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Section Corner and Quarter Corner Search

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A personal story for those who are interested. It's not about a benchmark, but seemed to fit best under this topic area.


College summers about a decade ago I worked as a surveyor chainman in the woods near Missoula, Montana and was working for a crew that was doing "monument maintenance". We were tasked with trying to find a "quarter corner" that had gone missing for about a hundred years since the original survey. A hundred years ago surveyors didn't have the fancy differential GPS or total station theodolites with electronic distance measuring light beams taken for granted today. They wandered the woods with steel tapes to measure distance and transits to measure angles. They did pretty well through mountainous terrain to measure miles + or - a dozen feet.


So, with our modern equipment we computed where the monument should have been to within an inch or two and then proceeded to look on this moss and debris covered hillside for a rock measuring 18"x8"x6" and a little 1/4 chiseled in the side.


Knowing that rocks are hard to find even after a few years surveyors employ a trick where they also place "witness monuments" and in the forest they are conveniently slow growing trees. Between 5 and 15 feet away to the northwest was supposed to be a 10" Tamarac, NE was an 8" black pine, etc. Problem is that over 100 years even a 10" tamarac will either be a lot bigger or maybe dead. The witness monuments didn't help so it became a comical surface where 3 orange vested surveyors start doing circle searches kicking in the dirt for a rock for 8 hours (our contracted search time).


On my umpteenth circle a hundred feet from where it was supposed to be I trudged back up the slope for yet another search and tripped on a rock and fell on my face. My colleagues asked if I was OK and I said, "Stupid rock got in my way.......hey!"


Reaching for a tape measure I cleared off the surrounding debris and found this rock conspicously set on edge like a little monolith. Measuring it matched the described dimensions and had the little 1/4 chiseled into the side.


From there we found that there was one of the 4 trees still left alive and my boss carefully took a chainsaw and etched a big square area in the tree bard. He then took an axe and whacking at the bark with the flat side of the axe. Pop! came a big chunk of bark in the underneath side was a backwards image of sap filled coordinates that had been scribed into the tree a hundred years earlier.


We had found a missing rock that no less than 5 other survey crews had supposedly searched for in the past 100 years. I got to drink for free at the bar that weekend since I'd saved the boss about 20 hours of searching (he was a very honest surveyor) and got the honor of helping replace the monument. Now there's 3" brass cap on a long aluminum tube at that site with a piece of ferrous metal so anybody with a metal detector can easily now find.


So in a way that was first every geocache I found. GPS and ammo boxes just make it easier and more fun, but it was just as fun to find a piece of history as well.


BTW, they were about 12 feet off. Still amazes me how good they were with steel measuring tapes.

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No, township corners, section corners and quarter corners are under the jurisdiction of the BLM, not the NGS. This is indeed an outstanding rendition of what land surveying is really all about, and the participants deserve to be congratulated for their diligence. I can vouch for its accuracy, as I have experienced the same situation numerous times. In fact, I worked on a project near Missoula in 1984.

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I did a little hunting on the blm.gov, Forest Service, and USGS websites, but couldn't reasonably find online resources to hunt down the particular quarter corner. And my memory is a bit fuzzy since I was the newbie crew guy who when I wasn't pounding hubs in the ground and clearing brush with a chainsaw--was catching up on sleep whenever possible. It was west of Alberton, Montana in the Petty Creek area, but I'm having trouble finding the exact section. Best guess is somewhere around the letter "O" in Forest at http://www.topozone.com/map.asp?z=11&n=5201410&e=688850&size=l&symshow=n


The work was for the Forest Service. We were putting up property signs on land between FS land and other land that was up for logging.


Another tidbit that I remember now was that one of the sections we surveyed (28 miles in 3 months) was closer to Coppersmith mine and some loggers had already been in and accidentally cut into FS land by about 50 feet. It made our job tremendously easier as we didn't have to clear any brush out to survey, but I found out later the FS assessed the over harvested timber at 3 or 5 times market value and sent them a bill. I bet they wish they had a handheld GPS!

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