My Surveying Experience

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  • Land Surveyor

    Many years ago, as a junior in high school, I was given the opportunity to leave school at noon, and work 1-5pm.

    I had enough credit hours that graduation was not going to be an issue. My chosen line of work was an ‘engineer’, and I needed to find a job quickly to be admitted into the co-op program. I sat down with a very ancient thing called a phonebook, and went down the line calling every engineer listed in the yellow pages with my ‘pitch’…

    Went all the way thru and when I got to the S’s, I called Stoewer Engineering. Bill Stoewer was a Civil Engineer AND a Land Surveyor, and was very excited at the chance to hire me on a trial basis. He had MANY concrete monuments from several subdivisions that needed to be set. As a matter of fact, looking back, they should have been set within 30 days of filing the Plat. Anyway, he set me up with a truck, an account at the building supplies store, and a 5 gallon jug for toting water. Double offset the corner, pull the pin, dig a 6 inch diameter hole, fill with mixed concrete, and carefully put the pin back in its original location. I did this process for 2 weeks straight, and finished up the list. He took a shine to me and decided I would be an excellent rodman-rear chainman for Richard P Withenbury, PLS.

    Richard was an ‘old-school’ retired power line Surveyor. We used an inverted scope WILD T-2 (which is now in my possession), along with a 100 foot hi-way chain. That i am quite sure i can still 'throw' to this day. For the younger crowd, if you havent done it, your missing alot of fun! :)

    They both mentored me in different ways, but after a while, our noble profession of chose me. I loved the history of the elusive section corner stones and of course the math calculations. J

    I was with him for 5 years before he was approached to be bought out by one of the men I respect most. Gregory J Chlebicki, 2nd generation surveyor from inner-city Chicago. This was in 1993, and he had many projects with IL DOT, on Land Corner Surveys. Locations of the Centerline of State roads, as it meandered thru Townships, Sections, and Ranges. We would monument every section corner within ½ mile of centerline. The largest project I recall was 70+ section corners, and this was before the age of GPS surveying. I had upgraded from the T-2 and steel chain, and my gun of choice was the Sokkia Set 3 B2. Running several miles long, closed traverse loops, with 4 sets of direct and reversed readings. Honing my skills of redundant measuring, loving every minute of it. Eyeballing the route, choosing station locations, figuring out the best line-of-sight, so many different things, and I loved every aspect of it. It was about this time, the emergence of a new fangled technology, that I thought was great. The theory behind robotic total stations was ideal, put the experienced party chief, at the rod end, where all the action takes place. The learning curve, on first gen robotic survey instruments, in my opinion, was pretty steep. The frustration of repeatedly loosing ‘lock’ on that first gen Topcon was almost enough to sour me on it entirely. I persevered, hounded tech support daily, and became extremely proficient. Sadly, it didn’t take too long to realize, if you were willing to work a bit harder, you could actually do the work of a 2 man crew, with 1 go-getter and a robot. As it turned out, I was in fact a go-getter, and slowly started transitioning from a 2-man crew, to just me and the equipment. He sold out to another firm in 2000, and I was there a couple years with him, as his right hand man, running everything in the field, for the most part as a one-man crew.

    At this time, GPS survey equipment had dropped to an affordable price for larger firms, and I was fortunate enough that the new company had one of these miracle black boxes. From my days of traversing, the time saving of GPS was immediately apparent. There of course were obstacles, in the early days of GPS we had planning software required to ‘predict’ when enough orbiting satellites would be in sky view of the receiver to be able to get a good location, which takes a minimum of 5 for accurate locations. Nowadays, there are many satellites always in view, but back then it was not so easy.

    Fast forward to Dec. 16 2005…

    I was working in the CL of a township road. Breaking down a standard section, we all know the drill. I was working with RTK GPS and still fascinated with this technology, I was diligently plugging away at it. Very engrossed in the happenings on the data collector screen and apparently I didn’t notice the car headed towards me at 55 mph. I remember getting out of the truck at the section corner and then I remember being in the hospital. I has hit at highway speed on my right lower leg, bounced up and over a ‘96 Lumina managed to break my right clavicle on the top of the car and wound up still in the pavement! A very kind semi driver pulled his rig across both lanes to stop traffic and was first to come to my aid. He had to hold me down until paramedics arrived,  apparently I was trying to pull myself up so I could get to the equipment to make sure it was ok...

                    The surgery to put my legs back together took 6 ½ hours and there were complications along the way. A blood clot headed for the lungs and compartment syndrome that was a new term for me. Apparently the muscles swell after severe trauma; mine did considerably and had to be “vented” with a scalpel up both sides of each leg. Pretty serious condition though because my poor wife had to sign for possible amputation of both legs, thankfully, that all worked out. I was in the university hospital in Iowa City for 6 weeks or so, and then in a hospital bed in our living room for another 3 months. Rehab to learn how to walk again was very difficult for me. Started with a walker, from that to 2 canes, then down to one cane, then one my own 2 feet again! The firm I was with was absolutely awesome taking care of me thru the injuries, but due to liability, they didn’t want me in the field anymore. This was not an option for me, so I moved on to bigger and better things. I started with a LARGE engineering firm, and met another PLS that I learned so much from, and respect him more than he could understand. Steward M Maida was an underground tunnel surveyor from the northeast that had been involved with building the METRO subway tunnels. He taught me with proper field procedure, 3 decimal places (to the right) was achievable and repeatable in the field.

    This large firm sold all survey operations to the department manager, and I was with him until early 2013. At this time, he made me an offer I couldn’t refuse. Purchase excess equipment from him and start up my own survey firm. This had been a dream of mine since the mid 90’s and with my awesome wife and her persistence, Fiems Land Surveying Solutions Inc was born. Many ups and downs along the way, and I am constantly learning, but the joy of answering to only her (she is the President), is truly priceless. The biggest drawback is almost everything is done solo. I am not passing on all the knowledge I have gained from so many talented individuals to the next generation. All of the technology could be our downfall of our noble profession…

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