From a very young age we all start to make judgment calls. Growing older and gaining experience, we find some things we wish we had done differently and would have had we known then what we know now. Our profession of land surveying is truly a practice. We must make judgment calls in the course of our work.

This past winter was very tough in Southeastern Pennsylvania and our snow lasted far too long. While preforming a topographic survey of a one-acre residential site, I tripped over snow covered debris and fell and hurt my inner thigh on a very hard object. My first thought was I had impaled my leg on a piece of metal, perhaps an old fence post. Lying on the ground I looked down expecting to see something entering one side of my leg and exiting the other side. I saw nothing there. My pants were not torn and there was no blood seeping through from an abrasion impact. Several hours later in the emergency room, my leg was a swollen horrible sight.

Jumping to the end of my story, six weeks later the swelling had mostly gone down and the surgeon who chose not to operate told me that when he was a young doctor, he would have operated and gone in and looked for something to fix. Over the years he had seen many such giant hematomas, and he thought mine would clear up in time and he was correct. He said that if I had ruptured a tendon, it was a minor tear. I like the fact that I had a doctor who had practiced enough so I could skip the needless operation.

Today, I was preparing to set property line stakes on a site I recently surveyed. At the rear is a pin which I held as correct and matched the surrounding monuments and deeds very well. The pin was set next to a leaning marble stone monument. If I were to stand the leaning monument up, it would be where the pin exists now. Someone surveyed and set the pin in the correct place but did not choose to recover the stone. Near the stone are two utility poles and, in my opinion, when one of the poles was set, the heavy equipment ran over the stone and knocked it over. Rather than set a new pin, I would have straightened the stone up. Regardless, I doubt anyone would challenge the location of the pin since the stone appears damaged.

This past year I was asked to field topo part of a large tract to correct for aerial work that “did not look right” to the architects. They were correct:  it was not right. The contours in the road portion that needed to be corrected had me tying into the boundary corners. If possible, I always try to tie into the deed rather than let my topo hang. The older plan for the subdivision, which carved out the 10-acre site I was working on, called for various monuments and I found some good pins and located them.

One of the boundary corners was a marble stone and it was called for on the plan. While I was not performing boundary work, I still wanted to know how I fit the old plan. The monument was on a slope that was severely eroding and previously was the side of a country road which was rerouted. The slope now is about 45 degrees. The stone was now sticking out of the ground about 10 inches at about a 45-degree angle putting it 90 degrees to the ground. In my opinion it was falling over and in a few years would be lying downhill and useless.

I located the top of the stone where it was. Then I kicked it up easily to a vertical position and packed some stones around it to hold it in place and located what I believe was its true intended position. Once I had done some calculating, I found that the previous surveyor held the top of the leaning stone. I doubt the licensed surveyor in charge of that survey actually saw the stone. I can’t imagine taking anyone in the field and convincing them the stone was set on a 45-degree angle in loose soil and sticking so far out of the ground. I also want to add that it was not a stony bank and there was no obstacle preventing it from being set deeper in the ground underneath where the top was. I don’t see this as moving some marker. I really can’t remember the first surveyor who told me to fix these types of markers by standing up fallen stones or straightening bent pins and pipes.

I would like to mention that when I do repair a monument, I first locate its position in case it is disputed and I can tell them where I adjusted it. While doing the initial field work, I will locate the top of a bent pin and where I believe the pin becomes straight. There are of course times when the top is the correct position and is held.

On a lot survey I found a concrete monument that was obviously slanted and looked hit. Since it was on the back line of the property I was surveying and appeared to still be about on the property line, I was not worried about it and called it a leaning concrete monument. After I calculated the field work, I found that the dimple in the monument top was exactly on the rear line of my tract and was the exact corner of the lot that abutted the one I was surveying. Obviously, whoever set the concrete monument had run into a problem and was forced to set the monument as they had. It may have been a root or large stone.

Lastly, while surveying an eight-acre property about to be turned into a small subdivision, I found at the rear corner a monument that did not measure well with the surrounding monuments. It was about 10 feet out of position. I was subcontracted to an engineer and performing the boundary and topo. As I was dissatisfied with the location of the monument, I returned to the site and began testing the monument to see how sturdy it was since it was sticking up perhaps six inches high. Being as it was loose, I pulled it out and saw that it was the top of a monument and about 12 inches long. I staked out to where I calculated the true position of the corner and dug down a foot and found the bottom of the concrete monument. The break matched. In hindsight I should have put the top back on the bottom and snugly filled it in, but I felt someone might be upset with me for moving the top back to where it belonged.

Another surveyor got the bid for staking out the subdivision and called me upset about my error of missing the concrete monument and demanded an on-site meeting of everyone. I got out there early and unearthed the monument bottom. As he was the second person to arrive, he called off the meeting and was perturbed that the monument bottom was not called out on the subdivision plan. Seeing as how I delivered both locations to the engineer I said nothing and gave no response to the complaint. In the end, everyone got what was coming to them. Where I did not draft up the final subdivision plan and just gave them the field work for them to draft, the notation from my field sheet was missing. It cost each of us a trip to the site.

Perhaps one of the worst judgment calls I ever made was short lived. I was in the process of locating and field calculating an odd bar that did not really match anything. Then while I was scratching my head, the rodman directed me to the other similar bar not far away and a horseshoe game appeared. Time, experience and the observation of decisions by skilled surveyors all add up to help each of us learn good judgment that hopefully we pass on to others.


Jeffrey P. Turner, PLS, began his career in surveying in 1971 and became licensed in Pennsylvania in 1987. He was co-owner of a surveying firm for six years before launching his own firm in the Philadelphia region in 1995. He is passionate about leaving footsteps for future generations of surveying professionals. He can be reached at qj57@verizon.net.