You Can Take the Surveyor Out of the Field, but….

I would speculate that very few individuals who have made a career out of land surveying started the path by saying “I really want to be a surveyor and sit at a drafting table or behind a computer all day.” Even if we started in the office, as I did on a drafting board, we likely really got the “bug” (or found another line of work) when we got our first field experiences.

My first day in the field was as a last-minute substitute on a leveling crew. I might as well have been on a surgical team, as I knew as much about both. Before the day was over, I would commit my first field error because of a clear “failure to grasp the concept.” We were using random “natural” turning points and as the instrument man walked past me to set up again, I picked up the rod and followed along, trying to appear at the ready and not hold the crew up. The I-man looked over his shoulder and yelled “No!” I froze. Learning moment number one of hundreds in the field was now in my memory banks.

I didn’t get back in the field for quite a while after that day, and was usually serving as a grunt, doing non-technical, yet needed duties, like packing equipment, cutting brush, or digging holes. I recall being mesmerized by the mystical “telescope” they referred to as “the gun.” I still recall the day over 40 years ago that the party chief asked me if I wanted to look through it and exactly where we were. I also recall many years later, after many hours stooped over a total station, eyes straining on a hot day and thinking it really wasn’t so prestigious or magical after all.

Although I have known surveyors who worked in the field their entire careers, many eventually migrate inside, whether due to age or health reasons, or to pursue office-based qualifying experience to sit for the licensure examination; maybe even to become part of the company’s business operations. Whatever the reason, if you have been like me, when the beautiful spring days arrive, I always miss my time in the field. It is a spring ritual.

When we go on vacations, surveyors are known to walk around with eyes to the ground looking for survey monuments, rather than taking in the tourist sites. We might even take pictures of the ones we find. Even the “Happiest Place on Earth” is not a safe haven, as there are survey monuments distributed all across those parks.

I would also guess that when surveyors gather to tell stories, almost none of them are centered in an office setting. They are field “war stories” about having guns pointed at us, finding something odd, disturbing, or valuable, or “bonehead” moments by ourselves or others. No fun stuff like that happens in the office!!

Many years ago, I was an office chief over about 35 employees. We had arranged a special visit from our department director to do a “meet and greet” with our team, which included three survey crews we held in for the morning. Our director asked us to go around the room to introduce ourselves and say a little something personal or professional. As we moved around the room, typical comments were “I am John Doe. I work in photogrammetry doing compilation. I am married and have three children.” We eventually got to our field staff. The first was Robert, who said he had done a career change and loved being a surveyor. The second was David, who was the poster child of a field hand, and a very good one. David had started with us in the office, but we soon found the field was a much better fit for him. David, in his loud voice announced, “My name is David, and I was banished to the field because of my profane vocabulary and dislike of computers.”

I was standing next to our director and quickly looked to see his reaction. To my surprise, he laughed, leaned over to me and whispered “Is that all it takes? Sh.. I am in trouble.” In David’s case, we couldn’t even bring him in from the field for a couple of hours without him bringing the field with him. He eventually happily retired after never working in the office again.

It is true: You can take the surveyor out of the field, but you can’t take the field out of the surveyor. I see that as a blessing from the best days of my career.

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