After 34 years of reviewing boundaries and managing information systems critical to county operations, Lincoln County Surveyor John Waffenschmidt hung up his many professional hats and headed into a well-deserved retirement at the end of February. On March 1, Eli Adam took the reins as County Surveyor after working for the county since 2006. To call Waffenschmidt a surveyor is to only tell a portion of the story. During his Lincoln County career, he was also the Information Technology (IT) director and the Geographic Information Systems (GIS) manager. He was active in a number of professional associations and was ultimately honored by the Oregon Association of County Engineers and Surveyors as the Surveyor of the Year in 2017.
Waffenschmidt spent 10 years in the private sector, surveying land in the local area before he joined Lincoln County. In all aspects of his work, he has adapted to the tremendous changes in technology that have occurred since the mid-1970s. “The first distance measuring I performed was with a steel tape, but the firm soon purchased an EDM or electronic distance measurement instrument,” he recalled. Waffenschmidt brought that embrace of new technology to Lincoln County. In the late 1980s, the surveyor’s office began measuring using GPS satellite systems – a change that was not without some challenges.
“The technology was new and the computational techniques for using it were evolving rapidly. Relying on satellites that weren’t always available, we often had to perform our surveying in the middle of the night,” he explained. One of the most unexpected twists in Waffenschmidt’s career came when he was selected to head the IT department. “I enjoyed the challenge and am proud of the work we did to assist various County operations toward achieving their goals,” he reflected. Regardless of the department, it was the people that made his career rewarding, Waffenschmidt said. From his fellow county employees to members of the public, he enjoyed interacting with people and hopes they found value in his work.
“I hope that I have helped the public with their questions and made it easier for them to get the information they need,” he said. That commitment is one of the shared characteristics between the now-retired Waffenschmidt and his successor, Adam. "John taught me the importance of focusing the surveyor's office on friendly, efficient, professional land information and interpretation for the people of Lincoln County," the new surveyor said. Adam started his employment with Lincoln County in 2006 as a GIS analyst. The Michigan native said it was Waffenschmidt who encouraged him to broaden his professional horizons.
“At the beginning, John mentioned the possibility of pursuing land surveying,” he recalled. “It was just a passing comment, but through working with him, I began to learn more about surveying and switched into the surveyor’s office and pursuing my license.” Adam’s educational background helped in that transition. “While my degree from the University of Michigan is in archeology, it was my three years studying engineering that I relied upon most when pursuing my license as a land surveyor,” he explained. Adam is joined by a staff of four in the surveyor’s office, which operates a research library of surveys dating back to the late 1800s and maintains the public land surveying system for the county.
“The origin of all property descriptions in the western United States starts from the public land survey system,” he explained. “That is the framework from which all property descriptions or deeds start.” Sometimes people wrongly assume that the county surveyor’s office can perform surveys of private property. “We survey everything from county-owned properties to county roads and bridges but when it comes to private properties, private professional land surveyors step in to work with property owners directly,” Adam said. For more information about the work of the surveyor’s office, visit www.co.lincoln.or.us/surveyor.