It Can Get Uncomfortable Out There

This entry is part 63 of 67 in the series Field Notes

Most field surveyors are pretty tough. This is somewhat contrary to what I had written in a previous article which posed the question, “Are Surveyors Getting Soft These Days?” That can be debated, but I truly believe that my first sentence is true.

When the temperature gets above 90 degrees, as it does in many parts of the country each summer, I can’t help but think of the survey technicians out in the heat. The same goes for any day the temperature (or even the “feels like temperature”) gets below freezing. Many of my worst memories of working in the field involve pounding hub stakes into hard baked earth on a construction site while the sweat poured off of me like I was in the shower. I also shudder when I remember standing behind the instrument in a field covered with snow with a wind-chill in the teens. There are many days when I’m walking into the office and see our trucks pulling out of the parking lot, and I am thankful that I have a climate-controlled office. Not only is my office climate controlled, but I have a coffee maker and a refrigerator with a variety of cold drinks nearby my desk. Yes, the office surveyor has it easy in many ways; even my chair is fully padded and ergonomically shaped to help my posture. There are many professions which require people to work outdoors, in all types of climates, but most of those have the essential “facilities” nearby. I don’t want to delve into the gritty details of bodily functions, but we all must answer nature’s call. It’s not so bad when the survey is deep into the woods, or even out in the middle of a farm, but, as we know, many of the surveys are along a highway, or in a residential development. Those settings cause some major discomfort and, in many cases, an emergency run to the nearest restroom.

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I can imagine some of the office workers already forming their response to this type of thinking. It usually goes like this (and, by the way, I’ve used this one myself to defend my cushy job), “Hey I’ve done my share of working out in the field on these kind of days!” I guess it could also be reasoned that the office work has its own set of particular challenges and mental tasks that make it difficult, but I would argue that many of those cerebral exercises are part of the field work, as well. The real challenge is when you’re trying to use your powers of deduction, while also doing physical labor, and trying to avoid getting frostbite, while searching for a restroom!

There was an owner of a small surveying firm that I knew many years ago. He had just bought a new Ford Bronco for this field crew to use as their survey truck. It was very unusual in those days for a survey truck to have air conditioning. Many owners didn’t even have the standard AM/FM radios installed in the survey trucks that they ordered. While I was talking to this owner who just got the new Bronco, he was complaining about how the guys on the crew were sitting in the truck one afternoon with the truck’s engine running so that they could cool off in the air conditioned truck.

I questioned whether that was any different than the guys getting in the truck to run the heater and warm up on a cold winter day. He looked at me with a puzzled look and tried to explain how that was different; those guys don’t need to cool off. He seemed to have the attitude that hypothermia was more dangerous than heat stroke! I felt like those guys probably needed to cool off for a while. I knew that I would make use of the A/C in the truck when I needed it.

I started this article off with the statement that most field surveyors are pretty tough. I think I’ve made my point. If you’re the manager of field crews, or especially if you’re the owner of a surveying firm, when your field crews come in from a hard day’s work, buy them a drink of their choice (or maybe ice cream, as the case may be) to show them how appreciated they are for putting up with the stress and strain of the field work.

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