In Praise of the Measuring Twins 1

In general, the Farmers Borden look with skepticism on any modern gadgets and use them only when there’s no lower tech alternative. We made an exception when it came to what we have come to call lovingly “the Measuring Twins,” and we’re glad we did.

When you’re laying out new buildings, planting trees, or making any changes to land, you spend a lot of time measuring spaces. We could easily do this with a measuring tape; it would just take some time and (every now and then) frustration untangling the tape. Instead, we whip out the Measuring Twins. As nearly as I can tell, ours are the same as these Sonin Electronic Distance Measurers, except that ours are no longer so pretty; they’re battle-scarred and farm-weary from frequent rides in Tractor’s front-end loader bucket.  They have earned a place of honor on the shelves in the storage room of the pole barn, so they’re always at the ready. Amanda holds the target, the little unit on the right in the photo, and I hold the shooter, the one on the left. I point the shooter at the target and press a button, and in a little less than a second the shooter reads out on an LCD screen the distance in feet and inches between the two.

The Twins seem to work fine over distances of 150 feet or less, which is about as far as you can go on Longleaf Breeze before there’s a tree or a hill blocking you anyway. We tested the accuracy of the measurements with a tape measure and found them to be as accurate as we could hope for. They have now made themselves indispensable to our operation.

The reason I’m telling you about this now is that I’ve been reminded several times during the last few days of how much we use the Measuring Twins. We wanted 27 foot spacings (a compromise between 25 and 30 feet) for four pear trees over in the East Orchard. By the way, if you’re ever curious, the database we use to keep track of all our plantings is published and updated in real time on the Internet. The Measuring Twins were ideal. After we decided where we wanted the first tree, Amanda stood there, and I walked out in 20 foot increments, sticking in a pink flag at each planting point. Then we were out of the measuring business; all we needed to do was to plant a tree at each flag.

A few days later, we decided to plant nine smaller fruit trees with at least 20 foot spacing in the Barn Orchard, but it was important to us to keep the rows as close together as possible. Once again the measuring twins were the ticket. We zig-zagged our way across the Barn Orchard, continuously testing for sufficient spacing, and simultaneously checking alignment (to make the grass easy to mow). Each time we set a new planting point, we planted a pink flag. Then, as we had with the pear trees, we stopped worrying about measurements, simply planting a tree at each flag.

And most recently, as we’ve been working on the deer fence, the Measuring Twins have saved us time and frustration, quickly helping us determine how many posts we need on a given run of fencing and where to place them. More pink flags (actually the same ones, reused over and over). Then plant a post at the flag without needing to measure again.

Here are the limitations of the Measuring Twins:

  • They’re useless if you’re shooting through brush or woods. Don’t even try. You need wide open space with no obstructions.
  • Using the Measuring Twins is a two-person operation. Yes, you could try to mount the target on a tripod or using a clamp and then walk to another spot and point the shooter at it, but for whatever reason, we’ve never tried to do that. It’s just so easy to do it with two people that we simply wait until both of us are available to use them.
  • They’re less accurate in blustery wind, particularly if you’re shooting over long distances. So far this hasn’t been a problem for us, but if you need to measure long distances routinely and nearly always have high winds, you should keep that in mind.
  • The accuracy of the Measuring Twins is only as accurate as your vertical judgment. Here’s what I mean. When you measure distance, typically you’re measuring the distance from ground to ground. But you’re not holding the Measuring Twins at the ground; you’re holding them at a comfortable viewing height, perhaps three or four feet above the ground. If you hold the target or the shooter a few inches from exactly vertical over the point you’re trying to measure, the Measuring Twins will be a few inches off. For most of what we do at Longleaf Breeze, that’s not critical. Usually, we’re working for accuracy within six inches or so, and the Twins are fine for that. If accuracy down to the 1/2 inch is critical to you, you would need to hold a plumb bob below each device, but by the time you do that, it’s faster to pull out the measuring tape.

Subject to those limitations, we can recommend the Measuring Twins without reservation. Battery life (9V alkaline) is superb. We’ve been using the Twins on average about once every couple of weeks for two years now, and we’ve not yet replaced the battery in either the target or the shooter.

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