Point of Beginning

The Great Sage Stone Expedition Part 2

October 1, 2004
Completing the 124-year search with friends and strength of mind.

The Great Sage Stone crew, from left to right: Terry Davis, Richard Abbott, Bill Appleton, LS, Ian Wilson, LS, Jason Killpack, Chad Dickey, Keith Williams, Wes Hohenberger, Laura Wilson, John Stahl, LS.

Click HERE to read Part 1 of this story.

In Part 1 of the story (September 2004), Ian shared with us the beginning stages of a survey for his good friend and client, Jim Wilson, in Section 1, Township 8 South, Range 1 West, San Bernardino Base and Meridian in California. Having worked in that area many times in the past, Ian was excited at the prospect of breaking down an entire section. As he progressed, he recruited his two sons, Alex and Colin, and a good friend made from contact on the RPLS.com bulletin board, Terry Davis. The survey had its interesting obstacles, but nothing like when Ian's 15-year-old son Alex came across a 5-inch diameter pipe filled with concrete just as Ian was ready to set the Center of Section and mark Jim's property corners. At that point, an adventure truly began.

At home, as I thought about whether to set my Center of Section or to hold the original, I logged onto POB's RPLS.com bulletin board once again to present my dilemma. I posted a message providing details of my parcel survey-what I'd measured and what I'd found. I asked the board visitors whether I should hold this concrete imposter set by Sid Hale, LS 2821, or if I should set my own perfect, mathematical Center of Section. The replies ran from one end of the spectrum to the other. Keith Williams, retired chief of the division of cadastral survey for the BLM, sent me an E-mail that proved to be the beginning of yet another adventure in this section. He wrote that it was my decision and that he would support whatever choice I made. Then he added, "... but I think your research has just begun." I will never be able to forgive-or thank-Keith enough for those eight words.

Because of that one comment, I ended up buying almost $300 worth of maps and records from Riverside County, and copies of government notes from the BLM office in Sacramento. I sat in the middle of my living room and organized all these maps. Since there were no recorded maps in Section 1, I sat "as" Section 1. The pile of maps in front of me was from Section 36. Off to my right was Section 6; to my left was Section 2, and so on. While sifting through the pile from Section 35, I saw a little paragraph of commentary on a map filed by Michael E. Anderson, LS 4489, written in late 1978. It read:

Fd. 5" dia. conc. mon. tagged L.S. 2821, flush. Consulted L.S. 2821 about origan [sic] of monument. He disclosed, that he set mon. by single proportion between S 1⁄4 corners of sections 35 & 36. Accepted for S.E. cor. Sec. 35, T. 7 S., R. 1 W., S.B.M., per RS 57/58-60, P.M. 57/47-49.

Anderson even noted the quarter corner stone for Sections 36 and 1 on his map and showed the relationship between the stone and the pipe that had been reset for the quarter corner. Keith was right: my research had just begun. It's been said many times that just one more document can change the whole picture. Anderson's Record of Survey proved to be just such a document for me.

Based on my newfound information, I calculated the "proper" positions for Jim's parcel corners and set them. I knew I had to hold Sid Hale's Center of Section rather than set a new one of my own. I also knew I had to go back to try to find the stone before I could file my Record of Survey. It would have to wait for a lull in my other fieldwork, though.

John Stahl and I prepare to collect data on the N 1/4 of Section 2.

And the Group Grows

During this lull, the surveying community of RPLS.com came into play yet again. Richard Abbott, a licensed surveyor from Adelaide, South Australia, and I "met" on the bulletin board several years ago. During his fabled "Pin Cushion Tour" (Richard's euphemistic name for his vacation tour through the Southwest United States in 2003), we managed to spend a few days together. He was invited to speak at Oregon's surveyors conference this year and planned to spend a few weeks traveling in the States after the conference. He planned to be back in southern California to pay a visit to Paul Cook, PLS, president of L.P. Cook and Company Inc. in Santa Barbara. Richard and I planned to have a day in the field while he visited again. I'd also "met" John B. Stahl, PLS, president/owner of Cornerstone Professional Land Surveys Inc. in Salt Lake City, Utah, on the board as well. When he heard about what became called "The Gathering" in Santa Barbara, he decided to join in, too. Through E-mails, we arranged to spend a few days together in the town where I live, Temecula, before a barbeque at Paul's. That was when the idea formed of taking these two characters, Richard and John, out to Sage to look for the stone.

Well, word got out on the board about "The Gathering" and soon Bill Appleton, PLS, owner of Pacific Land Surveys in Santa Ana, Calif., and Keith Williams joined the expedition. I had just recently received a new Topcon HiPer Lite Integrated GPS system. I invited Chad Dickey, sales manager of Lewis & Lewis Enterprises in Ventura, Calif., to join us as well. Chad passed along the information to Jason Killpack, western regional manager for Topcon in Portland, Ore. Then I got a phone call from Jason asking if he and Dan Hand, marketing services manager for Topcon, could come down and bring along video and still photography equipment to record the event. Of course, the expedition wouldn't have been complete without Terry Davis who was with me from nearly the start. Before I knew it, we'd mounted an expeditionary team twice the size of Minto's original crew!

Wes Hohenberger and I set up for a fast static session on "The Stone" using a Topcon HiPer Lite base unit on tripod (in background) and a Topcon HiPer Lite rover with Recon data collector on pole and bipod (in foreground).

Gleaning "The Stone"!

On the morning of March 16 of this year, we all met up at my house before going to breakfast at a great restaurant in Temecula. After breakfast, we all headed out to find "The Stone." We parked at the top of the hill just south of the area where we expected "The Stone" to be. As everyone filtered down and began acclimatizing, I remember thinking that this was either going to be a giant mess or "The Stone" didn't have a chance. Laura, my wife, remembers Keith looking around and saying "It's here. I can feel it." It's a Zen thing; although the line should probably have been delivered Yoda-esque, "Here, it is. Feel it, I can."

Bill and John got right to business pulling distance and taking line with my old Suunto Pocket Compass to get us in the ballpark-and the hunt was on. We quickly got down to shovel work examining every rock we unearthed. The place indicated by Anderson's Record of Survey lay beside a graded dirt road. Just sticking out from the edge of the road was a large stone that some of us even stood on while watching the digging. (OK, the Zen thing isn't perfect.) Each new rock was carefully brushed off and examined before tossing it aside as "not the one" until Keith finally suggested unearthing the stone by the edge of the road. Once it was unearthed-in the short time of about an hour-it fit the size and description of Minto's stone. It was the only stone in the area of that size. Keith and Bill scrubbed the dirt from the stone fingering every notch trying to decide if it was man-made or natural. Anticipation and anxiety rose in every person present. Finally, Keith was convinced that he could make out the outline of an open "4" that was too even to have been made by nature. (I must admit that I was not so convinced at first, but Keith's enthusiasm for the stone and deference to his years of experience looking at similar artifacts won me over.) Keith and Bill took their sweet time deciding that the stone was the real one, so it was about two hours before we started really jumping up and down. But, celebrate we did. It was quite a sight, I'm sure.

Chad and Jason managed to get a proud cell phone call out to Shelby Griggs, PLS, president of OrbiTech Inc. in Bend, Ore., another friend from the board. Shelby announced the find to the rest of the interested board posters and lurkers. Through the magic of modern technology and the legacy of Mark Deal's beneficial RPLS.com board, surveyors from all corners of the world knew about the finding of "The Stone" within minutes of it happening in the field.

Wes Hohenberger and I set up for a fast static session on the NW corner of Section 1.

Technology, Friendship and Pride

I had calculated State Plane Coordinates for the pipe set for the north quarter corner of Section 1 as well as the section corners and quarter corners for Sections 1 and 2 based on record information. We set up the HiPer Lite base receiver over the pipe and went off to recover the northwest corner. The idea was that we could confirm that the distance from the north quarter corner of Section 2 to the northwest corner of Section 1 matched the distance from the northwest corner of Section 1 to the position for the stone. This was based on the paragraph from Anderson's map.

The winter rains had obliterated all evidence of the hole that Alex, Colin and I had dug to uncover the concrete pipe the previous September. With a host of able shovel men on hand, the recovery took much less time the second time around. (Of course, it must be said that my two sons had loosened up the dirt considerably.) We took fast static measurements on the concrete pipe as well as RTK measurements for field calculations. Jason and Chad showed off the Topcon FC1000 data collector with Bluetooth technology and actually managed to pick up data from the very unit I had my Tripod Data Systems Recon handheld computer (TDS, Corvallis, Ore.) cabled into! We even got to see the difference between GLONASS-enabled systems and systems without. It was quite a demonstration of high technology tools. Minto would have been impressed!

From there, we set off toward the north quarter corner of Section 2. Thanks to Laura's planning and efforts, we dined on gourmet submarine sandwiches atop a rocky knoll overlooking the area near the corner. Lunch was a combination of good food, good drink, speculation about the work we were doing and "war stories." All in all, it was a truly memorable meal.

Because we were working in State Plane Coordinates, we could use a one-point localization. That meant that we could use the stakeout function in the TDS Survey Pro Max software on my Recon. However, finding the stone set to mark the north quarter corner of Section 2 proved to be harder than the same corner in Section 1. In the end, we found an open 1-inch iron pipe at the position for the corner. Without evidence of the stone and without a surveyor's tag in the pipe or the requisite Corner Record, absolute proof of the monumentation is now impossible as the all-important lineage of monumentation is now broken. It is a great pity that there are those who believe that not setting adequate monuments absolves them of the responsibility of filing appropriate, legally required documentation.

Fortunately, based on the RTK and static sessions, we were able to see that the bearings and distances between the three points matched up closely with each other. This adds credence to the found points and to my choice to honor Sid Hale's Center of Section for Section 1. The resurvey of the north line of Section 1 is now complete.

That night, we met up with Michael L. Binge, LS, GIS manager for the San Diego County Public Works Department and another RPLS.com "denizen," for a terrific dinner. Richard, the "Man from Down Under" treated the crew to dinner that night, thus becoming the first international sponsor of the expedition. Mark Deal, PLS, and our supporters of the board were toasted often. As I looked around the table, I couldn't help but be filled with pride that we represented some 160 years of surveying experience and knowledge. I take great pride in having friends from all over the world who came to help me look for a stone set 124 years ago. Only another surveyor would or could understand this.

Hard at work at the scene: Chad Dickey, Jason Killpack, Wes Hohenberger, Richard Abbott, Terry Davis, me, Bill Appleton, John Stahl and Keith Williams.

Completing the 124-year Survey

The following Saturday, Wes Hohenberger, survey technician for Ian Wilson Land Surveying Inc., and I went back out to "The Stone" and fixed it in place with two 90-pound sacks of concrete ringed with the stones Minto and his crew mounded around the stone when it was set. We drilled into the top of the stone and set a 2 1⁄2-inch brass disk with appropriate markings. The normal procedure would have been to bury the stone upside down next to a newly set 2-inch galvanized iron pipe. In my opinion, this departure from protocol is a tribute to Minto and "my crew."

Wes and I have a few more tasks ahead of us before this survey is completely finished. I want to reset the closing corner at the south end of the westerly line as well as the closing corner at the westerly end of the south line of the section. I also want to make sure that I have enough static sessions on the corners to file a solid Record of Survey with geodetic coordinates on all found points. Section 1 of T 8 S, R 1 W, SBB&M, will pass from having no recorded surveys since William Minto's original survey to being one of the most documented sections in Southern California. I intend to place a commentary on the second sheet of the map and have all the expedition members sign it before filing it. That way, 124 years from now, those who follow in our footsteps will know exactly what we did and won't have to search for stones. Pity. They'll never know what they missed.

By the way, I'm still searching for Sid Hale's widow or any family member who may know where his notes ended up. I'd really like to get a look at his notes for the work in this area. If anyone has any information, please contact me at ian@iwls.net.

I'd like to thank Jim Wilson for hiring me to do this work; Richard Abbott and John Stahl for getting this party started with their visit; Keith Williams for that really nagging E-mail and his expertise; Bill Appleton for bringing his huge van to carry everyone; Terry Davis for being so willing to come with us into the field to see what we do firsthand; Jason Killpack, Dan Hand and Chad Dickey for their company representation and sharing some wonderful Topcon equipment with us; Wes Hohenberger for hanging in there with a bunch of crazy surveyors-you're one of us now; Laura, my wife, for organizing lunch and understanding that sometimes it just isn't about money; and Sid Hale for providing me with an unparalleled learning experience. Thanks, too, to all of the POB denizens who encouraged us, provided suggestions and advice, and stood with us, vicariously and electronically. Most of all, thank you, Mark Deal, for creating RPLS.com as a place where surveyors can get together and talk shop, and to POB magazine for taking up Mark's legacy. I don't think Mark ever imagined this sort of thing would come from his board, but I have a feeling that he is both pleased and proud.