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Boundary Retracement:
Processes and Procedures CRC Press, 2017
By Donald A. Wilson, PS (475 pages, e-book
and hardcover)

hen I was in my an essential text. Our field can justifiably
mid-twenties and celebrate Wilson’s Boundary Retracement.
learning the honor- It promises to become the book you smugly
able profession of bring under your arm to court, the book
land surveying, I you wave when the judge asks you to
was lucky to be guided by a mentor who justify a disputed call. It promises to serve
would grab a book off his office shelf and as the surrogate bible that state boards of
say, “Every surveyor should have a copy of registration should publish, and never do.
this!” The first example he waved at me was I’m setting a high bar, and Wilson meets it.
Davis, Foote and Kelly’s Surveying: Theory Wilson has been in practice over fifty
and Practice (1966), which I acquired. Over years, and teaches at the University of New
time I formed my own collection of “must- Hampshire. He is the author or co-author of a
have” surveying books. Those now number half dozen must-have books on this topic, and
about twenty--a small count. Of those has conducted seminars around the country.
twenty, a third are essential texts. That’s six He and Walter Robillard are best known as the
or seven books--and through the years they co-authors of the last edition of Evidence and
have counseled me whenever I encounter Procedures for Boundary Location (2006).
a unique or difficult situation. Like all good In reality, Wilson’s 2017 Boundary
books, they’ve become friends. Retracement is an expansion and refinement
The publication of those books spans of his seminal works with Robillard. In his
one hundred years. The first modern new book Wilson exclusively covers retrace-
“essential text” in my pantheon is Mulford’s ment. Wilson emphasizes that retracement
Boundaries and Landmarks (1912). The is not surveying a deed, but following in distance between two monuments at 202.25
last book I added was Chris Lucas’ The the footsteps of the original surveyor. As feet, whereas the precise physical distance
Pincushion Effect (2011). Note that this the author asserts, this is a principle that is 202.385 feet. Yet a deed is then created
works out to twenty books published over is misunderstood by many, and of those from the surveyor’s plan. Even though the
a hundred years that are important to familiar with the principle, many more lack physical bounds exist, the deed distance
surveyors--an average of one book every the “training and experience” to implement it call for that line is 202.25 feet, reflecting a
five years. If we apply this same logic to correctly. Wilson reminds us that a prop- measurement error of 0.135.
the publication of what I consider essential erty deed is intended to reflect the original The classic “deed surveyor” surveys deed
texts, these rare books appear on average survey, and not the other way around. calls rather than the physical evidence,
every fourteen years. For instance, an original surveyor creates setting a “correct” corner based on the deed
Another addition to my essential collec- new property bounds, attempts to locate rather than original corners. The resulting
tion occurred in 2017 with the publication them accurately and prepares a plan repre- “correct” corner is in fact incorrect, often
of Donald Wilson’s Boundary Retracement: senting those physical bounds as located. worsening the errors made by the original
Processes and Procedures. Of course the Yet that original surveyor’s measurements surveyor. By law the original physical
mere publication of a book about surveying reflect inherent equipment and technique- corners prevail, but are frequently ignored
is rare. It’s rarer still when that book is driven errors. The surveyor may measure a continued on page 39

Displayed with permission • The American Surveyor • February 2018 • Copyright 2018 Cheves Media •
Garner, continued from page 40 nonfederal rectangular surveys, longlots, controversial boundary survey comes along,
by a surveyor who aspires to greater military grants, and special and overlapping this book is the one you turn to for a best
accuracy (while neglecting legal duties). A grants. He ends the book with a final chapter procedures review. And for any surveyor
deed survey is not a retracement, but an on forensic applications, which include who enjoys an in-depth look at boundary
inexact copy. It’s close, but it’s wrong. historical research and investigative tools. A principles that underlie the survey profes-
This errant survey practice creates what secondary appendix also includes a unique sion, Boundary Retracement: Processes and
we call the pincushion effect, something seen Table of Authorities, which is an alphabetized Procedures is an exemplary read.
across the country. Lucas’ The Pincushion list of the numerous cases he cites. If Wilson’s book is not already on your
Effect devotes some 350 pages to this single In summary, Boundary Retracement is shelf, you do yourself and your profession
problem. (In fact, just this last year in my own one of the most important surveying books a disservice.
The book is available in either hard-

“… the book you smugly bring under

cover or as an e-book through Amazon
and other booksellers. A direct link to the

your arm to court.”

publisher’s website follows: https://www.
book/9781498727105 ◾
practice, I set original corners in a subdivision published in the last decade. It deserves to
and was amused, to be polite, to find within be on every practicing surveyor’s bookshelf.
a few months new corners set on several lots I’m sure that my old mentor would have Patrick C. Garner is a Professional Land
within a half inch of my rebar or PK nails.) waved this book at me and said, “Every Surveyor in Massachusetts who has been
The release of Boundary Retracement surveyor should have a copy of this!” in private practice for more than 40 years.
A Principal of Patrick C. Garner Company
could not come at a better time. Wilson is Whether you are just beginning in the Inc., he frequently conducts technical
thorough as he covers the topic. After the survey profession, or have many years of seminars, provides peer reviews for cities
book defines the principles of retracement, boundary experience, Wilson’s expertise and towns, and works as an expert witness
Wilson continues with land title definitions enlightens beginners and pros alike. For any in Massachusetts courts. He also provides 20
on-line continuing education courses through
and many related topics, including prescrip- SIT, this is a must-have text; for any profes- RedVector, many of which focus on legal
tion, ambiguities and intent. An entire sional surveyor who may be rusty when a issues in land surveying.
chapter covers corners and lines (Wilson
defines over 20 types of corners alone). He
discusses protracted boundaries at great
length. A key chapter discusses “Which Set
of Footsteps is Which?” Because identify-
ing the original surveyor’s work often
becomes a forensic exercise, many portions
of Boundary Retracement complement
Wilson’s earlier Forensic Procedures (2008).
Other chapters in Boundary Retracement
examine errors and how to reconcile them;
evidence and how to recognize it; and
boundary agreements. After laying this
extensive background, Wilson segues into

an invaluable discussion about procedures,
and asks what makes an effective retrace-

ment surveyor. He defines good practice
and does so within a framework defined by
numerous court decisions.
Court cases examined throughout the book
follow Wilson’s usual method of outlining
salient claims in each case, then documenting
evidence and testimony that points toward a
court’s final decision. In a unique contribution QUALITY SURVEY MARKERS, CAPS,
to this subject, Wilson includes an appendix MONUMENTS AND ACCESSORIES
of almost thirty pages of court decisions, listed
by state. I remain amazed at the amount of SURV-KAP.COM | Easy Online Ordering!
effort that went into this compilation alone.
Boundary Retracement ends by covering 800-445-5320 | Since 1972
lost and obliterated corners, parol evidence,

Displayed with permission • The American Surveyor • February 2018 • Copyright 2018 Cheves Media •