Bad Map Hits Close to Home, or Craptastic Map Leaves Backyard Swirling the Bowl

Filed under: Uncategorized — geoLibro @ 3:21 am

I was in Chicago two weeks ago waiting for a flight to Phoenix when I got a call from my wife, who had dragged the shop-vac out of the garage for some…cleanup. The toilet overflowed, see, and it turns out (and I have to admit I suspected it) that it wasn’t an ordinary local clog. That is, plunging didn’t do anything to fix the proble, because the problem was deeper than that. Well when I returned we called a plumber who asked me over the phone if I had a lot of trees in my yard. I laughed because hell yes we have a lot of trees. "It’s roots, then," he said. "I see it all the time." Because we don’t have a clean-out anywhere on a property, my new plumber friend "Walter" was going to have to get a map of the underground from the city, dig down to the sewer line, and A) install a clean-out and B) root out/cut away whatever was blocking the pipe.

Walter and his guys arrived on Friday morning, plunged the backhoe bucket into the ground and found…nothing. Turns out the map was wrong, which meant they essentially had to begin guessing where to dig. That might sound trivial, but wherever you "guess" to dig with a backhoe becomes a giant hole in short order. So when they guessed wrong the first time (so that’s two holes so far), a decent chunk of what made our house worth anything was gone. Just a couple swings of that bucket.

incorrect sewer map

Anyway, they guessed right the next time (on the other side of the original hole), but no thanks to that decrepit, monochromatic, cro-magnon photocopy of cartographic degradation the city gave them. Never mind that the pipe they finally found was way below grade and had been crimped by the weight of the garage built 6-7 feet above it.

the carnage

I love bad maps, but this one hit close to home (seriously, they ended up digging right up to the foundation to install a bypass). And we’ll always remember that week in 2007 when everything that we expelled from our house went straight into an open hole in the backyard. (Wife, pointing: "I remember you!")




  1. How horrific! I absolutely love the humor in this post though.

    That looks like some good topsoil with some clay horizon on top. I suggest removing the clay and starting compost with it and using the topsoil to create one heck of a veggie garden.

    Comment by Kristen — 2007.May.10 @ 10:20 pm

  2. Kristen, thanks. There were a couple of hours when things were decidedly not funny (immediately following the quoted price, if I recall correctly), but after that it’s been fine. We even got a deal on some extemporaneous stump removal. And of course there must be thousands of jokes you can make about having a hole full of, um, expenditures in the yard.

    But “clay horizen”? You must be smart in the ways of soil data. I appreciate the advice. I made the mistake (on purpose) of calling soil “dirt” in a presentation I was giving last week on a soil survey project we’re doing. I was being half-facetious, but was met with correction very quickly. I have since repeated the schtick and I have to say that — at Purdue at least — people take umbrage.

    But I do appreciate the advice, and that sounds like a fine idea. Might help the ecological karma we lost when the tractor ripped out not one but two small trees.

    Comment by geoLibro — 2007.May.10 @ 11:02 pm

  3. Looking at the photos you can see a lighter colored but denser looking soil on top of the dark topsoil. Although I don’t know the specifics of your soil, generally speaking the more clay soil occurs at a lower level (horizon) than the organic rich topsoil.

    I studied soils as an undergrad and am also a GIS Librarian who goes by the nickname “dirtgirl”.

    Comment by Kristen — 2007.May.14 @ 8:44 pm

  4. Dirtgirl, I’m afraid you would be forcibly renamed “Soilgirl” here. I didn’t realize Agronomists were so prescriptivist (but just those in the midwest?). Or maybe their objection to the more pedestrian “dirt” is analogous to the librarian’s not wanting to be called “old, useless, book person.” Something about the complexity of the science is lost, I guess.

    Comment by geoLibro — 2007.May.15 @ 3:18 pm

RSS feed for comments on this post. TrackBack URI

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

Create a free website or blog at

%d bloggers like this: