A Candid Conversation about the Importance of Surveying
Buddy Pritchard, the first and longest standing employee of WPL, agreed to sit with us for an interview. He has been working at WPL since it opened its doors 61 years ago. Being a surveyor has been his lifelong career and he is still working as one today. We decided to structure the interview as a question and answer as we investigate the ancient art of surveying.
- What is surveying and how long has it been practiced in the US?
Well, is this a history test? Surveying is the art of studying terrain to find terrestrial or 3D positions of points, distances, and angles. It goes all the way back to colonial times and even before that with the Egyptians using ropes to divide land plots up. You know, Thomas Jefferson was a surveyor during the time that Lewis and Clark went on their expedition.
- How did you get involved? How long have you been doing this?
I have been doing this since 1959. I went to Frank D. Tarrell’s company to get a job as a board draftsman, but they did not have any job openings available. I was initially interviewed by Millard Smith, who was the Secretary-Treasurer, and he said the company had openings in the field. Well, I am like everybody else, I had seen a guy looking through a transit on a tripod and didn’t really know what they were doing. I saw a plumbob hanging down and didn’t know what that was. So, I went to work for them and learned about the importance of surveying. My party chief was Wilfred P. Large, and he taught me about surveying out in the field.
- What is your favorite part of being a surveyor?
You see things grow and you go out knowing you surveyed, you laid out a building. Then you are there everyday watching it grow and you may be given 15-20 different other people working for information- laying out water lines, sewer line, curbing, buildings so you are seeing other people use your work and build from it. So, it really just gives you satisfaction.
- How do you think good surveying benefits us? Conversely, how do you think bad surveying harms us?
Bad surveyors harm all the other surveyors because in surveying, you follow in the footprints of all the other surveyors. When you are retracing that survey, if someone does a bad job, you are going to affect every other surveyor. So, most surveyors don’t do a bad job, but some do take shortcuts. They may say they set a steel pin or pipe and then when you go to look for it, it’s not there. That’s one of the main things about people is maybe they did not want to check out a block right, so they take shortcuts. The reason being is that they want to make a dollar. Good surveying benefits us as other professions like landscape architects, architects, construction people use our topographic surveys and our work. So, other people are dependent on us to give them information about the land.
- What happens when surveying is not performed? How does this affect the environment, people, and the economy?
So that’s one reason our Governor (VA) let survey practicing keep up while everything was closed, because if we were closed then it would take us a good six months to catch up meaning that all of the other jobs and professions would be over a year behind. So yeah, that’s why surveyors stay on the field at all times, even during a pandemic.
- How should surveying continue to grow in the future? How can we help future surveyors now?
Educational programs for one, if you look around at surveying meetings, everybody there has got gray hairs, it’s a fact. Younger people are just not going into surveying and it’s also hard work. The average, national pay is not all that great and we gotta get the pay scale up higher in order to get the young people to come in and want to do the work. Plus, not everybody wants to be in 95-degree weather and 10-degree weather working for 8 hours a day.
- How influential can it be in designing, constructing, landscaping, and other tasks for public spaces, buildings, houses, etc.?
So, it’s 100% influential. The jobs can’t start without the surveyors doing their work. Surveying helps to make sure the land is fully understood and marked properly.
- What do you think is the most important thing about surveying and what would you say to those who do not know how relevant it is?
Accuracy is the most important part of surveying. Well, that would be most of the general public that doesn’t know how relevant surveying is. I would say that I would not buy a piece of property without having survey. I mean, everyday people buy a piece of property; for example, my mother bought property off Mingo Trail, and she was told that she owned from that catch basin to that utility pole over there. I said, “well Mama the lot is only 86 feet wide that’s like 150 feet.” People don’t always know the history and size of the land. To insure what you’re buying and protect yourself, you should have a title survey and get title insurance with that information. So, you could buy a piece of property and it could be a grave site and on your piece of property and you don’t know anything about it. Then Farmer Brown’s grandchildren could say, “wait a minute, we’ve got graves back there,” so they’ve got a right to come on your property and you can’t disturb that even though you bought the lot. Now that the gravesite is on it, you cannot disturb it and they’ve gotta have an ingress egress to get to that to the gravesite. There are so many variables in surveying, that’s what I liked about surveying is you do something different everyday just about. You might be on Bay Island doing a survey, then you could be on a villa, you could be in a neighborhood where all the houses are $400,000-$600,000, and you could be in neighborhood with houses that are $30,000 (course this was back years ago). You could be doing farm surveys, then you could go out to the woods and cut line while learning how to do boundary surveys, what to look for, mark trees, barbed wire going through the middle of trees, or something like that. To me it’s a fascinating job to do, but you have got to like the outdoors.
- There is a huge push to put more life-related classes into public school curriculums, topics such as managing a mortgage, buying a car, and paying taxes. Should it be included in more general knowledge classes, such as these?
It could be, but I don’t know who the teacher would be, because it is complicated for people who are not trained to fully understand it. They’ve got photographs of me in the office somewhere from when I took a bunch of Boy Scouts out to Princess Anne High School (see below) to and set up a little traverse of maybe about 6 points. They learned to set the instrument up and to turn through the points, so they could get their merit badge. That is not a ton of knowledge but maybe it peaked their interest or something. Years ago, it used to be that a company could hire 16-year-old kids and maybe even younger, but now with insurance and the possibility of people being sued, only people over the age of 21 can drive the vehicles. It has all changed so much.
To learn more about surveying, you can check out: