Sometimes It’s Just Best to Walk Away

This entry is part 7 of 7 in the series May 2021

Surveyors are usually a tough bunch and don’t normally retreat from difficulties. When there are thorns, thistles, and briars on line, they usually reach for the machete and carve a path through. When the weather turns bru­tally cold, they dress accordingly and get the job done. If a corner falls in an inhos­pitable place, such as the edge of a frozen beaver pond, or on the top of a rocky cliff, they go there and search, but sometimes discretion is the better part of valor.

Most of us who work in the field, or at least direct the field crews, have become more aware of safety protocol over the years. We know that it is neces­sary (usually by law) to set up signs, traffic cones, and/or warning lights on the vehicle when working in and along the roadway. We’ve also learned about the recommen­dations for hearing and eye protection for certain tasks. But there are always potential circumstances for which we cannot be prepared.

In 1983 I was working as the instru­ment man on a crew with Randy Snyder (one of my great mentors) on a boundary survey in the rural area between Hagers­town, Maryland, and Harpers Ferry, West Virginia. We faced an irate property owner like no other. Mr. Marshall was his name and he owned and lived on a property adjoining our client’s land that we were surveying.

The front property corner for the lands of Mr. Marshall was documented as a stone set on the west side of the road, near his house. During our preliminary survey, we looked, probed, and prodded around his rose bushes, where it should have been. When he came out of the house to see what we were doing, he started asking what was happening. We had a hard time understanding him because he had undergone a tracheotomy and could not clearly vocalize his words.

We explained our survey and then listened patiently and did our best to un­derstand him as he explained that when they graded his building lot, the stone was disturbed and he took it across the road and set it in the ground on the opposite side of the road from his property. We surveyed the location of that stone, even though it was not in the original place.

When we completed our survey and the missing corners were computed, we had set up along the road on our traverse point to set a rebar in the original place of the stone (as best as it could be deter­mined from the existing corners and deed recitals). As the party chief, Randy started pounding in the rebar, being careful not to disturb the rose bushes, Mr. Marshall came out and started shouting at Randy – as best as he could consider­ing his condition. Our client, Mr. Salamone was there to see where the property corner would fall and he helped us to interpret what Mr. Marshall was trying to commu­nicate to us since he had more experience talking with Mr. Marshall. One thing was easy to determine. He was angry.

Mr. Salamone started trying to explain what we were doing while giving us a running commentary on what was being said in the wheezing, guttural vocalizations coming from Mr. Marshall. Randy went back to pounding and Mr. Marshall, not being able to adequately make his protests known, grabbed the sledgehammer from Randy and drew it back as if to take a swing at him. Randy wrestled the hammer away from him, which sent Mr. Marshall stomp­ing off toward his house while still shouting unintelligible words over his shoulder.

Mr. Salamone said, “Oh no, you got him mad. He’s going to get his shotgun.” We had not heard those words at all. Randy looked at the client and said, “What? Are you serious?” Mr. Salamone quickly told us that he heard Mr. Marshall say he “… was going to blow his head off!” Randy quickly yelled at Mr. Marshall and said he was pulling the rebar out and we wouldn’t be setting that corner. He proceeded to whack the rebar from side to side and pull it out. We quickly picked up and left the site. We did return later and set an offset point across the road.

There are a lot of “what ifs” to this story. If Mr. Salamone was not standing there and if he wasn’t familiar with Mr. Marshall’s dialect, we could have been in a lot of trouble. If Randy hadn’t reacted with a cool head, the outcome could have been much different. It is always prudent to know which battles to fight and when to retreat.

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