When Inches Count

A 466Kb PDF of this article as it appeared in the magazine—complete with images—is available by clicking HERE

Today is another example of why I love my job. Surveying is everywhere and can be applied to just about anything. Whether you take advantage of today’s technology or kick it old school, the end product is the same. Today was as simple as measuring a distance from beginning point "A" to an ending point "B". It wasn’t a construction job or a boundary survey, but a charity benefit truck and tractor pull for the Gage Edwards Memorial Foundation.

I was approached by Brian Allen of Truck Outfitters Ltd. and Brandon Cullinton of B.C. Fabrication (Brandon, a former land surveyor) to see if it was possible to establish an accurate pulled distance after each pull. I have been to some interesting jobs and used the theodolite (modern version of transit) for some unique functions and, at the end of the day, they have all involved measuring something. Yes, Koontz-Bryant can do it.

We use both ends of the spectrum, one end being super high-tech involving satellites, NASA and laser beams, and the other side from the Stone Age, being a chain. I went with the classic and very functional Nikon 820.

Using the 820 I set up two reference points in the center line of the track, point "A" about a hundred feet back of the start line and point "B" about a hundred feet past the finish line. I mounted a typical target prism on the rear center of the pull sled. The sled was pre-equipped with a mounting bolt on the front and the rear so nothing had to be fabricated, making my job that much easier.

The 820 has a simple program in the stakeout menu called second point reference (SPR). SPR allows you to establish a point anywhere left and right of a designated line. In this case, we used the center line of the track to get a station relative to the established line. So if the sled is not set exactly on the start line or the truck pulls the sled at an angle or down the edge of the track creating a longer pull, SPR would give a station perpendicular to the centerline of the track at the beginning and end of each pull, ensuring a precise measurement.

The track was set up with a start and finish line approximately three hundred feet apart with markers every twenty-five feet for spectators and personnel to have an idea where they are on the track. But it’s not exact. When the sled was set on the start line, I would take a shot in SPR and establish a beginning point station "C", and then call to the sled operator "measure set" on the radio. That gave them the go ahead that I was ready and they could start the pull. The green flag would drop and the trucks would tear off down the track, motors roaring, fans screaming and dirt flying. When the sled eventually slowed the truck to a halt I would shoot the target again, establishing the end point station "D". Subtracting station "D" from "C" would result in the true distance pulled relative to the centerline of the track. I would call the "pulled distance" to the announcer on the radio where they would record it and broadcast it to the spectators and drivers. This was the cue to the sled operator that I was done and for him to go back to the start line and set for the next pull.

Pull after pull and class after class I was in constant communication with the announcer and sled operator. I called out pulled distances with almost no complications other than the occasional line of sight being blocked from dust or a truck eagerly waiting his turn to go pull. One set of pulls was separated by less than four inches, determining who was first and second in that class. That’s proof that inches count.

After fourteen years of surveying for the same great company, this was a first and a pleasure. It’s funny how people unrelated to the field don’t really know what a surveyor does. We often are asked if we are taking pictures with our survey instruments, or people duck when walking through the line of sight so that the laser we shoot doesn’t decapitate them. Math and measuring is in everything we do, and it’s an awesome part of my job being able to figure out and apply surveying to new and sometimes unorthodox situations.

Special thanks to Brian Allen and Brandon Cullinton for considering me and Koontz-Bryant and allowing us to participate in the Gage Edwards Memorial Foundation pull. We look forward to doing it again next year.

John Hiatt is a Senior Party Chief with Koontz-Bryant, P.C in Richmond, Virginia.

A 466Kb PDF of this article as it appeared in the magazine—complete with images—is available by clicking HERE