Surveyor's Footsteps: Surveying Truisms
Land surveyors bridge the gap between the ink on paper (lines on a computer screen) and terra firma. This relationship goes both ways. We take what exists and document it for designers; and later we take what designers imagine and stake it out in the field so contractors can build the dream.
After years gaining experience in land surveying, we understand some of the truisms that exist, and on occasion must break the news. I believe that architects and engineers cannot appreciate the depth of our expertise. If an important feature is not shown on the Existing Features Plan, there may be a design conflict. The truism here is “what you don’t know can hurt you,” or “ignorance is not bliss.” Excuse me for taking liberties with revising the expressions.
“Stuff goes downhill” is another important truism. (You’ll certainly thank me for revising that one.) The applicable use of the original phrase is in sanitary sewers. In stormwater design and construction it is “water runs downhill.”
Recently, just down the road in a new development, the contractor was installing an intermediate manhole and running an uphill grade as he laid pipe through the road to service the proposed houses. Later he will connect the manhole with another run of pipe to the existing sanitary sewers down the road. Most experienced contractors like to start at the bottom and build pipe runs uphill. When they start at the existing invert and have an uphill grade, they can know with confidence the stuff will go downhill.
When staking storm pipe runs, we should all know to check the cuts in the field. In order to be sure the design works, the party chief will stake the offset, mark the cut to the invert of the outfall of the pipe and then take the most important reading aside from checking the backsight. Placing the pole in the stream or ditch where water is expected to flow out of the new pipe, they check to see that the new invert will not be underground. When it is underground, the party chief will phone the office and verify that the ditch is to be excavated enough to allow positive flow from the site. I generally take shots to be sure that the downflow cut is still on our site since our client does not have the right to dig up his neighbor’s lot to make the project work.
If we need to phone the office and break bad news, the designer has some time to make a plan of how to correct the problem before the client hears about it. They probably won’t consider thanking you, but you are on a team and it’s in your long-term interests to protect fellow team members and your employer. We are all paid from the profits of business, not the losses. Perhaps that is also a truism.
“Two objects cannot occupy the same space at the same time.”
This is a truism when you are staking and proposed features are to be constructed where something already exists. This can happen in many instances. Let’s say a utility pole was located within a meter for accuracy to save survey costs. If it's 3 feet away, that could put it in the middle of the proposed concrete curb or the sidewalk. The field surveyor will find this out when staking the curb and will go call the office and dump the problem on them.
Another application would be a storm pipe intersecting a sanitary, gas or electric line. If the field people do not alert the office staff to the existence of hard features before the design phase begins, engineers cannot work around them. With current CAD designs, these potential clashes could become visible and then avoided when they are in the system.
“Let sleeping dogs lie.”
There is the obvious application, but not all surveyors are bright fellows. On a topographic survey, there was an angry barking dog. Mike the rodman was insistent to make a friend of the dog. It was quiet inside its doghouse. Mike lifted the flap nailed over the door of the box. Luckily, he was young and able to hop and run at the same time, all the while giving me a good laugh. Mike was thankful when the dog finally reached the end of its long chain.
In my opinion, when we find a boundary issue we are to inform our client and not broadcast to the neighbors. This would be an application of “let sleeping dogs lie.” An exception to this would be if somehow it posed a safety issue to the public health and welfare. [Editor’s note: Some states require surveyors to notify affected property owners of issues and conflicts.]
“If you do not screw on the instrument, it will fall off.”
A party chief was about to run a level loop. That surveyor was known to be hard working, diligent and very productive. He had taken the legs out and placed them next to the truck. On that particular day, his helper was another party chief known for getting little done in a day. This second chief employed a seventh grade technique and got the lead party chief into talking about anything rather than getting work done. In the distraction, the level was never screwed onto the legs. When Speedy realized an hour and a half had passed while they stood outside the truck talking, in frustration he picked up the legs with the level on top and the instrument dropped to the ground demonstrating Newtons’ law. The gravity of the situation was hard since not only did they get nothing done, they would have to return to the office, explain the broken level and find a replacement.
My personal approach to putting away the equipment is to start with the most expensive tool and work down to the cones. The first item would be the instrument since it costs the most. Second would be the data collector or controller. From there I put away the prism, legs and then the other tools. When I am ready to pull away in the truck, it is time to bring in the cones. I have explained to apprentices that all the cones are to be used every time they park the vehicle. If you were ever in court suing for being run over, it would be better to demonstrate 12 or more orange cones around an instrument – enough that a blind man’s cane would not miss them. So while working next to the truck putting things away, you want protection up to the last minute.
Lastly, a truism we have all heard might be “there is never enough time to do it right, but always enough time to do it over.”
An experienced land surveyor recently told me that in his opinion, all the current technology being put to use is silently creating title issues. Plans are being prepared by people who have little training or actual knowledge of field procedures. Technology is advancing in ways the users do not fully understand. Because these problems required land surveying rather than mapping, a picture that said a thousand contours could not tell us if title problems exist, or discover the existence of gaps and gores. He looks forward to all the expert witness testimony today’s work will require of his license tomorrow. It will be then that the courts order the time to do it over, and he will be well paid.
Maybe I ought to mention “you have to spend money to make money.” To me, it sounds like an expression vendors would love. In order to buy the new equipment, programs and survey toys, we need enough revenue generated so we can afford advancements in the field of land surveying. Perhaps land surveyors could decide to add a truism by reversing that expression to “you have to make money to spend money.”