Survey heroes

Put ‘Surveyor’ into Google image search and you might think surveying is all about theodolites, tripods and rugged looking, hard hatted individuals squinting through telescopes or pointing to the horizon in an intrepid manner. The near universal association between surveying and the theodolite is remarkable as only a small segment of the profession uses an instrument, the majority being quantity, building or estates surveyors who won’t be out there as symbols of progress, exploration or even nation building.

NASA have chosen theodolite surveying as an image of lunar exploration in their 2019 campaign for the Artemis programme and seeing this reminded me of the almost irresistible link between my favorite survey tool and its use as a symbol of progress. Here are a few reminders of the endless optimism engendered by the humble theodolite.

Nothing says ‘heroic exploration’ like surveying with a theodolite in rugged terrain. NASA published this as an inspirational poster for the Artemis programme last year. Our surveyor is going to find it difficult to get the eye to the telescope in that hat!
No theodolite here but the re-building of a nation is depicted as setting out from a ferociously hammered in range pole with a blank detail sheet and a cloth tape. The white flat cap picks out our man in this frenetic scene. Survey here is shown as a fundamental act of construction. Mosaic decoration at Villa Bled, Slovenia c 1948.
Outdoors types really go for surveying, especially if properly dressed. 1932 survey trousers look mighty complicated.
It’s all happening here: oil rigs! radio telescopes! housing! steel frames! helipad! all in a days work for this soviet surveyor and his handy level.
Another epic survey: note book in hand and a very short setup. Surveyor on the construction site of the Irtysh-Karaganda canal, Kazakhstan, USSR, 1969
Field survey often requires a beard. A booking sheet idyl. USSR c 1950
More nation building by alidade. George Washgington and party at a transit station c 1748 as imagined by Walter Haskell Hinton. Survey is all about team work even if your team fold arms and give you the hard stare.
Heads down data plotting. Painting by Hal Shelton in 1940. The painting depicts mapping techniques, including an alidade and stadia rod for determining distances and elevations and a plane-table for sketching contour lines. A USGS benchmark is visible near the top. The straight white lines represent survey transects. The painting is on display in the USGS library in Menlo Park, California.
Still pointing from left to right another symbol of progress: sunrise on a new day, levels to shoot. Just a hint of inappropriate footwear. Soviet matchbox 1962
No heroic survey gallery could be complete without an Alpine scene. A right to left classic publicity shot for the Wlid Heerbrugg DI10 Distomat in 1969. Sharp haircut for ’69 eh? Is that a portable oscilloscope in the box? Imagine the effort to lug that lot up the hill!
There’s a kind of Janet & John joy about this couple surveying for the chairman in 1955.
Oh Lord crap happens…dead batteries, traffic, animals, blocked sight-lines are inevitable hazards in theodolite survey but gunfire? tomahawk charge? felled chain-man? nothing will stop Seth Slocum! 1890.

The reality of life at the sharp end of theodolite survey is revealed in these 2 photos from the City of Lake Oswego Oregon archive. The Pacific Railway and Navigation Company fielded survey crews with armed lookouts, heavy logging support and tented accommodation.

This is what we do on Sundays Lulu 5-29-08. True heroes of survey wash smalls and chop wood for fuel to keep the crew going for $3. a mile setting out the line.
William B. Cook was a surveyor for the Pacific Railway & Navigation Co. and sent postcards home from the field. Handwritten on the front: 5-28-08 This is what we do on Sundays Lulu. Have you found that girl yet; don’t you think need her. W.B. Cook, Timber, Ore.
Notes on back:[Postmarked:] Portland, Ore. Jun 30, 1:30 pm, 1908.
Front row, 2nd from left, is William B. Cook who worked as a surveyor for the Pacific Railway & Navigation Co.
Notes on back:
Photographic Copy by Randle Photography, 1924 De La Vina; Santa Barbara, Calif. Phone 96 21902.

About billboyheritagesurvey

Heritage worker
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