Chief Surveyor John T. Donohue Jr. now has the survey truck of his dreams after trading up from his 2005 Quigley. He works for JFC Inc., a full-line land development company in Ellicott City, Maryland and mostly completes construction stakeout and onsite red line plans.

Vehicle(s): Mercedes-Benz Sprinter with a factory 4WD

Survey truck features: Dell Precision 7510 Notebook computer w/ i5 @ 2.3GHz, 36” Wide Screen LG monitor, Canon IP100 Printer (blue tooth), Canon LiDE 400 Scanner, Sprints Hotspot (WiFi), 600ah Lithium batteries charges off alternator or solar panel.

Take us through your vehicle’s new features: When starting a new build, a power source should be the first item on the list. You will need to add air-conditioning and heat that doesn’t require the vehicle’s engine to run. In all previous builds, we used a Honda EU3000 generator, and wow what a fantastic generator. The Honda EU3000 used gasoline for a fuel source and needed to be filled up every morning. This would change with this build and would be a costly upgrade. The new generator would be fueled by diesel and use the van’s fuel tank. Finding a location that would not hinder or complicate the design was important.

After a couple of days on AutoCAD, the design was complete. The only thing now was to run it by the company that was doing the build. After a few tweaks and couple of minor changes, I was on a 4-hour drive to New Jersey to drop it off. A couple of months later I did return to review the ongoing build and this is where the big question came up: do I use a generator or go with lithium batteries? I went home and did my homework on lithium batteries. After a few hours on you tube and a couple of web pages, the lithium battery was the way to go.

surveyor truck dashboard

I can’t explain enough what a difference it has been in having the lithium battery system. The power system detail includes a Victron 2000-Watt Multi-plus inverter/charger, 6 x 100ah Battle Born LiFePO4, 700-Amp 2nd alternator and 300-Watts of solar panels with a Victron MPPT 100/30 solar controller. So, all of the power is mainly for our Proair 12-volt air conditioner. I can get between 6-8 hours of run time during the hot summer months. The heater is a Webasto Marine model and burns about 1 gallon every 22 hours. You don’t even notice the difference in the fuel tank. If you wanted to run it 24/7 and keep the van warm overnight, it would not be a problem.

How surveying work changed over the past few years: In 2009, I had two surveyors working with me and it was more like an assembly line that worked like a well-oiled machine. During the last 10 years, a few factors have changed: the GPS system is more accurate and dependable, and we decided to add it to our toolbox. It was a game changer and well worth the investment. The two surveyors moved on to better opportunities; one started his own successful construction business, and the other joined a company that updates airport runways. So, for the last 7 years, I have been working alone. I have had help from time to time. For now, I am a one-man band and I do it all; scheduling, billing, computations, red line plans, stake-out, cut sheets and restocking.

Survey instruments to get your job done: We use the Trimble Site Positioning System. It includes a SPS930 robotic total station and a SPS985 Smart local base station with rover. Having both parts of the system make it capable of being a Do All System.

What you like most about your survey truck: All of the comforts of home. I’m able to bring a hot or cold lunch every day and save money.

Have a souped-up surveyor truck? Share your story with POB by contacting the editor at adolphuse@bnpmedia.com.


A version of this article originally appeared in the May 2020 issue of POB.