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Rumors around our office hover over us like a tree canopy. Hushed conversations grow quiet when we walk near and an eerie, friendly manner oozes from CADD techs. It’s just too quiet here. Like a walk through a haunted house, there is that unknown surprise somewhere in the darkness. My crew and I were asked to go inside our conference room, our haunted house, one Friday afternoon. Our Vice President greets us warmly and I knew immediately something was wrong. He closes the door. We settle into chairs and start to sweat. He tells us our survey manager, who is out of the office, has been offered a new position with another firm. He tells us we are welcome to stay at home a few weeks and wait for a call, after a new survey manager is hired. He briefly discusses our next survey task starting Monday morning. I’m asking myself why is he telling us this before we have to go out of town? Then I hear the sickening moans and background noises from this haunted house.

I had been briefed earlier in the week by my survey manager about our upcoming boundary/topo project and given its general location. After I packed a bag and put my mail on hold, I searched our site on Google Earth and tried to plan ahead without really knowing the specifics. I wanted to stay busy and not mull over the possibility of unemployment. My crew would possibly be kicked to curb, as well. One of my crew is a constant worry. His actions during his time with me included violent moods swings, yelling, unbelievable cussing, Bible-thumping, hours of cell phone use and crying. I’ve never worked with a grown man who acted this way. We’ll say his name is Odd. My curiosity got the better of me as I was scanning for land corners via Google Earth. I searched the Internet for Odd and up popped five mug shots with records; one of them was assault with a deadly weapon. I wasn’t worried about my future employment now. I was worried about my out-of-town project with him, his possible reaction to unemployment and my life.

Monday morning came and with it, soaking rains. Our four-day bid for a boundary/ topo of twenty acres was finally explained. A year earlier, another survey crew from our company set control, mapped a pecan orchard and farm headquarters on this twenty acres. A railroad bridge contractor had settled on this site after the survey and as an added bonus, cut old growth pecan trees outside the railroad right-of-way. The adjoining property owner was not happy. The Red River flowed along our site’s south boundary, the railroad bridge contractor settled along the river’s top banks to build a new railroad bridge and easements needed to be written, and quickly. Our task was laid out, however, no mention from our survey manager about his new assignment. Due to rains, we took turns processing old survey files. We attempted to appear interested though our halos were trying to choke us.

The following day we loaded up and headed out. Our four-day bid was dwindling. Each crew member did his own thing during our trip to the site–one fell asleep and Odd talked loudly on his cell phone the entire two and a half hour trip. I drove past the site and continued to the county Court House for record research of subsequent plats. My sleeping crew member went with me and Odd stated he "didn’t need to do no research." After luckless findings, we drove to a title company and found it’s building abandoned. We then located its new address, thanks to a passerby, and went inside. Odd stayed in the truck, asleep. We were fortunate to meet someone who knew our property owner, who then called him on our behalf. We were granted permission to copy his survey plat and to set foot on his property. Once this plat was unfolded, it was the size of a twin bed. I asked to have it copied and was told there were no copy services in town that could handle this. I drove the plat twenty miles away, had it copied and returned it promptly. These were trusting folks, after I gave them my driver’s license number, supervisor’s phone number and my mother’s shoe size. While we had daylight, we drove to our site and were greeted with an overhanging sign which read: We Don’t Dial 911. Odd protested our entry and I explained we had permission. Once the truck was parked, I unfolded my bed sheet of a plat and scanned for corners. In my rush to have this original plat copied, returned, and worried if my head would be cut off in dense woods by Odd, I failed to notice the total acreage owned was 1100. I dialed my survey manager to give him this news and was greeted with, "I was just about to call you." An explanation of project changes fell out of my phone. We were now assigned Township and Range line location, State Highway Right-of-Way location (which was parallel to the farm headquarters), and to stake out the railroad easement on both sides of the railroad for a mile and a half, north from the top bank of the Red River. I asked if our deadline was the same and the answer, "Do the best you can." I updated my crew and the whining began. I reminded my crew that whatever we did on the ground, we didn’t have time to do it twice.

We had several hours of daylight left and I requested that we begin recon of control and plan our network to map the "twenty acres." Odd declined recon and began to cry in the truck. There was no consoling Odd, so I left him to himself. After locating enough old control, my other crewmember and I began throwing out points in all directions, around farm equipment, near the toe of the railroad berm, toward the contractor’s lay down area, and out toward the State Highway. Odd appeared later and assisted with the backsight. I networked as tightly as I could, doubling all targets. Daylight turned to shadows; we boxed the equipment and headed for the hotel. I sent our data to the office after several WiFi hiccupping hours and later, received stakeout points for the railroad easement. We were plugged with data and ready to go. Daylight would come too soon, with worry.

The following morning, I asked Odd to hop on the instrument. I mentioned is 6’2" stature would help us get shots around the farm equipment and over the slightly rolling terrain. I planned a solid four hours to get this portion done, leaving us a good afternoon ’til dark for recon. The snail’s pace for instrument setups, the walking pace as if following the shadow of a tree, lying down on the ground between shots, were all performed by Odd. My four hour plan took eight. My afternoon was shot. The location of the Township and Range line intersection were north two and a half miles. Section and tract corners, per plat, were a mile and half away to the east. I had no time this late afternoon to begin recon. Worry set on my shoulders. Once at the hotel, I called my survey manager to admit I could not collect all he wanted by Friday afternoon and the reasons why. His reply, "Didn’t I tell you we are allowed one more week to get this done?" Lack of communication seemed to be the order of the day. The next day, I informed my crew the news that another week had been granted to complete the project, and explained it was a challenge, not a problem. Continued disbelief and whining was heard. My other crew member and I got busy reconning (Odd’s unfavorite thing) after we drove to a location where we could park and walk to the Township and Range line intersection. Odd did appear after spraying himself with a full can of Woodmen`s Off. While we had fence line evidence, we had not found a set iron as requested by my survey manager. The plat implied a "calc’d corner," though searching is what I do. Between this location and our site, there are two oxbow lakes one half mile apart from each other, per an aerial I had with me. On to
Plan B, where a hike was needed, we searched for and found a section corner, a tract corner, a State Highway Right-of-Way monument and a possible railroad right-of-way fence corner, all lined up along an east-west line. A needed stroke of luck was welcome and I was glad I had not been beheaded during this excursion. Rain set in and we were forced back to the hotel by wall clouds and dancing lightning.

Friday arrived, which we call a "twofer," due to it being payday as well. Our day began with the recon of as many State Highway Right-of-Way monuments as we could find. Afterward, we began our lengthy traverse toward the section corner and along the way, shooting other monuments as we passed them. As I was climbing a State Highway fence to enter pastureland, a contractor’s truck stopped me to announce a person was on the ground near our backsight. I asked if he was injured and the answer was he was on the ground, on his back, hands on his face, crying. I thanked this person and then asked my instrument man to go check on Odd. I was leading with our foresight and was over a half mile from the backsight. After several minutes, an all’s well was called and we continued our traverse east, through wet pastures and over a wooded levee. We were closing in on our section corner and a ditch had to be crossed. Yesterday, it was passable but today, the ditch might need a raft to cross it due to rains last night. I located a cattle crossing and ventured off and down into the water. Finally reaching the section corner iron, I stacked the prism rod and cut debris and limbs on line. After multiple ditch crossings for double ties and traverse points ahead, we boxed equipment, shooed cattle from us and headed for our truck so we would arrive at the office before dark. After our arrival, my crew went home. After downloading data, I discussed one-on-one with my survey manager my plan to complete this project. We had to complete our traverse while turning through Right-of-Way monuments and then traverse both sides of the railroad to set easement points. I was stopped by survey manager and he asked why I couldn’t set "pairs" of easement points, implying both sides at the same time, while working my way north. I explained the railroad is set on an elevated berm. I cannot see the tracks, much less over them. The railroad was active. I was leery to traverse along the rails due to shaky setups and fearful of breaking railroad regulations. This appeared news to him. We parted in a friendly manner and I continued to worry.

Now that you have an idea of my situation, I’ll speed up the process. Monday morning arrived and with it, news that one more item was needed. Could we shoot the centerline of the southbound State Highway from the Red River Bridge over the north top bank of the river, for one mile to the north? This was tucked away within my things to do. We drove to the site, completed our traverse and data was sent to the office. I received word the precision was "awesome." Rain was in the forecast Tuesday and we hustled as we could to traverse along the east railroad easement, staking out as we went. I was on the instrument to ensure inverse numbers hit. We worked hard cutting line along the toe of the railroad berm and found the natural ground rose to the rail’s level at the north end of our stakeout area. We threw a point out across the tracks to the west, returned and tied back. Data was sent to the office and we closed within tolerance. (It’s always good to have a double check.) The following day, we waited for morning rains to move out and then we proceeded. We scoped out the west side of the railroad and luckily found a mowed, wide open area the entire mile and a half. I began to set up the instrument and a plethora of curse words showered me. Odd had snapped, slipped off his cracker, his bubble half shy of level–whatever. I looked toward the sound of a pickup moving behind me and realized it was the bridge contractor’s inspector. He had his window down and was hearing every word Odd was saying. He shrugged at me, I shrugged at him and somehow I felt safe. I guess Odd knew there were witnesses and he turned and walked north toward our goal. The traversing and stakeout went smoothly after the verbal killing I received. Once back at the hotel, data was sent to the office and happily, I received good words of closure. Friday appeared all clear. We packed up, checked out of the hotel and headed for the last task of the project: shoot the centerline of a State Highway, where traffic rolls around 70 mph. It was Odd’s turn on the instrument. We only had one, very wide open, mile to go. My other crew member and I would sigh as we stood waiting for the instrument to find us. The Odd one was somewhere in the ozone. We’d radio him to wake him up as we dodged traffic. After several setups, Odd got the hang of it and began to pay attention, finally, during his last setup. Mission complete. Arrived back at the office, alive and well.

The following Monday morning, the three of us were unemployed. Odd found survey work immediately, the other would find self employment and this writer is still inside a haunted house, unemployed.

Luann Glenn is an Arkansas LSIT who has worked in fifteen states over a twenty year period. She last wrote for the magazine in the January 2008 issue. This story was her last survey project before being laid off in June 2013.

A 1.628Mb PDF of this article as it appeared in the magazine—complete with images—is available by clicking HERE