Solo Notes: Outdoors Over Office
Steve Wellington, PLS, owns Wellington Land Surveying, based in Meridian, Idaho. He was introduced to surveying during his time in the U.S. Army and after growing to enjoy it, he made the decision to pursue it afterward. More than 40 years later, he’s still a part of the profession. His earlier surveying years were spent working for large international engineering firms. Then he started his own business in 2007, and being that it was the start of a recession, he was not able to hire the additional crew and staff members he intended to. “The economy had other plans,” he says. So his son started working for him and they got through the downturn small. Now that things have picked up, the business has expanded slightly to include a couple of temporary employees. Together, they offer services including ALTA/ACSM title surveys, boundary and cadastral surveys, GPS control surveys, aerial mapping, commercial site developments, power lines and other utilities, subdivisions, GIS surveys, construction staking, expert witness testimony and 3D laser scanning. The business is licensed in six western states: Idaho, Colorado, New Mexico, Oregon, Utah and Washington. Wellington says traveling is one of the aspects of his work that he really enjoys, but the opportunity to spend the last few years working with his son definitely tops the favorites list.
POB: What aspects of the business do you enjoy most and why?
Wellington: It’s always something interesting. It’s challenging physically and intellectually. I love to travel, so that’s been great. I’ve worked all over the western United States, Europe and South America. Now that I’m solo I really enjoy being hands-on through all aspects of the projects, other than sitting in the office and managing the people that do the work.
POB: Do you have any memorable stories from field work and/or a favorite project you worked on?
Wellington: I have so many. Most of them have to do with being out in the back country somewhere, camping jobs in the mountains. Back in the ‘80s we spent an entire season working in north Idaho in the mountains and camping. That was interesting. We were retracing old surveys. We were living in tents from snow melt to snowfall that year. It was just fun. You’d wake up in the morning and listen to the elk on each side of the tent. I had a job in Alaska where they carried us around with helicopters. We had another project in Wyoming in the winter time where we got around with snowmobiles and snow shoes.
POB: What has been your biggest challenge so far?
Wellington: It’s tough getting used to not having a lot of resources for the work and not being afraid to turn down work if we’re too busy, and learning the accounting and taxes part. Another big part is finding time for any kind of extended time off. You usually find two or three days here and there to get away, but it’s difficult to get a week or over to go somewhere.
POB: How do you stay on top of the latest trends and technologies?
Wellington: Conferences, professional magazines and talking to other surveyors.
POB: Do you have any advice for anyone who wants to get into the surveying business today?
Wellington: I would say learn all you can about boundary law, particularly in whatever jurisdiction you’re working in. Study the court cases because that’s what controls our profession is boundary surveys. That’s what makes it a profession.
POB: How has the surveying profession changed since you started and where do you see it heading in the future?
Wellington: It’s changed tremendously. When I started, we were using steel tape. We couldn’t even begin to comprehend GPS or laser scanners or drones. There was no way to foresee that. Right now there’s no way to see what it’s going to be like in 40 years.
Solo Notes is a regular feature in POB magazine and highlights the experiences and strategies of solo surveyors and small business owners. To share your story in a future issue, please email Associate Editor Valerie King at firstname.lastname@example.org.