Rendezvous 2010 Recap

A 2.888Mb PDF of this article as it appeared in the magazine—complete with images—is available by clicking HERE

Rendezvous, in the plural sense, are more than meetings–they are gatherings and collections of brand spanking new perspectives on ancient, old and archaic facts in surveying history. Over the past 14 years the Surveyors Historical Society has held memorable meetings in memorable settings, studying many varied and memorable topics. Along with Mason and Dixon, Lewis and Clark, Peter Jefferson (Thomas’ father), and Abraham Lincoln, to name a few, we can now add the American War Between the States and the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA).

In the singular sense, a rendezvous is (please forgive me) a spiritual affair, much like a revival or a family reunion. We show off our babies (research, historical findings, articles and ideas) and share stories of advancing the surveying profession in our communities. This year’s venue was the historic Delta Queen River Boat, moored on the north shore of the Tennessee River in Chattanooga, Tennessee. Events began on Wednesday, September 15th, as folks began arriving from as far as California, Wyoming, Montana, New York, Pennsylvania and the south shore of the river in Chattanooga. The gracious and efficient crew of the Delta Queen laid out a spread of 40 pizza pies with plenty of cold refreshments to wash them down. As familiar faces showed up, old friendships rekindled, and the ambience of the river boat lent itself to relaxing fellowship and quiet reflection.

On Thursday morning the group was welcomed to the City of Chattanooga by the honorable Mayor Ron Littlefield. In his remarks he badgered the State of Georgia pretty hard and humorously over the boundary/water issue with Tennessee. The Mayor was followed by James Ogden, the chief historian for the Chickamauga and Chattanooga National Battlefields. Next came the head, or Grand Pooba (we can’t determine his exact title) of Surveyors Historical Society, Rich Leu, followed by Jim Boyer, the President of the Tennessee Association of Professional Surveyors who concluded the dignitaries portion of the program.

The show begins. Coloradan, Don Erickson, perhaps the greatest living mind regarding 19th Century American topographical mapping, dazzled the group with a presentation of the tools and techniques used in the early mapping of our great country some 150-180 years ago. Don laid the basis in mapping for the greatest tragedy to befall our united States.

One hundred and forty seven years ago, nearly to the day, William Stark Rosecrans suffered the most crushing defeat of his career at Chickamauga, a huge battle that occurred a few miles south of Chattanooga. Ol’ Rosy was a West Point Engineer prior to the conflict. Surveyor Don Teter of West Virginia enlightened us on Rosy’s career both as a mapper and a Union General, and included names of many of the individuals that played important roles in mapping during the war.

For balance, Co. B, 3rd Regt, Confederate Engineer, Evan Castle currently residing in the town of Between, Georgia, spoke of Jedediah Hotchkiss, probably the most renowned cartographer to emerge from the nasty disagreement between north and south. Hotchkiss was charged by Stonewall to "make a map of the valley". It was the map produced by Hotchkiss that assured Jackson’s remarkable victories over three separate armies in the Valley Campaign of 1862.

Ohio surveying and engineering professor, Robert Mergel, along with Don Tackett, wrapped up the classroom activities with a fine presentation explaining the actual mapping techniques utilized by both sides in the war. Paraphrasing Confederate General Longstreet’s advice following the death of a plane table mapper, we were told, "You’d best measure quick, those rifled cannon can be pesky and have been known to do damage to the fellow standing beside `that little table.’"

The afternoon was spent in educating attendees to plane table surveying in Coolidge Park alongside the boat. Milton Denny of Alabama gave an excellent talk on the evolution of the alidade and general use of a plane table. On display for the hands-on activities were alidades ranging from open site to a short-lived alidade with a mounted EDM (quickly replaced in popular use by the total station circa 1980s). Everyone got a hand at preparing a plane table surveying map in the field. The maps were checked for accuracy using two-pole chains, stadia boards and triangulation. While this all was going on, a war was being fought between Billy Yank (Robert Mergel) and Johnny Reb (Evan Castle). Both had assembled a team to produce a period map of Chattanooga in competition, the winner to be decided the following evening at auction. Thankfully for all the would-be mappers, especially those clad in wool, it was an overcast afternoon, for humidity was high and the temperature topped 90.

Supper time! A trio of school buses transported the group up to Sugar’s Ribs on the side of Missionary Ridge. With goats munching in the yard, we enjoyed a western view of the setting sun over the glorious panorama of Chattanooga, with Lookout Mountain to the south. Inside, massive amounts of delicious barbeque pork and chicken were being consumed by this ravenous group of mappers. It was a pleasurable ending to a good day of fellowship and learning. It was around this time I began to hear a little trepidation among the TVA folks. They were quietly voicing concern that their program the next morning might not measure up to the Civil War portion of the program. A new day was about to dawn.

I believe it was Dallas Sluss, one of the TVA mappers that pointed out a great connection between the themes of study for our event. During the early years of the depression, FDR charged the TVA to "make a map of the valley". (By the way, Roosevelt and Hotchkiss were both New Yorkers). Eventually tossing out the impossibility of mapping such a huge expanse with plane tables, the mappers of the agency began perfecting the early stages of photogrammetry. Their work resulted in vast improvements in aerial mapping, stereoscopic technology and map production on a global scale, far removed from the contemporary small farm acreage survey.

FDR’s "map of the valley" culminated in the mapping of over 40,000 square miles of the Tennessee River valley region and was completed in slightly more than two years. The end product was the 7.5 minute quadrangle map, the standard for surveyors, foresters, hikers and anyone else relying on a highly useful and friendly map.

TVA day opened with Alan W. Voss, retired TVA, laying the groundwork (no pun intended) of TVA and the history of its mapping program. What these pioneers accomplished in such a short period of time is amazing. Current TVA mapper and Alabama surveyor Roy Teal continued and expanded on Mr. Voss’ talk. They showed us a great film–a documentary of the accomplishments of the honored topogs–which to the trepidatious TVA guys, turned out to be one of the highlights of the entire meeting. I have had numerous requests for a digital version of the film, which will soon be available at

The aforementioned Dallas explained the enormous complexities of mapping a dam and the resulting impounded reservoir. There were early land acquisitions to be made with plane table surveys or aerial photographs, virtually millions of individual lines to be measured, and unfathomable property descriptions to be prepared. These guys had challenges, to say the least, but they also had jobs in a time when work was scarce. Currently Mr. Sluss’ task is to catalogue and distribute the ma
ny historical maps and documents compiled by TVA.

Ray Mitchell then told us of TVA’s contributions to the WW II effort. Wary of an early attack on the States, TVA’s first task was to map for defense purposes the Hudson Valley Region, FDR’s "hood". If one finds a TVA monument in upstate New York, there’s a reason. Maps of portions of Europe and North Africa followed. Much like Hotchkiss’s maps for Stonewall, cartography played a huge role in victory. TVA produced not just maps for the war effort, it produced dams and electricity. Great amounts of electricity are required to produce airplanes, aluminum and atomic bombs.

The people of the Tennessee Valley thrived during the war years. I knew a fellow that once sold a refrigerator to a family without electricity during this period. This family was so certain FDR and TVA would put electric in their home, they got a good deal early on, long before their neighbors got electric, much less thought of buying a "Frigidaire".

Uwe Zitzow wrapped up the classroom activities with a premier movie featuring the GeoRevolution, that highlighted the phenomenal advancements in digital mapping that have occurred over the last 10 years or so. This project by Penn State Public Broadcasting consists of four 15- minute video episodes, the first of which was released simultaneously (not by planning) with the Rendezvous. These segments as they are released can be viewed at

The grizzled old group of surveying historians and enthusiasts were pleasantly overwhelmed by these "newcomers". TVA and its accomplishments rank right up there with Lewis and Clark, Harrison’s clock, the railroad surveys, and any number of the important surveys in the history of our profession in this country. From the 1930s to the 1960s they blazed a trail and set standards that the US mapping community would follow until the advent of digital technology. Even today, their defense mapping techniques are in constant demand with the Pentagon. They produce maps most of us will never see.

Following a bright sunny afternoon touring and visiting Chattanooga, one of the most beautiful cities in the country, we all gathered for the banquet/auction. Our esteemed guest and speaker that evening was Civil War era cartographer, writer and humorist Porte Crayon (played ever so well by Don Teter). Crayon had resided off and on for many years in the Chattanooga area.

The live auction that followed was indeed lively. Auctioneer Chas Langelan kept it moving with maps, books, surveying tools, quilts and any number of items being bargained for. It culminated with the decision of the victor of the Mapping War for Chattanooga. The war was about to end. Freshly matted and framed, the two maps produced earlier in the day nervously awaited their fate in this battle to end the war. The two maps were being placed on the auction block. The winner was decided by a mere $1. Union topog Robert Mergel honorably presented a replica Bedford Forrest "wrist breaker" saber to the victorious Confederate Engineer Evan Castle. Evan immediately transferred the saber of victory to Mary Root, the talented calligrapher on the southern map.

Saturday morning as the SHS folks filtered out to disembark, members of TAPS filtered in. The Tennessee Association of Professional Surveyors met to hold their fall Board of Directors meeting and installation of new officers. At a delightful luncheon provided by the staff of the Delta Queen in the handsome Orleans room, the future of TAPS was installed, to complete the remainder of the Board meeting later that afternoon.

Where to from here? In 2011 surveyors will rendezvous in Ohio where we’ll look into early Ohio and Kentucky surveys (maybe even some Daniel Boone). Then it’s on to Council Bluffs, Iowa in 2012, with the Central Railroad Surveys, Lewis and Clark first encountering natives, and the 200th anniversary of the General Land Office (GLO).

Singular or plural, a surveyors rendezvous is a memorable way to spend some vacation time with like-minded folks who love our profession. Make plans now to be a part of the next ones. You’ll be glad you did.

Author Note: To see some great pictures of the event as well as to add some pictures you took at the event, go to: sets/72157625012709052/. All of the presentations and films for this event can be found at

A 2.888Mb PDF of this article as it appeared in the magazine—complete with images—is available by clicking HERE