By Maggie Hohle
Tom Harrison is the ultimate in a combination of old school low-tech reality and contemporary technology, a pioneer and leader in a niche market where attention to detail makes a difference in the real world: mapmaking. He makes accurate full-color shaded-relief topographic maps for hiking, mountain biking and backpacking in California’s parks, forests and wilderness areas, and they’re available as apps for the iPhone and iPod Touch.
After years of real-life discovery and customer-service in the wilderness, Harrison has filled a gap in a niche market that matters. It seems like he trained from childhood for this job, but what he really did (important in hiking in the wilderness, whether the employment wilderness or the natural one) is keep his eyes open and pay attention to his surroundings. He went from Boy Scout to army infantryman (Vietnam) to Angel Island park ranger to holder of a Masters degree in Geography to government employee to successful entrepreneur.
He started by selling California State Park maps out of the back of his car to customers like boat shops, fishing stores and backpacking stores, then took a government job as a geographer for the Defense Mapping Agency. Bored and underemployed, he moved on– or back–to mapmaking of California trails based on his own hikes with a measuring wheel.
For a guy who is so independent, and has worked out of his house for 25 years, you wonder what he finds attractive about WORK Petaluma. Turns out his wife wanted the house to herself a little bit, and Harrison thought he’d like to spend time around other people doing interesting things. Working with a friend from Sebastopol, they began with a couple of 10-day passes. Now you see Harrison at work in the main room quite a bit, maintaining his cache of maps, which includes, as he says, “practically everything that has market potential.” Take a look at R.E.I. next time you’re there; a third of those maps came from Tom Harrison, the quiet mapmaker at work at WORK.