The Point of No Survey

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Article taken from "Backsights" Magazine published by Surveyors Historical Society


This is an old story retold by Manuel Gutiérrez, PS, of Florida:

With the advent of the electronic distance meter, GPS, GIS, and computer-controlled Land Surveying, and so on, the Surveying Profession had turned from a labor-intensive type of business into a more sedate (though more professional) air-conditioned endeavor. Surveyors now drove to sites one per truck, set up electronic equipment, had a cigarette or two . . . and left the site. Finished!

The owners of two large Northeastern firms met for lunch one fateful day in March. It was raining and they were both miserable.

"Say, Jack," began James P. Baldwin III, senior partner of Eureksat, Baldwin, Yamato, Fernández, Rachmaninoff and Bertondi, "aren’t you just sick and tired of spending all your time worrying about those tiny discrepancies between your latest survey and the previous one?"

"Uh-huh!", agreed John M. Ventrillo-Asnard of Exeter, Asnard, Pepper, Lanza and Broderick. "Every time I sign a survey that has a corner that says ‘found 3/4" stainless steel pin in cut-out 0.06' North and 0.03’ West’, I feel like throwing up, Jimbo!"

On they commiserated over sandwiches and cappuccinos and ended up with the simultaneous observation: "Boy, I wish we could get a job where NO ONE had ever surveyed before!" Both laughed heartily. Jack summed it up well: "Jimbo, I don’t think there’s a single corner in this planet, anywhere, that hasn’t been surveyed yet!"

"C’mon, man, there’s gotta be!" James insisted. "Wanna bet?", Jack countered while waving goodbye. The reply, "Hell, no, you always win!"

By sheer and incredible luck, a month later Jack’s firm was contracted to lay out a site for a Communications Facility (Exeter, Asnard, Pepper, et al, handled only "big business") in Brazil, in the unexplored area of the Matto Grosso, where Man had never set foot and even Head-Hunting Indians shunned! National Geographic articles and many movies on the Discovery Channel had made the west Brazilian jungles a place of great wonder and mystery. Poisoned darts, shrunken heads, disappearing scientists . . . the stuff of legends!

Jack was so happy he invited his friend and colleague on the trip. Jim was thrilled with the idea and took two months off his own job to be with Jack. Being salty old-timers they relished the idea of showing the young’uns how to "throw the chain," how to use the plumb bob, and how to read a vernier transit! Oh, it would be a great adventure!

The survey teams were transported by helicopter to the remote jungle. Every employee of the company had wanted to go, but old Jack wanted only the best and most-seasoned field personnel, and chose nine men besides himself and his friend. Three GPS/GIS operators would guide six head chainmen and a team of local macheteros, two dozen men on loan from the local government, in the right direction.

They took their original coordinate readings using a satellite-controlled global system, and commenced traversing 57 kilometers into the densest jungle on the planet. The four-wheel drive vehicles were all outfitted with front winches, extra-wide tires and custom struts for the rough terrain. The worst problem would be clearing a road for the vehicles. Some of the copses were so thick that even dynamite was a waste, for as trees shattered, they were held in place by the surrounding branches and parasitic creepers that made up this luscious tropical world. Days that saw advances of as little as 500 meters were considered good days!

The 4WD’s broke down, the men cursed, the gnats and mosquitoes ate them alive, the macheteros threatened to leave, the rains ruined every paper, instrument, outfit and plan, the satellites weren’t always accessible, the jungle sounds (especially the tree frogs that sounded like roaring lions!) prevented sleep at night, but Jim and Jack were in seventh heaven realizing a lifelong dream of surveying somewhere first!

Finally after seven weeks of the most grueling work, Jack and Jim reached an area where their instruments told them the site started. With barely 80 meters to go, Jack got his trusty old steel chain out and stopped everyone. "The last pull into that thicket belongs to us. Just gimme line, boy!"

And the two old-timers -sweaty and bloodied, more tired than one-armed paper hangers - penetrated the thickest and lonesomest piece of real estate ever shunned by Man. Feeling like Lewis and Clark when viewing, for the first time, the surprising sights of Washington and Oregon; or like Hernando de Soto when discovering the Pacific Ocean west of the Panamanian jungles almost two hundred years before . . . they were just about to set the Point of Commencing in the First Meridian when a loud, shrill cry from a nearby cacatúa broke violently into their daydreaming. The colorful parrot squawked: "Keep it plumb, dummy! Keep it plumb!"



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