The Curt Brown Chronicles: Class and Humor

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Curt had an irrepressible sense of humor. He was prone to making jokes and whenever he faced some kind of confrontation, he usually deflected it with some kind of comical remark. I admire that trait–if only more people would adopt that approach, the world surely would be a better place.

Given his prominence and willingness to offer opinions, as when he published his earlier works, Curt was oftentimes a target for criticism. There is an old saying, "When one sticks his/her head above the crowd, they make for an easier target."

In 1988, I escorted Curt to a California Land Surveyors Association conference held in Anaheim, California. The late Paul Cuomo organized that program and it was one of the association’s most memorable events for in addition to Paul and Curt, Ben Buckner, Wall Robillard, Frank Moffit, all participated in that conference.

Following one of the many informal chats, common to conferences, Curt and I were returning to his room when we ran into several younger surveyors who had been imbibing in some of the hotel’s livelier beverage selections. One of these fellows was cordial and quite respectful of Curt and he began to engage him in conversation. One of his friends was standing in the back, rocking back and forth on his heels, observing everything. The discussion centered on boundary line determination and prevailing laws relative to same. It was evident, this individual was waiting for the right time to weigh in and when he did, it was with a loud thud.

He began in on Curt, at first gently and then with more animation, quickly becoming agitated. I stepped back to listen and I was not very happy. It seems this learned land surveyor had a difference of opinion with Curt Regarding certain aspects of boundary line determination. He went on and on, criticizing Curt for various opinions eloquently expressed in his books. The more I listened, the more I realized this other surveyor was wrong at so many levels. In addition to his absolute lack of respect, he was pretty much clueless. With each passing snippet, he grew taller in his own mind, and his air of arrogance blossomed and at the same time, my anger grew proportionately. I was reassured, knowing Curt could hold his own and so I simply rocked back and forth on my heels and listened.

Curt very graciously listened and nodded his head up and down, allowing this crackerjack surveyor ramble on about all kinds of surveying topics. The more Curt listened, the cockier his antagonist got and his friends foolishly fell in with him. Their conduct was nothing short of disgraceful and I continued listening.

When all was said and done, the other group walked away and you could hear God’s gift to the land surveying profession boasting to his friends how he had proven the old man wrong.

As we walked away, I asked Curt why he didn’t respond more vociferously, to defend himself, regardless of who was right and who was wrong.

"Of course he is correct," Curt replied.

"Then why didn’t you point that out?" I asked.

"Because it is people like that, that cause more harm to the profession and worse, to themselves. When I wrote that part of the book, at that time, that was the prevailing rule of law. Since then, the law changed and that principle is no longer applicable. Laws change and when they do, the previous rules are no longer applicable. If that buffoon wants to debate me about something I wrote thirty years ago, what is that going to prove? Why should I defend old laws and old rules? Things change and it is for this reason that surveyors need to stay abreast of these changes and pursue continuing education. Anyone who relies on something I wrote ten, twenty or thirty years ago shouldn’t be practicing surveying."

I watched as the small band of surveyors headed off, no doubt rewriting the rules of land surveying, idiots all, men of class, none.

When I think about this story, I am reminded of my friend Ted Madson who wrote of Curt, as an introduction to The Curt Brown Chronicles:

Curtis Maitland Brown’s work is well known to surveyors. Although he was not an attorney and had no authority to define rules of law, his writings have been used for decades as the most authoritative statement of boundary law in print. My teachings began in the mid-1970’s and I found my legal training to be in conflict with Curt’s conclusions. Accordingly, at a "Meet the Authors" conference at the University of Florida, I invited Curt to appear with me as my guest at a series of three three-day seminars to debate our opinions about the surveyor’s duty and obligation as regards ownership.

As always, Curt was very gracious and accepted my invitation. We appeared together in Houston, Texas, Reno, Nevada, and Corvallis, Oregon. After several days of vigorous debate and input from surveyors in attendance, Curt and I concluded that surveyors actually do render opinions of ownership, regardless of their disclaimers. I was always impressed with Curt’s integrity, character, and willingness to accept new ideas. He is sorely missed in our profession.

I believe no discussion of Curt would be complete without additional mention of his wry sense and appreciation for humor. Typical of his view of the world was his unabashed inclusion of an amusing letter published in the otherwise staid "Comment and Discussion" column in the ACSM journal. The article, entitled "Colorful Comments–Colorful Marks– Colorful Remarks," written some fifty years ago, was sure to leave an impression upon the reader. It certainly left one on me.
—Michael J Pallamary, PS

Curtis M. Brown, San Diego, California—Irate neighbors, especially if they are teetering on the brink of sanity, create problems. When locating a disputed line, a hole was dug through asphalt coating in the street (to locate a monument) and lead and discs were set in the sidewalk area as offset markers. The usual fluorescent paint was put around the offset markers, and property corner markers set pink laths. During the survey, the neighbor had to drive around the transit and a street sweeper drove around a parked surveyor’s truck. In the letter of complaint, the following was written to the surveyor’s client (spelling and grammar uncorrected). The lady (?) was unable to complain about the survey, but she certainly could complain about everything else.

Dear _________________,

I told you, and I thought I spoke truthfully, that I would not (couldn’t) be disturbed by the surveyors. I was wrong.

Where most surveyors are content with an unobtrusive little lead mark in the concrete, this megalomaniac uses fluorescent pink paint to underscore his (to his mind) virtuoso performance and definitive drawing of the property lines.

I refuse to believe that my house sits on the property line. Unfortunately, that section of sidewalk which had the lead mark is now gone. Fortunately, I’m not interested in putting up a brick wall or in selling, so it is of little import. Neither am I impressed or convinced except in the following manner:

I am impressed with the man’s imperious oafness in directing me where to drive and where to park as if I were an incompetent nincompoop, and blind to boot, so that I can neither see him nor his tripod. I told him I was sufficiently irritated that by parking where he did, and imperiously directing the street sweeper to avoid his instruments, the sweeper also missed my very dirty street.

No one ever accused me of bein
g reasonable or mild-mannered and your surveyor probably will nominate me for Bitch-ofthe-Year. And I guess you know I couldn’t care less. And I fully intend to remove that garish phosphorescent pink crap from the walk, and its matching pink stick from my/ your flowerbed.

I understand according to this mental giant I have suddenly come into possession of a manhole. How I wish I’d always wanted a manhole, and to have my house on someone’s property line.

I don’t care enough about it to pay for my own survey, which like yours is going to favor the person employing the surveyor. But I don’t put this much credence in his line.

However, I’m not gonna fight, dispute, or worry about it. I do tell you I am prepared to ignore it, my original departure point. Lots of luck on whatever made the whole thing important to you.

(Signed) ________________

P.S. If that "reference point" he claims to have located in the street adjacent to Ross’s driveway is more than too unnecessary and unrevealing holes in the asphalt, I may be as blind, and about as stupid as he takes me for.

A 114Kb PDF of this article as it appeared in the magazine—complete with images—is available by clicking HERE