Working in Sonny’s Business Development department, I spend a lot of time on Google Earth looking at potential car wash sites for customers. The tools available for researching sites remotely are unbelievable! Not only can we pull traffic counts from right in front of most locations, but we can also find out how much money folks make in the areas surrounding a site. In addition, we can find out average ages, and we can also measure a site’s dimensions to within a foot or two of actuality.

Believe it or not, researching sites all day and pouring over demographic studies is not as glamorous as it may seem from the outside. Occasionally, one’s mind tends to wander.  It was on one of these rare occasions when I discovered a unit of measure known as a ‘smoot.’

If you are at all familiar with Google Earth, chances are you have measured something with the ‘ruler’ function. When you open the ruler, it generally defaults to ‘feet’ as the unit of measure. Being from America, this is quite useful. However, if you click on the drop down box, you’ll see several more options:

  • Centimeters
  • Meters
  • Kilometers
  • Inches
  • Feet
  • Yards
  • Miles
  • Nautical Miles
  • Smoots
  • Degrees
  • Arcseconds

I’m sure all of us are somewhat familiar with most of these units, and when I say most, I mean all with the exception for “Arcseconds”, and “Smoots.” I know I didn’t know what a Smoot was until one fateful day when I decided it was time to broaden my horizons and do some research.

It seems that as part of a fraternity prank at MIT in 1958, the members of Lambda Chi Alpha measured the length of the Harvard Bridge by using their fraternity pledge named Oliver Smoot. Oliver would lie down on the bridge and the fraternity brothers would make a mark. He would then get up and move to the last mark made and lay down again. Eventually, legend has it that Oliver tired due to this exertion and the brothers then carried him from mark to mark.

For the record, each ‘smoot’ is 67 inches (5’ 7”), which was Oliver’s height. The bridge measured 364.4 ‘smoots’ and is marked to this day every 10 ‘smoots’.  The answer to the question in the title is that there’s 945.671642 smoots in a mile.

Oliver graduated MIT in 1962 and later became chairman of the American Standards Institute and then president of the International Organization of Standardization. In 2011 ’smoot’ was one of 10,000 words added to the American Heritage dictionary.

Fascinating stuff right?

No, probably not, but it was sure fun watching the looks on my young colleague’s faces when I asked them how many ‘smoots’ it was from the site they were looking at to an existing wash in the same town! They told me I was crazy and that I had made up the story of Oliver Smoot because no such unit of measure existed.

I told them to do their research and get back to me with their findings. After a few minutes of Google searching, they found what I said to be true, and one even offered an apology, although begrudgingly.

How does this all relate back to running your business?

It’s about challenging your people. Make them look at things in a different way. We all get tunnel vision. We all know the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result. Try something new! Shake things up! Switch from Pepsi to Coke, from Chevy to Ford, from feet to smoots!

Remember, sometimes the greatest risk is in not taking one at all.

Bob Fox is an instructor at CarWash College™. Bob can be reached at For more information about CarWash College™ certification programs, visit or call the registrar’s office at 1-866-492-7422.