It’s that time of the year when many of us are experience frigid temperatures, and we must be ready for difficult days in the field. I’m sure there are those who will say—as Alfred Wainwright once said, “There’s no such thing as bad weather, only unsuitable clothing.” To that, I would respond with something about being caught unprepared and sometimes the best outdoor clothing is not affordable for a young rodman/chainman.
When I was in that stage of my career, I had some decent outdoor clothing, but it was all hunting gear. The idea of looking like a deer hunter walking around in a housing development didn’t stop me from wearing a blaze orange coat into the surveying field.
Those who work in more temperate areas probably haven’t had the “pleasure” of trying to work a keyboard (or in the old days write in a field book) with freezing fingers. Cold is one thing, but the wind makes the day unbearable. There is some good clothing that will keep one warm in below-freezing temperatures—until the wind kicks up.
One winter the firm where I was employed had to survey a large field for development. I was instructed to take a rodman and gather the topo with a total station and data collector. I was “running the gun” (operating the instrument) so I ended up standing next to the instrument for two sub-freezing days with wind whipping across a snow-covered field. I wore insulated coveralls, gloves, face mask, hat, and felt pack boots, and I still had to get in the truck every 30 minutes to warm up. I left the motor running so I could crank up the heat and thaw my fingers enough to turn the knobs and push buttons.
When I worked in the field, it always seemed there were a few days when I was caught unprepared. This usually happened when I shifted from one crew to another and didn’t have a wardrobe of sweatshirts and coats stashed in the work truck. These were days the forecast was for sun and calm winds, but clouds gathered, a breeze would pick up and then turn into a gale.
When the temperature plummets below freezing for a few days, setting stakes becomes a major undertaking. Frozen ground is similar to concrete, so setting a wooden stake requires a pilot hole to be created by driving a steel pin into the ground. We usually used a discarded bull point from a jackhammer. Of course, this was dangerous because they are made of hardened steel which can chip off; especially when it’s cold.
I’ve also heard the steel pin for driving pilot holes called a “bull pin” or “frost pin.” Once when I was working with a new guy, I told him to get the bull pin. “Isn’t it called a frost pin?” he asked. I told him he could call it whatever he wanted, just get it. “Okay, here’s the pinecone,” he said. When I questioned his new term, he reminded me that I had said, “…or whatever you want to call it.” After that, he and I used the term “pinecone” for the steel pin.
This winter, I hope everyone who works in the field will keep the heater running and dress warmly while I stay comfortable in the office and remember—not so fondly—those cold days.