Business Strategies for Surveyors / Columns / Surveying Basics / Turner: Surveyor's Footsteps / Surveying & Mapping Education

The Shortest Distance

Somewhere back in grade school, I learned that a line was the shortest distance between two points. I liked that idea and thought that traveling along a line between point A and point B should also take the shortest possible amount of time.

Surveying in the field involves traveling along lines--contour lines, property lines, lines of possession, tree lines, traverse lines and more. Often, however, these lines are far from short, given the many obstacles we face along the way.

Let’s say a line commences at an old limestone, proceeds through an overgrown pasture along a farm fence, crosses a stream and continues to the next possible corner. This may present as a line, but the course we take can turn into nature’s version of cross-town traffic.

I’ve never been one to let these obstacles slow me down. There have been times when I would get a crew started on a new project and would do the initial walk-around in a preliminary search for monumentation. Looking out to where I believed the next point existed, I would see before me a straight line and, to the best of my ability, would plow through any barriers to stay on the elementary linear course. My approach quickly earned me the nickname “The Bear” from my fellow workers.

When I started my own survey business, I purchased several pieces of equipment to speed up the field process. One of these was a Redmax professional-quality weed-whacker that allowed me to get long lines of sight across the tall grassy fields of Pennsylvania. I also bought a long-handled gas hedge trimmer with teeth on both sides. My employees referred to that piece of equipment as “Old Chomper” since it quickly cut through thick briar patches to produce straight lines. I loved the feeling of slicing through the brush like a Jedi.

After hearing my employees share their frustrations with installing concrete monuments, I purchased a one-man gas-powered auger with a 6-inch cutting head and a 30-inch shaft as well as a 1-foot extension. Personally, if I only need to dig a few holes, I prefer to avoid the noise and use a posthole digger and my own elbow grease. But purchasing the auger meant a lot to my staff; they knew they had been heard. And it was an easy way to increase productivity.

Last winter, I purchased a gas-powered leaf blower to clear the snow off hard surfaces so I could properly show the impervious coverage on topographic surveys. I bought the most powerful model available; it almost feels strong enough to lift me off the ground. I’ve used it to clear walks with 6 inches of snow. If I ever encounter a leaf-covered hillside in a search for an old stone called for in the deed and have to clear a 20-foot-wide area to expose the ground, I’ll be ready.

Every piece of equipment I’ve purchased has been the quality that professional landscapers use. Using dull and broken tools is a time waster and a safety hazard. Start with quality, and you’ll have your best shot at success.

These equipment purchases might seem like luxuries for a small surveying firm, but consider the alternative. My firm once assisted another company with a survey of a very large quarry property. When we arrived onsite, the other surveyors were in the middle of a busy road trying to find spikes. One surveyor was kneeling on the double yellow line holding a chisel (at most 5 inches long) with a ½-inch wide tip. The chisel was almost completely buried in the hole, and the surveyor was exasperated. When I asked him about the tiny tool, he said it was what the office gave him. We felt sorry for that guy; it was like mowing a lawn with nail clippers. Perhaps the supply person had no idea what the tool was to be used for and bought the cheapest model. Our surveyors carry at least two chisels, a vacuum, and a hammer drill with carbide tips to excavate and expose points found in the pavement.

Although this “bear” enjoys pressing through the woods with enthusiasm and speed, it may not always be the best thing to do. Good cutting tools and methods are the more sensible route. Getting out a brush cutter can speed up the process for our survey crews and keep them safer in the long run. Our well-cut traverse lines can also help a skilled party chief with keen eyes see blazed trails toward our conclusions years after we have walked the line.

Problems that slow down the progress from A to B directly affect a firm’s profitability. The tools with which we outfit our survey crews prove their value over and over again, and put money into our pockets.

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