Professional Land Surveyor Journal July 17, 2009

Summer Storm Clouds

Summer Storm Clouds

Summertime and the Living is Easy?

Nice summer weather is finally here in New England, although it’s still been on the cool side and we’ve been hard-pressed to go more than a day without some rain. After more than three months of nearly non-stop rain, it’s amazing what a few consecutive sunny days will do for your attitude. Now if we could get everyone to have a sunnier attitude about the economy maybe we could put this recession behind us.

Speaking of the economy, my impression is that things took a turn for the worse in June. My sense is that with layoffs mounting and becoming more widespread, people really pulled back on their personal spending. Who could blame them?

I do see, however, the light at the end of the tunnel. There are more and more signs of an impending recover, if where not already in one now. Actually, I believe that we are in a recovery, albeit at the beginning and rock bottom of one, and because the beginning of an economic recovery is still a very problematic and painful place to be it can be hard to distinguish from the recession itself.

Again, going strictly on gut-feeling, I think that there will be an improvement in the economy in late August and early September. The complete halt of consumer spending is thawing and while it won’t be what you would consider as strong until next spring, the situation is about to improve. Of course, this is if there aren’t any more economic bombshells on the horizon.

Another Swamp - A lot more open

Another Swamp - A lot more open

How do I come to this conclusion? I couldn’t tell you. It reminds me of a survey I did about 10 years ago that had one property line identified as a ditch. When we got within 1000 feet or so of this property line we came to the edge of a large swampy area that you couldn’t walk on without sinking. The deed descriptions had little or no geometry cited in them, there weren’t any recorded surveys in this area, and we knew that the existing plat maps were incorrect. As it eventually turned out, the location of this parcel was mapped in the entirely wrong location, over 500 feet (at least, can’t remember for sure) from where it actually was situated.

So there we stood, looking out over this forested swamp trying to decide what direction to head off in to search for this supposed ditch. I’m not sure why, but I started looking up at the tree canopy and thought that I noticed a pattern. It wasn’t very obvious, but about 500 feet into the swamp I thought I could see what looked like a row of larger trees. Was I imagining this? So I started out, climbing on downed trees (thank you hurricane Gloria) and the occasional clump of blueberry bushes and eventually I was able to get there (no thanks to the briers and thankfully seeing the giant wasp nest before cutting the branch it was attached to).

When I got out there, low and behold, there was the ditch. In making this ditch the dirt taken from it was piled up on one side and it was there that a row of now quite mature maple trees had grown. The canopy formed by this line of trees, now over 100 years old, growing in the materials dug out to make the ditch is what I saw from the swamp edge.

So, was it more of a hunch, a case of luck, or were there some hard facts there. Probably a little of all three! What I’ve learned over the years is that experience builds a sometimes subconscious library of solutions that we often attribute to being a hunch, luck, or gut-feeling when in fact it is based on something more. As slight as it was, that I noticed what appeared to be a somewhat regular pattern to a portion of the tree canopy, where without human intervention none should’ve appeared, ended up being a major discovery on that survey.

Do not make decisions based on your gut-feelings alone, but don’t ignore them either!

NHLSA 40th Annual Meeting & Equipment Show

Last night I attended a planning meeting for the New Hampshire Land Surveyors Association (NHLSA) upcoming 40th Annual Meeting & Equipment Show in Nashua, New Hampshire on December 10-12, 2009. I was invited to attend this meeting in my capacity as President of the New England Association of ACSM (NES-ACSM) and I would like to thank NHLSA for the kind invitation.

A bridge to a brighter future

A bridge to a brighter future

The reason I and other representatives of groups and associations outside of NH were invited is due to a recent initiative to bring all of the New England States’ surveying societies together in the hopes of working together for the common good of all land surveyors within New England.

This is exactly the sort of outreach and opportunity for improving the land surveying profession that the NES-ACSM is chartered to achieve and works to accomplish. One great thing that has come from this initiative is that every society is invited to attend and everyone gets to know each other, learn from each other what is working, and what isn’t, and discover that were all in the same boat.

We have more in common than we have differences.

Loss of a Mentor

This week I learned that my very first Crew Chief had passed away. Bill was 76 years old and had worked his entire adult life in the surveying industry. I hadn’t seen him in a few years, but lately I’d been thinking of him a lot.

25 years ago I was floundering about looking for direction in my life and looking for a job, any job (it was also during a nasty recession). I got a job at a surveying company as a rodman (rodperson, yes, but as I’m male I’ll say rodman) and on my first day of work I was introduced to Bill and the other field surveyors. I have to believe that Bill was expecting someone with experience, which I had none, and in his typical blunt, straight to the point style, he asked me in a rather gruff tone, if I had any experience.

I said in a joking manner “that depends on what you’re talking about”, which got his dander up, and with a certain amount of hand gestures and body language he told me in no uncertain terms that he wasn’t talking about my being experienced in relations of a biblical nature. I cannot write exactly what he said here, but I think you get the idea.

However, from the moment we hit the truck and went out to the job, he held no grudge and taught me everything he knew. He was always direct with explaining what he needed, but was also polite and professional in asking for help. While I found unlimited pleasure in being called “Chico” all day by a later do-nothing Crew Chief, in contrast, Bill always said please and thank you with every order and request (and called me Eric, nice).Plumb Bob

The first two weeks on the job I was fairly uninterested in surveying and was there just for the paycheck. Somewhere in the third or fourth week, however, it started to grow on me. I remember exactly when I changed my mind. We were working on the center of a highway and Bill and I went to the backsight to give line to the transitman. The backsight had to be high to be seen. Bill, who was a very tall large man, had a plumb bob with a long string on it. I was watching him give line with the plumb bob, his hand well over his head and getting up on his toes for some extra height when I noticed he was watching the transitman as much, if not more, than the point of the plumb bob.

With his hand fully extended at arm’s length over his head, believe me when I tell you that the plumb bob was dead over the point. Right there and then something clicked with me. I realized how much skill was involved in surveying and I started noticing these areas of core competencies, which to this day I find fascinating and often overlooked by some.

As I write this I’m looking at his picture from his obituary which shows his typical smile. Bill also made work fun. We worked hard but always took some time to laugh and he would laugh at himself as easy, or easier, than at others. I would be remiss, however, if I didn’t pass along his favorite story about me. It didn’t matter who he met, or when I saw him, he loved this story about me.

Again, going back to that first day on the job, we were traversing around an area of wooded land, soon to become a shopping center. Bill taught me to setup the legs and I was moving the foresights forward. The first four setups were on flat paved surfaces along the roadways and I had little trouble getting the foresights level and plumb over the traverse points.

The fifth setup, however, was located in the woods with rather uneven surfaces. Bill also told me to make the setup as low as I could because the cutline and terrain left a very small window of opportunity that had to be about two to three feet off of the ground. So I began and it didn’t go well.

Needless to say, I’d get the tribrach level and then it wouldn’t be over the point and I’d try again. Well after a time or two of not being able to setup the legs my temper got the better of me. As he tells it, he saw my coat come off and go flying through the air (Bill always told this story with great gusto) accompanied by a maelstrom of cursing and swearing by me. It must have been quite a sight and after a few more attempts I was successful. This is the abbreviated version of Bill’s story.

I wish I could hear him tell it one more time. Thank you Bill, you taught me so much about field surveying and you will be missed.

Let us know if you have a mentor you would like to sing the praises of or how one helped you to become the land surveyor you are today.

Thanks and be brilliant!

Eric D. Colburn, Professional Land Surveyor

Eric D. Colburn, PLS, "The Geo-Business Innovator", helps geo-professionals improve through innovative solutions, mastery of marketing and business growth strategies, and coaching/training. Eric is a successful, serial entrepreneur, podcaster, industry writer, product development consultant, and RI licensed professional land surveyor.

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