People / Surveying & Mapping Education

Third-generation surveyor follows in his relatives' footsteps in western Washington

April 5, 2014
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Working near the south shore of the Puget Sound in western Washington, Andy Holman learned much from a young age. He learned about honesty and integrity. He learned about taking pride in one’s work. And he learned to stay away from the three-leaved plant that appeared everywhere.

The plant—toxicodendron diversilobum, better known as poison oak—can leave a nasty mark and itch like sin. Even worse, the poison oak’s effects are highly contagious. A person could easily become infected simply by touching a piece of clothing that rubbed against the plant. “You don’t want to bring that home,” Andy said.

Some lessons proved more painful than others, yet all of them took. That’s what happens, he says, when you grow up in a family of land surveyors.

 

Oyster Track Surveying

Western Washington and the Puget Sound have some of the richest clam and oyster ground in the world. Surveyor Dave Holman helps make sense of it all for the booming shellfish industry.

“We do work for survey second-class tide lands,” said Holman, who works for his brother Dan at Holman and Associates in Shelton, Wash. “We also survey oyster tracks. It’s pretty unique. There are a lot of different aspects to it.”

Holman said surveying oyster tracks and second-class tide lands is often a complex process that requires looking back at land transactions and determining the definition of the state legislation at the time of the sales. The records often mention unusual details.

“One deed referred to a sunken ship,” Dave Holman said. “It just seems the tide lands are more involved than one might think. There are a lot of different things.”

Despite the unusual nature of the surveying, demand for Holman’s services is high.

“Now everyone is looking for every square inch they can find,” he said. “It’s pretty crazy how
it’s blossomed.”

For Andy Holman, land surveying proved an itch that he could scratch. Holman earned his professional land surveyor license in December 2013, continuing a legacy in his family that now stretches back three generations. Andy’s father Dave and his uncles Dan and Ned already had earned their licenses, and Andy’s grandfather Jack has roots in the surveying profession that run deep in the state of Washington.

Dan Holman, Andy’s oldest uncle, owns Holman and Associates, a surveying firm in Shelton, Wash., where Andy’s father Dave also works. Andy’s youngest uncle, Ned, works for the city of Olympic, Wash. All of them learned from the family’s surveying patriarch, Jack Holman, who died in the late 1980s. Jack’s impact remains as his sons and grandson carry on in his footsteps.

“They all started out the same way I did, just being around surveyors,” said Andy, who works at San Juan Surveying in Friday Harbor, Wash. “I started tagging along with them when I was 8 years old. You just take to it.”

From a young age, Andy received hands-on experience. He accompanied his grandfather and uncles on projects, including one surveying the boundaries of Olympic National Park in the 1980s. While assisting on that task—for which he was paid $1 per day—Andy remembers identifying some original General Land Office (GLO) corners. “Nowadays, if you find a GLO corner, that’s a really big deal,” he said. “That was exciting.”

Dave also remembers taking Andy to work with his grandfather three decades ago. “He came to see us on some of our projects,” Dave said. “I have Andy’s name and initials on field notes from the 1980s.”

Those sojourns with his father, grandfather and uncles left an impression on Andy. He learned to love the great outdoors, and he learned to stay away from poison oak that grows on the south end of Hood’s Canal. “Every summer, it’s there,” said Dave, whose wife often became infected by the plant when she washed laundry. “Some people get it worse than others.”

But more importantly, Andy learned the traits and characteristics of the surveying profession.

“One of the main things that were impressed upon me early was honesty and integrity,” Andy said. “There was always that feeling they conveyed to the field crews that we’re professionals here. We have a certain reputation to uphold. I thought it was something to be proud of. It’s a noble profession.”

 

Andy Holman attended Colorado State, where he earned a business degree in 2002. He returned to Washington and entered the real estate industry. But as the housing market slumped, he started to feel surveying’s pull.

Andy said he got back into surveying “by chance.” He started training under John Thalacker, then the owner of San Juan Surveying.

“We got acquainted through fishing. He told me he’d like to know more about it. He’d never been around an office,” said Thalacker, a past president of both the Land Surveyors Association of Washington (LSAW) and the National Society of Professional Surveyors (NSPS).

“He just worked right into it,” Thalacker said. “No problem.”

For Andy, surveying was just like coming home. “You look back on it and think you should have done this all along,” Andy said.

“It’s not surprising,” Andy’s father says. “In the profession there seems to be a lot of like father, like son.”

 

Surveying runs through Andy’s blood. He jumped back into it in 2007 as an apprentice to Thalacker, and he immersed himself in the profession. He attended subchapter meetings of the LSAW in San Juan County, and he was a regular attendee at conferences in the region, according to Patrick Kirby, one of Andy’s colleagues at San Juan Surveying.

“It’s been really wonderful seeing someone his age get his license that I have so much trust and respect for,” Kirby said. “Both his father and uncle are respectful, honest, logical people. He’s acquired that line of characteristics.”

After eight years of professional experience, Andy passed the Washington state professional surveyor examination late last year—four decades after his uncle Dan became the first Holman to earn his PLS.

“I’m pretty proud to have him carry the banner,” Andy’s father said.

Thalacker said his old firm, now run by Bobby Wilson, plans to throw a party to celebrate Andy’s achievement. He expects many surveyors in San Juan County—a group of islands in the Salish Sea with a population of approximately 16,000 people—will attend.

Andy wants to make them all proud. He wants to carry on the tradition passed down by his family and his profession.

 “I think I want to make the profession proud and my family proud,” Andy said. “But I want to do things effectively my own way. The main thing is to do quality work and be respected by my peers.” 

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