The Curt Brown Chronicles: The Writing Process

Since commencing this series of articles on Curt Brown’s work, several people have asked about my relationship with Curt. As these articles unfold, I will share reminisces with Curt as the subject permits. It is worth noting that the intent in releasing these articles serially is keeping with the wishes of Curt and his widow Thelma. It is worth noting that it took ten years to compile all of the material including scanning, proofing, and soliciting libraries and other repositories. By and large, this has been a labor of love.

When Curt conducted his nascent research, based largely on his experiences in San Diego, he reviewed a large number of ACSM publications and therein, he would add various notations and footnotes as well as obtaining other vital research material. Since completing this work, I have been giving this material to students and other interested in writing, in the hopes they will follow Curt’s footsteps.

Curt was a prolific writer; as a writer myself, I am used to critics and criticism; it is inevitable. It is also interesting to learn that a writer’s biggest critic has typically never written anything. Still, they are entitled to their opinions and I have long ago learned to appreciate everyone’s opinions, whether I agree or not, as they are all of value.

When Curt published Boundary Control and Legal Principles in 1957, selling then for $7.50, one of his peers wrote a review of his book. Retrospectively, it is interesting to reread these comments in light of the prominence Curt’s works reached. One thing that always impressed me about Curt was his refusal to allow critics and peers, jealous perhaps of his prominence, to discourage him.
—Michael Pallamary, PS

"Boundary Control and Legal Principles" is a timely contribution to much needed literature in, the subject field. The development of the book from its forerunner "Boundary Control for Surveyors in California" and the background experiences of the author and his contributing associates leave little doubt that the book could well be a worthy and authoritative text for use in California and a good reference generally in the western areas of the United States–more so than in the eastern areas. Much of the text will be helpful to anyone anywhere in a general appreciation of a subject whose magnitude and complexity have been considerably over-simplified by condensation into 264 pages; a sacrifice to brevity at which your reviewer looks with alarm because the "watered down" coverage can be a dangerous hazard to the layman’s or student’s understanding of such a complex professional subject.

However, the author warns the reader in a brief Preface of the book’s regrettable limitations and the flexibilities inherent with the law and its interpretations. In fact the book is dedicated to that authority and dean of title matters, William C. Wattles and his oft-repeated sage counsel–to most legal principles the statement "the contrary may be shown" should be added.

Thus, the "principles," as set forth throughout the book, cannot and must not be considered rigid like a geometric theorem. Whereas in geometry one may take identical conditions and apply rigid principles and always get the same result; the application of physical mechanics to principles of jurisprudence–which surveying for real property boundary determination really is–does not always give equal results even under equal conditions. With this always in mind, or the dedication slogan "the contrary may be shown" applied to every "principle," the book can prove a valuable reference.

This reviewer practices in an area where the political jurisdiction acquires fee simple title to roads dedicated in a subdivision and acquires fee simple title to many roads by direct deeds. The book, in describing the handling of these matters (e.g., pages 58, 98, and 110) is written expressly for those areas in which the public only acquires a "public easement" over a dedicated road; thus, many of the "principles" of Chapter 6 (Locating Reversion Rights) are affected and "the contrary is true."

Instances of technical incorrectness of some statements in the text were noted. An example of this is the sentence on page 12, "Within the United States magnetic north varies from 24 degrees east of north to 22 degrees west of north, a difference of 46 degrees." The question could well be asked as to what day of what year was this true. Also, the sentence on page 12 that contains the definition of a Deflection Angle states "that of sighting on a given line and turning the angle to another line." The reviewer could call this an interior or exterior angle; a deflection angle is that obtained by sighting the prolongation of a given line and turning the angle to another line. Another sentence on page 15 could raise a question in some areas as it states, "A deed description based upon a Lambert bearing must be defined as such, otherwise true north may be implied." Unless otherwise stated, in some areas magnetic north is always assumed.

Some examples used in the text to illustrate points might have been better chosen. For example, a sentence on page 114 states: "In court cases certain things are presumed to be true until the contrary is proved; thus, if a letter is duly, written, sealed, addressed, stamped, and placed in a mail box, it is assumed to be delivered unless the contrary can be proved." It is noted here that the Post Office does a big business in "registered letters" and "return receipts" and it is generally true in court cases the sender must present proof that the letter was delivered to the addressee.

An example of a dangerous general practice type statement is found on page 72. The sentence states, "The surveyor who is locating land from a title policy description need not devote research time to title matters other than that described or called for by the policy." In the few States in which the Torrens system is fully effective, this may be true. One needs but to note the high rates of commercial title policies to realize that they are dependent upon the individual examiner.

Generally, then, it is safe to use a title policy, but one needs to keep constant vigil, for his responsibility is not limited to such a policy.

Many of the "principles" set forth in Chapter 4, apparently apply to subdivisions that are first laid on the ground and then platted. These "principles" may not apply to subdivisions that are computed and platted and then laid on the ground. The question of "intent" versus "errors in field monumentation" takes a more complex aspect. Also, the chapter sets up many principles dealing with "proration," but the text does not state when the surveyor has the legal right to prorate without the backing of a court order or the backing of all of the affected land owners.

Caution is advised by the reviewer on the use of some of the statements (or "principles") made in the text for the reason that they are currently under study, in various areas by various groups interested in professional conduct and practices. Examples of these questionable items in the text are: (page 89) "in the absence of an analysis showing the location of an error of closure, place the error of closure in the last course which states, thence to the point of beginning." (page 233) "To limit liability in a like manner, it is good form for the surveyor to state on his plat presented to the client `for the exclusive use of John Doe.’"

Your reviewer would have preferred the text to delve in "Trespass Rights of Surveyors" in a more thorough manner than the short paragraph covering the subject on page 235. This paragraph does not distinguis
h that there are two types of trespass, civil and criminal. Many types of surveyors do enjoy criminal trespass rights; but none can enjoy civil trespass rights.

The last section of the book is entitled "Glossary of Deed Terms" and contains definitions of selected words. Brevity of the definitions as stated therein can lead the user to erroneous implications. For example, on page 259, the text notes "’And assigns’ is included in deeds to take care of corporations, trustees, etc., who cannot have heirs." Your reviewer feels that this could have been better stated by noting that the words "and assigns" are included to take care of any future grantee.

Your reviewer could go on and on, citing argumentative or "contrary showings." The danger of the book to the "student" surveyor is quite apparent when one remembers that this type of surveyor is usually not in a position to know which statements or "principles" might be applied for any given condition in any given area.

The book offers a provocative challenge to the experienced surveyor who after reading the book may feel insecure until he has refreshed his knowledge of the laws covering his areas of practice. The book will be a valuable addition to the professional surveyor’s library.
—Victor H. Ghent, Professional Engineer and Land Surveyor, deceased

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