Bio: Professional topographer and geospatial engineer currently working as a geospatial information services coordinator for a large regional airport. I have a deep passion for the history of the topographic sciences and the contributions Topographers have made to the science of measuring, mapping and understanding our world. Having spent over 23 years working as a topographer and geospatial engineer with the US Army Corps of Engineers I have a particular interest in the history of Army mapping and geographic activities. Feel free to contact me with your questions or comments at 'oldtopographer(at)gmail.com'
Hello Mr. Brian
I am Walter Childs SFC US Army Retired. I am a 1982 Gradaute of the defense mapping school. who went on to become a 51T. I am really happy about your paige/blog.
I’m a retired USGS geographer who spent his last 15 years in remote sensing/aerial photo-interpretation. I got my start cutting brush on a seismic crew in oil exploration. Noticed that I was sweating and the surveyor wasn’t. I eventually worked myself into that job, which was plane table & alidade. In retrospect it was the best job I ever had. We eventually transitioned to a Gurley 1 min transit and when I left we were using a theodolite. All as a result in improved seismic analysis requiring improved topographic accuracy.
Now I’m a gentleman farmer, a farmer who doesn’t make money. I want a large scale topographic map of my farm. I want a plane table and alidade. Gee whiz, you’d think I was searching for a unicorn. I found a tripod with a johnson head. I found a self-indexing K&E alidade. I can’t find the drawing table unless I order it from India or China. Or I will have to make one.
I have a vintage w.f. brunton pocket transit compass, s/n 163463. Any approx manf date?
I am looking for a replacement mirror for K & E pocket transits.
Harvey, unfotunately K&E is long out of business. My only suggestion is to contact the Brunton Company in Riverton, WY. They do repairs on old Brunton/Ainsworth pocket transits and may be able to handle the mirror replacement on your K&E.
I have been reading your blog for some time now (I can’t remember when I started) and just by chance I came across your comments on the U.S. Army “Field Sketch Set” at
In your remarks there you mention the missing manual and I think I can shed some light on it (because it happens that the manual was what led me to the web page).
The Corps of Engineers “Professional Papers, No. 29 Engineer Field Manual” was published as a fourth edition in 1912. Among many other topics that edition covers Reconnaissance and military sketching. The mapmaking technique is the calvary “sketching case”, although the plane table is referenced also. Quite by chance I came across the 1918 edition of the book and by that edition an “oriented drawing board” was illustrated and the calvary case was noted to be obsolete. You can find the 1918 edition at
and page 53 of the PDF (body page 49 of the actual text) has a picture of the set.
I hope that you find this information useful and I look forward to your next blog installment — maps, surveying, and related instruments are a subject of everlasting interest.
Not sure if my first attempt at leaving a comment came through, so I’ll try again.
I’m Lesley Frost, youngest daughter of Robert Frost. He unfortunately passed away over 10 years ago. Your article about my father has warmed my heart, and my sister and I have shared it on Facebook for friends and family to see. I remember ‘going to work’ with dad as a child. I also remember (starting at about the age of 6) he would give me photos and a stereoscope and teach me about the differences in land formations, etc. I’m also quite certain that I was the only kid in class who could brag that her dad made stereo photos of their vacation. (although it certainly made storing those taped-together photos tricky!) He was undoubtedly a brilliant man who loved his life’s work. Thank you for your article! I will continue to share it for all those who are interested to read.
Leslie, thank you for your kind comments. Through his pioneering work your father touched the lives of hundreds, perhaps thousands of my fellow Soldiers and in a very real sense made the professional field of Terrain Analysis within the Army Corps of Engineers a key force multiplier.
I am Lesley Frost, Robert Frost’s youngest daughter. I’m 48 years old now, and my father passed away over 10 years ago. Your article has warmed my heart, and my sister and I have both shared it on Facebook for our friends and other family members to read. I used to love ‘going to work with dad’ when I was a child. I remember (starting as early as about age 6) he would set me up with various photos and show me how to use his stereoscope. I’m quite certain I was the only kid in school who could brag that her dad made ‘stereo photos’ of their vacation. He was certainly a brilliant man who undoubtedly loved his life’s work. Thank you so much for your article! I will continue to share for all those who are interested!
Brian, I am an Engineer Officer, commanded the 30th Engineers, and am a self proclaimed Topog! Thanks for your efforts – a very good read! From another Brian
To Brian Hathaway,
I am not sure about how to reply on this site or when and where to find a response, so could you also reply directly to my email address: Joek05@sbcgobal.net
I noticed you were commander of the 30th Engineers. I have been preparing a history of the 64th during the 1960s and it goes back to the detachment first sent to Libya in the mid-1950s. The short version was finished last year (sold by the National Army Museum):
Cold War Mapping Mission: The 329th Geodetic Detachment and The 64th Engineer Topographic Battalion 1956-1970.
THe 329th came from the 30th Engineers (then 30th Eng Group). In the early 1960s the 72nd Det. was sent from the 30th Eng (then a Bn again) to Liberia and it was reassigned to the 64th. Were you in the 30th or commanding it at either time? If so, do you think you could answer some questions for me.
Interesting. Thanks, Brian.
I was so excited to stumble upon your post(s) regarding IAGS. My father worked fro them for about 15 years in the ’60s and ’70s. Seeing as how I was a child at the time, I paid little attention to what my Dad actually did for fork and this question has come up several times in my adult life. I have no good answer to give other than “he made maps for various Latin American countries.” I appreciate the brief historical account you provided back in 2011 and am wondering where I could find out more about the IAGS and/or personnel involved in the organization. His name was George T. Novak.
Ana, thanks for your kind comments. Sadly there’s very little about the IAGS available on the web. In fact it was this dearth of information that pushed me to put together my blog post. Much of the available information is locked up government archives and has yet to see the light of day. Perhaps the best overview of IAGS activities is the National Geographic article published in March 1956. I posted about the article and you can read it here: https://oldtopographer.net/2012/01/15/the-ngs-does-the-iags/
Thank you Brian. I hope documents are released soon. The fact that they’re ‘dark’ is intriguing. 🙂
Anna, there’s really nothing dark or mysterious about the IAGS. I think it’s just that, like so many government programs, if nobody expresses an interest in the organization’s history the documentation just continues to sit in government archives. I’m sure the National Archives and the Corps of Engineers have a lot of documentation on the IAGS – it’s just that nobody’s gone digging for it (yet).
You should be able to find the documents at NARA in Maryland. On one floor they have the section that deals with mapping and they can pull the files for you. Most material of this type is not classified, but they only have what was sent in from AMS or any other organization that was involved. It has been over ten years, so I do not recall the details. If you call the archives you can ask for the section that handles cartography, aerial photography, and mapping and then tell them what you are looking for. You can hire a researcher and pay a fortune for him to find and copy the material or go there yourself and get what you need.
The only thing i know about IAGS is that they were based in Panama and were a pretty well self contained topo group that traveled all over. After Noriega, most of IAGS was transferred to Fort Belvoir to the mapping school there..
Yup. that about sums up what I know as well. 🙂
Please contact us as we would like to use several of your written paragraphs about the formation of IAGS in our upcoming book, “I’m Always Going Somewhere.” We would give you full recognition.
Paul Hauser & Roald Bendixen (Both former catographers with IAGS)
We look forward hearing from you.
Interesting stuff. My father was a topographic engineer for the United States Geological Survey, the civilian side of governmental mapping. He did a lot of field completion work in the 50’s and 60’s before moving on to planetary mapping for NASA .
I sent a request a week or so. I am working with a WWII veteran who is writing about his experiences. Although he took over 600 pictures, he did not take any of the hedgerow because he didn’t have a camera. He would like to use one of your photo if you would grant him permission.
The photos I used in that post are public domain photos and are free to use. Good luck with your project and my thanks to your veteran friend and thanks for his service!
Earl Prechtel sent me your site address. I didn’t see my pocket stereoscope on your site. Can you identify it: Where the eyepieces can be slid along a bar for there is a scale and below it it reads Q-O-S Corp, New York, N.Y.
I can scan it if that would help.
Joe, thanks for the input. Q-O-S Corp was a major supplier of stereoscopes during WWII. There’s no real information about Q-O-S on the internet so I’m not really sure what the letters in the name stood for (perhaps ‘Quality Optical Systems’?). The company made both refraction-type stereoscopes (like you have) and mirror stereoscopes (similar to the Fairchild F-71 you can see on my Stereoscope page). You can find plenty of examples for sale on eBay, and the mirror stereoscopes seem to be more common. Please let me know if you need more help!