February 2006
It is an old but time-honored riddle: what is the surveyor's most important tool? The common replies might change with time. Fifty years ago, the answer might have been "the transit" or "the steel tape." Twenty-five years ago it might have been "the theodolite" or "the electronic distance measuring" device. Today, it might be "the robotic total station" or "the GPS RTK receiver." All good answers, all appropriate for the time, and all wrong.

What is the surveyor's most important tool? His shovel. All of your pinpoint precision is meaningless if you are measuring from the wrong monument.

I read with interest the letter from Matthew Mokanyk criticizing historical surveying reenactments as damaging to the dignity of the profession. His credentials are impressive. Being licensed only as a surveyor and only in one state, I suppose my opinion has only one-eighth the specific gravity of his. And, even though I am not myself a reenactment participant, I do sport what Mr. Mokanyk might characterize as "an inordinate amount of facial hair." Recognizing these limitations, I'll plug ahead and have my say.

By Mr. Mokanyk's standards archaeologists will never be recognized as professionals. In spite of their advanced academic degrees, they wear boots to work and get their hands dirty all day every day. They use analog tools like shovels and whisk brooms and sieves. For some of the modern-day young folks who love their Xbox and iPod, the low-tech life might not be attractive to them. But, it is a one-dimensional view that would define archaeologists as less than professional.

Land surveying involves so much more than just measuring or locating. An understanding of the era is critical to interpreting deed descriptions written [more than] a hundred years ago. Retracing the footsteps of previous surveyors requires a thorough knowledge of how they did their work. There is an element of archaeology, more than a little bit of historical research, and the analytical skills of a forensic detective to put it all together and draw the correct conclusion. I love my job because of this mix of skills. Reduce this down to gathering data with dazzling digital doodads, and it's just another dreary job.

Maybe it boils down to this. Some of us enjoyed history in school; others hated it. Some of us prefer furnishing our homes (and offices) with antiques; others want only the most modern. One family will visit museums; another will go to Disneyland. Mr. Mokanyk's distaste toward historical reenactments probably less reflects the general public's perception than his own views. Even if some small segment of the population shares those views, the reenactments are a big net plus for our profession.

The best land surveyors have a deep appreciation of history and a reverence for those surveyors whose footsteps they follow. The worst land surveyors do not. If seeing a reenactment group puts off a prospective student, likely he was not a good candidate for the job anyway. The young person considering a career in surveying should not be averse to getting a little "land" on his/her hands.

A number of years ago, the local remonumentation peer group showed a young licensed surveyor proof that some monuments he placed were not at the true section corners. He responded, "You guys aren't surveyors. You're historians." This is the attitude of one who was intellectually sharp enough to pass the exam but nevertheless ill-suited to be a professional land surveyor.

The more the public understands about surveying, the more they will recognize us as professionals. We have nothing to hide-not our past, not our boots, machetes or shovels. It's all part of a big complex whole that includes modern dazzling digital doodads. It is the sum of all these parts that the client pays for. Including the good old analog shovel.

Brian Reynolds, PS
Hastings, Michigan

How to Be Safe

March 2006
As safety manager for our surveying department here in Fort Myers, Fla., I am interested in finding out more about this safety video. We have three survey crews and have accomplished much in the way of safety for our people (safety posters, video on water safety, mandatory CPR and first-aid certification, new safety vests, cooling packs for summer, etc.) but I am always ready to do more.

Vickie L. Goers

Editor's Note: Thanks for writing in, Vickie. I'm thrilled to hear of your focus on safety for your department. We will be sure to update you and our many readers on the progress of the film as details become available.