Do your two cents make a difference? A hundred years ago, two cents made a difference. A penny was real money and you could buy something with it. Today in the United States, it’s mostly for tax purposes and for coin collectors. I’ve heard they are no longer made of just copper because that would make them far too expensive. So, a penny does not even buy a copper penny.

However, while on a property survey, I saw how throwing in my two cents actually could make a real difference.

A realtor for whom I have worked in the past gave my name out to her father and suggested he phone me and arrange to have his property lines staked out. The property that bordered his eastern line belonged to a large computer software company. That firm was allowing the local municipality to construct a footpath which would extend an existing trail that ended at my client’s land. The trail would leave the road he fronted on, go along his eastern line, then turn across part of his rear property and finally veer toward another road far away.

My client was not at all happy about an influx of strangers meandering along the trail that would run about 25 feet from his property. He owned five acres and, for years, enjoyed seeing nobody walking through the woods. Who really wants a trail along their property? It’s like another road, and the privacy he had enjoyed was in peril. He hoped that my survey would show the existing cyclone fence was not constructed in the right location.

The Work Begins 

His property was comprised of three parcels. On my first visit to the site, I found plenty of corners for the tracts which were not adjoining the corporate lands. I set up my traverse and located the points. Later, the field work was downloaded into my office computer. Once the deed descriptions were entered into the CAD file, the points could be rotated to roughly match the deeds. The pins were close, but not perfect.

Having located the fence along the corporate lands, I saw that one point called for in the deeds was well off the fence, and I had been looking in the wrong place. At his rear corner, where the trail would turn to run along his back line, my calculated “try” point fell under the fence — directly beneath the fence.

On my return trip to the site, I set out to look for the missing corners. At the rear, where I calculated the pin to be, I hit a rebar with the shovel as I dug under the fence. Although I dug there on my first site visit, I had not found this pin. Setting out to find it this time, I knew the location was narrowed down and ought to be within a few tenths. The pin I found was the same material the original land surveyor used. It was at the correct distance back from the road, and eleven-hundredths off the calculated side line. It made my day.

Inexpensive Solution

So, what did I do then? I threw in my two cents’ worth — about the value of 18 inches of quality survey flagging. This is more than enough to tie a nice bright, “Here I am!” sign on the 6-foot-tall cyclone fence, which stood atop the newly-found pin. With the flagging looped several times around the wire that made up the fence, there was plenty left over to blow in the wind.

In a few years, the tails would fall off, but under a tall tree canopy the sun would do far less damage and it may last longer. Even when the long pieces have fallen, the tell-tale knot of flagging will last many years waiting for the keen eye of a future surveyor. The fence being cyclone, it was easy to find a position directly above the pin found.

I have seen homeowners who place their own markers to highlight the position of a surveyor’s pin. If the homeowner is consistent, then he/she knows what was set at each of their property corners.

The photo on the opposite page shows one such marker. It is a plastic tent stake. As you can see, the sun has begun to dry out the plastic and fade the orange color. Since it was driven close to ground level, the mowers will not chop it up or tear it out. Returning several years later when I surveyed a lot two doors down, I took this photo. The wood stakes were gone, but this homeowner made my life easier with his makeshift witness stake.

Once I found the first old tent stake, my eyes were searching for that faded orange and I easily found several more without the need for a magnetic locator. I want to add that this “line” of stakes is actually three or four segments created to accommodate the existing driveway to the old main house on the large tract that was divided up to make the subdivision containing the surrounding lots.

Amateur Psychologists 

As practitioners of the art of land surveying, we are all studying far more than bearings and distances. This includes getting “into the head” of landowners and fellow surveyors in an attempt to understand the signs they left behind.

Is a leaning 2-inch-diameter pipe left sticking up 18 inches a corner, or a marker for a corner nearby? If it’s a corner, why did he/she not drive it down flush? There may be a very good reason, or simple laziness. This is one question that may be answered by taking a little longer to look farther from the client’s property and get a better idea of the surrounding lots. This time is worth more than two cents, but it is an investment in us.

Some of the markers local homeowners would use include but are not restricted to:

  • 48-inch orange or yellow fiberglass poles meant for marking limits of the edge of pavement for use by snowplow operators
  • various pieces of PVC pipe (these may be driven next to or directly over a rebar or pipe)
  • a brick set flush next to the pin (some surveyors recommend this to clients)
  • odd tall pieces of stainless steel rod
  • fence posts short and tall, metal or wood
  • 24-inch-high driveway reflectors

When you find a remote pin with its solitary fence post, the mind’s eye opens wide to take in the woods and search for more solitary fence posts. We learn to gauge the age of such markers and consider if the current landowner may have placed them or if they were driven in 40 years ago. If they have rotted and are falling over, the other posts might already be laying on the ground. Those we will see when near possible corners.

A Man with a Plan?

I recall looking in the deep woods with little hope of spotting a corner and seeing a tire, which I found to be placed over the pin. The leaves filled the center and, when I pulled it off and cleared away the decaying matter, the pin was easy to see. Yes, I did put the tire back over the pin after I located the rebar.

You know I then kept my eyes open for more old tires at the other corners, but I also kept in mind that the landowner might have been an opportunist and used whatever trash he had available at the time.

At another place where I had lost hope that the monuments called for were ever set, I stared into the woods and saw, standing up, an old long handled shovel. There, next to where the shovel was kicked into the earth, was a nice concrete marker. The shovel was an expensive and lazy way for the adjoining homeowner to highlight his corner, but if it saved the $1,000 required to hire a surveyor to come back to mark the corner, then the seeming waste of an old shovel may have been a bargain. Then again, perhaps it was just meant to be temporary, and no one returned to drive in a tall fence post like the other corners.

I try to give my employees the benefit of any doubt when they seem to spend a little too long in the field looking for monuments. I do not want them to rush the work. Some jobs take more time than others, but then some are shorter. In the end, we hopefully make money and enjoy the work. Because I own my business, and often bid a fixed price, it truly is my money I am spending when I put more time into a project.

The investment is far more than two cents, but worth every penny.