Again the lure of a job close to home, after getting there sporadically maybe only every second weekend, enticed me to change employers, so at the end of 1988 I joined Basil Read, one of the major construction companies in South Africa.The project was a military ammunition magazine secreted away in the bush on the edge of the Springbok Flats near a railway siding called Crecy. The line was essential to servicing the facility as a branch line fed into the complex and a spider’s web of branches led to each and every individual earth-covered concrete bunker with its own loading platform. There are more than fifty of them.
Keeping in mind that I had done very little pioneer surveying during my stay with the consulting engineers, SNA, and the work pace being fairly leisurely with consultants, I braced myself for a very tough reintroduction back into the real world of contract surveying. This was where the yellow machines were waiting with impatient growls for the surveyor to give them work to do and every minute wasted was money down the drain. That wasn’t all. Computer technology was stepping up with survey programs to cut that time down, and I needed some serious training.Thanks, however, to the Basil Read chief surveyor, Pedro de Jesus Ferreira, and his patience, I managed to catch up. Such was the scale of work, there were usually no less than four surveyors on the site. Pedro himself was at the forefront of survey programming and we used his own program to calculate line and level and deviation tolerances for the works. For me there were many firsts, especially the railway lines.
I was/am not able to wear wrist watches for the reason that they would stop, but go again when strapped to someone else. It seemed that I had an effect on computers, too, and sometimes the damned thing would simply freeze up on me. Pedro was certain that I was pressing the wrong key and insisted that there were no such thing as Computer Gremlins! Eying me like a hawk, he watched to see what I was doing wrong. When the machine came to a halt suddenly, he was astounded, and could find no logical reason for it, finally admitting that there are indeed weird unseen and inexplicable forces at work. Maybe gremlins?
Perhaps I somehow managed to make peace with them, because it was a phenomenon that diminished, although it still happens at odd times. Pedro became a good friend and we had his wife and two children to stay for at least one weekend. Another good man I met then was an Irishman, Paul Walker. He was a dynamic leader and innovative engineer who motivated his team to efforts always way beyond expectation and inspired their extreme loyalty. He was in charge of the concrete works, which were completed ahead of schedule when the rest of the works lagged behind. I worked again with Paul in Botswana in the nineties and we are still in touch, more than twenty years later.