Unless you have worked as part of a three- or four-person crew, you will miss much of the fun in land surveying. I have to think that those old GLO survey teams of 20 or more must have had some hairy adventures that provided great entertainment as the stories were told around the evening campfire.

I’ve never turned to my robot and said, “Hey, look at that,” but I have angrily yelled, “What the hell are you looking at?” when it was focusing on a metal flake ford or a reflector on a telephone pole. Then, I made the walk to point the gun at the prism.

The least-skilled transit person I ever had working for me never seemed to learn how to find me in the scope. The world was covered with snow, and I looked back and he was searching all over while I was trying to give him a backsight. I yelled, “I’m the one in the orange vest.” He did some of his own yelling, too. Eventually, he got a better-paying job running a level and working with the operating engineers at the nearby nuclear generating plant. I was shocked thinking of my worst transit person employed building a nuclear reactor.

I suppose all areas have their local surveyor stories, some of which are like legends. It was my privilege to have been there to see one play out. More than once, I have had a person ask, “You mean you were there when it happened?” They were talking about the day Carl went berserk.

Carl Goes Crazy

First, I’d like to give you some background on my old boss. I enjoyed Carl as a party chief. We worked hard, got things done, and then had some fun. One day, the three of us got into a corn fight. Did you know that if you throw an ear of soft fresh corn, when it hits a person it will smash a mess onto him? Likewise, if the ear collided onto the windshield of the truck when the chief has the plans spread out on the hood, it would spatter him with mush?

At this company, the crew members would come into the office and overhear our employer go over the day’s assignment with the party chief. That way, we had an idea of the supplies needed for the job. Whenever I heard our project would involve road work and traffic, I knew Carl would provide a lot of laughs when he blew his stack at careless drivers and other “morons behind the wheel” of cars going by. All I had to do was watch and wait. I hope Carl knew that, although we laughed a lot at his blow-ups, we always respected his ability and wisdom, and we just plain enjoyed his company. He was easy to work for and to like.

I believe every large suburban firm has, from time to time, a client who is real trouble. Let’s call this one Fred. He was a local builder and probably had bipolar disorder or some other serious mental health difficulties. All the other party chiefs begged off from working for the man. However, being a team player, Carl agreed to go out and do the field work for Fred on this occasion. The boss thanked him heartily and gave him the day’s work as best he understood it. With a great deal of trepidation, Carl left the office, and we were off to work.

First, the client had Carl stake the centerline of a proposed road in a townhouse development. We then marked grades on the stakes. Next, while we were staking curbs, a dozer started heading for the lath we just set. Carl ran and stopped the operator; they discussed the new stakes, and the operator explained to Carl that Fred said he wanted those stakes dozed over and plowed away. It was mind boggling. He said, “You know this guy’s crazy. I have to do what he told me to do, sorry.”

Things Heat Up

We stood and watched the morning’s work disappear. The day was hot and very dry. If you’ve spent time on bare earth sites with construction equipment and other vehicles running all day, then you know the dust can build up thick. Some large sites have water trucks to spray the dust to keep it down. At this site, there was literally at least an inch of dust covering the roadway where we had to work. The sun was hot, and Carl was beginning to boil as vehicles drove by sending up thick dust clouds around us.

The foreman of the crew building concrete block walls drove by in his pickup with two men sitting on his tailgate, and promptly “cropdusted” us. Carl began to yell and scream at him, and the guy stopped the truck. Carl yelled in through the driver’s open window, and the foreman said, “Your mother! I’ll show you your mother!” and raised a four-pound hammer at Carl. The two of us stood frozen in our dusty tracks and gawked. Carl raced back to our truck and grabbed a machete from the rear, and began running after the truck. The men on the tailgate were bug-eyed and frightened. The pickup spun its tires to make a getaway and, of course, raised more dust. As Carl passed us, he tripped on something and wiped out within 15 feet of where we stood. He landed lengthwise on his belly while creating his own dust cloud.

In an instant he sprang to his feet, beard and mustache no longer the dyed black but a light dusty brown. His shirt pocket was torn open and his pens, pocket scale, reading glasses, scratch pad and mini triangle lay on the ground. Carl picked up only his broken sunglasses and put them on his face. They were too were thick with dust to see through, so he handed them to one of us and said, “Here, take these.” Then he started running again after the pickup.

We saw the truck far away now as it stopped and the two fellows on the tailgate jumped off. The truck turned the corner and sped away down the road leaving the site.

Slowly, our powdered leader strolled back to his astonished crew, and we just stared. Then, we handed him the contents of his torn pocket and the broken sunglasses. We were all beginning to snicker when up drove our employer. We stood still shocked as he looked at Carl, then each of us, and knew something big had happened but realized he better not ask. Carl was still a dusty wax replica of himself. There had been no time to shake off any of the earth coat he wore. After a few minutes, our uncomfortable boss knew he better go back to the office.

Together, we asked Carl, “What were you going to do with that machete if you caught them?”

He answered, “I don’t know, but I was sure going to get that hammer he had.”

This is the short version of that day. Technology is robbing us of stories of what happened with the crew. When GPS first came out, I heard of people being hired for static work and setting up control points and sitting alone all day, day after day, and decided that was not for me. Now, I work alone with my robot, but at least I’m not sitting while satellite signals are recorded.

I feel privileged to have lived in the golden years of surveying, and am all the better for working with a great crew chief named Carl.