Friday, February 24, 2012

Old School Map Making

I was wandering through YouTube at work today (shhhhh...) and stumbled on this neat old Army training film that describes the steps required to make a paper topographic map, circa 1973.

The steps in this movie really didn't change for about 60 years, from the late 1920s to around 1990 or so.  In fact, not a whole lot if the equipment changed, either.  Sure, there were a few improvements here and there - better materials, more accurate surveying equipment and better aerial photography cameras - but the basic steps remained pretty much unchanged.  Of course today it is all different; digital satellite imagery, GPS, LiDAR and desktop computers have fundamentally changed the mapping profession.

But for now let's celebrate the old ways, when men were men, theodolites didn't have any electronic components and cartographers wore ties while they worked at their light tables.  This movie (broken into three parts by YouTube) was filmed mostly at the old Defense Mapping School at Fort Belvior, VA:

Part I:

Part II.  Now, part II is interesting because I swear the soldier who is shown working at 5:40 is an old friend, Norm Price.  I first met Norm at Fort Lewis in in 1987.  Norm had been a Cartographic Technician warrant officer who recently converted to the new Terrain Analysis Technican field (MOS 215D) just before I met him.  If I remember correctly he entered the Army in the late 60's, so it is entirely possible for young Specialist Price to have appeared in this film:

And Part III:



Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Did Robert E. Lee Spend Saturday Night in Toledo, Ohio?

Saturday night in Toledo, Ohio is like being nowhere at all
All through the day how the hours rush by
You sit in the park and you watch the grass die!
Ah, but after the sunset, the dusk and the twilight
When shadows of night start to fall
They roll back the sidewalk precisely at ten
And people who live there are not seen again!
Just two lonely truckers from Great Falls, Montana
And a salesman from places unknown 
All huddled together in downtown Toledo
To spend their big night all alone!

The song is by Randy Sparks, written after a particularly uninspiring night in Toledo.  John Denver started performing it in the early 1970s and was 'uninvited' to do a concert by Toledo Mayor Harry Kessler.  Denver and Toledo eventually kissed and made up, but there's no denying that Toledo wasn't, and still isn't, an entertainment mecca.

Everybody's heard of the great Toledo War, right?

Well, for those of you who haven't, here's the synopsis:

In 1835 the State of Ohio and the Territory of Michigan went to war over a six mile strip of land that extended from Toledo west to the Indiana border.  The war arose from a boundary dispute which was triggered by an inaccurate boundary description set out in the Northwest Ordnance of 1787 and an inaccurate description of Ohio's northern boundary set out in the Enabling Act of 1802 (yet another Congressional screw-up).  Both Ohio and Michigan considered this strip of land, known as the Toledo Strip, to be theirs.  You may well ask (hell, you should ask) why all the interest in Toledo?  Well, in the early 1800s Toledo was poised to become a major shipping center on the Great Lakes.  The Erie Canal had just been opened, triggering a trade and settlement boom in the upper Midwest.  Politicians emboldened by the success of the Erie Canal were talking seriously of financing a canal following the Maumee River from Toledo to Fort Wayne, Indiana, and from there on to the Mississippi River.  If this plan came through then bulk goods could move cheaply by water between New York and the Mississippi.  Toledo would become one of the major trading hubs in North America.  Governors and legislatures drooled over the prospect.  Suddenly Toledo was worth fighting for!

The Toledo War was really nothing more than a bunch of alcohol-fueled hotheads on both sides throwing insults and the occasional lead ball across the border.  Still, the federal government had to do something to settle the dispute.  After long negotiations and intervention by President Andrew Jackson (and a little arm twisting to get Michigan to play along), the border issue was 'settled'.  All that remained was for a formal boundary survey to be conducted and the results agreed to by both Ohio and Michigan.

Enter Lieutenant Robert E. Lee.  He was appointed to a party of Corps of Engineer officers detailed by the War Department to survey and map the Ohio - Michigan border as described in the agreement:

In 1835 (Washington) Hood was associated with Robert E. Lee in a map-making expedition to settle once and for all the Ohio-Michigan boundary dispute. This involved a strip of land averaging six and one half miles in width and extending along the northern border of Ohio west of Lake Erie. Michigan's claim was based on the boundary laid down by the Northwest Ordinance (1787). Ohio's claim was based on the line set forth in its state constitution, which the U.S. Congress had neither confirmed nor rejected when Ohio was admitted to the Union.
To settle this dispute, the government sent Captain Andrew Talcott and Lieutenants Robert E. Lee and Washington Hood to survey and map this area. On the basis of this survey both Michigan and Ohio agreed to compromise and Michigan became a state in 1837. This dispute nearly erupted into a border clash and is often referred to as the "Toledo War."
- Charles R. Steitz, Jr., "Washington Hood: Five Hundredth Graduate of the United States Military Academy", Pennsylvania Folklife, 1990, Volume 39, No. 3  
Which begs the question, just what do a trio of wild and crazy 19th century West Point grads do for entertainment while in Toledo?  Grab a bite to eat and listen to some jazz music perhaps?

Tony Packo's.  A Toledo landmark.  The
best damned hot dogs and potato salad in the world
and home of the Cake Walking Jazz Band.

Although Michigan lost this round they were given what is today their Upper Peninsula as compensation.  At the time it seemed like an unfair trade and there was a lot of grousing about it among Michiganders (or Michiganians, or whatever they call themselves).

Today's Michiganders think it was one heck of a good deal.  All you have to do is drive through downtown Toledo to understand why.

And the Toledo - Mississippi River canal project?  It petered out.  One word.  Railroads.


Saturday, February 4, 2012

Gas Station Maps

In olden times, like back in the 1960s, you could pull into any gas station in the US and grab a free road map.  These maps were designed for one purpose - to show the motorist how to get from where he was to where he wanted to be.  The maps were part advertising and part incentive.  The idea was to encourage travel by automobile.  The more you traveled the more gas you burned.

The idea of the free road map was born back in the early 1900s when automobile companies like Ford were involved in a major push to get the state and federal governments to expand and improve roads throughout the country.  Road conditions were simply awful back then and the thought was that better roads would encourage travel and commerce and, of course, spur automobile sales.  This led to the creation of the federal Bureau of Public Roads (later the Federal Highway Administration) and the first allocations of federal money for ongoing road construction and maintenance.

By illustration, one of Harry Truman's standard campaign platforms when he was serving as a commissioner in Missouri, then Senator and ultimately as President was better roads.  He felt that no farmer in a rural area should have to travel more than two miles to find a paved road to get his crops to market.  The fact that two miles was viewed as a reasonable distance to have to haul products before finding a good road is reflective of the state of road construction in the rural areas of the country right up into the 1950s.

Well, if we've got all these good new roads how do we let people know about them?  Why the road map, of course!  Gasoline companies like Texaco, Shell, BP, Mobile, Standard Oil and many others viewed free road maps as part of the cost of doing business.  The gasoline companies didn't do the map production themselves.  They farmed out the production to one of the few companies that specialized in making road maps.  Rand McNally, Gousha and General Drafting were the major players in this industry and they cranked out millions of maps between 1920 and 1970.

The other great thing about gas station road maps, besides being free, was that they were kept fairly current.  The compilation of these maps was a cooperative effort between the gasoline producers, the mapping companies and local, state and federal road and transportation bureaus.  Maps were updated and re-published as frequently as every year depending on the rate of road construction in a particular state.  Of course each gas company's map was tailored to show company service stations and to proudly trumpet the superiority of their product over their competitor's, but the actual map information tended to pretty consistent from company to company.

A side benefit from this program was the standardization of road map symbology.  Map makers realized we needed a common map language to depict things like primary roads, secondary roads, city boundaries, rivers and lakes and route symbols.  In very short order common symbols were standardized and used on all road maps, not just those handed out for free in gas stations.  Map symbols were a unifying language on the highways and byways of mid-20th century America.

In addition, millions of American school kids learned map reading from gas station road maps.   Schools regularly integrated map reading into the curriculum, and the map of choice was the good old gas station road map.  I think the peak of America's map literacy came in the 1950s, when millions of American kids, eager to tell their parents where to go, took over the job of automobile navigation and honed their skills in route finding and trip planning with good old gas station maps.

In the 1950s we planned our journeys using a paper map and imagination.  Today we fire up the GPS and wait for it to tell us where to go.  I fear we have become map dummies.

Let's take a trip back in time and see what it was like for a mapping company to keep up with changes to roads and road conditions.  Many would be surprised to learn that the methods used today are pretty much the same as we see in this video.  The equipment has changed - it's all computerized now - but someone still has to drive the roads and note the changes.