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Monroe 1880 Programming Memories

By John Engels

John Engels is a (semi)-retired Certified Forrester who worked for the U.S. Bureau of Land Management for "40 years, two months, and 27 days". Mr. Engels became rather famous in the field of land management in the 1960's by developing a method for determining road subgrade slopes using trigonometric methodology. Mr. Engels developed and published the "Parallax Table", using a hand-cranked Monroe mechanical calculator which proved to dramatically simplify the process. What used to be a tedious two-man surveying operation could now be performed by one man outfitted with a copy of Engels' Parallax Table.

Later, in the early 1970's Mr. Engels discovered the power of Monroe's 1880 electronic calculator to dramatically increase productivity in the BLM's land management operations, most specifically related to surveying and inventory of the BLM's public land holdings.

Mr. Engels now lives in North Bend, Oregon, and works as a Cartographer for a local title insurance company.


Back during my College days [University of Minnesota; B.S. in Forest Managment, 1960], we were seriously advised to "Buy the best Slide Rules that you can possibly afford, because you'll be needing to use them for the duration of your eventual professional career(s)"... and so I did exactly that, and became quite a Whiz with a Slide Rule during my student days. Even found a circular slide rule that fitted neatly into my shirt pocket [and which I still have stashed away].

When I found myself working on traversing and mapping timber sale cutting units for the Oregon BLM (Bureau of Land Management), beginning in that Spring of 1961, I was doing all of my Survey-Related trigonometry with my slide rule; And timber sale acreages were subsequently manually computed by means of a Polar Planimeter [which I still keep among my various treasures]. We throught we were doing wonderful stuff, in those days, and got pretty efficient with all of our manual and "hand cranked" approaches to our various surveying problems. "Professionals", all, and we were taking some degree of pride in our "professional expertise" and such.

It was back in those early 1970's that somebody in the BLM hierarchy purchased a new Monroe 1880 "Adding Machine" [as it was described to me at the time]... and nobody seemed to even take much notice of this new equipment. I wasn't involved in the "decision to purchase" or anything of that nature, and I was simply told something like "here's your new adding machine" when the Monroe 1880 was dropped onto my desk in those very early 1970's. As I recall, it was intended as a replacement for an older Marchant mechanical calculator that I'd been using previously... and I was told nothing about any new capabilities or potentials.

"Business as Usual" continued for a time. "So What? Lots of 'Adding Machines' already on various desks, etc; BLM really didn't seem to notice that anything was about to change, "Big Time". Our Management was well-satisfied with the "Status-Quo", and that was that.

BUT, when I took those various Monroe 1880 manuals home with me, and started reading about the capabilities of this machine, I came to realize that there was some power here that hadn't been recognized by the BLM, to say the least. Accordingly, and after spending some of my spare time studying up on the Monroe 1880 "programming language", I started automating all of those coordinate-geometry and area-computation calculations that I'd been running out on my slide rule. Here, needed to order some of those 'Memory Cards' for myself, because none were included during the original delivery of my new "Adding Machine", but I was soon able to retire my slide rule as I wrote the necessary Monroe 1880 code to handle all of those previously "Hand Cranked" trigonometric calculations connected with the coordinate geometry associated with surveying; mapping; and associated acreage computations, including the trigonometry associated with taking Sun Shots for determination of true bearing and all sorts of similar Engineering / Surveying applications. Just like having one's own Candy Store!

Also managed to get the 1880 "talking" with a companion (Model PL-3) Plotter [purchased later and separately] via which we were then able to produce those various timber sale maps that we'd been doing by hand for so many long years. Essentially, project-completion times were now starting to be computed in minutes rather than the hours of previous experience, and we were far-better able to manage our always-busy days.

Anyway, BLM eventually realized that I'd managed to revolutionize the way that timber sale traverse activities were handled in the office, and I went on to share my Monroe 1880 software with BLM's other Oregon district offices [Salem, Eugene, Roseburg, Medford, Coos Bay, etc]; And when somebody in Management finally realized that we'd become far more efficient than we'd been in the past, and after things had taken some time to work their way "Up the Line", I eventually received a completely unexpected letter from the White House and President Gerald Ford. [By that time, I was pursuing various other challenges... but that's a different story]. So nice to have "saved the BLM some $100,000.00" back in the 1970's.