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Bench Mark Hunting


Whether you search for survey marks

as a hobby, or you rely on them in your

professional work, here's where you'll find

fun stories and valuable information.

Finding RHONDA, Station Ron Ripp & Mark's Mark


Finding RHONDA

By Jennifer “Zhanna” Maher and Rich Galas
Shortly before the end of 2007, we began compiling yearly statistics for our benchmark recoveries. The vast majority of finds came from our far-flung adventures in Arizona and Maine. With such globetrotting tendencies leading us to some of the most scenic benchmark settings in the country, you might think that the marks closest to home (northeastern Pennsylvania) pale in comparison. That’s not really the case. Nearly all survey stations pose exciting challenges of one kind or another, especially triangulation stations! But the ones near us are easier to reach and less scenic than those we find while on vacation, and we can fit them in when we’re looking for just a quick morning hike. Honestly, sometimes we procrastinate, and we procrastinated well with LY2791.
So what was our motivation this time? We had carried that datasheet around in Rich’s car since 2003, just waiting for a day when we had nothing better to do. Why did we finally decide to search for the mark now? Becoming acquainted with Rhonda Rushing through our contributions to her book Lasting Impressions had a lot to do with it. We finally knew someone with a namesake tri-station! Of course, as president of Berntsen International, Rhonda can stamp a disk with her name any day she likes; but one in its original setting placed for a particular purpose has to be, we thought, more authentically thrilling. Perhaps she would even enjoy our report and photos so much that she might include them in Lasting Impressions, Volume II, if such a work is forthcoming? Thus finding RHONDA became our goal for the next nice autumn day.
When RHONDA was set in 1959, the surrounding area was pasture land. Ten years later, the Wemberly Hills Golf Course was established on the land just to the south of RHONDA’s knoll. It remains a popular course to this day, but our familiarity with the area, as well as prior visits to the golf course, gave us confidence that we could reach the coordinates without difficulty, and probably complete our recovery without incident.
Sunday morning was calm and the sun shone brightly—a rarity in northeastern Pennsylvania, even during the typically dry month of October. We parked in the golf course lot, then followed a dirt road toward the small knoll, a slight rise from the level of the road. Our tool bag and backpacks were bulging with the usual long measuring tape, trowels, gloves, probes, garden clippers, flagging tape, GPS and remote antenna, hatchet, folding saw, compass, and camera. I, Zhanna, carried a tripod slung across my shoulder and held the datasheet in my hand. We didn’t need a map for this excursion.
The former pasture land in the vicinity of RHONDA is now a weedy meadow, but it is still mostly open and easy enough to walk through. It is bordered on the southwest by open woods and on the north by a high stone wall. We unloaded our equipment in an area free of weeds and began to look around.
At first we saw no marks and no rock outcrops matching the description. A quick overview of the area was a complete failure, even though we felt confident in the coordinates. What did this mean? Usually it means we have some digging to do. Probing the ground near the station coordinates, we could tell that a great deal of soft but root-filled soil covered the bedrock beneath. Rich pulled back a heavy mat about four inches thick and we dug and scraped, trying to reach bedrock, but nothing revealed itself to us. Hmm…perhaps this would be a tougher recovery than we had thought. To save ourselves the sweat and frustration of digging an area too large in the wrong place, we decided to search a little harder for the reference marks, hoping that they could be found and would then lead us to the station. After all, that’s their purpose!
Rich and I walked together in the general direction of RM1, having noted that RM2 was most likely near the thickly overgrown stone wall and would be harder to find. We descended a bit, almost imperceptibly, and spotted a large, flat outcropping slab of bedrock. Simultaneously, Rich and I saw the blue-green disk!
Using our sighting compass and the “box score” data about the reference marks from RHONDA’s NGS datasheet, we projected an imaginary line from RM1 back toward the station, and Rich paced off the approximate distance. Our long tape is usually handy in these situations, but in this case the arrangement of brush and a tree made it impossible to use. We still saw nothing promising in the vicinity of the mark. We stuck a probe in the ground anyway, to mark our guess at the station’s suspected location. From this estimated point, I used the compass again to direct Rich on the bearing which, according to the box score, should bring him to RM2. It was indeed hiding in the thicket, somewhere near the stone wall.
“Gardening”—our term for clearing back brush and weeds—was necessary. Rich hacked and slashed his way through, and eventually spotted the reference mark just a few feet from our bearing line. It was set in a rock that was halfway embedded in the ground beneath the stone wall. I fought my way through the remaining brush to stand over it, and I was able to sight a bearing line back toward the station. Rich intersected RM2 with the line we’d taken from RM1, and, combining this knowledge with that which we could deduce from the former placement of a witness post, we were able to pinpoint the station disk. We soon realized that our earlier efforts had very nearly uncovered the disk, but a thin coating of dirt had still somehow obscured it. A closer look and a quick brush with a gloved hand were all it took for RHONDA to emerge! We were thrilled to document our find with photos and to submit the first official NGS recovery of this station in over thirty years.
Now, here’s a friendly challenge: there is one more RHONDA (FM1025) to be found near Tucumcari, New Mexico. Perhaps one of our fellow benchmark hunters in the Southwest would like to attempt it?

Jennifer Maher works as a computer systems technician and programmer at the University of Scranton, and is also a graduate student in information science at Drexel University. Her primary interests are website development, railroads and trolleys, and local history. Rich Galas is an automation and robotics technician for a major CD/DVD replication company. As avid outdoor enthusiasts, both love hiking, mountain biking, rock climbing, nature photography, cooking (and eating!), squirrel hunting, and target shooting. They also enjoy searching for and recovering survey marks for the physical and technical challenges it involves, and because it helps to preserve what they feel is a truly valuable national resource.


Station Ron Ripp GPS
By Diann Danielsen
Early in the morning, in a quiet county park in western Dane County, Wisconsin, the deer come to graze at the edge of Indian Lake. In fact, the memorial bench at Station Ron Ripp GPS, near the park entry, is a perfect spot to watch them. From the bench, you can enjoy a view of the lake and rolling countryside—and the old Ripp family homestead. If one of the deer winks at you, it’s just Ron keeping an eye on the place.
Ron Ripp loved to tell stories; some of them were even true. He loved bad jokes, the dumber the better. But Ron especially loved his role as county steward of survey corners and records. In his thirty years with the Dane County Surveyor’s Office—over 20 years as County Surveyor—Ron guided the agency through an evolution from centuries old manual methods to automated processes, all the while keeping a human and humorous touch. He participated in innovative projects with federal agencies and the University of Wisconsin-Madison, projects that modernized the county’s survey network while demonstrating new technologies (such as GPS) and devising methods to link the Public Land Survey System and the National Spatial Reference System.
Ron knew the location, history, and story behind every official survey marker in Dane County. One day, while checking the condition of monuments in the western part of the county, he said, “Let’s stop and check this one…..” In Ron’s ever humble way, we parked across the street, located the monument, and he said “I’ve always worried about this one. It was set after the others and never properly tied into the network.” Covered by brush and far enough up the cut bank to be almost in the cornfield, it was Station RIPP. The station lay hidden for decades. Ron’s secret namesake.
When Ron passed away unexpectedly in 2004, the professional community quickly committed to setting a new Station Ripp in his memory. The new Station Ripp—Station Ron Ripp GPS—would be a high precision station that would supplement the local survey network and become part of the National Spatial Reference System. The new station would be located in a county park and set in a manner that would support both professional and recreational uses.
Today, geocachers can use the latitude/longitude and elevation noted on the commemorative plaque for Station Ron Ripp GPS as a navigational waypoint. Those coordinates are N 43° 11' 23.2"   W 89° 37' 18.2" in DDDMMSS; N 43° 11.387   W 089° 37.303 in DDDMM.MMM. A more precise position has been submitted to the National Geodetic Survey so that the station can be incorporated into the National Spatial Reference System and used by survey professionals. Because Indian Lake Park is part of the National Ice Age National Scenic Trail,  people hiking along that trail can also use the station.
Ron’s influence went well beyond the borders of Dane County as he motivated and educated others. He would tell his colleagues what was what, the way the world really is, and what to do about it….always with humor, and always with wisdom hidden in the witty stories he shared. Ron was particularly committed to the future of the surveying profession and the education of surveying students. He spent countless hours educating future generations in the art and science of surveying and land information systems.
Ron Ripp is sadly missed by his family, friends, and many peers in surveying, mapping, and land records. His positive influence is reflected in the many outpourings and activities since his passing. Besides Station Ron Ripp GPS, an annual golf outing raises funds for an annual survey scholarship and the American Diabetes Association. In 2008, the tournament will be held on June 7th. See the Ron Ripp Memorial Website for details.
Special thanks to Dane County, Wisconsin, National Geodetic Survey, Wisconsin Department of Transportation, University of Wisconsin-Madison, Madison Area Technical College, Madison Area Surveyors Council, Seiler Instruments, Berntsen International, and Royal Oak Engineering for their support of the Station Ron Ripp GPS project. Landscaping for Station Ron Ripp GPS was lovingly provided by Ron’s son, Peter, and the Ripp family.

Diann Danielsen is a licensed surveyor and former manager of the Dane County Land Information Office. Diann proposed and coordinated the Station Ron Ripp GPS project for the county, as a lasting memorial to a guy who hated attention. Diann’s love of surveying and things Japanese converged last year while she hunted for survey markers from Tokyo to Kyushu. She currently writes and consults in surveying, mapping, and GIS.


Mark's Mark

Excerpt from Lasting Impressions, A Glimpse Into The Legacy of Surveying

After Mark Bryant's untimely death on January 12, 2002, many of his friends and colleagues in the land-surveying communities expressed a desire to honor him with an enduring memorial.  One idea that came up, and was quickly settled on, was setting a Global Positioning System (GPS) control station bearing Mark's name.

Several of Marks's friends put together a tenative design and commissioned Berntsen International, Inc. to create the Mark Bryant Memorial Survey Monument.  A striking eight-inch-diameter monument was the result.  Now that the monument was fabricated, it was time to find a suitable location.  Together with National Geodetic Survey (NGS) staff members, the idea of setting "Mark's Mark" at the Federal Geodetic Control Subcommittee (FGCS) Instrument Test Network at the National Institute of Standards and Technologies facility in Gaithersburg, Maryland, was proposed.

GPS equipment manufacturers test and validate new equipment at this site.  Since Mark participated in several such tests, the group felt that setting his mark here, where it could be used to further the science of surveying, was a fitting tribute.

After appropriate permissions were obtained, Mark's Mark was set on March 16, 2005, in the vicinity of NBS5, the primary, RTK Base Station used during recent FGCS GPS campaigns.  Construction activities had destroyed the original NBS5 control station and Mark's Mark replaced it; no doubt it will remain in use and serve as a lasting tribute to Mark Bryant's legacy of family, friends, colleagues, and the land-surveying profession.

 - Bob LeMoine, GPS/TPS Technical Support Specialist, Wallingford, Connecticut

 Originally published on June 10, 2008.


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