When I was a young party chief with a firm in Hagerstown, Maryland, in 1982, we were contracted to survey a tract of mountain land for a man named Yost. He was convinced that he owned much more land than his deed specified. When my co-worker and I visited the site and met with the owner, he showed us where his boundaries were by throwing his hands through the air and pointing way over the mountain and off to both sides, saying, “That’s all mine.”
We didn’t know what to do. We were used to the owner at least showing us some kind of evidence of their ownership. We saw a wire fence strung on old wooden posts near his driveway and asked if that was, perhaps his boundary. He said, “No it’s way over there,” pointing far beyond it. We searched all around without finding any property corners or evidence of ownership other than the wire fence. When I told him that there was no boundary evidence in the area where he indicated, he told us there was an old stone wall that indicated his limits of ownership. I asked him to show us where this wall was located because I had searched the area and found nothing.
As he led us back through the woods, he related stories about how he owned a lot more than his deed indicated and that all of his neighbors were claiming land that belonged to him. He also claimed that the previous owners had pointed out various line markings, like the stone wall, that he was going to show us. I was very familiar with these types of structures that were built in southcentral Pennsylvania and western Maryland by the farmers as they picked the rocks off of their fields and laid them in nice, straight lines with a width and height of about three feet. They were typically built on the property boundaries, with some exceptions.
We had walked about 300 feet when he stopped and showed us a small pile of rocks that could have been a natural rock formation with a few more added. It wasn’t the typical stone pile that I had seen assembled to mark a property corner. It was more like the beginning of a small stone wall. As I studied it and looked up the hill in the direction of the property boundary, I couldn’t see any evidence of a stone wall. Mr. Yost began to get angry as he charged up the hill and said, “Here’s some of the wall,” as he pointed at small rock outcroppings here and there.
I knew how important it was to interview property owners or anyone with knowledge of the property ownership, but I was beginning to question whether this man was delusional, scheming, or both. I questioned him a bit about the veracity of his claims and this just made him angrier. I finally conceded that perhaps this was the property boundary and we’d have to make some preliminary measurements before we began our traverse and location survey.
After he went back to his house, we measured the deed distances along the aforementioned wooden post and wire fence and started to find some corners of the fence that matched the direction and distances that were stated in the deed. As we continued our work and came close to houses on the adjoining properties, I went to the door of these houses and told the owners where we were doing. The first property owner that I spoke with showed us some rebars and caps that were set during a recent survey of his land. These all seemed to match with everything we had observed and measured to this point. He also told us some stories about the arguments that he’d had with Mr. Yost regarding the boundary location.
When we stopped to talk to Mr. Yost and told him what we had found, he tried to discredit the overwhelming amount of the evidence that we found. Every time I stopped at his house during our survey, he would tell us now seemingly apparent lies about his neighbors. It seemed he was trying to discredit the parol evidence that they had provided. The scary part was after he completed each story, he would raise his right hand, as if swearing an oath and say, “If I’m lying, may God strike me dead!” I was always looking around, hoping that God would have mercy on my poor, lost soul.
As we met the various adjoining property owners and told them that we were surveying for Yost, they all had some stories to tell us about how he was a contemptable man. It seemed he had cheated and lied to most of them. Every time that he saw us doing our survey, he would stop us and ask about the progress.
I was young and cocksure about my work, so I told him how we had found some pipes and pins that were set for corners and other corroborating evidence. Each time he would curse and say, “That’s not where the corner is! Those people set those corners themselves – they’re not in the right location!” When I informed him that some of them were set by surveyors who used an identifying cap on the top (now required by law in Maryland), he accused the property owners of moving the corners. I tried to convince him that the corners were in the right place.
We completed our survey and discovered that most of the fence and corners that were found, fit into the owner’s deed as well as the adjoining owners’ deeds. The day that we went to set the property corners, he was angry about where the corners were going to be set. He told us that we shouldn’t have believed his neighbors, he owned everything right up to their front door! When he insisted we go look at “his” property near the one neighbor’s house, we parked the truck and walked toward this forlorn dwelling.
As we approached the front yard, a stereotypical mountain man, with long hair, long beard and ragged hat, appeared on the front porch with his shotgun and just stood there. He was obviously guarding his property, and I told Mr. Yost that we weren’t going up there!
Yost was trying to say the wagon road that his deed listed as the boundary was this old logging road that went behind this “shack.” However, the plotting of the deed aligned very closely with the center of the county road in front of the dwelling. I tried to explain that the deed description was very old and that it may have been an old wagon road when it was written. This was immediately met with his vehement disapproval. He was being ridiculous and I couldn’t talk sense to him. He got mad and told us to leave and not come back. We did sneak back to set the corners and fulfill our contract. To provide evidence that the corners were set, we took pictures of them with a copy of the day’s local newspaper.
He hired another surveyor to check our work and when that surveyor called Mr. Yost to tell him that he agreed with our findings, Mr. Yost exploded on the phone and said, “You surveyors are all in cahoots!” That surveyor told us Yost had slammed the phone down on the receiver cradle so hard that it didn’t disconnect but bounced off and was left hanging so that the surveyor on the other end could continue to hear the outpouring of profanity that Yost was sharing with his family!
I often think about this experience when I give a proposal for a boundary survey and the potential client seems to be a bit on the crazy side. Sometimes, it’s more advisable to move onto the next client who seems to have the intelligence and means to accept the survey and pay the fee.