Measuring Minnesota—A ProFile of Doug Carter

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When JAVAD GNSS issued an invitation for GNSS users to become part of a specialized team to help develop software for the company’s latest receiver, Minnesota native Doug Carter was among the users who responded. We got to know Doug through our joint attendance at various events at Javad’s headquarters in San Jose. When we learned that Doug and his son, Douglas Arthur the Third (a.k.a., D.A.) were using float planes to access remote jobsites in Minnesota’s watery wilderness areas, we decided that theirs was a story worth telling.

Doug was born and raised in the small paper-milling town of Cloquet in northeast Minnesota. Following high school, he studied for a time at the Duluth campus of the University of Minnesota, and then in 1976, went to work for the BLM. There he quickly rose to the rank of crew chief. Like many surveyors of his generation, Doug learned by self-study and doing calculations in motel rooms on the road.

One of his mentors was Gary Kratz, who is currently the Region 3 Land Surveyor for the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service. Doug did dependent resurveys, first at Fond du Lac Reservation, then at Nett Lake Reservation, then at Red Lake Reservation near Bemidji. Because the Reservations had been surveyed by the GLO, Doug learned a great deal about looking for and evaluating original corner evidence, and following the instructions in the Blue Book. He recalled finding an original corner underwater on a resurvey at Nett Lake.

As time went on, jobs stretched across the country to Missouri and Arkansas. Out of the Denver Service Center he did resurveys for additional Reservations in Kansas and New Mexico. During one stint at the Oregon State Office he surveyed along the sand dunes at Reedsport. His ten-year career with the BLM ended at the Eastern States Office, doing resurveys in Wisconsin, Minnesota and Upper and Lower Michigan.

The next chapter of Doug’s career included several years with Seaway Engineering out of Duluth doing Forest Service contracts. This was during the "Reagan Era" when much government surveying was being privatized. The company also did work for MNDOT, and Doug recalled a particular job in which they had to prove whether a particular highway near Finland, MN ran along a section line. The evidence-searching skills he had developed with the BLM proved valuable during the corner search.

Like many in the surveying profession whose skills and creative energies lead them to explore other occupations, Doug is no exception. In the mid-80s, in addition to surveying, he began a raft rental and marine business selling boats, hovercraft, and boat docks and lifts. In 1991 he built a convenience store in Cloquet that he operated for the next 13 years. In 1995, among his regular customers was a Potlatch forester, who, upon learning of Doug’s BLM background, described problems she was having with delineating ownership for logging. Based on his own experience, Doug willingly shared his advice. It wasn’t long before another regular customer, Shawn Sunnarborg–then a supervisor, now the Lake States regional manager for Potlatch–heard that Doug had offered logical solutions for Potlatch’s timber cutting line problems. From convenience store, back to the woods, Doug agreed to help out as a contractor.

He learned that there were Rockwell GPS devices that were capable of sub-meter accuracy. Using first FM corrections and then the Coast Guard CORS in Duluth, he began parlaying everything he had learned at the BLM into supporting the timber industry. The challenges of working in dense canopy resulted in his becoming an expert in mitigating multipath. Doug described a nearly Rube Goldberg-style method he developed of patiently establishing a fix and then using a compass to make a tie to where the corner was supposed to be. They might do this a dozen or more times in a big circle to create a search area. The knowledge he had gained at the BLM about declination also played a big part. To this day, the limits of cutting he establishes are well away from the actual property line.

Today, in addition to the work he does for forest products companies, Doug partners with local surveying companies to go after county and state work. He prefers to hire retired foresters and surveyors as subcontractors because they know what is needed. Son D.A., now 31, began working with him when he was ten; in 2008, he started working full time as a contractor.

About five years ago, Doug struck up a conversation with a surveyor who had met Javad Ashjaee at a conference. Doug was in the market for new GNSS gear, and the surveyor told him he should check out Javad’s receivers, since, as one of the pioneers of GNSS, Javad had innovated many features that are now taken for granted. The surveyor showed Doug the Javad ad in The American Surveyor; at the time, the new VS was close to release.

By this time Doug and DA (who are both licensed pilots) had established a camp in west central Minnesota for the timber cutting line work they were doing in the area. The VS and collapsible monopod attracted Doug because it was selfcontained and without cables, and because they could fly to the camp in 45 minutes, as opposed to taking 3.5 hours to drive, the light weight of the instrument also helped with airplane weight limits. Javad was taking online orders beginning on August 1st, so Doug stayed up until midnight on July 31st in order to be the first to order a pair of the new VS receivers. The next day he got a call from industry veteran and Javad employee, Tom Hunter.

Doug was deeply impressed with Tom’s support and service. When there was a delay in the delivery of the new receivers, Tom made sure Doug was provided with a pair of the previous model. In working through some minor software issues with the new gear, Doug got to know the team of expert scientists in Moscow, a friendship that remains to this day. He said the engineers in Moscow have quickly responded to every request he has made.

Doug found that the VS worked better in canopy than anything he had ever worked with, and watched his production skyrocket as he used them for flagging timber-cutting lines. His client base grew as word spread about his efficiency; he even started doing work for other companies whose GNSS gear would not work in the dense canopy. Doug said another thing that attracted him to the products was the approachability of Javad himself. As mentioned above, responding to customer requests for software that was more U.S.-centric, in 2014 Javad created a team of expert GNSS surveyors from all over the country. As part of the process of winnowing the applicants down to the five who were eventually selected, a meeting was being held at Javad’s headquarters in San Jose. Doug smiled as he recalled calling Javad to see if he could attend the meeting just to ask questions and learn more about the VS, but because Doug was a longtime user and had provided valuable input on needed improvements, Javad quickly made him part of the final team. Team members are also Javad dealers, and Doug has already sold a few sets of gear to local surveyors.

On the day I visited Doug and DA at his home office on Lake Vermilion in Minnesota, they were working on a remote job that required three floatplanes to ferry the manpower and needed equipment. I flew with DA–it was definitely fun taking a plane to work. The next day we visited at Doug’s office. He had just purchased a Phantom drone, and when one of his forest products clients heard about the drone, Doug was immediately rewarded with a job.

In addition to having (for the most part) enviable working conditions, Doug still enjoys–like most surveyors–the challenges of figuring out how best to do the work, even when the work itself is routine. He has used his BLM experience to know how and where to look for corners as he establishes offset timber cutting lines, and continually seeks ways in which to do the work faster and with greater accuracy. His recent acquisition of a drone–with its technological promise of faster, cheaper, better–will open up even more business opportunities for his north woods company. And his measuring skills will continue to be revealed through his partnership with Javad.

Marc Cheves is Editor of the magazine.

A 5.333Mb PDF of this article as it appeared in the magazine—complete with images—is available by clicking HERE