Moose Lake Star Gazette - Serving Carlton and Pine Counties Since 1895

By Lois E. Johnson
Moose Lake Star-Gazette 

Celebrating a 100 years: Straight-line Surveying


October 10, 2019

Courtesy Ben Anderson

Nuebert Swanson (left) and Bill Hayden, two of the previous surveyors for Straightline Surveying.

Little has changed in 100 years in the world of surveys, said Ben Anderson, owner of Straightline Surveying in a recent interview. The business is celebrating its 100th anniversary this month.

"I'm the fourth owner of the business," he added. "It was started by Charlie Handschu, and then he sold it to his nephew, Neubet Swanson. Swanson sold it to Bill Hayden and I bought it from Bill in 2014."

Anderson brought out an old tattered records book with carefully drawn surveys recorded by Charlie Handschu. The first records were dated 1911.

"We don't know exactly when the business started," said Anderson. "We always say the late teens. My kids like looking in this old book. They call it a 'Magic Book of Spells.'"

Anderson relies on those old records.

"They did good work, all of them, from Handschu to Hayden," he said. "The work that they did is still valuable today. We still find old irons marking off forties. We build on what they started."

However, GPS (Global Positioning System) is a technology that is used today.

"Our equipment now reads more accurately," said Anderson. "It is easier to work with the GPS than the old compass. But the GPS uses the same way of measuring, the same angles. It all stays the same."

Anderson said that he grew up in Cedar, Minnesota, near East Bethel, and received his college training at St. John's and the University of Minnesota. He earned a degree in civil engineering.

"I did that for a while but it got boring," he said. "I went back to school in St. Cloud and took night classes while I worked full-time as a civil engineer. That took two years."

Anderson said that he earned a degree and received his license. He married and the couple had one child. They moved to Maine but came back and moved around northern Minnesota before they settled in Duluth. They now have two children in the Moose Lake Elementary School.

"I worked on sites for Dollar General stores all over the state, including the one in Moose Lake," he said. "I had talked to Bill on the phone but I had never met him. At a survey conference in the Cities, I met Bill as he was walking out and I was walking in. I recognized his name on his name tag. I introduced myself. The first thing that he told me was that he was retiring and he asked if I wanted to buy his company."

Anderson told Hayden, "Absolutely not! Two weeks later, I told him that I would buy it."

Hayden is still active and involved in the business.

"He told me five years ago that he was going to work until the end of the year," said Anderson. "He is still working part-time."

The staff at the business is kept busy.

"It's amazing at the amount of work there is," said Anderson. "The reason that we are busy is that the people that came before us did good work. They were honest. A lot of the work is because of real estate transactions. We look back in the records when the seller has a survey done. Everything that we do is legal and licensed."

Anderson explained that, every half mile around the country, a wood post has been put into the ground as a monument.

"I have a wood post that is 100 years old," he said. "The wood rots and the post tips over. We have to take the time to find the posts. Everything now is irons. There are irons on lake property every 100 feet but we have to remeasure them. Some people have put in their own irons."

Anderson said that they also work with the townships to establish roads.

"Once a road is there, it is always there unless it has been abandoned," he said. "We have old records for the City of Moose Lake but we still have to do our due diligence."

Anderson said that surveying is one of the professions where more people are needed.

"I do 300 surveys a year," he said. "Why should I have to drive to Wisconsin if I don't have to?"

Anderson said that he intends to keep his company locally owned.

Courtesy Ben Anderson

This is the only known photograph of Charlie Handschu. He is standing in the center of the back row. His face is shadowed.

"I bought another surveyor's records from Norm Livgard from St. Louis County," he said. "Those records include a lot of property in Duluth and Wisconsin, just north of what Bill's area was."

The business has a staff of two full-time techs and one part-time worker.

"I'm the only surveyor on the staff," said Anderson.

The records going back 100 years are vital for the business.

"Bill hired a lady to scan the record books back to 1988," said Anderson. "The survey records before that are kept in a fireproof safe."

Anderson knows the value of survey records and history.

"Everyone should know what this town was back then," he said. "Take a look at where the railroad used to be. That's why things are where they are."

Staightline Surveying is located on Folz Boulevard in the building where Rofflers and Five Sisters had once been. For more information, call Straightline Surveying at 218-485-4811.


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