By John Matonich
I have been enjoying a series on Amazon TV recently. It’s called “Corner Gas” and features a gas station and restaurant in Dog River, Saskatchewan, Canada. The characters are solid and the show was called one of Canada’s funniest when it was on Canadian TV. My bride and I both enjoy the humor and the story lines. We typically tune it in after our 2 nightly episodes of Perry Mason on fetv. This is another show we both enjoy watching.
One of the episodes of “Corner Gas” really got me thinking or perhaps it was more about remembering. One of the characters named Hank came into the station and asked the owner of the station, Brent, how tall he was. Brent who is the lead character and creator of the show answered 5-9. Hank then went on to say that even though Canada has been on the metric system since the beginning of time, people he spoke with still answered the height question using the system that is dominant in the country to the south.
I thought that was an interesting observation. I went to college with a few folks from our neighbor to the north and have met several good people from Canada throughout my life, but I don’t think we ever got into a conversation about height let alone the metric system.
I remember over the years the number of times the metric system took center stage and the push was on to change those of us in the USA over to it. There was actually quite a bit of traction in the early nineties so much so that the Michigan Department of Transportation actually did switch over their survey, design and construction projects to metric. I remember my old firm doing both large survey projects as well as design engineering projects using the metric system. The DOT said they needed to lead by example and demonstrate how much better the system would be.
It really didn’t work very well and subsequently only lasted a few years. I remember one of the larger problems was that the much of the suppliers’ equipment was geared to English units and they weren’t too enthused about spending the countless dollars to convert or build new. This meant we didn’t specify metric pieces such as pipe. We were directed to convert the regular English sizes to metric and specify those. So a 12” diameter pipe simply became a 30.48 centimeter pipe.
Another problem encountered were all the folks who spent years building our infrastructure using feet, inches or tenths of inches really weren’t pleased with trying to learn a new system especially when they were still placing the same pipe in the ground they did a year earlier except the grade was in centimeters.
This was the beginning of the end for the metric system in DOT construction projects and only a few years into it, the transition was abandoned. To be honest with you, I was happy to see it go. I know how much easier it is supposed to be to use once you get used to it, but I like the system we have. I believe we do pretty well with it even though very little of our system can be evenly divided by 10.
I think if there ever is another push to convert over, I will ask to meet with those in charge and my first question will be to ask how tall they are. If Hank is right, they will answer using our system which should be enough to cancel out the conversion effort right there and life will be simple once again.
And that’s the situation as I survey it …
After a 35-year career downstate livin’ amongst da trolls, during which he built a successful engineering and surveying business, John Matonich is back home in da U.P. His column will appear here occasionally, don’tcha know. His book “Surveyin’ Da Situation” is available on Amazon.com.