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Making Good in Canada
Chapter XVII - Chances for the Young Engineer

At the present moment there is a crying need throughout the whole Dominion for young engineers. This, indeed, is one of the most lucrative and promising vocations of the day. The work is not confined to a single field. Here dozens of surveyors are required to plot the path for a railway, or to supervise construction of one already in hand; there, a call arises for men to lay out a new town; somewhere else virgin land has to be mapped out for settlement, and so on. In every instance the task possesses some particular fascination, and the prospects are equally attractive.

The most exciting phases of this profession probably are associated with now railways and the mapping of unopened country. Vast stretches of the Dominion are as yet practically unknown, and certainly are uncharted. Therefore, the man with the transit and level is for ever treading new ground; the unexpected in which he revels is constantly looming up in all its grim reality.

Railway surveying, perhaps, is the most promising and exciting, as well dangerous, branch of this profession, more especially in connection with the preliminary work. The party comprises only a few souls, the task of which is to drive through the bush to reconnoitre the country, recording the general physical characteristics, and elaborating a dozen or more alternative routes for the projected steel highway. The work is carried out during the winter and summer without cessation, the vehicles of the season being pressed into service to transport the little band from point to point as the work demands. True, the grind is hard and exhausting, but the prizes to be won by the skilled and competent are well worth the risks and fatigue incurred. The way may lie along the level bank of a rushing river, where progress is tolerably simple and easy as accumulated deadfall may permit. On the other hand, it may involve a perilous crawl among the precipices and crags of a mountain flank, where a false step may bring about swift and fatal disaster. Or the engineers may have to force their way through a yawning gulch, the cliffs of which sheer up on either side to a dizzy height, where the floor of the canon is occupied by a foaming torrent which laves the walls on either hand. Then the men have to perform Blondin-like feats, crawling gingerly along with their instruments on logs slung from iron chains and ropes supported from crowbars driven into the solid rocky face.

There are the dangers of Nature in a thousand different forms to face, but yet with care and the display of common sense one and all may bo safely circumvented. Of course, occasionally “ hard luck ” will exact its inevitable toll, but nowadays the precautions observed to insure the safety of the party, combined with the caution born of long experience, render an accident to life and limb very remote. After all, however, the average surveying engineer in the West would not give a hang for the job unless there was a strong atmosphere of excitement and adventure associated with his enterprise. The work makes a man almost uncannily resourceful, and the more he is thrown up against it, the more thoroughly he enjoys the episode.

There was one young Scottish surveying engineer I met spying out a path for a railway among the Rocky Mountains. His advance brought him to the bank of the Athabasca River at one of its worst points. The main channel, swinging along at a frantic speed, and about 400 feet in width, curled wickedly round a projecting ledge of the mountain flank. That lodge had got to be surveyed, but the question was how to get across the river. The engineer was alone with his instrument and an axe. He rummaged round, and found a few dry logs, which he laid side by side in the water, and lashed together with willow thongs. It was a crazy raft in all conscience, but so long as it would hold together sufficiently to enable him to gain the opposite bank he did not care. Ho stepped on its deck, and under a smart push with his pole drove the argo into the stream. Instantly it was caught up and thrown forwards, the sudden jerk wellnigh throwing the engineer off his feet. Rut to his dismay, the raft gave signs of founding before he had got 50 feet from the bank. It sunk until his feet were submerged, and, to make matters worse, fouled a snag, which strained its frail construction still more. By dint of great effort lie cleared the obstruction, but it brought immersion up to his thighs. Fearing a sudden divorce between himself and his raft, he grabbed his instrument under one arm, paddling meanwhile as well as he could with the free hand. As he half expected, the raft collapsed under the strain, and he had to cover the last 30 feet by swimming, keeping his transit with difficulty above the water. In this way he gained the bank, shook himself, examined his instrument to see that it had suffered no damage from the unexpected ducking, and then without further ado proceeded with his work, picking up the bearings on the opposite riverbank as if he had trodden an ordinary trail, instead of having an exciting grapple with a turbulent glacial waterway.

Every surveying engineer associated with a railway can relate adventures without end. The life is one continuous round of excitement and romance. In the summer, when the weather is dry and the sun is hot, scorching everything to tinder, the forest fire comes along with its relentless rush, smoking out the surveying corps like bees from a hive. Then there is a mad scamper to safety, everything but the precious transit being discarded in the headlong rush, In winter it is the snow and blizzard which are feared. The going is tough. The snow drifts into huge billows, concealing dangers untold. A crack and a creak, and the engineer, perhaps, has shot through a crust of snow into a cavity walled in by the trunks of prone trees, with the dead branches, sharper than bayonets, bristling on every hand. To clamber out is wellnigh impossible, especially when shod with snow-shoes, and the luckless surveyor has to be hauled unceremoniously to the outer air by ropes lowered into the hole and looped round his waist.

At times excitement takes quite another turn. An engineer related to me that one day he was busily engaged in running the location line through very thick scrub. He was deeply absorbed in his work, and was shouting instructions to the rodman and chainman. Suddenly he looked round, and his heart wellnigh flew through the crown of his head. Standing less than 4 feet away was a big grizzly, looking at the transit and the surveyor with quizzical interest. Being unarmed, the engineer's first impulse was to shin up the nearest tree, but then he thought that the bear might vent its rage upon the transit, in which event work would be held up indefinitely until a new instrument was obtained. A surveyor will no more think of abandoning his transit in the wilderness on such occasions than a captain will desert his sinking ship. The engineer with much trepidation decided that the best thing he could do under the circumstances was to continue his work as if the animal were non-existent. Accordingly, he fussed around his transit with Bruin in view of the corner of one eye, and alert to seek self preservation should the brute decide upon a closer acquaintance. He had a lithe jack-pine in the corner of his other eye in which to seek refuge if the occasion arose. Thus they stood for about three minutes—it seemed like as many hours to the engineer—when the grizzly sheered off into the brush once more, and was lost to sight.

Topographical surveying assumes a different aspect. In this case the young engineer must be prepared to spend many months at a time imprisoned in the silent wastes of tall timbers, living on a meagre diet replenished liberally from the storehouse of Nature, and contending with chargers of infinite variety. During my passage down the Fraser River from its source I happened upon a small survey party far, far from the madding crowd. The railway was coming down the valley, some 200 miles in length, and settlers, attracted by the fertility of the soil, were anxious to get in on the ground-floor; so. to meet the situation, the Government had sanctioned a survey being made, so that the whole country might be plotted out to facilitate the granting of lard to the intrepid spirits who are prepared to risk everything to be first in possession. When we entered the zone of operations via our canoes, we saw evidences of the triangulations on every hand, and at last ran the main body of surveyors to earth. It was a small camp pitched about 100 miles from the nearest frontier town, and over 400 miles from the nearest railway-station. We gave the customary halloo, and, as it was Sunday morning, succeeded in finding the whole party in camp. All told, they numbered less than a dozen souls. We inquired with the customary hospitality if the engineers happened to have any letters which they desired to be posted, inasmuch as such parties are entirely dependent upon casual passers-by for the carriage of letters to the nearest post-office.

They had been up in the country for three months, and had several letters, some of which were over a week old, waiting to be taken over. But there was another difficulty. Could we take down a sick man? One of the party; while cleaving the narrow passage through the trees through which the surveyor takes his observations, had been so unlucky as to have a slip with his axe. It had struck a boulder while being swung, had turned, and had pulled up short and sharp in the axeman’s leg. His comrades had tended the wicked injury as best they could upon a sparse typical bush diet and limited medicine-chest, but it was urgent that he should be taken out. We regarded our deeply laden canoes with anxiety; another 150 pounds would have placed us in an awkward predicament, as we wore siding with our gurwaler only 4 inches clear, and there were some ugly stretches of water ahead. We questioned the sick surveyor, to find that his wound was healing as well as could be expected under the circumstances, though the ordeal had pulled him down badly. Then we mentioned that a few days behind us another boat was coming downstream light, and could easily take him aboard if he could hold out. He decided to wait rather than imperil our safety, as he know the Fraser only too well, and the most skilful navigation that is demanded to compass its innumerable dangers.

These engineers were confronted with an ugly task. The river-banks were lined with trees and brrah stretching from the water’s edge to the line on the mountainsides whore snow meets vegetable life, as dense as an African jungle. It had never been penetrated by man in the world’s history. The surveyors were quite unable to drive their lines into the innermost recesses of the country in the time available for their operations, so wore merely canning out a rough survey to a distance of one mile back from the river.

The camp was well stocked with provisions of the usual bush description. The wages ranged from 12s. 6d. per day for the axemen to about 21s. per day for the surveyors. In this particular instance the men were not in direct Government employment, although engaged in preparing a topographical survey of the Government land. The tank had been entrusted to a film for a certain contracted figure, and it was up to the latter to complete the job with the best profit to itself. At first sight it might appear to be somewhat unsatisfactory, with a tendency to cut salaries to a low figure, but this is a method which is seldom practised under such conditions.

In another instance, -while tramping through the forests of Northern "British Columbia, we happened upon a Government survey party. It was engaged in mapping out the hinterland. The camp of tents was pitched in an attractive situation beside a sylvan lake, the commissariat was well stocked and varied, and there were the services of an expert cook. The party were out in the field at the time of our visit, and were entrusted with a tolerably large order, which would keep them busy for a good three months ahead—practically to the end of the season. Then they were detailed to move about eighty miles northwards, where a second camp was to be established, and where they would be kept engaged practically throughout the winter. In this instance there appeared to be only one complaint—levied by the cook. Every other man in the party was enabled to ride from place to place upon a saddle-horse, but the chief of the kitchen was compelled to walk, which he regarded as a hardship. Evidently, in this instance, the powers that be considered that pedestrian exercise from camping-place to camping-place would tend to keep the autocrat of the kitchen in prime condition after long rests at stationary points.

In this class of work the surveyor can generally look forward to a steady salary of 16s. per day, with everything found. As his engagement will generally last over several months, and he is buried in the heart of the wilds, where money is useless, its accumulation cannot be prevented. The result is that, when he comes out, he will often find a solid £100, £150, or more, awaiting his arrival in the city. The only expenditure ho will possibly have incurred during his sojourn in the wilds will be the cost of replenishing his wardrobe, tobacco, and other little luxuries.

On the railway, however, the work is steadier, though perhaps more exacting, and this is where the young British engineer who has just completed his apprenticeship stands the greatest chance. He may be disgusted to find, upon his arrival, that his years of technical inculcation have been wasted apparently, as he will be called upon to start operations at the bottom of the ladder, and will have to shoulder the axe in order to drive the narrow lines through the trees to enable the triangulations to be made. But one and all have to start at this point. The trained British engineer has the advantage over the majority of his native colleagues in that he rises through the subsequent stages of front and rear chainman and rodman to the manipulation of the transit and level in the course of a few weeks. Ability and skill will out, and although it appears as if he be going over the same ground twice in his life, the second course is by no means so wasted as he may at first sight suppose. It serves to familiarize him with the Canadian ways of dong things, in which there is certain to be some divergence from the methods practised at home.

The wages are by no means contemptible, bearing in mind that the expenses are practically a negligible quantity, that there is uo social position to maintain, and that a liberal and varied board is included. The engagements arc by the month, and in the humble Capacity of axeman £7 per month is to be earned. When he is promoted to the position of front chairman ho receives no increase in his salary, but when be is deputed to act as rear chainman he will have his income raised to £8 per month. The next step on the ladder is to rodman, bringing with it an extra pound per month in salary. The young engineer will remain in this niche just so long as his knowledge and skill permit. If he is expert he will very soon make a big jump to the handling of the transit and level, and in a single step he will better himself to the extent of £15 per month. This is not the limit of his climb. The plumb of the profession are still within his reach, and each one that is picked up brings with it a corresponding financial improvement. From surveyor he will be pushed up to resident engineer, and will have the supervision of a section of track varying from two to ten or twelve miles under his charge at a wage of £25 per month. At the first opportunity he has the post of assistant to the divisional engineer open to him, so long as brains justify his promotion, and then he will find his pocket enriched by a further £10 per month. The next jump is a big one, bringing with it almost a doubling in salary, inasmuch as be will be made divisional engineer at £60 per month. There are further rungs to the ladder if he cares to push forward, each step bringing with it a proportional augmentation of his income. There is nothing to prevent an ambitious young man climbing from the position of axeman at £85 per annum to a responsible position at £1,300 or £2,000 a year in the space of five or six years, providing sufficient industry is displayed.

The establishment of towns in the great West has opened another field tor the surveying engineer’s activities. This, indeed, is a rapidly widening market, inasmuch as new towns are being born in the Far West practically at the rate of one a day. Every town site means the employment of a certain number of engineers to complete the lay-out of the new community, the demarcation of the streets, and the pegging-out of the building lots. In this work the wages go from 10s. per day for the axeman to 16s. a day for the man with the instruments, with board found. Each job means constant employment for from one to three or four months, according to the character of the country wherein the new town is being founded. Obviously, it does not take so long to plot out a stretch of level, treeless prairie as it does to map out a tract of undulating land covered with dense scrub.

The surveying of Crown lands, whether already in occupation under the pre-emption law or not, produces an abundance of work for the surveyor. Crown lands are territory which has not been acquired by purchase or occupation, and, as the name implies, belongs to the Nation. In the Dominion of Canada these lands are either sold outright, leased, or are reserved for homesteading or pre-emption. Their extent is tremendous, and many millions of acres still remain to be mapped out, so that the task of surveying is certain to occupy many years to come.

The land is divided off into what are known as sections, each of which is equivalent to a square mile, or 640 acres, and is sold or homesteaded in units of quarter-sections of 160 acres. Each holding is of square shape, with the boundary-linen running true north and south by due east and west. The cost of surveying varies according to the situation of the land and its accessibility. It may be Is. per acre in a territory adjacent to inexpensive means of travel and living ; on the other hand, it may run up to 2s. or m-ire per acre in the remote districts. For the most part the Crown Lands which are under development have been surveyed—certainly those stretcher which are contiguous to the railways. Yet, as the pioneers, by wandering farther and farther afield, are discovering new and little-known tracts of excellent arable country in the most out-of-the-way comers of the Dominion, survey work necessarily must follow occupation by the settlers. In other words, the settler stakes his holding, and commences development before his boundaries are defined. At the same time, however, he is compelled to have his holding surveyed within a certain period, and has to defray the cost thereof himself, unless in the meantime the Government completes the task, and assesses his proportion of the cost.

The Government carries out the survey operations for the most part, as obviously it world be an unremunerative task for a surveyor to proceed 200 or 300 miles up-country by prehistoric means of travel merely to survey, say, a handful of 610 acres for four settlers, while the expense of the operation might hit the latter with undue heaviness. Consequently, large tracts are taken in hand at a time, of sufficient area to render the tank financially attractive to the surveying corps. A fee of, say, 2s. per acre appears ridiculously inadequate when applied to a small holding, but when it is considered in connection with several thousand acres it represents a promising contract. The Government, as a rule, entrust such work to private enterprise, concluding a contract price per aero for the job.

The Crown or Dominion Lands are divided up into what are known as quadrilateral townships, so far as the configuration of the country permits, each containing thirty-six sections of one square mile each, the boundaries thus being six miles in length on either side. The surveying operations having been let to a contractor, as it were, the latter has to complete his own terms with his survey engineers, and has to equip and fit out the ex petitions, as well as providing the means of travelling and provisioning.

Private enterprises which purchase large tracts of Canadian freehold beyond the surveyed districts have to perform this essential requisition themselves. Inasmuch as man\ of these private purchases extend over 150.000 acres in a single transaction, the survey contract becomes an attractive proposition. There was one purchase of some 125,000 acres in a remote part of the north country, where the agreed price for surveying amounted to 2s. 6d. per acre. A young engineer who had familiarized himself with this work upon one of the new railways, and who had saved about £200, tendered for the job, and was successful. Then he realized that his small capital was totally inadequate to finance the enterprise, but he was able to persuade his principals to deposit a certain sum in advance in his bank to meet contingencies. The work netted him a gross sum of £15,000 in round numbers, and by a stroke of luck, while he was engaged upon this task, he succeeded in obtaining another contract to complete a further 100,000 acres in the same part of the country at the tame figure. By the time he had completed the two contracts be had swelled his banking account by several thousand pounds. To-day he is firmly entrenched in the country, and in entrusted with cevera1. big survey undertakings.

Surveying will afford the young engineer glimpses of the country which are otherwise impossible. To-day he may be at work among the settled areas abutting the International boundary; a few months later he is wrestling with the crags and deep valleys of the Yukon ; later he is found tramping the undulating wastes fringing the southern shores of Hudson Bay with his transit and level. It offers one of the most impressionistic means of becoming familiarized with the vast Dominion and its kaleidoscopic physical variations and climate.

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