boundary Waters

Several brief excerpts from Woman of the Boundary Waters, an autobiography by Justine Kerfoot, who moved to the Gunflint Trail in 1928 with her family and lived there for 50 years, setting up the famous Gunflint Lodge:
Invariably our loose dogs encountered porcupines, which always presented a challenge to them... The only effective method I found to remove quills was stringing the dog's hindquarters to the rafters, but low enough so the shoulders were on the floor, placing a stick through the dog's mouth for it to clamp down on and pulling out the quills one by one with pliers.  If the dog's hindquarters weren't lifted off the floor, there was no way of holding him steady."(p.38)

"The [telephone] line was as frail as a gossamer thread.  It became customary when traveling up and
down the Trail to watch for fallen trees on the line and stop to chop them or push them off.  We caried spare wire, pliers and an axe in our car at all times...

The first resorter to come along always patched a break.  To pull the wire ends together we hooked one end of the wire to the bumper of our car and drove ahead to stretch that side taut.  Then we would drag the other end by hand as close  as we could to the attached end and fill the remaining gap with a wire splice.  Later we would return with come-a-longs, sleeves, crimpers and a ladder to replace the makeshift patch and retie the line to the insulators... (p. 94)

Our 50-mile single circuit telephone line became efficient when everything was frozen during the winter months.  Once when Mother and I were coming back from town we found a break.  We had no wire along, so we filled the gap with an old tire chain.  The chain transmitted messages, both local and long distance for several weeks until we repaired the break. (p.97) 


  1. Interesting, of course local vs. long distance doesn't matter. Either you have a connection to the nearest relay or you don't. Once your signal reaches the nearest relay each hop in the long distance chain (this is before fiber optics naturally) would have boosted the signal for transmission down the next section of wire to the next relay.

  2. We used to have a husky who got into porcupines like her dogs did. To get the needles out, we would have to have one person to hold her down and have another use pliers to get them out. A native of Alaska (a white native that is) told us to clip off the end of the pine, which released the vacuum holding them on, and then they were easy to get off. We never had a chance to try it though before I moved out after college.

    1. Old wives' tale, doesn't make a difference other than to give you less quill to hold on to.

  3. In the winter of ’92 ’93 (I think it was Feb ‘93) I had the opportunity to hear Justine talk to a group from the state’s resort association. The scheduled speaker had to drop out and she happened to be at the resort and available to step in. She was already quite old at the time, but man could she tell a story. Her son Bruce – the owner and manager of Gunflint Lodge – was visibly uncomfortable as she told her sometimes off color stories about the resort and the Gunflint Trail. He commented after, somewhat derisively, that she was in top form that night. A very fond memory for me.

  4. they (gunflint lodge) has a blog.



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