A cartographer is a person who makes maps

My dad made maps.

“Cartographers measure, map, and chart the earth's surface, which involves everything from geographical research and data compilation to actual map production. They collect, analyze, and interpret both spatial data- such as latitude, longitude, elevation, and distance-and nonspatial data-such as population density, land use patterns, annual precipitation levels, and demographic characteristics. Cartographers prepare maps in either digital or graphic form, using information provided by geodetic surveys, aerial photographs, and satellite data.”

He was a pilot in WWII and played a major role in “Project Nannook”, the exploration and mapping of Greenland at the start of the cold war. As the Captain of a B-17 called the“Arctic Queen” he explored large parts of the world that had likely never been seen by human eyes. Until the advent of airplanes large enough to fly hundreds of miles from the base it is unlikely that most of the inland areas of Greenland were ever explored, even by the native population. Dad was there for the development of aerial photography as well as the early days of the American presence on Thule Air Force Base. The Manuel Menendez Operations Center on the base is named after him.

Aerial photography has played a large role in cartography since the 1940s. It allowed military surveillance prior to the development of satellites. “Photogrammetrists prepare detailed maps and drawings from aerial photographs, usually of areas that are inaccessible, difficult, or less cost-efficient to survey by other methods.”

Later in life he flew his own single and twin engine planes maping for the USGS. He invented processes and devices that allowed a single man to simultaneously fly a small plane and take aerial photographs.

Aerial photography used for map making requires precisely timed overlapping photographs taken at the same altitude and orientation to the earth. The pilot flies repeated passes moving just a bit further to the side each time while rapidly snapping repeat photos.

His planes always had a hole in the bottom for the huge camera lens. Our life was dictated by the weather. A clear day meant Dad was flying, no matter what…He used to pack lunches with green grapes because he couldn’t drink water. Clear, cloud free days were too precious to land for potty breaks. We moved from state to state following the jobs. When that became too disruptive to our schooling Dad began leaving home for the 3 to 6 months required to finish a job. Summers in Oregon and Montana, and a year or two living in rented houses in Ohio, West Virginia, North Carolina, Florida developed my travel lust and my life long habit of believing one can just start over someplace new.

A lab then developed and physically glued the photos together to make a larger integrated collage, which was in turn photographed prior to being sent on to the customer.

My brothers and I used to play in his labs, making rubber cement balls in our hands. Rubber cement doesn’t hurt photographs and the excess can be wiped off after it dries. The smell of the rubber cement and photo developing chemicals are visceral memories for me.

The need for mapping by the USGS in the 50s and 60s often included areas that were slated to be part of a hydroelectric project. Dams were built and large areas flooded for these projects. Maps were needed ahead of time for planning.

Dad always knew which areas were going to be underwater. As we would tour the land by car suddenly we would leave the main road with Dad excitedly exclaiming, “Someday this will all be underwater”. “Put that GOD DAMN BOOK DOWN” “You’ll never see this again”. He was a terrible driver, known for stopping for green lights. Something about not having traffic in the sky...but he always knew exactly where he was. He had seen the big view and had the map in his head.

The early pilots didn’t use ear protection. The noise level in their planes was horrendous.

Later in life nerve deafness in his left ear (the one closest to the window) forced him to stop flying. He began to use his drafting skills to hand draw maps.

Cartographers can work in many areas. Some work independently and market their end product themselves or work under contract for a customer, developing a map that is specific to the customer’s needs.

He had a huge drafting table with lights coming up from underneath. It traveled with him from California to Virginia. His last map was of the Smith Mountain Lake, Virginia. Their Chamber of Commerce loved his work. Little advertisements surrounding the actual map supported the cost. Business never was his strong side. Many opportunities to “make a killing” passed by but he always had a new plan and an active project. Even into his 80s he continued to update his maps and write about his exploits in Thule.

Never ask Dad for directions unless you have a few hours to kill; that was my rule of thumb. Asking him for directions meant he would get out a crispy new piece of white paper and draw a custom map, usually to scale and with an index. No “left at the traffic light and go past the church next to the Exxon” type of directions from him….

He had a mind like a steel trap. He was always reading, studying, and researching. He was library man, with physical books and large paper maps for references. Rulers and pencils instead of CAD were his tools. Some of our best times were spent sitting together at that table; looking at old pictures, hearing his war stories, seeing the newest version of his latest map.

What a thrill it was to see the final products, his newly printed maps folded in that weird map folding way…

SOURCES and other interesting stuff:

  • http://www.bls.gov/oco/ocos040.htm: Quotes are taken from the US Department of Labor’s Occupational Outlook Handbook found here
  • http://www.bl.uk/whatson/exhibitions/lieland/m0-0.html: is an interesting site called “The Lie of the Land” and is an exhibition about maps.
  • http://www.inventix.com/: is the page for the Internet Cartographer, sort of like a big node gel visualizer.
  • http://www.wikipedia.com/wiki/Cartographer: Hmmmm, not nearly as interesting as E2
  • http://transit.metrokc.gov/bus/poetry/2000/cartographer.html: a poem by Michael Bonacci's "The Cartographer”
  • http://www.theboycartographer.co.uk/: a Scottish boy band called The Boy Cartographer
  • http://www.cartographer-online.com/image1a.swf: I Am the Very Model of a Modern.......cartographer
  • http://members.aol.com/r390a/lomholt/thule/page2.html: Photographs of my dad and the crew of the Arctic Queen

More about or by Manuel Menendez can be found in 
Sequoia National Park
A long term project