We take the placement of railroads and highways for granted, but somebody had to do a great deal of preliminary work before they were even built.
Surveying is the science and art of determining relative positions of points above, on or beneath the surface of the earth.
Around 1400 B.C. the Egyptians were the first to use surveying to divide land into plots for taxation purposes and to build monuments such as the Great Pyramids.
By 120 B.C, the Greeks joined in by using geometry to accurately divide land. The Greeks developed the first piece of surveying equipment and standardized surveying procedures.
As Americans moved west, surveying became more prominent. The construction of railroads, canals and roads demanded more exact boundaries. As a result, surveyors developed more accurate instruments and techniques.
When planners came up with the concept of transcontinental railroads, such as the Atchison, Topeka & Santa Fe Railway, they laid out general routes. They then sent survey parties into the field to collect data.
The teams not only mapped the topography of the region the tracks were to pass through, but contained scientists who provided details of the flora, fauna and ethnicity of the region.
Next was determining "ownership" boundaries - where territories or claims ended and another began.
Much of the land was in U.S. government hands, but it was important to know exact boundaries as the government awarded land to the railroad companies as an incentive to build these transcontinental railroads.
All this information was brought out of the field to assist the planners in deciding exactly where they would place the tracks. From here they made maps and sent workers to the proposed route to lay out stakes to guide the construction crews in determining the exact size and placement of railroad elements.
In the early 1870s, when the A.T. & S.F. came through this region, brass surveying instruments were commonly used. These instruments had dark finishes to reduce eye-straining glare and to keep them accurate by keeping them from expanding in the heat of direct sunlight.
Around 1885, they began making instruments of aluminum, which is what they are constructed today.
The building of the A.T. & S.F. and other railways was an impetus for improvement in surveying techniques throughout North America. The compass, chain and transit are unique to our continent.
The surveyor's, level used in the railroad surveys was one of the devices which encouraged the United States' contribution to the industrial revolution.
It cannot be overstated how important the railroad survey work was to Dodge City's development. The railroad, which shipped buffalo and cattle out of and goods into this town, was its life blood.
All told, those who surveyed the A.T. & S.F. tracks through Dodge City must have done an excellent job - today's tracks lay right where the builders placed the original ones.