I hear too much of politics lately. The TV, radio, friends, and relatives all have polarized opinions on what’s right and what’s wrong. There are liberals and conservatives pressing their views. If it was not making a political statement, I’d like to get some tiny stickers for my instruments with that “Don’t Tread On Me” snake. But, the last thing I want is to have a tire go over my instruments because someone took it as a political view. 

In sharing some tragic instrument memories, I hope to encourage those people who use surveying instruments on a daily basis along with the occasional user. In the movie, Cool Hand Luke, the warden says, “There’s some men you just can’t reach. Like Luke here, Luke gets what Luke wants.” Have you ever tried to stress the importance of protecting your equipment only to drive by a site and see an instrument in harm’s way? We’ve all had our share of “Luke’s” on our field crews.

While driving through a large shopping center, my wife passed an instrument set up on the blacktop, far from any island, all on its lonesome. Scanning the horizon there was no survey truck in sight. Did they forget it? It happens. Or did they just think it would be alright being left set up until they arrived back from lunch? I told her, “Next time you should pick it up and put it in your car and wait a half hour to see if anyone comes back.” As the wife of a business owner, she completely understood that the employer pays for the instrument and the money comes out of their pocket. As a business owner, I also want to minimize insurance claims for damaged equipment.

Treasure Hunt

On a summer evening, while driving to meet some friends, I passed by a construction site and saw a nice tripod on the sidewalk. It was obviously, outright, and notoriously left by the survey crew. After mulling things over, I got out and found a place on the site to hide it in the tall weeds. I was familiar with the survey company performing the work and called them in the morning to let them know where I left their tripod. I wondered if the crew came to the site before their supervisor called to give them instructions for their treasure hunt. 

Why would someone want to take an abandoned instrument or legs? They might look neat on a shelf as a decoration. (My nephew asked me if I had any old legs he could have to use as gun rests for hunting.) Another person might try to sell them on eBay. And then there’s the worst possibility: it sits in the finder’s garage and does nothing. 

For those thinking, “My boss has insurance,” remember they probably have a deductible. When your employer pays their deductible, they are paying partly for an instrument they already bought. Perhaps you should be asking yourself, “How many instruments will you be able to break or abandon before you are fired?”

Near Misses

During the age of transits, some crews kept their instruments in wooden boxes while others used a “bullet” case. The bullet case looked somewhat like an artillery shell and had a leather strap over the end of the bullet with which to carry it. During the daily drive out to lunch, the poorly latched Chevy suburban door flew open, and out it went. Even with the impact and sliding across an intersection, the gun was fine. Today, after such an event, I would calibrate it first before trying to use it for surveying and find out if it still worked. 

I hired a simple country boy to train as an instrument person. It took me some time to get him to stop walking around with a 32 ounce cup of orange juice in hand while he attempted to assist me. He was less than slow. One day, we were doing something with an automatic level, and while I was looking over plans at the truck, he walked up behind me. I was startled by the fact that he had left the tripod and level out in a busy parking lot as he stood juice-in-hand and wanted to see what I was doing. It was well expressed in the movie “Cool Hand Luke.” “Some men are hard to reach.” I thought about what tool this mountain man might understand as having value and asked him, “Would you leave your chainsaw in the middle of the parking lot?” I struck gold on that one. He got it. Then I told him to stop carrying around that juice – another accident waiting to happen. 

Diversionary Tactics

There are employees that try to get the boss to talk about sports, or fishing, or something else just to keep from working. A young, energetic junior party chief had an old, slow-working party chief as his assistant due to employees being out. After 90 minutes, the younger party chief looked at his watch and with shock, realized he had been tricked into wasting time. Panicked, he quickly picked up the level and tripod and, due to distractions of the conversation, he never screwed the level onto the tripod. It fell to the ground, broke, and five minutes later they were driving back to the office for a replacement. 

I always instruct employees, before moving the instrument, try to pick up the instrument from off the legs to prove to themselves it is screwed on. I do this at the end of every setup and teach employees to do likewise. It’s especially important to me because the cost of the deductible to repair an instrument comes out of my pocket. I would much rather keep my profits. 

Basic Training

I believe that in most companies having over five field persons, the training of a new person is done by party chiefs. That is a lot of responsibility during the training process. How tight do you screw on the instrument to the legs? How do you properly carry it and never let it bang into anything? Do you tell the instrument user to read the manual? Do you encourage them how to firmly tighten the leg clamps? 

A retired instrument representative excitedly complained to me how field people did not respect that the 360 degree prism is really an “instrument” and needs to be respected as such. I tell employees how much they cost to replace. They gasp.

During the past year, while working on a heavy construction site with lots of steel columns and thick concrete walls, I took a helper out with me to make things easier. The person had been working for perhaps 16 months. Tri-axle dump trucks were pulling in to dump loads into the basement and weaving in between steel columns. The helper was walking up beside me because he was bored I suppose. From behind us, we heard a noise, the kind of noise you have never heard but you know it’s all wrong. 

Turning around, we saw how he had left the survey stake bag and the prism rod with the data collector lying on the slope of the tire track where the dump trucks need to drive to get in and out of the site. It was so painfully stupid. I told the contractor I could not continue working that day and would be back another time. My collector was curved when it should have been flat. The helper instantly knew how stupid it had been to leave it there. He actually put it down there without any regard for its safety when there were hundreds of safe places to leave it for a half hour. For new employees, I suggest you tell them to never leave an instrument or equipment in a place they would not want to leave their cell phone or IPad. Like my earlier assistant and his chainsaw, they need to relate it to something they value. Sometimes stupidity costs $4,000.

Avoid Excuses

As an employee, I suggest you never offer the excuse, “Well, you didn’t tell me not to leave it in the dump truck tracks.” (The assistant did not say that, but you know some would.) And remember, your employer may not have a spare instrument and would then have to purchase or rent one because your negligence forced them to. If the equipment you destroyed was old, rather than investing $2,100 repairing an old instrument, they may decide it’s wiser to buy (prematurely) a new $25,000.00 instrument. 

As a business owner, I want to be liberal with paying employees and providing benefits. I want to be conservative with my equipment and trucks and get the full potential they have to offer so I can more easily pay employees. Were it not, as I said, for the chance my action would be mistaken for a political statement, I’d like to get those little “Don’t Tread On Me” stickers. It might even be worth that risk if the visual reinforcement of the message would keep even one of my instruments from being crushed beneath the tires of a dump truck.