By John Stock, NSPS President No. 6 (1986)
Back in the day: Okay don’t groan. This is not another dinosaur Stock’s tale of physical adventure. I have been looking for an explanation of why surveyors have done a great job of ignoring their duty as land boundary experts and allowing kindred members of the geospatial industry to rob them of their rightful place. My own career starting in 1966 is a prime example. The tools of the trade were a transit, steel tape, and dumpy level and “Philadelphia” level rod. The crew was at least three and sometimes four members. Everyone had a specific duty and all had to perform correctly to achieve results. Consider a boundary traverse in the high country.
There was the party chief, the instrument man, and the brush cutter at a minimum. The instrument man (gunner) sometimes doubled as the tail chain, the party chief head chained and took the notes. He also assisted in clearing line. All the equipment was mechanical, without batteries, all data was hand written and information was yelled back and forth between crew members. You get the idea now how easily blunders could occur. Then came the office grind and a real grind it was. The task of looking up numbers in trig tables, more writing, calculating sometimes with a pencil and if lucky a primitive calculator like a Singer, Monroe or Friden the size of a TV set that would add, subtract, multiply and divide contributed to the tedious and mind numbing drill. Then came adjustments, Transit rule, compass rule, filling out a sheet and more computations by double meridian distance to get an area. This was hard, brain sucking work that had to be done perfectly. Chasing down a blundered calculation in this myriad of numbers was a true nightmare. With all this to perform it would seem very difficult if not incredibly budget blowing to do any real research. After all you would have to go down to the courthouse, ask questions of staff, dig through books, and make more notes, make copies and pay for them. Many didn’t bother to do this critical step. Oh, and don’t forget getting ahold of the appropriate GLO notes and plats. Expert MEASURING dominated the labor effort.
Not reading Clark, Skelton and especially Brown in those days was standard procedure. The surveyor might have owned the books but rarely cracked them (just like today huh?) And don’t forget the various BLM manuals of Instruction that our State Boards and Legislators saddled us with, requiring us (at least in our minds) to do it “their way”. Because we were so busy measuring we didn’t read. Had someone in the sixties started blowing the bugle we wouldn’t be in this situation today. The information was always there if a person were to read carefully and completely, not taking paragraphs out of context. One prime example is the doctrine of cardinal equivalents in a proportion solution in the various manuals. In my travels as a seminar presenter I would usually ask the crowd if they had ever heard the term. A few hands would go up. This is a room of over 150 people! The next question was “did you ever apply them”?” Most did not.
The expert measuring crutch has long ago been ripped from us by the very technology we pay for and worship. To maintain the PROFESSION of Land Surveying we have to reinvent ourselves into solving land boundary problems as far as the law will allow. Boundary is all we have left to be a unique group in the land identification industry. The process of examining, licensing and regulating surveyors must be protected at all costs. To be this new kind of surveyor, you have to READ, STUDY, Attend Classes whether in person or on line. This is the true labor of the 21st century surveyor. I for one don’t want the 21st century surveyor to be the last.