Historic Transit Returns to Wyoming

One day, William Stengel, L.S., (he prefers to be called "Bill"), a private surveyor in Boulder County, Colorado had finished a survey in Eldora, a small mining town in the mountains above Boulder. He decided to stop on his way back to the office to visit Lee Evans, an old friend and client who lived just downstream from Eldora. Bill had been a private land surveyor in Boulder County since 1963. Besides the normal lighthearted discussion about what was going on in the world and surrounding area, Bill wanted to talk to Lee about a surveying instrument, an old transit Lee owned. Bill had purchased an old brass surveying compass from Lee years earlier, and they had discussed the old transit and the possibility of Bill buying it but could not agree on a price. On this visit, they finally came up with a price satisfactory to both parties.

Bill headed home to Boulder with more than he had planned on. The instrument was a Young & Sons transit with a five-inch plate, compass, and side-mount solar attachment. Included with it, Bill acquired the wooden case, the original tripod, a level rod, and the shipping case that had somehow managed to stay with the instrument since it was purchased in 1903.

When Bill arrived home, he unloaded his newly acquired treasure. As he looked his new prize over, he discovered in the bottom of the shipping case, under some old rags and newspapers, an old shipping tag, another survivor of times gone by. On the tag, in handwritten bold calligraphy, was written "Atherly Engineering, Basin, Wyoming." Upon quizzing Lee, Bill found out Lee purchased the instrument through a classified ad in the Denver newspaper from a woman he thought was a family member of the original owner. Mrs. Lois Torgerson, the daughter of Clyde W. Atherly, was listed as living in the Denver area in the city directory of that same timeframe.

As time went by, Bill thought about C.W. Atherly and Basin, Wyoming. In September 2001, as Bill and his wife Jan headed to Yellowstone Park, they decided to stop in Basin and see what they could learn about Clyde Atherly. They found he had been the Big Horn county surveyor and that he had worked for the General Land Office and had been the surveyor general of the state for Wyoming.

Now having been in the surveying profession since 1951 and realizing the importance of surveying history, Bill thought Atherly's instrument belonged in Wyoming, in a museum, where the history could be preserved and the instrument appreciated. Bill then contacted the Wyoming State Museum and made arrangements to donate Atherly's instrument and the other artifacts. He also contacted the Professional Land Surveyors of Wyoming (PLSW) to see if they could coordinate this and research Atherly and the instrument donated to go along with the display.

An Instrument of Tradition

Atherly's instrument was manufactured in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Some research on Young & Sons revealed that William J. Young (1800-1870) was reared in Philadelphia and at age of 13 apprenticed to Thomas Whitney to learn "The Trade or Mystery of a Mathematical instrument Maker." Seven years later, having earned his freedom and with $30 in his pocket, Young went into business on his own. Within a few years, his was the leading mathematical instrument shop in the United States. Here he introduced improved forms of a railroad compass, the solar compass, and the surveyor's transit. And here he trained younger men to carry on the tradition.

Young was the first American to own a dividing engine, a device for mechanically dividing circles into degrees and minutes. He would not have needed such a complex and costly device just to make compasses, but he would need it to graduate the circle of more precise instruments. Not having the money to purchase a dividing engine from England, Young built his own. He had never seen a dividing engine but worked from a printed description of an English engine. He would later modify this original engine and build two others.

Young signed his earliest instruments "W.J. Young Maker Philadelphia [or Philada]." He changed his signature to Wm. Y. Young Maker Philadelphia [or Philada] around 1840 and began marking serial numbers on his instruments about 1853. These numbers began around 3,000 and probably indicate the number of Young instruments made to date. Analysis of these serial numbers shows that Young produced some 65 instruments a year in the 1850s, with annual production rising to 120 in the early 1900s.

While 18th century American instrument makers tended to work alone, or with an apprentice or two, Young usually had ten or so men in his shop, including apprentices and journeymen. These men were all highly skilled and commanded relatively high wages. The instruments they produced were substantially more costly than those produced in factories, such as that of W. & L.E. Gurley.

William J. Young joined with Charles S. Heller and Thomas N. Watson in 1866 and began trading as William J. Young & Co. After the partnership disbanded in 1870, Alfred Young operated the firm as Wm. J. Young & Sons, and Heller went on to form Heller & Brightly. The firm began signing their instruments Young & Sons in 1875 and began using this name in their advertisements around 1882. Young & Sons was incorporated in 1917. Keuffel & Esser obtained control of the company in 1918, made it Y & S department of K & E, and moved the operations to the K & E factory in Hoboken, New Jersey (from Debora Jean Warner's William J. Young: From Craft to Industry in a Skilled Trade).

Clyde W. Atherly—The Last Surveyor General for the State of Wyoming

The SE chapter of PLSW contacted Floyd Bishop, the state engineer from 1963 to 1974, to see if he knew a Clyde W. Atherly or had ever heard of him. He replied, "Yes, Clyde was a friend and mentor for surveying problems for his father [L.C. Bishop] while he was the state engineer [from 1939 to 1957]." Upon checking further into the biographical background of Atherly, we found he was the last surveyor general of Wyoming. He was appointed surveyor general of Wyoming on October 6, 1921, and the office was abolished by act March 3, 1925. The equipment and records were transferred to field surveying service practice in July 1925.

Atherly graduated from the University of Wyoming in 1903 with a BS in civil engineering. He took the engineering exam in 1907 and was given a license as an engineer and surveyor in the state of Wyoming. He was one of the first licensed engineers in the state of Wyoming and therefore one of the first in the United States. Between 1908 and 1915, Clyde was the Big Horn county surveyor. During our research, we discovered Clyde was the forensic surveyor for the inquest into the Spring Creek Raid, part of the range war between the cattle men and sheep herders in the Big Horn area of Wyoming. Apparently, PLSW NW chapter performed a reenactment of the survey (a map of this re-survey is in the museum at Tensleep, Wyoming).

Atherly was listed as a U.S. cadastral surveyor for the General Land Office in 1930, as a sadastral engineer in 1936, and as assistant cadastral engineer in 1941. He returned to Basin in 1945 and was listed as deputy surveyor, and in 1946, he was listed as an official. Some records show that he reviewed records working with the establishing roads during this time. He performed many water rights surveys throughout the Big Horn, Washalde, Hot Springs, and Park County areas, most of them in Big Horn county. Many of these are quite complicated and show an extreme degree of understanding of the public land survey system and Wyoming water law.

Atherly was also elected president of the Wyoming Engineering Society in 1928 and served at the convention in 1929 in Cheyenne. Clyde W. Atherly was born in Fort Collins, Colorado on November 8,1879. His father was Jerome Samuel Atherly and mother Luella Whittmore Atherly of Syracuse, New York. He and his wife, Elsie L. Atherly, had a daughter, Mrs. Lois Torgerson, and a son, Clifford Atherly. Clyde passed away on September 5, 1947 at the state hospital in Evanston, Wyoming, the cause of death listed as chronic myacarditis and mycardial degeneration.

Probably much more could be told about Clyde W. Atherly, but much of this is hidden in the dust of times past. His work shows through, but trying to trace the man is like chasing a ghost. You can see where he has been and what he has accomplished, but you just can't find out much about his personal life.

About the Author

Larry Perry, L.S. is owner of Terrestrial Surveying & Mapping Company in Cheyenne, Wyoming and a registered professional land surveyor in Wyoming and Arizona. A charter member of the Professional Land Surveyors of Wyoming and past president of its SE chapter, he is now the public relations chairman for the society.

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