Surveying Basics / Turner: Surveyor's Footsteps

Surveyors Take on Role as Peacemakers

It happens to all of us. We perform a thorough and correct survey but every now and then someone gets upset. It might be the client, the neighbor or the neighborhood. Aside from being paid for our services, we all hope that at the end of the day the world measures up a little better from our efforts.

At the beginning of a topographic survey of a 10-acre parcel, we parked on the road and had the equipment out and radios on and working. I walked to the client’s front door. When the owner answered the door, I told her what surveying firm I was with and that I was about to start work. She asked, “What?” So I repeated myself. The instrument man was standing a long way off at the end of her driveway watching (and listening). My voice-activated radio was on.

The client launched into a flood of derogatory statements about my character and abilities to survey. She said, “I would never hire such an incompetent person to work for me. You don’t even know where you are supposed to be working, you are in the wrong place entirely. You should be working across the road over there! I would never have you work for me.”  That’s the short version. When she paused for breath, I told her that I had indeed come to work for her and that the name of the company I worked for just happened to be the same as the name of the road across the street from her.

“Oh,” she said. “I see now.”

With my quick, clear explanation she calmed down and then invited me inside. I was surprised she warmed up quickly and came to feel confident in my abilities. The survey went well.

All the while I was being yelled at and all the time I was inside the house, my transit man was laughing. As she was firing the initial barrage at the front door, he laughed and laughed. The insults were loud enough that my voice-activated radio broadcast the story, and his laughter answered back.

Every other year I get a call from an environmental engineer who designs sanitary systems for difficult properties. He needed the property lines staked for a heavily wooded lot that bordered state game lands. It had serious drainage problems and he was going to design something to serve the existing house to replace its failing system. He just needed my help to be sure it would be on the subject property.

The survey went well and I found plenty of existing monumentation. The site was bordered along the rear line with a stone row about 2 feet high and 6 feet wide. Over the years the plows turned up rocks which the farmers moved to the side. As they raised crops, they also grew stone rows that defined the property borders. In time the forest grew back and those rock rows ran in lines through the woods. The farm was broken up into lots and so the new property owners all had a rock row along the rear property line.

Later that day the engineer phoned to tell me that the neighbor contacted him and launched into a tirade of insults about my abilities as a surveyor. In the neighbor’s opinion I was incompetent, stupid, inept, unqualified, the worst surveyor he had ever seen, and much more—all delivered with anger. The engineer apologized. He asked me to please speak to the neighbor.

Since I had the deeds for the surrounding properties, I knew the rear lot width of the neighbor’s property. I had located the pin on the other side of his lot from the corner of the tract I was contracted to survey. It had been located and calculated. I knew the width was there, but still I would check again the called distance in the field. The neighbor was not home. Not to waste the trip, I took from the truck a broken 200-foot tape I had picked up just for the occasion.

Walking to the rear corner of the neighbor’s lot—opposite the common rear corner of his lot and my client’s—I hooked the end of the broken cloth tape onto his corner pin. Since he was at the border of the large old farm, his corner was also a corner where another rock row along his side property line met the rear rock row of both lots. It was obviously his corner. Walking the stone row as straight as I could (there were now large trees that had grown up from within the rocks), I pulled the tape out from the broken reel and laid it along the row until I arrived at the neighbor’s deed distance and the common rear corner and left the tape there, numbers up, for the neighbor to see.

 That evening I received a phone call from the engineer. The angry neighbor had transformed into a calm, contrite person, apologizing profusely and asked that I be told I was right about the survey. 

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