The Curt Brown Chronicles: Curtis M. Brown, Land Surveyor

A 186Kb PDF of this article as it appeared in the magazine—complete with images—is available by clicking HERE

It is with distinct pleasure that I am able to share excerpts from The Curt Brown Chronicles with the readers of The American Surveyor magazine. Owing to my relationship with Curt, he bequeathed to me his lectures and journal writings. These collective works are available in the full treatise from the author and other retail outlets including Authorhouse, Amazon, and Barnes and Noble.

Curtis Maitland Brown entered this world in Maine on December 16, 1908, the third of five children born to Ona May (Wright) and Royal Caleb Brown. He and his family relocated to San Diego in June 1909. His father was employed as a surveyor for the San Diego & Arizona Eastern Railway and for a utility company.

Curt attended San Diego State College for lower division work and later graduated from the University of California at Berkley with an engineering degree in 1932. For his work on a thesis entitled "The Gas Lift," combined with a high scholastic grade average, he was awarded honors at graduation. Curt also lettered in track, a skill that would help him in the surveying profession. For a short time, Curt also worked at the San Diego Natural History Museum. In 1936, he married Thelma Larkin of San Diego and two years later, their son Patrick, later to become a civil engineer, was born. In 1940, the Browns moved to Rancho Santa Fe where Curt built the first of six homes. In 1941, their second son, Thomas was born.

In 1938, before Curtis embarked in earnest on his surveying career, he and Thelma began showing purebred dogs. They began with beagles and later went on to poodles and dachshunds. They spent much of their time with their dogs, and in time Thelma began judging dogs as a noted authority. She soon became an internationally recognized dog fancier and judge. In 1954, the Browns collaborated on a book The Art and Science of Judging Dogs. Curt later wrote a fascinating book entitled Canine Locomotion and Gait Analysis, relying in large part on his extensive knowledge of engineering.

In 1947, the Brown family returned to San Diego and settled in La Mesa where they remained for 47 years. In 1948, Curt obtained his license as California Licensed Land Surveyor No. 2554 whereupon he became a principal in the Surveying-Engineering firm of Daniels, Brown and Hall with offices in the Old Town section of San Diego. In 1954, the San Diego chapter of the California Council of Registered Engineers and Licensed Land Surveyors announced publication, under its sponsorship, of Curt’s first book simply entitled Boundary Control for Surveyors in California. In a subsequent ACSM publication in early 1955, the Surveying and Mapping journal published another article entitled "Boundary Control for Surveyors in California." Curt followed up his California work with another book, co-authored by H. Frederick Landgraf, Attorney-at-Law. The work was based in large upon the material he generated while researching his previous book on California surveying.

As Curt’s prominence in the surveying profession elevated, ACSM took notice and in July 1957, ACSM Chairman A. Phillips Bill appointed Curt to the organization’s prestigious Property Surveys Division. He was joined by William C. Wattles. In 1957, the California Council of Civil Engineers and Land Surveyors (CCCELS) also announced that Curt was writing a manual of instructions for the private practice of land surveying. Sponsored by CCCELS, the organization announced: "It will be intended as a guide to practitioners, setting forth the performance standards that will be accepted by the profession."

Buoyed by the success of his published works, Curt began traveling on the lecture circuit where he delivered an assortment of presentations to surveying organizations across the country. Typical of his efforts was a 1961 presentation at the Ninth Annual Convention of the CCCELS held in Sacramento. The program, entitled "Best Available Evidence," was well received.

In 1962, Curt and another ACSM associate, Winfield H. Eldridge, wrote another book, soon to become a staple in every surveyor’s library. Published by John Wiley & Sons, Inc. of New York, Evidence and Procedures for Boundary Location was 484 pages and had an immediate impact on the surveying profession. The illustrated book sold for $9.75.

As ACSM’s Chairman of the Legislative Committee, Curt pressed hard for education and adoption of a model law for regulating land surveying. According to Brown, ". . . laws regulating the practice of surveying in this country range from States having no laws on the subject to those in which the laws state in minutest detail what must be done, and who may do it. He urged the surveyors to regulate and discipline their own profession, through their professional societies, so that there will be no need for inhibiting and degrading statutes." As a result of Curt’s ongoing efforts, he was elected to the organization’s Board of Directors.

In 1964, ACSM appointed Curt to perform more important work on behalf of the association when he was put in charge of the Technical Standards Committee where he was charged with "Compiling a glossary of terms and phrases used in legal descriptions, along with their definitions, compiling a glossary of special terms and phrases used in the property surveys profession, and compiling a table of acceptable abbreviations and symbols that may be used on plats and in field notes."

During the spring of that same year, Curt took a leave of absence from Daniels, Brown & Hall so that he could serve as a visiting professor at Purdue University in Lafayette, Indiana where he taught a course on Land Surveying with an emphasis on private boundary surveys. He also prepared a course for their land surveying curriculum.

Curt was eventually elected president of ACSM where he served honorably in 1965 and 1966. He also served as ACSM’s Chairman of the Task Committee on Education. All the while, he continued lecturing extensively across the country. Amongst his many endeavors, he returned to Purdue University where he taught an adult extension course entitled "Locating and Describing Real Property." The classes were held on Thursday evenings over a six-week period at a cost of $15.00.

On August 18th and 19th, 1967, Curt attended the Semi-Annual meeting of the New Mexico Section where he addressed a group of some eighty New Mexico Surveyors and their wives on the subject "Variations on Sectionalized Land Areas in the United States."

In 1968, John Wiley and Sons published the second edition of Boundary Control and Legal Principles. The 371 page hardcover book sold for $12.00. Curt was joined by H. Frederick Landgraf and Francois D. "Bud" Uzes. By late 1970, Curt had edged his way into retirement and in March of 1971, ACSM reported on Curt’s formal departure from the surveying profession:

Curtis M. Brown, ACSM past president, announced his retirement from active practice in November 1970. He served with distinction as ACSM’s nineteenth President 1965 ­ March ­ 1966. Past President Brown has long been a leader in the profession of land surveying and included in his activities lecturing, visiting professorships, and writing. He is the author of "Boundary Control and Legal Principles" and coauthor with the late Winfield H. Eldridge of "Evidence and Procedures for Boundary Location." ACSM extends its best wishes to Curtis and Thelma Brown for a long and happy retirement, and trusts that he will continue to serve as a source of advice and counsel to th
e profession of surveying and mapping.

Although formally retired, Curt continued writing and in 1981, Wiley and Sons published the second edition of Evidence and Procedures for Boundary Location. Two of the profession’s most respected and prominent men, Walter G. Robillard, and Donald A. Wilson joined him. The illustrated, 450-page hard cover book sold for $38.95.

In addition to serving as the organization’s president, Curt served ACSM’s Property Surveys Division as chair of the Legislative Committee and as both Second Vice Chairman and First Vice Chairman of the Division. Curt additionally served as a part-time college instructor for various subjects, most of which focused on the legal elements of property line determination.

As a partner in the firm of Daniels, Brown and Hall, Curt was in private practice for many years. Over the years, Curt appeared as a speaker at many of the annual surveyor’s conventions in Utah, Wisconsin, Illinois, Michigan, Arizona, California, and Minnesota amongst others.

As Curt found more free time, he and I began to visit various repositories and title companies researching old court cases and historical survey maps. He used to drop by my office unannounced whereupon I would cancel all of my appointments and we would head off to the library or courthouse to search for old maps and court cases. Our efforts culminated in the co-authoring of The History of San Diego Land Surveying Experiences.

My dear friend Curtis Maitland Brown died on March 4, 1993. He rests in a rustic little cemetery in Julian, California where he watches over the hills and valleys where he so freely roamed and lived life to its fullest. He rests a stone’s throw from his son Patrick’s engineering office.

Author Michael Pallamary has compiled the writings and lectures of the late Curtis M. Brown. These works are published in The Curt Brown Chronicles.

A 186Kb PDF of this article as it appeared in the magazine—complete with images—is available by clicking HERE