A couple of years ago two Stellfane "traditions" were born. Wayne Zuhl told me in the Spring of '98 about his plan to set up a horseshoe pitch and Friday afternoon Convention tournament. He wondered If I could contribute a prize. I wanted to find a prize which would enhance the Stellafane experience of all involved and convey value beyond the monetary. I decided that the winner of the prize would participate in the Telescope Making Demonstrations and take home a complete scope made with his or her own hands!
So I came to Stellafane with a box of parts, optics, tools, and epoxy and waited to see who would win the first Annual Stellafane Horseshoe Tournament. It was Paul "the Ringer" Pompa, and on Saturday Morning we got together at the TM Demo's under the Big Tent and I showed Paul how to build his own 60 mm refractor.
Last year my box of parts was bigger, and the 15-year old Tournament winner, Geoff Craft, built his own 4 1/4-inch reflector on a hardwood tripod. Geoff and I were assisted by Howie Glatter and his laser collimator and by the legendary John Dobson! By lunch time the proud new scope owner was busy testing his scope on vistas of distant trees, and getting his tube signed by Dobson and Dodson!
Something different happened this year. My box of "project parts" was empty. Worse than that, after rushing to finish and ship scopes for customers, I found myself out of time and unable to scrounge up the parts for this year's "Horseshoe Scope" project. I reluctantly showed up at the Pre Convention boxless and apologetic.
Then on Friday Morning, with convention-goers lined up at the gate, some stellafane magic happened! Wayne asked me if I'd work with the Tournament winner if the parts could be gathered in the next 24 hours. Of course I eagerly agreed!
At the Tournament, a very young lady named Ana Bealo threw horseshoes with a natural grace and a "homing instinct". That was what it took to win over older and bigger contestants!
Early Saturday morning Wayne snatched-up a prism for the telescope's secondary and two eyepieces. STM President Junie took precious time out of the busiest morning of his whole year and dashed down to his home in New Hampshire to find a 5-inch primary mirror, a brass focusser, and assorted cardboard tubes!
I sat at my camp feverishly drafting construction plans to unite the diverse pieces. Later, after Junie and I studied the fit of tubes and parts he brought back from home, the only part we needed to make from scratch as per my plans was the prism holder!
At 10:00 AM, with Junie still on the road, I met Ana and her proud father Peter. I had Ana experiment with eyeglasses, a magnifier, her eyepieces, and the prism. In this way she became familiar with the components of her telescope and how they work, as well as a hands-on understanding of ideas like focal length and magnification. Of course the main component, the primary mirror, was not there yet!
As soon as Junie arrived with the mirror and boxes of parts and tools, Ana used it to project colourful images of camper's tents onto a white card. Space educator Gina Schraut assisted Ana in continuing these experiments while Junie and I plotted our course towards completion of the scope.
Junie, Ana and I spent the next 3 hours together building the scope, except for the odd dash to the Bunkhouse area to find more materials, tools, and screws. It was an intense and unusual experience for all three of us! Ana worked with dedication and precision, doing every step that required no sharp blades. I sawed off a small block of wood at a 45 degree angle with a cabinet maker's handsaw and attached "clips" made from a modified clothes-pin to create the needed prism holder.
It was well past lunch time when Ana pointed her scope at distant tree leaves to check the images. She was delighted! Peter took video footage of his daughter looking through her new scope. Later Peter (past president of the Amateur Telescope Makers of Boston) offered to take the primary mirror out of the scope to perfect its figure, and Ana wouldn't hear of it! She doesn't want anything to get in the way of observing with her own scope!
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