VALE – For more than three decades as a surveyor, Tom Edwards stepped back in time nearly every day.
Once, while he was working out of Prineville, he studied notes made by a surveyor when the area was first assessed.
The scribbles proved intriguing.
“There were notes about being attacked by Indians one day. A few days later another note mentioned another Indian attack and two people killed. Those original survey notes are a look at history,” said Edwards.
Edwards himself became a part of history Friday, Sept. 30, when he walked out of the Malheur County Courthouse, retiring as the county’s surveyor/engineer.
Yet Edwards isn’t going to fade away. He and his wife have plans. With his house in Ontario sold, Edwards is ready to hit the road.
“We want to travel,” he said.
Edwards said neither he nor his wife have any set destination. That’s part of the fun, he said.
“There are so many things we want to see. We’ll just kind of wander,” he said.
Born on a century farm in Lincoln County, the life road Edwards followed to the courthouse in Vale was straightforward. He knew, he said, early on he wanted to be a surveyor.
Edwards graduated from Oregon State University in 1985 with a degree in forest engineering. While he studied, he worked as a timber faller in western Oregon to pay for school. He knew, then, he said, that logging was only a means to an end.
“I didn’t want to work in the woods my whole life. I thought I can do this for a while but it is not my career,” he said.
His degree, though, paved the way for Edwards to eventually become a professional land surveyor and engineer.
“I’ve been a licensed land engineer for 30 years,” he said.
He was working in the wood products industry in 2008 as a surveyor when the economy tanked. That translated into layoffs, he said.
“They take out the people they don’t think are necessary like engineers and surveyors. So, I said, ‘I am out of the forest products industry,’” Edwards said.
While one career door slammed shut, another opened for Edwards.
He applied for the surveyor opening in Malheur County.
“That was 11½ years ago,” he said.
The job Edwards performs for the county is at once simple and multifaceted.
“I make sure all the roads (in the county) stay up to what they should be. Any new stuff, any new roads being built, I oversee those projects,” he said.
He also ensures bridges in the county are in good condition as well as the seemingly countless roads.
“We concentrate on the ones that are used extensively,” he said.
Those roads include Lytle Boulevard and Glen Street in Vale.
“All I am really concerned with is to make sure the public can travel those roads,” he said.
Also, as the county surveyor he is in charge of all the private and public survey records.
That job is mandated by Oregon law.
A property survey is crucial for landowners and the county, Edwards said.
“A house being bought by somebody is probably their largest purchase they will make in their life and it is important to know where that house is sitting on that property,” said Edwards.
Edwards said a survey will avoid problems in the future over property lines.
“If they don’t, they’re looking for trouble,” he said.
That’s because, he said, a homeowner could discover the house they purchased actually stands on another parcel of land.
“Or when they build a fence, they could find out it is on their neighbors’ property and they can be sued,” said Edwards.
Survey work underpins the structure of the United States. Most of the nation uses the Public Land Survey System as a method to divide property for sale or, as in the pioneer West, for settling.
The system was created in 1785 to survey property relinquished to the U.S. by the Treaty of Paris in the wake of the Revolutionary War.
Under the system, the landscape is divided into sections of one square mile encompassing 640 acres.
Different parts of the nation, said Edwards, use different methods to survey. Texas, he said, has its own system while Oregon, Idaho and Washington used the Public Land Survey System.
“President (Thomas) Jefferson set it up. He wanted to get lands in the hands of people so he devised this survey system of township ranges and sections,” said Edwards.
Edwards said there are piece of his job he will miss.
“You know there isn’t anything more beautiful than the desert at sunrise or sunset and even in the middle of the day,” he said.
He said he will also miss the people he works with.
“But there is a whole new world out there and a lot of new friends to meet,” he said.
What has been is most significant career moment?
“Friday, when I retire,” he said with a laugh.
News tip? Contact reporter Pat Caldwell at [email protected]
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