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 exists.
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 passed 100,000.
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.
Arnold's mapmaking 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. Accuracy."
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 map."
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 "Guaranteed."
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 years.

'Low priority' for FBI

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 recent appointments.
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 mylar map.
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 from life."