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A Memorable Survey

Monday, July 9, 2018   (0 Comments)
Posted by: Ralph O. Clements, L.S., P.S.
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It is often said that one of the main things that attracts many to the surveying profession is the broad and varied nature of the projects we work on. That is true for myself and I am fortunate to have been a participant in jobs that are very diverse, in the project purposes and goals, as well as the environmental conditions of the sites. I would like to share a little story about one of the most memorable survey projects I was ever a part of. This survey was very small, did not involve any construction or infrastructure improvements, did not help the economy, create jobs, or protect the environment. It also did not involve any “hi-tech” survey gear, no robots or remote sensing, laser scanners,  3D-anything, “BIM”, “Revit”, P-DOP or G-DOP, no Civil 3D or drones, not even a (now) old-fashioned distance meter. Yes, it was a very small and simple job, but one that could be said to have “international impact” (but not a real serious one!)

 In the spring of 2012, I got a call from a local builder we work with regularly who said he had a part-time employee, a Virginia Tech Student, who needed a surveyor for a project and would I help? I agreed and he passed my contact information on to the student, Alex, who got in touch with me shortly after that.  

It seems that Alex was interested in trying to get in the Guinness Book of World Records and the rules said he had to have a licensed surveyor to verify the distance he achieved in his particular record attempt, which was ‘grape throwing’ This is not just a matter of how far a grape can be thrown, but how far the person can throw it and catch it in their mouth. The Guinness organization has specific rules and requirements, multiple witness statements must be supplied, there are procedural rules for the event itself (“no launching aids may be used’ for example), thorough documentation on forms provided, supporting materials and release forms, etc, etc, etc…as far as these World Records go, even if the record seems silly, proving it and documenting it is serious business.

I asked Alex how this came about, I mean did he grow up in a family of grape throwers and he wanted to make them proud? Was he the local champ and wanted to move up? I wasn’t really familiar with grape throwing or the standings in whatever league there was. He told me no, nothing like that. He just wanted to set a world record, read through the book and found one he thought he could beat. The world grape throwing record at that time was around 45 feet. Alex had been practicing and could outdo that with confidence and was ready to go for it and submit to London, England, where the Big Book lives.

We agreed to meet on the Drill Field at Virginia Tech in the afternoon of May 3, 2012. I went over there with two other surveyors from our staff to do the field work. Thunderstorms were threatening on our arrival and Alex had a group other people there as witnesses too, including a photographer and videographer …the starting line was marked and Alex took a few test and warm-up throws – he was allowed to run up to the line, but not cross it. He had a bag of grapes he got at the grocery store, not special “throwing grapes”. After everyone was assembled – family and friends too- Alex was ready and let go with a big throw and took off running, catching the grape in his moth at over 60 feet from the mark. He did several tosses, all over 60 feet, and the longest was measured by our team at 62.46’, shattering the previous record. To see someone who is the absolute best in the world at anything, even grape throwing, is impressive, I will say, but you had to pay close attention, it happened fast. Alex was swift.

Afterwards we prepared all our witness statements, and a signed and sealed report on company letterhead, and the other witness got their statements, photos and videos together and sent them all to Alex, who completed his application and sent his whole submittal package off to the Guinness organization on Drummond Street, London, UK.

Several months later I got a nice letter from Alex expressing his thanks and informing me that with our help, he was indeed the current, reigning, world record holder in grape throwing and he included a photograph of the large, impressive and framed official certificate he received from Guinness.

That was all real exciting, but unfortunately, his record did not stand long. In July 2013, a fellow in California, named A.J. Henderson, tossed a grape, 69.5’ outdoing Alex’s record by over 7’. I guess in California maybe they have organized youth grape throwing leagues or just more grapes to practice with!