Private and public sectors collaborate on the resurvey of a U.S. Coast Survey base line in the Outer Banks of North Carolina.

Ron Miller, PLS, Gary Thompson, PLS, Joe Huffman and Charlie Brown, PE, PLS, head into the field in search of mile marker #4.
Many surveyors like to retrace their predecessors’ footsteps. Over the past few years, Robert “Bobby” Stalls, PLS, walked much the same line as that walked by one of surveying’s greats: Alexander Dallas Bache (pronounced BA-SH). While working on a reconnaissance project of a portion of the Outer Banks in North Carolina for his employer, the North Carolina Department of Transportation (NCDOT), Stalls’ curiosity piqued when he realized the area hadn’t been completely resurveyed since Bache’s initial survey in the mid-1800s. Stalls wanted to know more, he wanted to compare today’s land to that of yesteryear and he wanted to honor the work of past surveyors with a memorial. Since the National Park Service owns the land, Stalls believed a coalition of public and private sectors could be established to resurvey the U.S. Coastal Survey Base Line of the Outer Banks of North Carolina.

Surveyors working on the resurvey of the Bodie Island Base Line (left to right): Hugh A. Sorrell, PLS, locating engineer, Location & Surveys Unit, NCDOT; Robert “Bobby” Stalls, PLS, assistant locating engineer, Location & Surveys Unit, NCDOT; Randy Wilcox, survey team leader, Location & Surveys Unit, NCDOT; Charlie W. Brown, PE, PLS, state location & surveys engineer, Location & Surveys Unit, NCDOT; Buck Rogers, PLS, chief of surveys, Coastal Engineering and Surveying Inc., Kitty Hawk, N.C.; James Cratt, transportation tech II, Location & Surveys Unit, NCDOT; Greg Skeen, PLS, owner, Horizon Surveying, Kitty Hawk, N.C.; Gary Thompson, PLS, director, North Carolina Geodetic Survey; Rick Poythress, transportation engineer, Location & Surveys Unit, NCDOT; Ron Miller, PLS, assistant locating engineer, Location & Surveys Unit, NCDOT; and Joseph (Joe) Huffman, party chief, Coastal Engineering and Surveying Inc.

The Story of Yesteryear

In 1807, President Thomas Jefferson commissioned an effort for the eastern coast of the United States to be physically surveyed and mapped. As part of that survey, highly accurate primary verification base lines were established intermittently along the coast, as far south as Georgia (and later all the way into Texas). A. D. Bache, second superintendent of the U.S. Coast Survey (who acted as superintendent at the time of these surveys), established one of these base lines roughly 6.75 miles long on Bodie Island on the Outer Banks of North Carolina. The base lines were used as the basis for the initial surveys on the eastern coast, which vastly improved the maritime navigation along the coast before and after the Civil War.

Around 1843, Swiss-born geodesist Ferdinand Rudolph Hassler, Bache’s predecessor, sent James Ferguson and J.C. Nielson, two of the first civilian assistants for the U.S. Coastal Survey, to the Bodie Island area of the Outer Banks to perform reconnaissance work to select the location of a verification base line for primary triangulation surveys extending southward from Hassler’s Fire Island Base Line in New York. Bache subsequently selected Kent Island in Maryland as the site for a verification base line approximately halfway between Fire Island and Bodie Island.

The line was designated as Base No. IV and each end was monumented. Underground (or subsurface) marks consisted of a copper nail in the top of a 4" red cedar stake driven through a hollow glazed stoneware marker shaped as the frustum of a pyramid, the top of which was 3' below ground level. A 5' square platform of 3" planks laid crosswise and bolted together, leaving an 18" hole in the center, was placed 8" above the stake. Surface marks were placed on the platforms. These granite monuments were about 3.3' square and 2.8' high with a 3/4" copper bolt placed flush in the center of the top. Engraved capstones 3' tall x 1.5' square with pyramid-shaped tops were placed over the surface marks.

At the north end of the line, three granite reference marks, each 2.6' long and 1’ square with a copper bolt flush in the top center, were placed perpendicular to the line on the east and west sides, and on a northerly projection of the line. At the south end, two reference marks of the same type were set perpendicular to the line and on either side of the station mark.

Charles O. Boutelle, who worked with Neilson, performed astronomic observations to determine the precise location and direction of the line, possibly using a 300-lb theodolite with a 30" horizontal circle. Hassler designed the “Great Theodolite” (as he referred to it) himself and had it built by Troughton of London in 1836. The U.S. Coast Survey used the instrument continuously until 1873 when it was destroyed by a tornado while occupying a station in Georgia.

William Wurdemann, a master mechanician in the Coast Survey in the mid- to late-1800s, and Bache developed an apparatus in 1845 that was used to determine the length of the Bodie Island Base Line, the second of seven principal base lines measured using the equipment. The measuring device consisted of bars 6 meters long made of iron and brass, which were coated with lacquer and encased in tin tubes to compensate for and minimize the effects of temperature changes. Each bar was carefully aligned on its supports, making contact with the previous one in a leapfrog-like manner, each setup taking less than three minutes. Crews took 10 days to measure the 6.75 miles between the monuments they had set. With lines measured, surveyors drafted maps, performed triangulation and used trigonometry and other techniques to fill in the blanks. Six granite monuments similar to the reference marks were set at one-mile intervals, measuring from north to south.

Seven Score and A Decade Later

Following much research spurred by pure curiosity and passion for history and surveying, Stalls blueprinted his plan to resurvey Bache’s base line. There were many benefits to performing the work. The relationship of present day measurements to those of 1848 could be used to correlate older maps with more recent data and may be useful in barrier island studies. The coordination between the public and private sectors would be a true testament to the cooperative work of surveying. And all involved would have the chance to walk in the footsteps of their predecessors.

Stalls began his adventure in July 2000 when he found the monument at the northern end of the base line established in November of 1848 by A. D. Bache. It had been about 25 years since anybody had located any evidence in the area; previous recoveries had been in 1962 and 1975.

Once Stalls received approval from the National Park Service to cut brush to the North Base, he organized a small group of surveyors and engineers from the North Carolina Geodetic Survey (NCGS), the NCDOT and local firms to help begin the location work of the base stations and mile markers. The handful of men who stepped forward did it with vigor and interest, some traveling as much as 360 miles from the opposite side of the state, to help Stalls with his endeavor. Of course, there are many perks to visiting the Outer Banks of North Carolina, including the stunning views of the Atlantic Ocean, the Bodie Island Lighthouse and Cape Hatteras Lighthouse, and the site of Roanoke Island, one of the first American settlements. A short drive up U.S. 158, visitors will find a busy tourist attraction: the Nags Head/Kitty Hawk area where patrons are paying homage this year to the Wright Brothers in celebration of their first flight 100 years ago (where, incidentally, surveyors played a role, too. See The Latest News, POB, November 2002).

Ron Miller, PLS, ponders over where to spike the shovel next with Randy Wilcox. Bodie Island Lighthouse in background.

And So Begins the Resurvey

The Bodie Island Base Line Resurvey adventure began on Saturday morning, Oct. 26, 2002, as eleven local and state surveyors, myself and POB’s Publisher Diana Brown gathered in front of the Bodie Island Lighthouse. Introductions were made for a few people as others exchanged familiar handshakes. Stalls started the group off with a heartfelt thank you and a few instructions to start the static GPS sessions. To have the stations included in the N.C. High Accuracy Reference Network (HARN), two to three sets of occupations over several days were required using static RTK GPS measurements. Sessions were held using four Trimble 4700 GPS receivers (Trimble, Sunnyvale, Calif.) to tie the ends of the base line (North Base and South Base) to four existing control monuments. To search for the intermediate mile marks along the line, two Trimble 4800 units and a Topcon Legacy (Topcon Positioning Systems, Pleasanton, Calif.) would be used as RTK rovers.

Diana Brown and I took a walk to check out the much talked-about monument at the North Base, which is tucked back in the marshy and wooded area west of State Highway NC12. A short walk about 200 yards off the highway on a bed of pine needles and a nicely groomed trail, thanks to Stalls and his friends, brings visitors upon a large 3'x3' slab of granite in excellent condition. The capstone for this monument is displaced, lying on the ground beside the monument itself. This capstone is roughly 20"x2"x40" in an obelisk shape (like a squatty version of the Washington Monument) with parallel sides. All sides are marked: 1848, A. D. Bache Supt., U.S. Coast Survey and Base No. 4. One of the surveyors cleaned the monument with bleach to make the letters stand out more clearly. North Base has three reference marks, smaller granite monuments (about 12" squares) with center-punched copper rods set approximately 100' away in westerly, northerly and easterly directions.

The monument at the south end of the line, South Base, is south of the entrance road to Bodie Island Lighthouse, approximately 100' east of N.C. Highway 12. This monument has been totally covered in sand, roughly to a depth of 2' and the capstone is in very poor condition. Stalls retrieved recovery text for this station, indicating the existence of two reference marks both of which were found by the crews. One was a few inches below the ground surface, while the other was buried under about 3 feet of sand.

Searching for history: Ron Miller, PLS, and Gary Thompson, PLS, work together to find mile marker #6.

The Finding of the Mile Markers

Stalls and Hugh Sorrell, PLS, also of NCDOT, had already located the first mile marker a few days prior to the October 26 event. It was not 5,280' from the north end as he expected it would be, but rather about 4 1⁄2' short. To find the other five mile markers, we split off into small crews to cover as much territory as equipment and personnel would allow. We went on the assumption that the mile marks were set at the distance in miles rounded to the nearest six meters, yielding all segments at 268 tubes. It was cool and windy, nice work weather that reduced the mosquito nuisance. It was a good time of year, too, because we dodged the hurricanes, so there was really no chance that we would lose our instruments as Bache and his crew did.

Rick Poytress and James Cratt of NCDOT found Marker #2 as calculated. Randy Wilcox and Ron Miller, PLS, of NCDOT found Marker #3 nearly effortlessly about 5" deep and on line, albeit about 20' northerly. The distance between #2 and #3 had been mistakenly assumed as a 269-tube segment, but this finding indicated that all of the segments would be 268 tubes. Position calculations were adjusted accordingly and the remaining marks were searched for. Gary Thompson, PLS, director of the North Carolina Geodetic Survey, won the Find-and-Seek Game at Marker #4. “The water was a liiittle bit chilly,” he said, citing the knee-deep water where he found the marker sticking up.

Onto Marker #5, we found Joe Huffman, a party chief at Coastal Engineering and Surveying Inc. of Kitty Hawk, N.C., who had recently located the marker, with Buck Rogers, PLS, and Greg Skeen, PLS. “That one was not pleasant,” he said, standing with his Topcon Legacy unit. Huffman said the marker is in good shape and flush with the ground, but was in a very swampy bed.

While searching for Marker #6 in some messy earth and not knowing if the marker would be deeply buried in the swampy water or sitting above ground, we rummaged around in the wet, prickly brush. Thompson randomly spiked his spade into the ground and after about 20 minutes, all present heard “Clink!” followed by a respondent “I like that sound!” from Thompson.

Isolated settings for marks may not always be ideal for locating, as they can cause more obstacles than expected. But in the case of the Bodie Island Base Line Resurvey, it was favorable, as the monuments have been preserved.

At 3:45 in the afternoon, after treading amid prickly pear, sand and smelly marsh water, the eleven surveyors and two understudies from POB magazine found the six rocks successfully. The high-pitched, whining insect noise of the magnetic locators were the last attempts to find a potential third reference mark at the South Base. With no such luck, we packed it up and called it a day—a good surveying day.

That was then, this is now; appreciating the site of the North Base. (left to right) Randy Wilcox, POB’s Lieca Brown, Gary Thompson, PLS, Bobby Stalls, PLS, and Joe Huffman.

Reflections of a Base Line

After a well-needed cleanup and a hearty meal, the Bodie Island Retracement Base Line Survey Crew went their respective ways. They left with a strong sense of spirit for friendship, for surveying and for history. Although the GPS equipment aided in their efforts, the crew did not under-appreciate the work done in the 1800s by A. D. Bache and crew. They recognized the differences in the passing of time and realized the importance of the past surveyors’ work.

“Bache and the others that were there over 150 years ago did the real work,” Stalls said. “The main reason why the variety of people that have shown interest or participated in the recovery of the line has been to understand what a monumental task, physically and technically, those folks completed. From what I’ve seen so far, even with today’s tools, we’d be challenged to duplicate their accomplishment.”

Now, hopefully other surveyors and the public alike can recognize the importance of the Bodie Island Base Line—and of surveyors as a group—through a special monument dedicated to surveyors on the North Base of the Bodie Island Base Line. Phase II of the Bodie Island Base Line Proposal submitted to the National Park Service includes a request to refurbish the South Base monument, establish trails to both the North and South Bases and erect interpretive plaques to describe the significance of the monuments.

Fund-raising to assist in implementing the requests of Phase II has begun through the assistance and administration of the North Carolina Society of Surveyors (NCSS) Historical Committee. To make the North Base more accessible for public view, Stalls and crew recommended that a permanent trail be established from the Whalebone Information Center, an already established facility for parking and traffic conditions, approximately 1,750 ft long. Stalls and friends recommend establishing a similar trail to South Base and have analyzed the possible scenarios for the most accessible route with the least amount of maintenance. The proposal to the National Park Service also suggests utilizing local Boy Scout troops (or other civic organizations) to assist in the clearing and landscaping of the trails. This will offer an excellent opportunity for Scouts to earn merit badges and to work closely under the direction and regulation of a government agency.

Charles Challstrom, director of the National Geodetic Survey, has offered to provide commemorative plaques to be installed at each end point of the Bodie Island Base Line, describing the importance of these historic monuments and celebrating the efforts of the recovery and restoration. Efforts to place the North Base monument in the National Register of Historic Places have begun and could take up to a year, according to Doug Stover, Cultural Resources Specialist with the National Park Service.

After “redrawing” the base line of Bodie Island on the Outer Banks, the volunteer surveyors and all those they’ve worked with on the project hope their desires for a proper dedication to the past surveyors of the Bodie Island Base Line come to fruition. The monuments will serve as a dedication to all surveyors near and far, here today and gone but not forgotten. Through a strong and dedicated coalition of devoted individuals from both the private and public sectors, there will—hopefully soon—rest a monument that stands for so much more than was originally intended.