From the Field

October 1, 2001
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Five men from one Idaho family take different roads that lead to a single profession.

Leavitt

Surveying five of a kind.

We were raised on a small farm in the Snake River Valley of Idaho, nestled along the western foothills of the Rockies. Growing up there was the greatest thing in the world for six children. Hunting and fishing were our top priorities, but our chores had to be done first. Our parents instilled in us the meaning of a hard day’s work for a hard day’s pay. We all loved the outdoors. All of us remember at one time or another riding dad’s shoulders through the willows of his favorite creek to get to the best holes. He always spent more time fixing our lines than he did fishing, but we always went back to camp with a creel full of rainbows, cutthroats or brookies, always enough to fry up with some potatoes. You’ve never had a breakfast until you’ve had taters and trout.

Hunting was in our blood; we all had a rifle of some sort from the time we knew how to pull a trigger. The elk and deer are plentiful in Idaho—some of the largest in the world. We couldn’t wait for October so we could head for the hills. Our favorite years were in Island Park where we particularly had good luck with the elk, standing around the campfire and enjoying good stories of years past and being with family.

Mom watched every game on TV with us, no matter what sport. She kept us straight, that’s for sure. Not only a jack-of-all-trades, she and grandmother canned anything not eaten at the dinner table. Jars of fruits and vegetables were always on display on shelf after shelf in the basement. Mom had plenty of other jobs, too. Homemaker, florist, bank teller—anything she could to keep the family going.

Dad worked full time as a truck driver for Kraft Foods, a foreman at the local potato processing plant and on our farm. He made sure that we boys were driving the tractor by age 6, feeding livestock, and milking cows (by hand) at age 10, planting and harvesting crops by 16, and tending to the plentiful potatoes of Idaho. Did we all become farmers? No.

The Leavitt men: Byron, Kim, Verl, Darren, Jared and Jack (seated).

1968: The First Leavitt Footstep

I guess it all started around 1968 when my oldest brother Byron (Big By, 1950) graduated from high school and went to work for the forest service. His primary duties included blazing trails and marking boundaries in Targhee National Forest from the back of a horse. He jumped into some of the largest forest fires in the state’s history in 1969. In 1970, he quit the forest service, was married, moved to Virginia and became a paramedic with the Arlington Co. Fire Dept.

In 1972, my brother Kim (1953) graduated from high school and began a course at Idaho State University (ISU) in civil engineering. In 1973, he began working for Benton Engineering in Idaho Falls as a party chief. By 1975, it was my turn, (a 1957 model myself, and a good year for Chevies). I graduated from high school, not knowing exactly what I wanted to do with myself. I started working with Kim at Benton’s as a rod/chainman and learned how to operate the instruments. He was the best teacher I could have ever asked for. Along with Dennis (Denny) Jones, L.S., they taught me the practices and procedures to become a good land surveyor. In 1977, I was married and moved to Pocatello and became a forklift operator at Associated Foods Inc.

Also in 1977, Darren (1960) went to work with Kim during the summers at Benton’s. He worked as a rod/chainman and learned to operate the instruments. He graduated high school in 1978 and worked to save money to go on an LDS (Mormon) mission in 1979.

By the time 1980 rolled around, divorced and out of work, I got a call from a friend who was doing some surveying in the gas fields of Evanston, Wyo. He said the money was great, but he couldn’t take the seven, 12-hour days, and asked if I wanted to replace him as an instrument man for Project Const. Corp. (PCC). I jumped at the chance. Evanston was a drag, but I got a lot of good experience with the help from my party chief, Ralph E. (Bud) Poole. We helped build the first natural gas plant in Wyoming for Exxon. Concrete construction surveying for setting huge metal vessels, this was where I learned to be accurate and precise at surveying.

Darren came back from his mission in 1981, and went to work with me at PCC for the summer. Later that year he began a two-year course at ISU. Like Kim, he chose civil engineering. He went back to work with Kim at Benton’s while going to school. It was 1982 when Kim received his land surveying degree. I was laid off again. I went to visit my parents who had moved from Idaho to Hanna, Wyo., where dad went to work in the coal mines.

Hmm, I remember riding a greyhound bus to visit Big By in Virginia in the spring of 1983. Darren finished school and started working full time at Benton’s. I started working in Virginia in June of 1983 for Long, Brown and Associates (LBA) as an instrument man. Big By, who had had and seen enough as a paramedic, (Air Florida plane crash in neighboring Washington, D.C.) quit and went to work in an urgent care facility. This is where I met Brenda whom I later married in July 1985. Big By quit the medical profession, wanting to get back to the outdoors. He came to work with me at LBA as a rodman and it didn’t take him long to operate the instruments.

With his license in hand, Kim had become a partner in 1984 for Harper & Leavitt Engineering (HLE), one of the best known in Idaho for surveying, engineering and concrete testing. I received a call in April 1984 from Bud Poole, my old party chief from Wyoming. He asked if I wanted to come to Kemmerer, Wyo., as they were looking for surveyors for an Amoco gas plant. I told him about Big By. In two weeks we were driving ourselves across the country.

After working a year in Wyoming, Big By and I headed back to Fairfax, Va. We started working for Greenhorne & O’Mara Engineering in November 1985. Hired by Robert L. Boykin Jr., LS, as instrument man, it didn’t take us long to get our feet wet. I got my first field crew early in 1986. Big By worked for another year and then left to take a party chief job for Huntley, Nyce & Associates. My survey party was selected to open a new office for G&O in Leesburg, Va., so Brenda and I moved there in 1987.

Another one yet, the youngest, Jared (1969) graduated high school in 1988. Not knowing if he wanted to survey in the footsteps of George W., Thomas J., or his four elder brothers, he joined the Marines.

1989: Times Were A Changin’

I will say for all of us, 1989 was probably the year we will remember the most. Not because of any personal achievements in our careers, but for the death of the greatest man we had ever known. Our father passed away on Father’s Day, June 16, 1989. He left a legacy to his five sons and a daughter, his loving wife of 40 years and several grandchildren. We think about him every day, whether we’re working hard like he taught us or doing what he loved best: hunting and fishing.

That year, Darren left Benton’s and moved to Virginia to work for Greenhorne & O’Mara. By 1990, Kim was still a partner at Harper & Leavitt, Big By was a party chief at Huntley & Nyce and Jared was getting ready to go to Desert Storm.

In early 1991, the bottom dropped out from under us in Virginia. What was once a thriving area for construction and technology, all engineering and survey firms were laying people off. Our company went from 17 crews to three in a matter of months. I was laid off in March. Darren held on at another office until getting laid off in June. He packed up and moved back home to Idaho and started working for Kim. Jared got back from Desert Storm, still not knowing what he wanted to do exactly, and went to work at the atomic site west of Idaho Falls for the Argon National Laboratory.

After being laid off for several months with no surveying jobs to be found, I put in an application with the Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT). In February 1992, I started work as an instrument man. Kim was doing well and had held several positions with the ISPLS: vice president for 1990-91 and the president for the 1991-92 term. Darren had quit HLE and moved to Boise, Idaho. There he was working for Monson Engineering out of Salt Lake City, Utah as a field representative, demonstrating the use of new instruments and Trimble GPS units. In 1993, he received his LS degree and began his own company in Boise: Arrow Land Surveying.

In addition to surveying, hunting comes second hand to the Leavitts.

1996: Experiencing Stability

By 1996, I finally got the promotion to survey supervisor at VDOT, a position I’d been waiting four long years for. Big By had been able to stay on with Huntley & Nyce through the slow years and business was starting to boom again. Kim was steadily getting it done at HLE. Darren was doing well at Arrow and had held the ISPLS treasurer’s position for 1995 to 1997. Jared was getting ready to begin classes at ISU in (you guessed it) civil engineering.

Big By quit Huntley & Nyce in 1998 and started his own business: Point to Point Surveys. He does a lot of sub-contracting for several engineering firms in the area. Kim and Darren again, had both been directors for the S.E. and S.W. sectors of the ISPLS. Jared finished his schooling and went to work for Kim at HLE as a party chief. I had been working four, 10-hour days with VDOT. One day I got a call from Bob Boykin, my old mentor from Greenhorne & O’Mara. He had started his own business and wanted to use my services to run his field crew. I’ve been with him almost every weekend since May of 1998.

The millennium was upon us. I called Jared in February 2000 and let him know about a position opening at VDOT for an instrument man/junior party chief, working with me. In April he went to Virginia and interviewed for the position. By September he was moving his family across the country. Big By and Darren are doing great. Kim has been awarded Surveyor of the Year in our home state of Idaho for 2000-2001, not only an honor for himself, but an honor for four brothers, who have followed in his footsteps into the greatest profession in the world: land surveying! And it’s not over: A new generation of surveyor has started, as Kim’s son Shane is working for him now.

Surveying five of a kind. Five brothers in the outdoors, where we were meant to be. Surveying has become our way of life, a life enjoyed to the fullest, always doing as our parents taught us: to put your family first.

It took Jack and Darthella Leavitt from 1950 to 1969 to get their basketball team of five boys. The oldest of the Leavitt children, Randa (1948) is living proof that there is life after five brothers. Born with only one seeing eye, she has shown her brothers and others what true courage is. She is married with seven children and is a sociologist in Payette, Idaho.

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