Field surveyors see the world in its underpants. Like flies on a wall, we quietly go about making measurements and recording observations while watching the world around us. For the safety of ourselves, our crew and our equipment, we subconsciously tune in to the natural world, construction site, roadway or neighborhood we are working in. But it's not just safety, it's also curiosity. We are naturally curious beings which makes us well-suited for the work we do. Making critical observations is our bread and butter. We see every object, animal and person in it's native environment—nothing is lost in translation. Tell us about something unusual you've seen while working in the field.
Nothing scared me like setting up in the middle of busy intersections. We did so all the time in Denver where many of the streets and avenues are laid out on section lines. Naturally the intersections often had well monuments that made great control and traverse points. I was an I-man at the time and didn’t have much choice. We’d typically set up inches from travel lanes with only one large orange cone standing between me and heaven. There wasn’t enough room to encircle the gun with cones.
Some days I miss being a rodman. The simplicity of the role is intoxicating. There is rarely a question about what to do or how to do it. Freedom to dress how you like and not take shit from anyone with pink flagging as your calling card so the world knows you've been there. Anyone else start their surveying career holding the rod?
The toughest crew chief I ever worked with was a woman. She was 5'-nothing, slightly built, but could physically keep up with and sometimes outperform me in any type of field work. She would cut brush, swing a 6 lb. sledge or haul an instrument and tripod up a steep hill with anyone. She never, ever complained which plenty of the men folk did. Let's tip our hats to the ladies in our profession. Anyone have a story to tell or want to share something about a female they've surveyed with?
I faked the need for a bathroom break just to walk through the casino with my chaining gear and orange surveyor’s vest on. The party chief and I were doing location work on the sidewalk in front of one of downtown Reno’s oldest casinos. I knew there was an audience inside among the flashing lights, bells, whistles, and familiar “clink, clink, clink” of coins dropping into the steel trays of slot machines. It felt like a moment to tell the world I was a land surveyor and was proud of the work I did.
The coastal Redwood forests of northern California are choked with dense understory that complicates boundary and control work for surveyors. Tall, leafy foliage reduces line-of-sight, making field work laborious and slow. In old-growth forests, huge trees were routinely felled for timber, leaving behind stumps taller than the understory. Committed to getting their work done, local surveyors used the flat-topped stumps as control point platforms by climbing up notches the original sawmen left behind.
Whether it means wading chest-deep in a swamp to get a topo shot or working alongside heavy equipment, field surveyors stay focused on the cause at hand which is getting the job done right. It’s not a cliche in surveying, loyalty to the mission means something and is practiced every day.
Til next time, keep your machetes sharp and your bubbles centered.
(quotes are from the author's own field experiences)
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