AllyCAD Showcase

Surveying from the Mountain


Jimmy Smith,
Professional Land Surveyor
Gauteng

"One of the worst things that could happen to a Professional Land Surveyor in the field, in times past, was finding that someone had permanently removed the survey flag from one of your stations or beacons, when reaching the top of the mountain that you had just spent two hours clambering up. The things that I said at those times above the valley that was to become home to the Sappi Ngodwana paper mill are unprintable," says Jimmy Smith with a poignant chuckle.

Although a reserved and quietly spoken man, Jimmy Smith speaks with authority and confidence born from a long career that began almost 50 years ago when he qualified as a Professional Land Surveyor at UCT in 1954. As one of the elder statesmen of the profession, Jimmy has seen many innovations and technology developments implemented by the survey profession.

"Despite the technology, it was not so long ago that the resident surveyor was often the "father confessor" of the community as well as its surveyor. This was the norm around the early 1900's, which, if you consider that the Egyptians were surveying the Nile region more than 4000 years ago, is not long ago at all. Those ancient surveyors produced remarkably accurate work considering that their tools were essentially the stars and the sun!"

"You have a similar situation in England today. There, the estate agents have undertaken the surveying work for years. Here in South Africa, we have had an outstanding system for a long time, which is why there are so few court cases surrounding land issues."

"Of course, there are still areas of the country that have not been surveyed, but government is definitely working on filling those gaps. Many of the informal settlements, for example, still need to be properly surveyed."

"Accuracy is not an issue for a surveyor. We have the tools and the training to survey accurately. So even if the accuracy requirement in the contract is not critical, the surveyor will almost automatically achieve centimetre accuracy, as that is what he is trained for."

"I know in Lesotho for instance, that the system that they use is based on aerial photography. So there, if someone wants registration, they use the photographs to identify fence posts or some other feature; the surveyor will take some measurements with a tape, and then draw his diagram. That process will take possibly an hour to get the property surveyed. Normally that would take a surveyor around 6 hours. That certainly saves money and seems to work quite well for the Lesotho government."
  "The Lesotho way of doing things would really only be acceptable in the rural areas. In the CBD and metropolitan areas it would be completely unacceptable. I also don't know if that system would be legally binding or whether it has been tested. It would certainly not be acceptable here, unless they changed the law," he says with smile.

In the early 60's Jimmy was awarded the contract to survey the area identified as the location for the Sappi mill. "I spent around two years in one of the most beautiful places in the world, the Eastern Transvaal as it was known then. Of course, a lot of what a surveyor does is talk to the farmers about where they think the beacons are. Often, you have to tell them that the beacons are not where they believe them to be. The history of the farm is an important part of the land surveyor's toolbox."

"I suppose I did play the "father confessor" role once or twice, I certainly heard many stories during my career. Our Survey Journal has printed many of those stories, but my memory is not good enough to remember the details now," he says with a fatherly look that says that those stories are not for telling. "The most enjoyable survey work is definitely farm work. I would most definitely prefer to climb mountains than buildings. Before the advent of electronic instruments, we would have to make observations to flags and calculate the survey by triangulation methods. I spent many happy hours and days walking around those mountains."

"I took my pilot's licence in 1965, and I then used to fly up to many of my jobs. I later took my helicopter pilot's licence, and I just loved flying them as well. A helicopter facilitates access to remote places that cannot even be reached by a car. I also surveyed a game farm up near Klaserie in the Hoedspruit area; my friend had a farm there that he was developing into a lodge. So I used to fly up to Hoedspruit and then drive to his farm and do the survey work he required."

"The software available to the surveyor today is really exciting. We started using AllyCAD around 13 years ago. Although it wasn't always this good, the software, the support, the manual, and the sheer professionalism of the presentation and the service is really outstanding today. It is really a joy to work as a surveyor these days with all the tools available," says Jimmy with a just a tinge of nostalgia, but only the faintest of tinges, mind you.

image Jimmy Smith matriculated from Wynberg Boys High in 1950. He qualified as a surveyor in 1954 at UCT, after which he migrated north to the then Transvaal area. He is married with four sons and a daughter.

 
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