ProFile: Family Surveying

A 1.262Mb PDF of this article as it appeared in the magazine—complete with images—is available by clicking HERE

For any surveyor who likes history, the Surveyors’ Rendezvous events are great, primarily for the people you meet. The men and women who attend the event embody the spirit John Love described in Geodaesia: "…we seldom find a Man that has once entered himself into the Study of Geometry or Geodaesia, can ever after wholly lay it aside…" Granted, most of the attendees are older, and have practiced surveying for many decades, but the love of surveying permeates all of the attendees. History appeals to surveyors from both a legal standpoint and a romantic one. Legally, our system of land ownership critically depends on practical application of his torical knowledge; romantically, because as we grow older history takes on more importance ­ perhaps because we finally see ourselves as part of it.

Many Rendezvous ago, I began talking with Joe and Ben Arnold, a father and son pair from Tennessee. Joe has attended every Rendezvous with the exception of the one in Spokane and Ben has attended five. They possess an engaging Southern charm, and are easy to talk to and genuinely interested in surveying and surveying history.

But there’s lots more to Joe and Ben than meets the eye, and the better I got to know them, the more I sensed that our readers would enjoy their story. That being the case, on my return to Maryland from the CGSIC conference in Fort Worth last September, I scheduled a pleasant detour through Oak Ridge, Tennessee to visit the Arnold families.

Joe and Allison, high school sweet hearts and married for 38 years, gracious ly invited me into their home, which they have lived in for two years, after having spent 28 years in their previous home. Joe laughed and said they always planned on moving into a bigger house, but never got around to it until after their son and daughter were raised and left home.

The 61yearold Joe grew up in middle Tennessee and obtained a BS in Math and Science from Middle Tennessee University in Murfreesboro. After that, he obtained a degree in mechanical engineer ing from the University of Tennessee in Knoxville. While in school, he was exposed to a few surveying classes that began a lifelong fascination with surveying and surveying instruments. After graduation he went to work for Union Carbide at Oak Ridge, and has worked for various Department of Energy (DOE) subcontractors for more than 34 years.

In keeping with family traditions, son Ben also obtained a mechanical engineering degree from UT Knoxville, as did Joe’s brother, Jones. As you can see by the photo, Joe and Jones are identical twins. They do have their differences ­ one is lefthanded while the other is righthanded. And they part their hair on different sides. All three Arnolds work for a DOE subcontractor as mechanical engineers.

For several years Jones has worked in a gauge lab that supplies the primary dimensional standards for the Oak Ridge area complexes. The lab certifies gauge blocks for machinery. (Readers who have worked on old car engines have probably used feeler gauges to adjust the valves.) The work Jones does involves measuring millionths of an inch, in contrast to sur veyors’ chains that yield lower accuracies. But like chains, certifying these gauges also involves coefficients of expansion. Both Joe and Jones agreed that surveying is like gauging: both involve angles and lengths and measuring both.

Joe earned his PE in 1974, at which time engineers could perform surveying in Tennessee. Not far from where Joe and his family were living, his fatherinlaw had purchased a 280acre parcel in middle Tennessee and wanted it surveyed. Joe rented a K&E transit, and proceeded to do the survey with a friend who had worked for a surveyor. It was Joe’s first commercial surveying experience.

In 1977 the Arnolds moved back to eastern Tennessee. Along the way, Joe had purchased an old Dietzgen transit and began working parttime for a local surveying company, Sheffield Surveying. The licensing law in Tennessee was changed and in 1979 he acquired a land surveying license. At the time he was still working as a mechanical engineer. As part of its services, Sheffield Surveying did coal mine permits, which included hydrology work, calculating runoff, designing retention ponds, sizing culverts, etc. When Sheffield went out of business in 1981, Joe and one of Sheffield’s employees, George Hileman, started a company named Appalachian Engineering & Surveying and have been in business together ever since — more than 25 years.

George had gained experience as a drafter while serving in the U.S. Navy. He started surveying in the 1970s and worked for local surveyor Clyde Brummit and Sheffield Surveying. Today, Appalachian Engineering and Surveying has all the records of both Sheffield and Brummit. They laugh as they admit that although the work of their predecessors was pretty good, and in many cases contains good historical information, surveyors in those days had a habit of not always closing their traverses. They’ve also learned that some of the old surveys by certain surveyors in the past in the area can be problems, and if asked to follow their work, the price immediately goes up. Joe also admits that there are parts of East Tennessee where outsiders are not welcome and says that George, who was born and raised in the area, knows what places they can go to and what places to avoid. They have surveyed mountainous tracts and come across the remnants of abandoned moonshine stills where if they had been surveying in these areas several years ago they could have been in real trouble. They believe that today, East Tennessee is a great place to live and work.

Over the years, Joe and George have learned to be selective with their clients; they become cautious when they hear, "This’ll only take you thirty minutes, it’s so easy you can do it from the back of your truck," or "You can do this job for two hundred dollars." Usually that’s when they advise the client to take the business to another surveyor.

I asked them about the changes they have seen in surveying, and they immediately responded, "All the regula tions!" It’s not as easy to simply carve out an acre these days. There are planning commissions and utilities to deal with. Subdivision plats may require as many as eight signatures, and if everything is not done in order, parts have to be redone. Rules are constantly changing and surveyors are not always notified of every change. Every county is somewhat different. For example, Anderson County (the county in which Oak Ridge is situated) no longer allows hand lettering on plats ­ this means if there is a change on a plat it has to be replotted. No change is simple.

Like most surveyors, George likes to work outdoors with a different place to work every day. A proud partner, Joe says that George is one of the best, if not the best, party chief in East Tennessee. "He has a sixth sense about surveying and how it should be done." George also mentioned the rule changes that now mandate an accuracy statement on coal mine maps. The company does some coal mine surveying and son Ben has helped out in the past. Ben says working in a mine would be good experience for any high school student. "You’ll have a different outlook on school, and you’ll like it better."

George has three daughters: the oldest worked for the company part time while in high school and college and she is now a civil engineer (EIT) for the State of Tennessee; one is a full time college student, and the other splits her time between college and working for the company as a rodman in the field and working up maps and property descrip tions in the office.

The company uses a Topc
on 303 total station with an HP48 data collector run ning TDS. They use an "antique…as in 1994" drafting program called TruCad from Choice Computing, which Joe says does what he needs for now. They have considered purchasing a robot, but not GPS because most of their work is under tree canopy or underground. They advertise in the Yellow Pages, but most of their work comes from repeat customers, referrals and word of mouth. Allison answers the phone for the company (and does such a good job that several times she has been offered a job to go and work for others in the area!). Today, the work consists mostly of boundaries, lot surveys, an occasional subdivision, and mine work. They have more work than they can get to.

I asked Joe what attracted him to surveying. In addition to the required precision and accuracy, he says he has always been fascinated to see what people have done mechanically with instruments. He also likes reading old deeds and making sense out of their history. He has a nice collection of old survey instruments including compasses, transits, theodolites, and other survey gear.

Joe’s daughter is two years older than Ben. She is also a UT graduate, with a degree in kinesiology, which is the study of joints and movement. Both of Joe’s children have two children, a boy and a girl each. Ben’s son is the oldest and is six. The Arnolds obviously believe in education. Joe shared his philosophy about college, one practiced by his mother: start a savings account when the children are young and create an expecta tion in them that they will go to college.

At the Rendezvous in East Lansing in 2003, part of the program was to survey the way the engineering students at Michigan Agricultural College (now Michigan State University) did back around the turn of the century. Joe, Ben, George and Danny Moore from Alabama and Mike Lodzinski from Michigan teamed together and were assigned the task of measuring from the "apex" of a computer building to the "corner" of an agricultural building, neither of which were intervisible, using only an old transit, a chain and log tables to do the calcula tions. George took charge of the fieldwork, overseeing the measuring of a base line, setting up the transit and turning the four angles needed to obtain the necessary field data. Ben and Danny, with Mike’s help, used the log tables and looked up the information to perform the calculations. That night Joe and Ben reviewed the field data, checked the calculations and settled on an answer to the assigned problem: 587.08 feet. At the banquet on the last night of the Rendezvous their answer was compared with what had been measured with a total station — 587.32 feet, a difference of 0.24 feet.

For more than 25 years Joe and George have worked hard to build a good reputa tion in the community. The company has records that go back to the 1940s. Joe learned through formal education and George by hands on, making their partnership unique. They make a good team with a great story. Should you happen to meet them at the next Rendezvous, don’t hesitate to say hello.

Marc Cheves is editor of the magazine.

A 1.262Mb PDF of this article as it appeared in the magazine—complete with images—is available by clicking HERE