A Score of Years

The following column I wrote under the title In Retrospect for the July 1998 issue of BENCHMARKS. I made some changes to reflect the fact that ten more years have passed and 58 more editions of that publication have appeared, each containing an ANTEPASADOS story. Here is what I said in 1998:

Two prominent southwestern historians wrote in an introduction of a jointly published book: "Americans are a people peculiarly addicted to celebrating anniversaries." I am one of those who have the bug and have on various occasions used anniversaries of one kind or another to write a story about them. To make my point, with this issue of BENCHMARKS (May 2008) I am celebrating the twentieth anniversary of ANTEPASADOS, the first column of which appeared in the June 1988 NEWSLETTER. This gives me an opportunity for a little philosophizing.

Professional societies are just as hungry for suitable material for their newsletters and magazines as is the public media, but unlike newspapers and magazines that employ a paid staff of reporters and storywriters, most professional societies rely on voluntary contributions by their members. If it functions as it is intended, it not only gives the membership a forum in THEIR organization but also makes for an interesting and informative newsletter. It also relieves editors, who are often only dedicated volunteer members, from having to rely too heavily on publications by societies of other States for re-printable material.

The average member of any organization tends to ask: "What do I get for my annual dues?" forgetting that collectively the membership can only take out of their association what collectively they have put in. If he only knew how much most editors would welcome each contribution, even in the form of letters with comments or criticism. The German dramatist and critic Lessing (1729-1781) sent on several occasions critical comments under a pseudonym to his magazine, which he then answered with great gusto in the following issue under his real name. He did this in the hope of getting a discussion going.

As for myself, I too have spent most of my working life sitting on my (expletive deleted) expecting interesting newsletters from various organizations of which I was a member. It took the invention of the personal computer to finally induce me to put some of my own thoughts on paper. Although some of my readers may wish I had never started, I myself have never regretted it, I only deplore that I do not have a better command of the English language.

"Where do you get all that stuff?" I have been asked. It really is all around us if we only open our eyes. I find interesting surveys stories where others may see only fences, highways, tunnels, canals, maps, or lawsuits. Tourists gawk at the pyramids and speculate: "How did they ever move all these stones?" I rather think about the fellow thanks to whose expertise all these stones met in a common point vertically above the center of the base. He interests me because he was a competent surveyor. If it is difficult to write a story about most of our profession’s accomplishments it is mainly because few took the time to write about them. Television has chosen to glorify doctors, lawyers, cops, and cowboys, yet our profession is at least as interesting as theirs, and quite possibly more so, it only lacks a Perry Mason to promote it.

In 1988, when I started to write at the invitation and with the encouragement of our venerable Bob Stephenson I wondered how long I was going to be able to keep this up? (End of 1998 column.)

Twenty years and 135 columns later I ask myself, if I have not finally reached the end of my chain? Some people call it writers burnout, some just laziness, it may be a little of both. It may also have to do with the price of gasoline. I have driven as far as Connecticut to get my hands on the Garretson letters, I made several trips to Arkansas and Austin for the William Pelham story, and last October I went to Marfa (in Presidio County, Texas) to meet a great-great-granddaughter of his. I have lost count of my trips to libraries in Santa Fe and elsewhere to search the archives; but it is getting ever more expensive to do.

So where do I go from here? Last year I have on more than one occasion sat down and started to write a story under the heading Ultimo, a title that speaks for itself, only to put it aside because I thought of something. Lately I have been getting help from the fact that BENCHMARKS is published at greater intervals and not each month as it was in the early 90s. My thinking has slowed down though, in case you are wondering, I will be 74 by the time you read this and new ideas have to find their way past mountains of useless information I carry in my head. I am an expert at remembering trivia. I give you a sample of some of that clutter:

How many different exterior boundaries had New Mexico in the last two hundred years? Count only the lines between major angle points and disregard the fantasies of early mapmakers. Today there are ten. Over the years I have written about ten additional lines, all legal of sorts in their time. Can you name some of them? And those are still not all that ever defined our land. For an answer you will have to wait for the next issue of BENCHMARKS.

About the Author

Fred Roeder, LS

Fred Roeder lives in Tularosa, New Mexico. He emigrated to the United States from Germany in 1957 and spent most of his surveying career in the Southwest, working for the U.S. Forest Service. Now retired, he started writing a regular column for the New Mexico Professional Surveyors Newsletter in 1988. In 1994, NMPS produced Antepasados, a book of his columns. Many surveyors are good writers, especially about technical or legal matters. However, it's not often that we find a surveyor/story-teller who can present historical facts in a manner that makes them fun to read. Fred Roeder is such a writer and we are pleased to present more than 80 of his stories here. Bibliography is a list of the books Fred used in his writings, and includes a numbered index of the articles. Index is a list of all the articles Fred has written and when. Editor's pick: The King Who Had No Title
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