Terris Cates leads a measured life. As the county surveyor and the principal of his own engineering firm, Integrity Engineering, Inc., his days are spent within map coordinates, elevations and distance readings. His firm was also chosen Rolla Chamber Commerce Business-of-the-Month for August, 2017.
Terris Cates leads a measured life. As the county surveyor and the principal of his own engineering firm, Integrity Engineering, Inc., his days are spent within map coordinates, elevations and distance readings. He doesn’t say, but his name could even be a derivative from the Latin term “terra,” meaning earth.
Born and raised in Mount Vernon, in the Southwest part of the state, he later found himself at the university in Rolla, as a physics major, “on the environmental side,” he notes. Once he completed his Bachelor of Science, he continued to get another BS in civil engineering, followed by his Masters degree. After school, he worked for Missouri Engineering, a private consulting firm, followed by stints with the Department of Natural Resources and the Bureau of Mines. Then it was back to the private sector with Stack and Associates in St. James until 1996 when he open his own company, Integrity Engineering. They’re a turn key operation, employing architects, engineers, land surveyors and technicians. They will work on any project within a 150 mile radius.
Terris says his job as a civil engineer is just applied physics. “Engineering and surveying go well together,” said Terris. “We are about designing and building things that don’t move. “If it moves, it’s mechanical [engineering]—if it’s got amperage, voltage, it electrical. We design waste water systems, bridges, streets, subdivisions, shopping centers, churches and industrial facilities. We also do materials testing and offer environmental services such as asbestos, lead paint and mold inspections.”
He said a civil engineer works to have a building fit the site, which isn’t always easy, if the building was designed in a vacuum, not taking the purchased land on which it will sit, into consideration. Terris says a lot of money will be spent just trying to solve the environmental problems, such as drainage.
Apart from the commercial side of his business, he is also an elected official as Phelps County’s land surveyor. He takes this aspect of his professional life as a servant of the people, as seriously as business owner.
This part of civil engineering is about plotting ownership boundaries on not only a map, but the physical land itself.
“We’re blessed [in this country] to be able to own land,” he mused. “One of the greatest assurances as a land owner is to know where your land is.” “There is a lot of history involved because you’re researching how these patents, these deeds were transferred from one landowner to another and then placing that on the land, so people can see it with markers.”
Surveying is also an ancient art. “It goes back to Biblical times,” said Terris. “It’s been a major part of our culture.” Terris is on solid ground here, because he says one of the top priorities of his life is serving the Lord. He has been in the pulpit in the pastor role.
“Pastoring is a lot more than preaching or teaching,” he explained. “It’s about being involved in people’s lives.”
He does that serving a lot of municipalities within Integrity Engineering’s 150 mile radius.
“Rolla has got to be one of the best cities I’ve had the opportunity to serve and work in—bar none,” he said.
Other surveyors have also noticed this “Rolla difference,” and Terris recognizes those that have made their marks in the profession, because that’s the kind of guy he is.
“The Elgins have done a tremendous job,” he noted. He said he was honored to work with them. He mentions Lou Gilbert, a Bureau of Land Management surveyor.
“He was an employee of ours for 12 years and became the county surveyor,” Terris explained. “I just want to continue their work.”
A county surveyor takes a lot of phone calls. Some of them involve landowner disputes. “I try to help families work out their property issues,” he said.
He is also charged with establishing section corners in Phelps County. Property boundaries have to be established from solid points of reference that were established when, and after, Missouri became a state in 1821. A section is a square mile or 640 acres. Off of this grid, the land is further divided up in smaller parcels, down to as little as 40 (or fewer) acres, but Terris is just trying to establish the section corners, many of which have vanished with time.
“There are still like 1,900 (corners) that haven’t been located here in Phelps County,” he shared.
Through the original surveyor’s county notes, Terris is able to play detective to find these unmarked county section corners. For example, he looks for “stream—200 yards from large cedar.” The cedar may be gone, but the stump hole remains and then he looks for the stream, fighting off the mosquitoes as he goes.
“You try to establish that corner as best as you can with that information,” he notes, “but, we really try to follow their (original surveyors) footsteps.”
He recognizes that with today’s surveying instruments, the accuracy could be off, but surprisingly, not by much. “Whatever monuments (i.e. pile of rocks) were set by them, that’s where it (the corner) stays,” he said.
The basic instruments of the land surveyor have changed a little bit with use of the Global Positioning System, to establish definitive “stations” that mark the way to maintaining a straight line from corner to corner—no more depending on the True North of a compass. Laser technology does away with human sighting and distance errors.
Terris is married and he says blessed to have five wonderful children. His youngest is a senior this year at Rolla High School. He’s excited about what may be around the corner and you get the idea that if it is something most of us would find frightening, he has the patience and foresight to accept whatever comes his way. He’s grateful and it shows.
“We’re all standing on the shoulders of the people that went before us—in every aspect,” said Terris. “In our faith, in our understanding of design and technology. They paid the price so we could stand on their shoulders and keep on going.”