Friday, November 27, 2015 • 08:12

A Survey of a Wonderful Life

Wesley and satisfied customer Lorrie Tustison at Momma’s Coffee House, with owner Susan Guenther in the background.
May 22, 2013
The first settler in Valley Center, in 1862, was James Davis, who led the original survey team through here in 1857, and returned to live. One hundred and fifty years later, in 2012, another surveyor started calling Valley Center home, Wesley O. Means.

First, a little background…

Wesley was born August 17, 1923 in the "area" of Trent, Texas. Growing up during the depression, his family did what they had to do to get by, so they "went cotton pickin'" every year, which meant he rarely started school until well in the fall. However, he succeeded in graduating as Salutatorian of his senior class in 1941 in Peaster, Texas.

The fact that Wesley even graduated was a miracle in itself. At the age of sixteen, a ruptured appendix and ensuing infection left him flat on his back for over two months. Through the grace of God and the loving care of his precious mother, Era, he pulled through. However, his growth spurt was over and he topped out at 5'7".

Wesley working in the wilds of Alaska in 1953
Now, some men would have let their smaller size hold them back, but not Wesley. He simply tried harder. Which, given his career choice, was a necessity. But more on that a little later.

Wesley joined the Army Air Corps in February 1943. In February 1944, he shipped to RAF Rackheath in England where he was stationed until June of 1945. He served on an ordinance ground crew for B-24s, including "Witchcraft" which has been restored to flying condition. He has revisited "her" twice since moving to Valley Center.

Following his discharge, Wesley returned to Weatherford, Texas, and went to work at Convair (later called General Dynamics, now Lockheed Martin) in Ft. Worth. During this time, he met his future wife (of 62 years), Viola Greer, when he was a patient in the clinic where she was a nurse. Viola later joined Wesley at Convair and together they worked on the B-36s.

After 5 years of "being cooped up" Wesley was itching for the great outdoors. In January of 1952, he joined the United States Coast & Geodetic Survey, under the Department of Commerce. Coast Survey Parties, as they were called, were comprised of men and their families who lived in trailers (not mobile homes), and traveled the country wherever their orders from Washington sent them. Their efforts were responsible for the official maps used for the U.S. and it territories.

Wesley on a survey tower he helped build in 1952
Wesley started out on a Triangulation Party, which meant he had to help build (and then tear down) steel towers (often over a hundred feet tall) that they used to access sightlines above the trees, tall terrain etc. Given his size, Wesley was offered the option of taking a less strenuous task, but he refused and more than held his own with much bigger men. He never expected nor accepted preferential treatment because of his size.

In 1965, Wesley transferred to Reconnaissance and then was appointed Chief of a Reconnaissance Party in 1970. At that time, he was one of only four men in the U.S. who held that position.

Over the course of his career, Wesley was in all 50 states, including three tours each of Alaska and Hawaii, mostly before they became states. In Alaska, he experienced some of the most harrowing times of his career, including being stranded overnight near the Arctic Circle with no provisions. Because of his size, Wesley was the "go-to" man for many operations, including being dropped out of a helicopter with a chainsaw to clear a landing pad.

The work in general was often arduous. To access necessary survey points, he has hiked numerous miles over inhospitable terrain, climbed mountains carrying heavy equipment, endured rough seas, camped-out in inclement weather, flown in turbulent weather, and faced hostile wildlife. Bottom line: He loved his job. And, by the way, that was the easy part. The hard part was dealing with Washington, DC. (Some things never change.)

Overall, Wesley was blessed to remain unscathed by his work, with the one exception of falling off a tower several feet off the ground when he was 36. His clothes caught on a large nail, and he was propelled headfirst towards a pile of rocks. He used his hands to break his fall, unfortunately, both wrists were broken in the process. He endured casts covering most of both arms for many weeks, but made a full recovery.

Wesley, Viola and their five children traveled the country until 1969, when Viola took the children back to Weatherford to live. Since the survey parties moved often, they wanted the kids to finish high school in one place. Wesley and Viola sacrificed to be apart much of the year for the good of their children. Thankfully, summers and holidays were spent together and occasionally Wesley was stationed in the Texas area allowing for long-weekend visits. He continued to traverse the country until he retired in 1979, at the age of 55, and returned to Weatherford.

Of course, "retired" is a relative term for someone as active as Wesley, so he continued to work at various jobs and then went on to have a 17-year career with a local school district. Also, living in one place, he was able to produce a large annual vegetable garden, and he enjoyed giving away the fruits of his labor as much as he did eating them.

Looking back, being a surveyor was a dream come true to the little boy who used to climb to the top of a small hill on his Texas property and survey the horizon, dreaming of the day he would travel as far as the eye could see. This is one little boy who lived his dream.

Wesley and Viola moved to Valley Center last year to live with their daughter and son-in-law. Now, he lives on a BIG hill and still looks off in the distance to dream, but he also reminisces about all the places he's been, the people he's met and the beauty he's seen. He would tell you, he's one blessed fellow.

Wesley has stayed busy since moving to Valley Center. In addition to gardening, he makes small woodcrafts that he sells at Momma's Coffeehouse, where he and Viola are regulars. If you ever run into him there, take a moment to get to know this fascinating and wonderful man. You will be blessed.

Now, if I sound a little partial in my reporting about Wesley, there's a very good reason for that. He's my dad. Thanks for everything, Dad, and I'm so glad you and mom are here.

  1. print email
    A surgery of a wonderful life
    May 23, 2013 | 03:12 PM

    Really nice story

    Deborah Jurek
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