MAPMAKER LEAVES HIS MARK
THOMAS RYLL, staff writer
The Columbian Newspaper, Vancouver WA
November 3, 2005
If family members
organizing Sunday's 90th birthday celebration for mapmaker Phil
Arnold wanted to have some real fun, they would send off a couple
hundred invitations, include one of Dad's Vancouver maps and list the
address for the event as "3700 N.W. Helena Road."
Or "6301 N.W. Phil Jr.
Road." Sure enough, they're right there on the map.
And sure enough, neither
Nor do a handful of other
other names Arnold has penned into the distinctive maps he has been
selling since 1950.
"Helena" is after Helen,
his wife of 63 years. "Philjr" is Phil Arnold Jr. Son Dean's name was
scrambled, to "Nead Road." The name of the family's Argentinian
exchange student made it onto a few maps for a while years ago, until
the officially unnamed road was officially named. And a city report
once noted that a land-use issue involved an area with "Philjr Road"
as the northern boundary.
All this cheekiness suits
the mutton-chopped Arnold Sr. His grin is impish; he labors in a
map-drafting room decorated with a rubber Ronald Reagan Halloween
mask. All while he practices a nearly lost form of the art of keeping
people from becoming lost.
Arnold, who turned 90 Oct.
27, has been penning his hand-drawn maps since 1950. He sells them
for $4.95 each at 100 or so outlets, and from the converted front
room of his home at 119 W. 24th St. Sales, he says, have long since
Better known as Arnold Map
Service (the "Arnold Place" on the Vancouver maps is, in another bit
of Phil Arnold whimsy, his driveway) the shop is packed with maps
from many sources.
It is also a sanctuary
from the assault of technology on the cartographer's profession.
There are no computers here.
technique is a slide rule in a pocket calculator world, functionally
obsolete but no less precise in the hands of a skilled user. Ask him
if he is familiar with MapQuest, the Internet's wheelchair for a
map-disabled society, and Arnold waves his hand as if shooing a fly.
"Phil" Junior "would know about that computer stuff," he said. He
does offer a nod to the new age, however, saying, "I see my
competitors are putting out maps that are more accurate all the time.
GIS" Clark County's mapping department and publisher of a county
atlas "is pretty accurate. They're careful."
Accuracy is a term he uses
often, even when he shrugs his shoulders while explaining what
rewards he derives from his work. "I looked at other maps and think,
'I can do a little better job.' This is my focal point.
Arnold's family moved to
Vancouver from the Yakima area just after he graduated from high
school in 1933. He attended the University of Washington for a time,
studying mechanical engineering. That included rudimentary surveying,
and it was while pointing his transit around the UW campus that he
got his first taste of mapmaking.
World War II intervened,
but his engineering skills kept him stateside. He got a job designing
equipment for the ships built for the war effort at the Kaiser
Shipyard here. That work, in an essential industry, and the fact that
he was married and had a son, kept him safe from the draft.
After the war he took a
position as an engineer for the city of Vancouver, designing streets
and water lines. One day in the late 1940s a man appeared at Arnold's
office, looking to score information for a city map he was trying to
sell. Colleagues directed him to Arnold. After thinking it over a few
days, Arnold decided, "I think I'll turn him down and make my own
In 1950, he published his
first Vancouver map ("It was kinda crude, but it was a start") and
Arnold Map Service was born.
Over the years the little
house on 24th Street became a repository for hundreds of U.S.
Geological Survey maps, nautical charts and atlases. In the meantime,
Arnold has published updated versions of his Vancouver and Clark
County maps every year or so, each time under the front-flap slogans,
"The Map That Works" "It's in Black & White," and
The "guaranteed" refers to
his promise that any buyer who finds a road not on the current map is
due a refund. Arnold says he has made only a couple refunds over the
'Low priority' for
While his sense of humor
is the primary reason for drawing streets that don't exist so he can
name them after family members, there is a second reason: to allow
him to know when someone is pirating his work. That happened once
years ago and the FBI got involved, "But then it became a low
priority for them."
For something like four
decades, every Arnold map has been produced in a low-ceilinged,
second-story room at his home. Time moves slowly in this corner of
Arnold Map Service, where a shelf above the telephone holds a stack
of phone books dating to 1984. And they are among the room's most
The maps are drawn,
drafting style, on poster-sized sheets of mylar masters coated to
hold the ink from Arnold's pen. In the early days, sheets of a
specially treated linen formed the basis for his maps. Mylar is more
durable and temperature-stable, less susceptible to expansion and
contraction that can move streets and avenues out of position by the
time the mylar is photographed for the printing process.
There is nothing expedient
about his work. Every line, every street name, every park, lake,
cemetery and building is laboriously drawn or lettered by hand. Even
the thousands of numbers and letters in the map indexes are drawn,
one character at a time, in ink.
Arnold uses a lettering
system employing guides, roughly the size of one-foot rulers,
engraved with letters and numbers. A needle on a hand-held device
rides in the engraved groove of, say, the letter A; a finely tipped
ink pen transfers the groove-following movement of the needle to the
The result appears as if
it was typeset. While the black-on-white look of his maps might
appear crude compared to the fancy colored pages of modern
computer-designed charts, even the tiniest marks on Arnold's are
crisp and highly legible.
But even he allows that
his method is a relic. "It's kind of an ancient process. Nobody does
it like this anymore," he said. "Nobody. It's too slow."
Phil Arnold Sr. says he
plans to keep drawing maps as long as his hand is steady and eyesight
up to the task. He had cataract surgery in both eyes several years
ago, but still doesn't need glasses to drive his Volvo station wagon
and its MAP CAR license plates around town. And despite his years, he
moves his hands with the skill of a surgeon, peering through an
illuminated magnifier while operating at the corner of Northeast
117th Avenue and 87th Street.
While Phil Jr. operates
the business, restocking map outlets and catering to walk-in traffic,
he doesn't have his father's affinity for keeping track of every
piece of new pavement in Clark County.
When he someday makes his
last mark, the art of Phil Arnold Sr.'s mapmaking will have reached a
dead end. Until then, "This kind of business is kind of hard to
retire from. People always want maps. And if you retire, you retire