by Jerry Penry
One of the most interesting aspects of searching for survey monuments is the variety to be discovered. Most cachers are well familiar with brass or aluminum disks set in concrete, but finding something that is more obscure can be exciting. I personally like to search for old or unusual monuments, so twice a year I organize field trips where other surveyors gather to join in the hunt. This fall's search in Nebraska centered on the south-central area of the state.
Our first stop was a location that normally would have been passed by anyone looking for something interesting to find. The name of the location is "Hastings Naval Ord Depot Flag" (LH1117), which is located on the former Hastings Naval Ammunition Depot. This area was constructed during WWII as a major facility where bombs and other ordnance were produced for the Navy. The location of the flag pole is now on the grounds of Central Community College.
When we arrived at the site, we discovered that the flag pole had been cut off with a cutting torch at the base. The base itself, however, was a nice ornate sandstone monument with latitude, longitude, and sea-level elevation inscribed into the sides. It was well worth the stop to see this. The last update on this point was made in 1951.
We then traveled to a location east of the small town of Roseland, Nebraska. I had previously done quite a bit of research on a triangulation monument named "Carter" (LH1197) that was established in 1899 by the U. S. Coast & Geodetic Survey (the predecessor to today's National Geodetic Survey).
This was a secondary point for the 98th Meridian Survey that stretched between Mexico and Canada. The point marking this location was a stone jug.
A reconnaissance trip with a handheld GPS receiver found the location to be near some metal grain storage buildings in a farmyard. After securing permission from the landowner, I used a survey-grade GPS unit in conjunction with NGS's Online Positioning User Service (OPUS) to establish two precise points. From these two points, I calculated an angle and a distance and used a total station (a combination theodolite and distance-measuring device) to determine the jug's location. The caclculations were right on spot.
Digging found the jug to be crushed into 70 pieces, but all of the pieces were carefully excavated and cleaned and will be reassembled. This station will be officially described as "destroyed," but finding the remnants of a jug that was set in 1899 made the effort very rewarding. By the way, I need to state that no disturbed monument should ever be removed from its location without first consulting the agency that established it and letting them decide the best course of action. Thinking that we might find the jug destroyed, I had consulted with a representative of NGS prior to the excavation and received permission to remove the jug if it was indeed no longer serviceable as a survey station.
Our next stop was another triangulation station that was set in 1899. I had found this point a year earlier and set a warning sign next to it, because there was farming being done right over the top of it. Station "Prosser" (LH1252) is an 8" square marble post on a high hill with a magnificent view of the Platte River Valley. Even though I had previously found this marker, it was worth bringing the others in the group so that everyone could enjoy seeing it.
The unfortunate aspect of many of these old survey markers is that they are not being protected by warning signs. The landowner would not allow me to place a steel post next to it due to farming operations, but he did allow me to place a flexible Carsonite marker that could be run over with equipment. Thankfully, it now appears that a small area near the marker is being left in grass and not being farmed.
The day was getting late, but we had one more stop in the small town of Hansen. Here we searched for USC&GS bench mark "L" (LH0033), which was established in 1899. The railroad was gone, and the right-of-way had been purchased by adjacent landowners, so being on former railroad property was not a concern.
The last time the bench mark had been found was in 1947. In 1991, a report by NGS stated that a thorough search had been made, but no evidence of the mark could be found. This did not discourage the four licensed land surveyors in our group, who were all accustomed to searching for monuments that had reportedly not been found. After figuring out where we thought the marker should be located, we started to use probes in case it was buried. After a short search, a hard object was struck, and digging produced the lost marker. This bench mark is a 6" square limestone post.
It's very satisfying to find something that hasn't been located for a long time! Next time you check the Geocaching.com or NGS website for nearby survey marks, pay particular attention to the ones that aren't disks, and you may discover some fascinating--and perhaps historical--locations to look for.
Jerry Penry is a licensed land surveyor in southeast Nebraska who frequently searches for long-forgotten or obscure survey monuments. He has given history-related seminars to surveyors, and is also a contributing author to The American Surveyor magazine. In addition to his survey-related activities, Jerry researches and locates aviation crash sites that took place during WWII in the United States. Recently, he authored a book called Nebraska's Early Geodetic Surveys that will be of interest to both professionals and hobbyists looking for older survey markers.
Originally published on November 15, 2007.