Monday, April 27, 2009

April 27, 2009
File this one under:

If You Saw It In A Movie You Wouldn't Believe It
Most weeks I submit a Plugged In commentary in the Arizona Republic. My editor there is Ken Western. I know what you're thinkin': If you were watching a movie about a guy who is an Old West nut and his editor at the local paper was named Western, well, wouldn't you roll your eyes? Like the editor would have such a CONVENIENT name!

Well, he does. Ken emailed me last week and asked me to comment on the fact that the four corners monument, where Utah, Arizona, Colorado and New Mexico collide, is, well, quite a bit off the mark (the first reports claimed it is two and a half miles off, but later reports reduced it to 1,800 feet).

When I was in high school and college I worked during the summer on survey crews. I worked on I-40 from Blake Ranch turnoff to Round Valley, pounded in a ton of property corner pins in Golden Valley, especially in So-Hi Estates, Prescott Golf And Country Club in Prescott Valley, and I even did a stretch at Metro Center in Phoenix. I say this as a warning to anyone who has property in these areas. It might be worth hiring a modern crew to check your property corners. Why?

Here's the copy I submitted:

Four Corners Wing Ding Close Enough For Government Work

Having been a surveyor in my youth (rear chainman, 1963-1970) I am not surprised that the monument at Four Corners is more than two miles off the mark. Frankly—and speaking for all the oldtime Arizona surveyors—I'm plumb surprised they got that monument as close as they did.

You see, in the old days all we had to establish property corners, highway angles and state boundaries was a transit, a chain (picture a 200 foot tape measure, only made out of metal), a couple plumb-bobs and a brush hook (a peculiar looking axe with a hooked end to destroy native plants that got in the way). Because of these crude instruments we also resorted to a lot of "wing-dinging." A wing ding is when you stand on a semi-precise geographical point, throw your arms out to the sides, then slam your palms together and wherever your joined palms point to, that's going to be the route to take, or, in this case, where four states meet.

Besides the crude instruments, surveyors in my day had one other problem to contend with: they were drunk. I'm not saying all surveyors had a drinking problem, just the ones I knew personally.

If you don't believe me take a look at the bottom of our state. See that wing-dinged-catty-wampus angle down there? My sources (other surveyors) have confided to me that after the Treaty of Hidalgo a group of surveyors were supposed to map out the new boundary and were given explicit instructions to go straight west from New Mexico and hit the Gulf of California, thus insuring that Arizona would have a bonafide sea port. Unfortunately when the surveyors got to Nogales they heard there was a whole bunch of beer in Yuma (and besides, it was kind of cold out). So, they executed a wingding and pulled their chains towards Yuma. Remember this: When it comes to Arizona landmarks, you always follow the beer.

And besides, two-and-a-half miles off the mark isn't that bad. Every survey crew I ever worked for ended every property pin placement with the words: "close enough for government work."

Bob Boze Bell
Executive Editor, True West magazine

"You Yanks sure make a big deal about clinging to the measurement of a King's foot."
—A Brit I know who smirks at our resistance to all things metric, besides 9mm ammunition

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