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SOMETIMES IT HAPPENS
A tale of a Colorado Land Surveyor
By: Dean F. Glorso, PLS 16109
In the last couple of months I’ve been happy to have a slight backlog of land survey work. This week I had the opportunity to survey in some of the greatest surroundings anywhere.
A cattle rancher at the edge of the San Louis Valley asked me to come down to survey one of his stock ponds. He wanted to document alterations, the water courts ordered him to make for the surface area of the pond. The work being a 4 or 5 hour drive from my home in Brighton, Colorado, I hit the road just before 5 AM. With the winter sun not rising until after 7 AM, I had a couple hours of mountain driving in the dark of night.
As Colorado drivers know, the morning and evening hours are when deer crossing the highway are a big hazard. I had been reminded of that fact early in my trip, with a narrow miss. Lucky the deer stopped in its tracks when I laid on my horn. After passing by with its nose only inches from my passenger side mirror, I paid closer attention to my speed and the roadway in front of me.
A few more miles down the road I witnessed a driver with a smashed front end stopped, talking to a police officer. His accident was obviously the result of a deer crossing the highway in front of him. Sometimes it happens, I thought. Later I saw a recently killed calf in the middle of the highway, and still later I was delayed by a rolled over semi-truck blocking almost both lanes of the narrow roadway. As I drove slowly by the greasy side of the long 18 wheeler, I estimated the winds to be about 40 mile per hour. Sometimes it happens, the truck was probably deadheading empty and the gust of wind caught the driver by surprise, tipping his truck completely over.
With the unexpected delays, I was surprised to complete the 230 mile trip and meet my client at the ranch house at pretty much my expected arrival time. Larry and Ken, the contractors were in the kitchen finishing coffee with my client. Gregg, offered to brew a fresh pot of coffee for me before I went out to assess the day’s work.
At first I declined, but remembered my Thermos was just about empty, and a hot cup of coffee would be a nice thing to warm up to after working near the foot of the cold, windy mountain range. Gregg started the coffee while I went to get my Thermos. As I handed him the empty bottle, I offered to get started by setting up the GPS base station. He said he’d drive out later and just put the Thermos of coffee on the seat of my truck for me to enjoy later. We both anticipated a short work day, as I had surveyed his ranch previously.
We met up again, walked around the stock pond together and he pointed out key elements that needed to be shown on the survey. Then gave me the history of his water rights dispute and pointed out the creek access verses the natural spring access of water filling the pond.
The wind was still howling as I finished surveying the pond perimeter then decided to hike several hundred yards and locate some fence lines, a section corner and ranch roads, in order to give my drawing a better point of reference. I was walking near the area Gregg previously pointed out as being the spring fed water source. Most of the ground was slightly frozen and wind-swept with some minor snow cover.
Having some 40 years experience surveying in the elements, I always knew how to dress for Colorado winters. One minute you can be freezing your butt off in conditions like this, and the next minute you can be basking in the bright wonderful Colorado sunshine.
I was dressed in my usual layers of clothing, with top layers tucked into alternate bottom layers to block the wind from creping in. My long underwear is a polyester type so when working up a sweat, the under garment allows moisture to pass away from the skin, to the next layer. This method of dress keeps the skin warm and dry when the temperature changes radically, as is often the case in the Colorado Mountains.
For the outer-most layer, I wore The North Face windbreaker that I’ve used in these conditions for some 20 years, zipped up tight with the Velcro sleeves latched tight in conjunction with the Velcro on my gloved hands. On my feet I wore waterproof Asolo Fugitive boots with two pair of socks, the polyester ones under and wool socks over to keep my feet warm and dry in most every Colorado condition.
My GPS system is old by electronic-gear standards with cables running from my 25 pound back-pack to a 2 meter tall carbon-fiber antenna pole with a dinner plate size GPS antenna-dish is carried in my left hand. Also attached to the pole is a TDS-Ranger electronic data collection device that some refer to as a Pocket-PC (personal computer). A two foot long whip antenna protrudes from the top of the back-pack in order to receive radio signals from the base station which sits on a control point next to my parked pick-up truck, some distance away. Walking along with head down against the stiff wind, I only looked up occasionally to keep a bearing on the distant fence line that I desired to survey.
At a point when I took my eye off the ground to check my walking-line to the fence, my right foot went down through ice into a deep void. Still gripping the carbon fiber pole in my left hand, it too fell with my body to the ever deepening right side. As I went down to the right; back liquid-mud splashed my face and the right side of my body was under water, in mud up to my arm pit. As the pole crashed over to the right, the GPS antenna dish slammed down on high ground to the right of the void.
Still gripping the pole in my left hand, I flung my left elbow over the now horizontal pole and rested my left arm pit on it. The pole was the only support I had to keep me from completely going under the dark colored goo. The smell was awful!
My first thought was, that I just fell into a “man size” range box. Any surveyor, who has cleaned black mud out of a fist-size range box, in order to read the survey monument cap under 6 or 8 inches of smelly mud, knows the smell I’m talking about. It is often the smell you might encounter on a cattle ranch around a stock pond.
But wait a minute; I am on a cattle ranch! As Forest Gump said in his movie after stepping in dog Do-Do, “Sometimes ‘--IT’ happens”! Dazed, wet and smelly, I crawled from the hole, dragging the equipment and cables behind me.
As I stood, I first checked to see if my ankles were still in working order, they were. Startled, cold and smelling disgusting, I made my way in the wind to my truck only some 200 yards away. It was about that time that I took a glance at the TDS data collector still attached to the carbon fiber pole. It had so much black goo caked on to it, at first I thought I must be looking at the back side of the device. The keyboard of the collector looked like an open box of neatly packed chocolates.
I avoided touching it, not because I was on a diet, but because I didn’t want to press any of the wet looking “chocolate” further into the key pad. The collector must have been fully submerged in the black liquid goo, while the GPS antenna dish and cable was completely broken from the fall against the rocks on the far side of the hole. My only thought was for the data stored in the collector. I was plenty cold and wet but found that the caked-on “chocolate” seemed to insulate me somewhat from the strong 40 mile per hour wind.
Once back to the truck, I wiped down my legs and arms with my gloved hands to remove the biggest chunks of black-wet goo, and shook the large chunks of slim from my still gloved hands. Once I removed the wet crappy gloves I grabbed a bottle of drinking water and gently rinsed off the data collector the best I could. The screen was still turned on, so the data must be intact, I hoped. I spent the next few minutes trying to remember if I had a change of clothing somewhere in the truck.
Finally I remember my motorcycle rain gear behind the driver’s seat. Next I removed The North Face windbreaker to pleasantly find that it kept most of my upper body layers free from the dark “chocolate”. The denim jeans were another story, my lower body was wet through and through. The dry motorcycle rain suit was my only option, for even thinking about finishing this job today. Although the heater in my truck would have felt good, I did not get in as the smelly cow dung would not be nice to have blended into the fabric seats for months to come.
Quickly evaluating my options; I remember a block of wood I had behind the passenger seat. It worked perfect for me to stand on after I removed my black muck caked boots in the lightly snow blown surroundings. Once standing on the wood platform, I was able to remove my jeans without further damage to my almost clean, but very wet wool socks.
Finally out of the wet, dung drenched clothing; I stood on the wood pedestal in only my fast drying polyester long johns. The dry, cold, stiff wind would dehydrate them in no time, I thought. As I waited to be air dried by nature, I picked up the Thermos of hot coffee Gregg had left for me and drank cup after cup to ward off hypothermia.
As I stood there counting my blessings of having the right gear, and being close to the truck when “- - IT” happened, I remembered the “Forest Gump type” logic of my father:
“Some people can work hard all their lives and never get ahead. Other people can fall in ‘- - IT’, and come out smelling like a rose”.