150 year old surveyor

 John Veatch has had a lot of experience as a land surveyor. Unfortunately the John Veatches of the world have a pension for being decades ahead of their time.  


The first John Veatch came to St. Mary’s County Maryland even before this country was one. The land surveyor John Veatch came from a preacher’s family, growing up in Indiana and Kentucky.  His father was also a member of the Indiana legislature. In 1835 he presented himself to Jorge Antonio Nixon, land commissioner for the Galveston Bay area; and requested a land grant that he was entitled to as a colonist. He picked his land by splitting his certificate, placing part in Jefferson County southeast of the ravine of Tevis because of the “mineral water” there.  As we now know his “mineral water” was the oil discovered in the Sour Lake and Spindletop Dome oilfields some fifty years after Veatch left.  This is to this day some of the most valuable land in Texas.  Veatch spent several years around Bevil and Town Bluff where he practiced surveying.    He was elected as a delegate from the municipality of Bevil to the Consultation of 1835 and secured additional land  through his surveying practice. “In Oct. 1835, John McGaffey and Dr. John Veatch dragged measurement chains and survey instruments across the McGaffey league (4,426 acres) and McGaffey labor (177 acres), mostly through marsh land”.  By 1850 he had moved to San Antonio and amassed $15,000 in real estate.


So the name Veatch has been around for some time.  And of course many of you know the name Black & Veatch, the 10th largest consulting firm in the world 

I am one of the latest versions of the John Veatch's and I am also a professional land surveyor. As for me I have watched with some personal interest the land surveying profession wrestle, as has most professions, with the emerging digital revolution.  For most of past several decades land surveyors have been scaling the mountain of the new technologies and as they approach the summit they are just now beginning to recognize that I have been up there waiting for them for about 20 years.  


I invented and patented a land surveying process and to this day I marvel how resistant my profession has remained to the advances in data collecting technology.  Now I know surveyors have a long history of mountain men in our ranks going all the way back G. Washington and I know we don’t drag around 100 foot long steel tapes anymore.  That was back in the day when I started surveying.  However, land surveyors, and other professional, don’t really seem to be very concerned about the rate that technologies have been invading the information sanctuaries that were once exclusively ours.





When I first introduced my satellite surveys to other surveyors I was disappointed but not shocked by their lack of interest.  In fact one of my business associate and friend, who was the owner of one largest land surveying firms in the area, said to me “Can’t you wait to start all this stuff until I retire?” But the real crunch came when a past member of the state land surveyor’s licensing board, and a competitor, tried to get the state Professional Licensing Board to outlaw my new surveys.



In some ways it is remarkable that the land surveying profession is so far behind the times.  Particularly when you consider the fact that land surveyors were one of the first to employ computers in their business. One of the companies I bought early on was a data processing outfit that was housed in my D.C. offices.  Those guys would sit all day at terminals creating punch tapes that were then hauled up to Baltimore and run through a computer that drove a pool table sized plotter to create ink on mylar subdivision plats.  When I was a VP of Greenhorne & O’Mara, our nations 23 largest architectural & engineering firm, we had a large room for our mainframe that was connected to the terminals in the computing department where Lloyd Jones and the boys were developing surveying routines.  The truly sad part of this story is for more than ½ a century land surveying companies all across this land have been creating very accurate coordinate geometry files of survey information in digital form and once the job was completed those files were trashed.  That is one of the reasons I suspect that the boundary coordinates for most of the 127 million parcels of land in this country will have to be recomputed.


 I saw my first ortho-rectified aerial image (google earth) while on a visit to one of my strategic partners  mapping facility in Northern Ireland.  In that instant I knew land surveying was going to change in ways that, back then, was hard to imagine.  So I got together with a couple of techno-savvy business associates and we formed a company we called VARGIS.com.  Our business plan was to bring this new digital mapping to the market place by creating and licensing digital ortho-maps.  We had some success creating and licensing about $40 million dollars worth of data to federal, state, and local government agencies as well as utility companies such as Bell South and PAC Bell.  Needless to say once people started to understand the utility of our digital maps we got a lot of attention.  It was one such fellow was constantly in my office who took some of our data to use for a demo in front of a group of Realtors in Californa.  Now as the story was told to me, sitting in the audience was one of the founders of Google.  And as they say the rest is the stuff that history is made of.  Goolge Earth was born, 90 days later Google had 40 million new customers for their web browser.  VARGIS was plugging away trying to make a few bucks sell or licensing our digital maps and Google made billions giving them away.


 Keep in mind that back when I was involved with VARGIS, AOL ruled the internet world and at that time it cost us about $5,000 a square mile to produce the mapping data.  Yesterday I was given a price of $60K to map 120 sq. miles at ½ pixels.  That’s $500 a sq. mile and the datasets will include 6,665,472,000 coordinate points.  The fact is an onboard aerial digital camera and lidar can collect more point data in 1/250 of a second than a bus load of land surveyors could collect in a month.







The new point of beginning for all future land surveys is orbiting the earth at 5,000 miles an hour 12 ½ thousand miles up in the stratosphere and has been there for a very long time.  That’s correct and I suppose I owe my fellow professional land surveyors an apology for my participation in the changes we have been going through the last 20 years (see the POB cover above).  The fact of the matter is the PLS’s of this country have had our exclusive provenances invaded by all maner of non-surveyor professionals and others.  In the state of Florida it is not “Professional Land Surveyors” it’s “Land Surveyors & Mappers” just how the aerial mapping guys of the world got included in professional land surveying by my state’s professional board is still a big question to me.  Now even professional engineers are allowed to sign off on elevation certificates.  However what’s coming next will change the profession for ever.


As GIS becomes more user friendly the applications will surely follow.  This is not good news for land surveyors.  To be sure computer technology has made the tedious simple and the digital revolution has made the storage and retrieval of a universe of information a mouse click away.  Even so when it comes to Digital Mapping in the USA what you think you see may not necessarily be what you get.  This is particularly true of property lines drawn on public and private online image maps.  I am referring here to the proliferation of geographic information systems in every burg and hamlet in the USA.  In a misguided attempt to show property lines on government & private systems the locale GIS managers have resorted to all kinds of low tech approaches.  The result has been the dissemination of misinformation that the uninformed would justifiably assume to represent the actual legal delineation of property lines.   What appears to be missing in any discussions in the  Digital Mapping World is the recognition of the fact that lines on a map, or in our new virtual world, do not necessarily represent those same lines in the real world.  Even if the person or persons creating these lines uses real world coordinates and connects the dots they create, unless those coordinates & connecting lines were created as a result of a real world professional land surveyor’s standard of care the lines connecting those dots cannot possible represent actual property lines that are legally required.





You will note that the Lee County property line data shows the property lines running through the house (not likely even in Florida)


As for now professional land surveyors have been kept alive by things subsurface.  Not minerals or oil or stuff like that but 1/2” iron rods set just below the surface so Joe Homeowner will not sue the guy who put it there because Joe Homeowner won’t hit it with lawnmower.  That said there is a phenomenal unintended residual value to this type of subsurface surveying to all the PLS’s of the world who deal in real property surveys. The fact is these iron rods or pipe represent “property rights” above and below the surface when they are used to mark the corners of real estate. Because they are invisible to all of this hi-tech Lidar and other new field data collecting devices “FEET ON THE GROUND” will be the only way to recover and collect the data related to Real Property Corners as well as collect the site and specific point data required by FEMA, and other public and private insurance providers.




 Maybe GIS really does mean “Get It Surveyed”


 Historically parcel level geographic information has been the realm of the professional land surveyor.  Yet because of the utility of GIS, amateurs have taken over the process of deciding just what and how land parcel data will be represented on the internet.  Even now it is very late in the game for surveyors to attempt to put a stake in the ground (pardon the pun) and claim what is legally and should rightfully be theirs.  So how do we get back in the game?  My suggestion would be to gather the resources and build a “Real Property GIS” using the new Lidar Mapping Headset I am developing. We are about to once again redesign the land surveying profession however this time we have a specific purpose that that will take thousands of property owners out of a FEMA flood zone and save them a billion or 2 in insurance payments and my Lidar device is the key to the process.  The survey points required by FEMA are invisible to all of this hi-tech Lidar and other new field data collecting devices that can collect data at 1000 XYZ coordinates a second and are keeping field data collecting PLS’s sitting at their desk wondering what the hell has happen.  And this is the very reason the  airborne drones, cars, trucks and all manner of mechanized field data collection systems will not (for now) replace “Feet On The Ground”.






No more field crews


I have been directly involved in GIS mapping for over 20 years.  I have developed an application for my patented image based land title surveying technology that will take FEMA flood mapping to a much higher level of accuracy and detail.  2 decades ago aerial mapping firms started using lidar to augment ground control now mobile lidar is collecting data points at a rate of 1000/sec that have XYZ accurate to the centimeter range.  However for real property field data collection these systems have limitations that render them useless.  They are limited in range because their sensors cannot collect data blocked by tree cover, street only access and other features that limit their ability to identify points that are critical for determining property rights and feature elevations that Government agencies require.  



 At this point we are dealing with concepts. That said it is clear that all the technology needed to produce a marketable system already exist. What is needed now is system integration and manufacturing. If you and or your company would be interested in pursuing this extraordinary business opportunity please con tact me at:

email [email protected]

mobile phone: 239 282 9170 


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  • GEO Ambassador

    Interesting indeed and a great read.. thanks for sharing this story with us!

  • Survey Legend

    really nice story... i went looking for a photo of John Veatch and found this here


    could this be your relative?

    and this from 1856 – en California (EE. UU.) el Dr. John Veatch descubre el bórax


  • Land Surveyor
    Wow, like this piece. Looking forward to more of your writings and inventions.
    • Interesting...thanks for taking the time to deliver a comprehensive explanation.

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