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Home arrow Archives   The American Surveyor     

Velocipedes Print E-mail
Written by Albert "Skip" Theberge   
Friday, 23 August 2013

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Velocipedes, or handcars, as they came to be known, were a transportation mainstay for Coast and Geodetic Surveyors in the late years of the Nineteenth Century and early Twentieth Century. As they evolved, they became motorized by the 1920's and 1930's. Primarily used by level crews following railroad tracks through remote areas, they were also used occasionally by triangulation crews. In particular, handcars were used by the triangulation party of William Scaife on the Alaska Railroad for transportation to jumping-off points for packing into the wilderness. Constant vigilance was required by the crews as trestles, tunnels, and attention to survey work (with inattention to oncoming traffic) were all hazards to contend with. Beginning in 1916, level crews developed modifications that allowed mounting of the instrument, mounting of adding machines, and seating for a recorder. These innovations were forerunners of the motorized truck leveling systems that began in the 1950s.

Albert "Skip" Theberge served as a NOAA Corps officer for 27 years prior to retirement in 1995. During that period he was primarily engaged in nautical charting and seafloor mapping but also served a stint in geodesy working on the Transcontinental Traverse project during the 1970s. For the past 15 years he has worked as a research librarian at the NOAA Central Library and has produced a number of historical works related to the Coast and Geodetic Survey (C&GS) and seafloor mapping. He also produced the NOAA History website (www. history.noaa.gov) and the NOAA Photo Library (www.photolib.noaa.gov) which includes thousands of historic photos related to the work of the C&GS.

A 4.053Mb PDF of this article as it appeared in the magazine—complete with images—is available by clicking HERE

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