Malcolm M. M. Vanstone
SLS, P. Surv.
The Story of the Ballot Box
At the April council meeting, discussion turned to the ballot box, or lack thereof for that matter. It was brought up that a few esteemed members of the Saskatchewan Land Surveyors Association (SLSA) had mentioned to Carla that one of the old equipment boxes sitting in the SLSA office would probably make a good ballot box, if someone was so inclined to take on a small project. Seeing as how I had ran for council on a platform based on a small ability to create birdhouses, I felt somewhat obligated to volunteer to take on the project.
After about 5 minutes of dead air over the tele-conference I realized we had no other options and felt fully obligated and agreed to see what I could do to turn the instrument box into a ballot box. To be honest with you, I thought it should be pretty easy. I figured a quick rip with the drill and maybe a jig saw and I’d have something suitable for birds to nest in but would also be quick and easy to clean out and use as a ballot box once a year. Thankfully, there was some divine intervention and my version of the “ballot box” never came to life.
When I went to pick up the box I saw the beautiful shape it was in and the craftsmanship that had gone into creating it. I really started to question if my farm honed carpentry skills would actually be able to do justice to this ageless beauty. Fortunately for me (and the entire SLSA membership, I think) I was not the only one doubting my craftsman skills. When I showed the box to my wife, Sara, and explained what the plan was, she kind of raised an eyebrow and said “You…?”. Before I even had a chance to fuel up my chainsaw and oil the blade, she had taken a few pictures of the instrument case and sent it to her Grandma and Grandpa, Lynn and Mavis Parsons, along with a quick note about what the project was. It should be noted that Grandma and Grandpa Parsons are quite adept at refinishing old furniture and giving new life to items that are starting to show the weathering of time. They have worked on everything from dining room tables and chair sets to old chests that we had found up in the attic of my family’s farm home. They do really nice work. This project wasn’t really one that was anywhere close to exceeding their skill set or even challenging them but since Grandma and Grandpa retired from farming a few years ago they are always looking for little projects to keep them busy. I think they basically read the email and headed to the city to save the old instrument box from what was sure to be a dismal transformation from a beautiful antique to a splintered mess in my garage.
I think Grandpa was also interested in the project as he has a bit of a background in the surveying industry. He is a retired farmer, but in the late 1950’s he worked as a survey assistant. When I quizzed him and Grandma about his survey career he indicated that his memory is not real great but he knew he started in August of 1958 working with the Department of Highways and that John Andres was the crew chief at the time. They didn’t survey over the winter, but then in March of 1959 he went to work for George Bennett for about a year and then quit the following spring to go farming. He knew that Irvin Gaw and Ed Zeldenrust were the crew chiefs he worked with at that time. He recalls he did lots of “walking, digging pits and some instrument work.” He recalled working on a job out at Cabri (he was born and raised in Grenfell so that was a bit of a hike). They were on the road out there for quite awhile. He can’t recall exactly what the job was for but that it involved taking shots of the stars at night. He does know that they were in Cabri long enough that he played a game or two of hockey with the local team.
As for the box, Granpda pointed out a few features on it that he recalled from his surveying days. He noted that on the inside of the box and near the bottom there is a channel on each side that he recalled was where they used to keep the manual for the instrument. On the inside of the lid there is a mount that he recalls would hold the plumb bob, compass and maybe a magnifying glass. When I picked the box up there was some padding of some sort, it looked like horse hair or something that was covered with a fabric and was glued to the sides and bottom of the box to provide some cushioning or protection for the instrument. When I showed Grandpa the cushioning on the inside of a modern day total station box that is made out of high density foam and molded to fit the instrument perfectly he was quite surprised at how far things have come. I can’t even imagine what he’d think if I took him out in the field and showed him how the GPS works.
Anyhow, I’m happy to say we now have a ballot box for our association that is not only visually appealing and functional but also comes with a nice bit of history. I think it resembles all that is great about our associations past, present and future.