PCW Memorial Observatory Construction

PCW Memorial Observatory – An Observatory Experience
Custom Built by Backyard Observatories, May 2007

Well Backyard Observatories did it again. Number 87!  www.backyardobservatories.com

Our good friends, Scott and Diane Horstman, as well as the rest of the crew ,Kenny, Don, Jason and Nikki, designed and built our new observatory this past week. It’s number 87, but we’ve named it PCW Memorial Observatory after my late grandparents, Pauline and Charles Withers (Paul’s idea, and one that I absolutely loved!).

My grandmother passed away only a month ago at ninety-one years old, a few days after I returned from NEAF. I think she was aware of me telling her stories of NEAF as I sat bedside next to her, holding her hand. She was always very supportive of me with astronomy.

I was very fortunate to give her her first and only viewing of the sun through my Maxscope this winter, which is also very special to me because I bought it off of another very good friend, Gary Gibbs, aka Halfmeter.  Everyone called her Polly, but she was Nanny to me. She’s terribly missed.

I was planning on putting Nanny’s solar pictures in the observatory, but I think I will put a photo of the both her and my grandfather together in there as well with a placard.

For those of you that may not be familiar with Backyard Observatories, they are in their 5th year of “providing the highest quality, ever customizable observatories available.”  They are also the USA distributor of Sirius Observatories domes (www.backyardobservatories.com/pricing%20Sirius.htm), who manufacture high quality fiberglass observatories, established in 1986.  But above all, the designs for Backyard Observatories are Scott Horstman’s, which are in basic residential style construction in order for do-it-yourselfers to easily build their own using his plans.  We told him our needs; he customized the observatory to meet them.  An option would have been for him to draw up a design for us so that we could build it ourselves (as stated above) or have someone else build it for us using those plans.  We opted for Scott and the crew, not only because they are great people, but also because we’ve seen enough of their work to know we’d have a top-notch observatory at the end of the day.

Ground Breaking – Day One

Scott and Kenny arrived last month on a Saturday, 19th of May.  Much to our delight, Diane and the kids came down from Lodi to spend the day with us as well.  Don was left up North to make plates for the piers.  Scott had drawn up the plans to fit both the truss dob and the LX200 for both of us to view at the same time. I had to work that day so missed the first part of construction. The size is 11.5′ by 13.5′ and is very roomy. We have it in the front yard and it matches so well with our house. I’m going to landscape around it eventually (why is it that a landscaper always makes everyone’s yard look nice, but then never gets around to making their own yard nice?)

I feel very blessed not only to have had such wonderful grandparents, but also to have such wonderful friends involved with this project. With Paul suggesting that name, it brings it all together. Even most of our scopes and gear came from really good friends on CN. Diane is pictured here keeping the pets comfortable until I get home.

This is a typical look from Kenny. I know it was to be a day of work, but you can’t help but to have a great time doing it when you’re with friends.

Here’s Diane recording the construction. The view behind her is south. It’s cool that Paul and I bought this place because the view overlooks land that belongs to the parents of a good high school friend. I’m back in my old stomping grounds and it feels good.

The youngest of the BYO clan, Nikki, is showing them how you properly dig a hole.

Here’s how you measure a hole.  Hmmm, needs a little more digging.

Here’s how the boys do it…. Kenny and Jason with the auger.

Here’s the commander in chief, captain oh captain, supervisor extraordinaire, the man himself: Scott.  You can call him practically anything you want, just don’t call him late for supper.

The boys are building the trusses for flooring.

Is Nikki somewhere down in that hole still measuring?

I’m back! I cut off work a little early so I could see everyone.

Here’s Riser, me, Nikki and Daisy. Daisy was Nanny’s little dog and I promised Nanny I would look after Daisy if anything should happen to her.  Thankfully Paul is an animal lover too.  When I asked him if we could take her in, he said sure, she’s small, old and doesn’t move very fast.  Little did we know that she would find her second childhood very shortly after moving in with us! Oh, if Nanny could see her now.  Her precious little doggie is now off white from playing in the garden and the other day a tick was standing between her eyes waving at me.  I still laugh at that one.

Doesn’t Nikki look like a ‘mini me’ version of Diane?!

Scott caught taking a break, giving orders to poor Kenny.

Where’s Scott?

Where could he be THIS time?

Oh, HERE he is. No, Scott…the construction site is behind you. You’re going the wrong way!

Scott was caught again!

Back to work you go, Scott. It’s time for the flooring.

Here’s a close up of the fine craftsmanship before the floor is completed. The large square on the left is where the slab will be poured for “my” truss dob. One of the littler squares on the right is where the pier will be for “Paul’s” LX200.

Here’s Scott and Jason starting the floor.

Almost complete.

This would be the end of day one’s construction. The gang stayed for supper, which was a joint effort for a cookout. Paul and I hated to see them all go home.

Here’s Sunday morning with my cup of coffee, Buttercup and Rocket. I was envisioning what the views were going to be like.

Sides and Roof Trusses Raised– Day Two

From what Diane told me, “most jobs can be completed within a couple days. It may take an extra day or two depending upon the building size and extras.”  Ours took three days, but I reckon they may have been able to complete ours on the second day had we let them just work.  It was nice that they spent some time visiting with us as well.  As for the extras, I’ll go over some of them at the end of this article.

Tuesday morning, Scott and Kenny came back. I had to work that day, but Paul managed to stay home with the guys. In short order, two walls were raised.

Three walls!

And break time. That looks like a tuckered out Kenny.

Four walls!

Scott is making the roller part of the roof. Watch out, he’s armed and ready for action.

The Roller System Assembly was also designed by Scott and is included in the package.  But for an additional price, you can purchase the Rack and Gear Motor System with Limit Switches.  That would be the bee’s knees for sure, but still Paul and I opted not to have one installed.  Frankly, we have just purchased this new house and money is a little tight for such a luxury.  Thankfully the roller system is so smooth that I can manage manually rolling this 11.5’x13.5’ roof open with no problem at all.  I suppose it helps that I’m a landscaper and used to heavy loads, but let me tell you, Diane is just a tiny little thing and I’ve seen her open theirs with as little effort as I do ours.  Simply loosen the tie downs, which are 6″ turn buckles, and give the handles for the roof a little tug to get it started, and away you go.  Smooth as can be.

Something I would consider for Paul someday to assist his imaging (don’t get excited Paul, we need a new heater for the house and I’d appreciate a rototiller for the garden…or at least a hoe) is an m1 OASYS Observatory Automation System.


Ok, so I’d like it for security and warning features, but I’d have to say, what just might just be the straw that breaks my camel back is that it can make me a pot of coffee as well!  I can just see Paul and I out at the folks’ house for supper some night.  Paul can set the CCDAutopilot to start his imaging session without him!  I know, doesn’t quite seem right, does it?  But hey, what do I care?  By the time we get back to the observatory, I’ll have a pot of coffee waiting for me for my visual session!  Evidently this system will secure, monitor, control and integrate your observatory.  Goodness, maybe it’s related to H.A.L.

Voila! The roller assembly is complete and if you look at the back of the observatory, the posts and roller bar is in place.

The assembly is being put in place.

And the roof is being built now.

After I got home from working, Paul fixed all of us a nice spaghetti supper and I forced salad on the guys as well. We got out the ED80 for a quick view and then called it a night.

Observatory Completion– Day Three

Next day, Paul had a flight and I played hooky to stay home with the guys and also to get some outside work done. After Scott and Kenny ran over to Home Depot, Kenny started on the roof.

I couldn’t find Scott again, so after a few trips around and inside the observatory, I found him by the truck talking to my pal, Diane. No wonder he has such a nice smile on his face.

Kenny is putting the steel roof on.

They have started on the vinyl siding.  It comes in a variety of colors.  We were happy that there was a color that matches our house. www.backyardobservatories.com/siding%20colors.htm

They work very well together!

Getting ready for the pier! It was winter when we looked at this house to buy. At the signing, it dawned on me that I didn’t see an outside spigot.  When I asked the girl we bought the house from if there was indeed one outside, she said yes.  Well……I feel like I’m on an ongoing treasure hunt for this spigot.  In the mean time, water had to be hauled from the house in buckets to mix this Quick-crete.  It was an act of love, I tell ya.  Thanks guys!

After Paul got back, we had pizza and inspected the great job that was done. Sometime when we weren’t looking, Riser managed to walk through the cement slab for my dob. His foot sunk about 2″ in the wet cement. We’ve left it there, as it just seemed the right thing to do.

I hated to see the guys leave, but I knew we’d get to see at least Scott and Diane the next day at their house as my services were needed in the gardens at Backyard Observatories! Here’s a photo of the gang (minus Kenny) the next day at the Horstman’s house. Gotta love the observatory cluster there! And Lord knows I love the cluster of observers located around the cluster. That’s Gary Gibbs, John Crilly, Diane and Scott Horstman and me. There’s a really nice Sirius dome to the left just out of the view.

Here’s another at the Horstman’s the next day with the two men in my life: Paul and Riser.

I realized that for a brief moment, I was surrounded by handsome men! Little did Diane know that was my sinister plan when she was asked to take a photo.

It’s raining men! Hallelujah! It’s raining men! Amen!

When I pointed this fact out to her later, she stated “Yes, but do you see who they are looking at?”

Bliss in the Wake

I was able to stain the wood on the outside of the observatory to match the shed’s trim. I was on the ladder on the slope and after nearly falling a few times I got smart and realized that all I had to do was roll the roof off to get to the top parts!

I can hardly wait to get to the landscaping that I want to do leading down to and around it! Here’s the NE view:

That’s Big John on the left and Big Fella on the right.  Don is working on the mounting plate for it. At the moment, we are borrowing one of Scott’s plates plus have our tripod head on top of that.

Scott did a wonderful job planning the fit for both scopes to be used at the same time. I even have room for the LXD75 in front of the dob for solar work as well as with the ED80. We’re good to go. Now all we need is sky.

I’ve got Big John collimated and ready to go! Woohoo, Baby!!!

As promised, I am including a link for the installation extras.  The drop down southern wall is my favorite feature next to the pier/slab for my dob and the roll off roof.  I didn’t want my dob to sit up higher for the simple fact that I didn’t want to use a ladder for viewing.  I know there are sketchers out there that can do that, but the idea of it isn’t appealing to me.  It doesn’t help that I have an ever increasing fear of heights that would be increased in the darkness.  Without the drop down wall, I wouldn’t have been able to view the moon at +29 degrees the other night.  It wouldn’t have been a problem with the LX200 as it sits up higher.

The pier/slab is an absolute MUST if you have a deck such as ours.  It used to drive me crazy at the old house when I’d solar observe on the front porch and someone was walking around on it at the same time.  The dogs and Paul can all stomp around in the observatory and my view is still steady because of the pier!

Other options are windows (we chose not to have them for security reasons), the Rack and Gear Motor System, electric (which we will be getting very soon), plus other options to customize your observatory to suit your needs.  www.backyardobservatories.com/pricing.htm

Although Scott and Diane are good friends of ours, I can honestly say they extend their warm, hospitable, genuine nature to everyone that I have seen them in contact with.  What great people, what a great observatory!  Thank you so much Backyard Observatories!

First Light Report – 2007 May 29

This past week has been very exciting, as Backyard Observatories has constructed a roll off roof observatory for Paul and me. We have named it PCW Memorial Observatory in honor of my late grandparents.

It seemed fitting that my first light report in the new observatory should be of the Moon, as that’s what got me hooked in the first place. As if observing the moon in town while living next door to Nanny (my late grandmother), getting lost in the eyepiece, transported 1.3 light seconds to the serenity of our satellite wasn’t peaceful enough, then let me tell you, getting lost in the eyepiece back in the country with the peepers and owls playing music in the background, dogs laying at my feet, in the comfort of our own observatory where the only real light pollution is the object I am actually wanting to view now becomes pure nirvana.

I started the session with a scan of the entire lunar surface. You never know what gems might be spotted that would have otherwise slipped right past you on the way to the terminator. Tonight I particularly enjoyed the rays fading into the background towards the east and then gradually gaining contrast until they practically shot out of the craters like fingers such as with Kepler.

The seeing was meant to be not so dire, however it was boiling enough to limit me to a 12mm eyepiece through my 12” dob. The transparency was like looking through a glass of hot water. That’s ok, though. It was enough to take in a larger view rather than diving into all the nooks and crannies for this journey. I was comfortable, except for that one mosquito that bit me on the eyelid. I was at peace, except for the brief moment of my heart fluttering when Paul accidentally stepped on Buttercup when he backed away from his scope next to me.

Moving up in my field of view, which is actually south on the Moon, Schiller still wore the same size shoe, if not a little thinner. This time there was a pair of feet walking along the southern limb, as several of the rugged craters appeared long and narrow. It reminded me of a tranquil walk in the sand along the shores of the humorous sea.

Nudging my scope slightly West, you can almost envision a light breeze waving the seed heads of the wheat across the smooth 230km wide walled plain of Schickard. Gassendi looked like an upside down teddy bear face and I could have sworn that Montes Recti wasn’t a straight range, but written words meant only for me. I couldn’t read them, feeling a bit like a pilot that is trying to read the letters produced in the sand for an SOS message. But if I had to wager a guess, it was Plato welcoming me back.

Mons Gruithuisen Delta and Gamma were like little bubbles of air trying to poke through the crust, and around Angström, the ridges and bumps looks like several little domes popping up like slalom runs down a ski slope….or as typical with my arms and legs (such is the life of a gardener) like a patch of poison ivy rash.

After a quick admiring look at Aristarchus and the ‘snakelike’ Vallis Schroteri combined with the head of Herodotus and the southern outer edges of his forked tongue, I reached the terminator once again to find another serpent, Schiaparelli.

If you turn to plate 18 of your velveteen Rukl, this handsome little crater at a quick glance might be considered a simple crater. But, it is a little larger at about 25km in diameter and it has a small central mountain, which would suggest a smaller complex crater. The height/width ratio is about 1/13th. So even though this crater is considered to have high walls, again, it fits into the small complex crater group. Nevertheless, it’s a cute little thing and along the terminator line tonight, Dorsa Burnet became the tail of the serpent with Schiaparelli as the head. The southern tip of the elongated crater appeared to open up slightly as a forked tongue just like with Herodotus.

I viewed tonight pretty much around transit, which would be close to 0300 UT on 2007 May 29 (or 2300 ST on the 28th of May at my location). Lunation was about 12.31 days with 92% illumination. The memorial observatory is at Lat 40deg1’, Long -81deg55’.

Time to roll the roof closed, smile at the scopes resting peacefully, and call it a night.

E. Rix


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