A Personal Fortune

January 10, 2022
3 min read
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This January, while we all said “Good Bye” (and perhaps “Good Riddance”) to 2021 and look forward to 2022, I celebrated a personal milestone. It was 35 years ago last week that I began my career as a land surveyor. The year was 1987. I had recently graduated with an Associates in Applied Sciences (AAS) in Forestry from that most illustrious of institutions, Paul Smith’s College (nestled among the high peaks of the Adirondack Mountains in New York State). I had hoped to land a job with the Natural Park Service, but they had a 10-year waiting list at the time. I had considered putting my tree cutting skills to work for a paper company in Maine, but they were only offering $10,000 annual wages.

So, at the advice of a former classmate, I reworked my resume to emphasize the one surveying class that I had taken in college. I loaded all of my worldly possessions into my 1980 Toyota Corolla hatchback and made for Morristown, NJ, where I accepted a position as a “Rod Man” with Richard F. Smith (not to be confused with Richard F. Kline), earning a whopping $6.50 per hour!

It didn’t take long for me to realize that I was in love. Not just with my girlfriend, Jessica (who is now my wife of 30 years), but with the profession of land surveying. Being an outdoors enthusiast, I got to solve puzzles outside at a different site every day (if the weather was nice). On rainy & snowy days, I learned new skills in the office, such as drafting and practical applications for Geometry & Trigonometry.

A lot has happened since then. During the recession of the early 1990s, Jessica “encouraged me” to return to college and earn my BS in Surveying because many states (including New Jersey) require that to be eligible to apply for the PLS exam. So, the two newlyweds liquidated all of their assets (sold a car and their bar-be-que grill), and Tom enrolled at The Ohio State University.

Fast forward to 2015. As the world found itself emerging from yet another recession, armed with licenses to perform land surveys in both Pennsylvania and New Jersey, I accepted a position as an “Assistant Survey Manager” with Howell Kline Surveying. Instead of being the “Green Horn,” you might say that I am now the elder statesman of the company. That makes me sound old, but I don’t feel old. It helps if I try not to think that I’ve been surveying longer than many of my coworkers have been alive.

I’ve learned lots of things along the way: I’ve gotten so good at finding boundary markers that I swear I can almost smell them. One of the latest tricks I’ve learned is to keep dog biscuits in my pocket because you never know when you’re going to meet a canine who thinks you’re a bad guy. Meanwhile, Jessica has gotten quite adept at finding those tiny little deer ticks on my backside each night. Finally, land surveying is not a profession for those who aspire to be millionaires. But it’s true that you’ll never work a day in your life if you love what you do. I have been, and continue to be, so fortunate.



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