The Springfield Telescope Makers would like to offer many thanks to
Bob Midiri for faithfully sending his reports on the Stellafane convention.
Expectations were high as we were preparing to leave from S.E. Pa for the 350 mile caravan to the "shrine to the stars", known by thousands of avid telescope makers as "Stellafane". The meteorologists were forecasting for sunny skies and clear nights, the first time I heard of a forecast like that since I started going to "Stellafane" in 1996. The usual curse of at least one rainy day was lifted this year, and if you asked any of the Springfield telescope Makers (STM's), many would believe it may have been the heart and spirit of young Brian Sinnott shinning down upon us. Brian was a member of the STM who recently passed away, before he even had the chance to enter his own just completed telescope into this years competition.
Myself, and fellow DVAA members Paul Perlmutter, Barry Johnson, and Vince Scheetz began our adventure from Harylesville, Pa, through Binghamton and Albany, New York, and finally from Bennington, Vermont, to Springfield, home of Stellafane. The excitement builds within each of us, reaching its peak as we begin our climb to Breezy Hill. Friday would be a busy day, since the STMs made a very good decision in having the optical judging scheduled for Friday night, with Saturday night as the backup, as I and fellow member Marilyn Michalski have 12.5" and 10" dobs to be evaluated optically that evening. Both of us had to make sure our scopes were registered, setup, and well collimated near the pink clubhouse, along with others for the long awaited chance to have your scope totally scrutinized under the most stringent optical test of all, the star test.
Friday is a busy day at Breezy Hill after check in, and with beautiful sunny skies above, conventioneers were busy setting their scopes up for the promising evening ahead. As always, the big tent is the spot to be in the afternoon for neophyte and experienced mirror makers alike. Mirror grinding, pitch lap making, and testing demonstrations were in high gear, with The Great One, John Dobson himself pushing some glass!! John was his usual entertaining self, its so great to have him amongst us. As David Levy quoted in his Saturday night "Shadowgram", when talking with Bob Summerfield (Of Astronomy To Go), "where do you rank John Dobson with the great telescope makers of the past like Galileo and Newton", with Bob replying "Galileo and Newton made telescopes for astronomers to observe the Universe, John Dobson makes telescopes for the rest of us to observe the Universe". I couldn't have put it better myself! Though I did not get to attend, the usual Horse Shoe Pitching contest was scheduled for the afternoon, and for the kids there were astronomy programs and special activities both at the Pink Club House and The McGregor Observatory behind the observing field. Speaking of kids, in great contrast to the last 5 years of attending Stellafane, in which there seemed to be a renaissance of younger people involved with telescope making, this year was disappointingly low. The STMs have dedicated this year to the younger telescope maker and had the dynamic young man Ryan Hannahoe there to report on The Astronomical League's Youth Activities. Ryan even had an award for David Levy, as the person this year most influential on youth astronomical activities. We must work hard to get our kids interested in this most fascinating hobby of astronomy and telescope making, and I am sure that the Springfield Telescope Makers will be striving for that goal now and in the future.
After we went out for a bite to eat, the DVAA contingent (which was noted as 20 members from our club), rushed back to take the long walk back to the Pink Clubhouse, near the Porter Turret Telescope, the field where it all started so many years ago. We may no longer have Russell Porter, Walter "Scotty" Houston, Robert Cox, or Roger Tuthill physically among us, but their Spirit is shinning upon us and certainly felt by us all on that Mountain top. Today at the convention we were blessed with the presence of John Dobson, Dr. Carolyn Shoemaker, David Levy and his wife, Wendee. Fellow DVAA member and President of our club, Marilyn Michalski and myself had to get our scopes ready for the long awaited chance for optical judging. This is my third try and Marilyn's second try at having the weather cooperate for the optical testing section of Stellafane. The last three years have been either clouded out, or washed out, but this year would finally prove otherwise. Marilyn was the 26th person registered for the optical competition which is divided into three categories: mirrors 12.5" and over, mirrors under 12.5", and special optics. After a few hours scare, due to a band of thick clouds (of course) rolling in during sunset, it finally began to clear around 10 PM, just prior to the deadline where the judges would have canceled testing for that evening. As the judges made their excursion to each telescope, excitement and apprehension grew amongst us all, then around 1 AM they announced the six finalists. The optical judges, who were in two teams, would then reevaluate the final six, to determine the rank of each scope. By 3 AM they were finished, and just in the nick of time as another set of clouds started rolling in. Some sleep was needed since an early rising was needed to get to the Saturday morning swap tables, and to go around and check all the scopes that would be entered into the mechanical and craftsmanship competition!. The start time is scheduled for 7 AM but things start to get rolling by 5:30!! There were not too many eyepieces this year, but there were some to be had. There was little glass for the pusher this time (this varies from year to year), and some binoculars, filters, cooling fans, and other scope components. There were even some complete scopes and OTAs available of all types! I can kick myself for not picking up a pair of Ultima 8X56 binoculars I looked through, as they were very well made, lite weight, and gave very sharp images!!
After leaving the swap meet, I started walking through the observing field and ran into Al Nagler. Al had one of his newer prototype scopes set up. It was a 102mm F8.6 which has a shortened tube optimizing it for his binoviewer. This scope was also set up with his new 60 degree terrestrial right side up (but reversed left to right) 99% dielectric diagonal. He also showed me a great new addition to the Panoptic line, a shortened 24 mm Panoptic that weighs about a half a pound. They should be available in November!! Through the 102mm F8.6 I was treated to a great view of the sun with the filter, as solar granulation and flares were very distinct, and almost in 3D with the binoviewer-wow! He had the scope set up on a Vixen Great Polaris mount, since Al is now an authorized Vixen representative in the States. We had a very nice conversation, and Al who is so giving to the astronomical community (He donated over $5,000 worth in eyepieces for the raffle-of course I did not win!!), had an interesting story for me. He was telling me of a star party he attended, and a young girl around 10 was looking through his scope, she was very impressed with the images and told him that yes he is right this scope indeed had "Almost Perfect Optics" while looking at the word APO on his scope! His cute little 7 year old Granddaughter, Allison, was with him and she most enthusiastically was showing me her little "pink" Vixen scope. Boy do I wish Al was my Grand Dad!!
Making the long walk yet again up to Breezy Hill, where the scopes are now setup for the mechanical, and craftsmanship part of the telescope competition, gives you a bit of time to ponder. So, what makes Stellafane this Shrine that people from all over flock to attend. Heck, we had visitors from Poland, The Ukraine and even Germany attend this years convention. I guess the specialness of Stellafane was nicely summed up by David Levy during his Shadowgram presentation. About 15 years ago, David ran into Roger Tuthill at the Riverside convention. Noting that Roger looked somewhat down, David inquired as to what was troubling him. Roger Tuthill said, "I am really tired of the traveling to all these star parties, with packing and unpacking our products, the long tiresome traveling, that this will be the last star party that I attend". Well David was a little taken back, he said "Roger you mean you are not going to attend Riverside, or the Texas star party, and The Winter Star party, and what about Stellafane". Roger gasped for words and said, David those are just star parties, but "Stellafane is Stellafane, its in a whole class to itself". Yes he is right, their is magic here, its all around, the scenery, the friendships, the willingness to share knowledge with fellow telescope makers, the patience shown to the budding telescope maker, and yes the history, what other star party had the likes of Russell Porter, Robert E. Cox, Walter Scott Houston, or Roger Tuthill!!
Once at the judging field, which surrounds the Pink clubhouse area, you are just awestruck by the number of telescopes, their designs, beauty, and craftsmanship. Since time and space are limited, here is only a small sampling of what was here.
I ran into Glen Burke from Newton, New Jersey with his beautiful 4 and 1/8" F15 refractor. Glenn purchased the Jaeger's lens at a Stellafane swap meet a couple years back for $175. The OTA was beautifully finished using wood made of ¾ inch thick Poplar, trimmed with Brass seams called Lead came, which was obtained from a Stain Glass supply house. This is very malleable and self adhesive to the tube, with a covering of thin brass plate. The tube has 5 baffles inside, the white finder scope was finished in Brass using a thin material similar to kick plate. He also finished the homemade counterweight (a can filled with lead), with this thin Brass material. The tripod is made also with 1" x 2" Poplar, in which he used a router to round off the edges, and has dowel rods connecting the two pieces of 1x2 making a very strong triangular shaped leg, similar to the design of a crutch. Each of the three sets of legs are attached to the tripod head adapter which is made by gluing three 3/4" pieces of Poplar together. The EQ head uses a 1.25" stainless steel shaft obtained through McMaster-Carr supply. Pill Block bearings are used in the RA and Dec shafts. Glenn told me the optics are excellent with very little false color. A very fine example of a long focus refractor.
One of the most well designed scopes which fits like a glove for personal use, was the comet hunting "dual Reverse Dobsonian" scope made by Shigeru Hayashi. Originally from Japan, he migrated to the USA around 20 years ago, and for the last 13 years resides in Connecticut. There are two separate telescopes on this mount (please see the photos). On top is a 5" F6 Astrophysics Starfire EDF which gives a 3 degree FOV with a 35mm Panoptic eyepiece. On the bottom is a 6" F6 Newtonian which contains a mirror made by the famous Japanese Comet hunter, Ikeya. This give a 2.3 degree FOV with the 35mm Panoptic. The beauty of the scope is obvious. Mr. Hayashi can be seated very comfortably while searching for comets. The eyepiece position is kept near the center of his body by having the trunion bearings located higher then normal, therefore the center of gravity is high, and the arc of the OTA while moving in altitude, will always be at a comfortable height to observe, while seated. The telescope also contains a Dob Driver-II, and a SkyVector Digital setting circle, which is important for recording the exact R.A. and Declination of an object in question. The azimuth bearing uses a smooth stainless steel plate in place of ebony star Formica, and three ball bearings (Two of which are fixed) in place of the usual 3 fixed Teflon pads. The third bearing is placed in contact with the Dob Drivers azimuth disengagement bolt. The 10" altitude bearings utilize a smooth Formica, and rollers (similar to drawer rollers) in place of Teflon. The scope has ultra smooth movement in both axis when disengaged from the Dob Driver. An excellent homemade accessory was found at each eyepiece end. A box made of cardboard, flocking paper, and attached with duct tape, stands out from the eyepiece. Since Mr. Hayashi requires long observing sessions, he feels he must have his eyes equally dilated and relaxed. This simple device allows him to place his head inside this box (see pictures), keeping both eyes opened and relaxed while observing through the eyepiece. Extraneous light is thus inhibited from entering his eyes. He put a lot of thought into this design, and we can only wish him success in discovering his first comet.
It seems that refractors are not only making a comeback in mass-production, but also by amateur telescope makers. Mike Hill of Marlboro, Massachusetts, brought his 6" F15 scope. The lens also is a Jaeger's, mounted in an aluminum irrigation pipe for his OTA. The tube contains a total of 6 baffles, four being close to the eyepiece end, while the other two toward the objective end. This is a big scope mounted on a Equatorial Fork Mount. The one disadvantage with a Fork mount is he can never reach total true North. He built the circuit for the stepper motor drive, that is set for sidereal rate with out any adjustments. His normal way of observing is attaching the OTA to a bracket that he built into the wall on the side of his house, in which he can look up to zenith and down to the horizon, but again this setup prevents him from observing the whole sky. The heavy duty tripod was built about three years ago for portability.
Two school teachers Kelly Jons from Chardon, Ohio and Gene Zajac from Macedonia, OH, each decided on building two Herschelian scopes. Each scope is a 2/3 replica of the famous 7 foot telescope William Herschel used in discovering the planet Uranus in 1781. Kelly and Gene are not furniture makers, or wood workers, but decided to take on the task of making this exact 2/3 replica. Kelly said that since he has such an interest in the history of astronomy and telescopes (He is a member of the Antique Telescope Society), and that Herschel was quite an interesting man who loved music and astronomy, that this would be a great project to excite his school students. Not only will he be able to discuss the history of astronomy, but he can talk about music and the mechanics of pulley systems, which was the forte of those times. The alt-Az motion of the scope is based on pulleys and cranks. The rough azimuth motion is to move the scope around on its casters. The altitude has two different motions, one in front by the use of a pull bar with up and down motion, and in the back frame via use of a pulley rope and crank system. For fine adjustment, looking toward the eyepiece end of the frame, there are two crank systems and a gear box, one with very fine up and down movement, and the other to move slowly left to right. The optics are homemade 4"F14 spherical mirrors. There is a trap door in the back of the tube to reach the mirror. All the wood is made from solid Mahogany, it took a few hundred hours to finish the scope. Plans were obtained by contacting the William Herschel House Museum in Bath, England. Kelly was sent a CD that had pictures of the telescope with some scaled drawings. A most exquisite and finely crafted replica.
A very interesting scope was made by Stephen Lieber of Rockaway Point, New York. As Stephen would say, "this scope isn't pretty but it does what its intended to do, observe". Well Steve made the whole scope out in his yard, since he has no workshop or basement, by using common tools such as a circular saw, router, and drill. He wanted something big, lightweight and transportable. He got the design idea from Steven Oberholdt. The 17.5" F5.5 mirror was a Coulter 1.5" thick Pyrex blank that was generated to an F4.5 curve. He ground and polished the mirror in his living room to an F5.5 curve, but he admits he needed help from some friends for the final figure. The square shape upper cage assembly is made of 1/2" by 1/16" thick welded aluminum for light weight. He used an Astrosystems spider and crayford focuser. The 8 truss tubes are 1" by 0.035" thick T6061 aluminum. The oversized side bearings are over two inches thick and are a sandwich of 3/8" plywood with 1.5" Styrofoam board glued between the plywood. Its made super stiff by the addition of three tie rods that connect the two sideboards with the rocker box. The mirror cell is based on Tom Clark's Tectron design, he used a Novack cell and modified it with a sling assembly. The mirror cell is attached to the mirror box not only in the back with the three metal "C" channels, but also to the top of the mirror box for extra stiffness, with the whole mirror box acting as a beam. The scope moves very smoothly in both azimuth and altitude. Steve's purpose was to show people that a large scope can be made without high end power tools, and high tech workshops.
Joe Dechene of Nashua, New Hampshire constructed an awesome Split Ring equatorial, housing a 14.5" F4.37 Discovery mirror, which only took 3 months to be delivered. Lets get right to it, Joe is quite happy with his Discovery mirror, stating he not only gets very good deep sky views, but also very good planetary images as well. This scope has incorporated many fine features to enhance this mirror, a rotating upper cage assembly which contains 12 semicircular internal light baffles, mounted on the opposite side of his very smooth homemade 2" crayford focuser, to help increase contrast. He also blackened the mirrors edge to decrease unwanted reflected stray light, incorporated two muffin fans, with one blowing air across the mirror removing the "air lens" that so often degrades our images, and an exhaust fan in the back. The 8 truss tubes are spring connected, so when they are removed in disassembling the telescope, all pieces are easily stored together. They are attached with 4 captive screws on the cage end, and quick connectors on the mirror end. The rough weight of the OTA is 95 pounds, while the base and split ring weigh in about 25 lbs. The 18 point mirror cell is also homemade using the David Plop program for point placement, and the mirror collimation is done via a knob inside the mirror box, which interfaces the mirror cell, so its easy to collimate from the front while looking at the mirrors reflection of the beam from the laser collimator. The Upper cages two rings are made of 1/2" Baltic Birch, with 1/16th inch base wood for the cage sides. The whole scope is just polyurethaned to allow the natural stain of the wood to show through. The base is made with 1/4" regular plywood which easily bends to form the base curve. He made it in a box formation (upper and lower portion, and the two sides using the ¼ inch plywood) by using 4" wide strips for stiffness. The split ring is made with an outer skin of 1/4" Baltic Birch, overlying a double thickness of 3/4" annular ring Baltic Birch. He also incorporated an automatic clutch system that engages the motor with a stepper feed reduction system made of 3 axles, and two "Roller Blade" wheels. This engages the roller on the split ring via this successive reduction feature. His plan is doing astrophotography, with CCD imaging as his final goal. This is certainly one well thought out and designed telescope, keeping portability in mind!
The last scope is a first place winner in the under 12" mirror category. Its a beautifully constructed simple dobsonian design, named The "Emerald" by my fellow DVAA (Delaware Valley Amateur Astronomy) member and President, Marilyn Michalski. Her goal was to make a scope with first rate optics "The heart of her scope" , but also to make the "outer" scope to be as beautiful and elegant as its internal heart. Rough grinding began in August of 1997 after the purchase of the 10" Mirror kit from Willmann-Bell. Many hours of rough grinding, thorough cleanup and extra time in the sequential stages of fine grinding, utilizing 5 micron as the last stage, which produces a very smooth, spherical, finely ground surface. Her goal was an F7 mirror, but the actual focal length was F6.71. Polishing began in June of 1998, and after many hours of slow thorough polishing, Focault testing, and figuring zonal problems, the mirror finally reached a smooth sphere by October. The first attempt at parabolizing resulted in over correction of the outer zones, so the long process of returning to a sphere began. It was not till March of 1999 was the mirror a sphere once again. Parabolizing went very smoothly from that point on. A series of Foucault readings with a five-zone mask were plugged into the ADMIR program, which indicated the mirror was 1/19th wave. This was a joyful moment for her and everyone in the Telescope-Making class!
We celebrated by pulling out the cork of a champagne bottle! The scopes OTA is from a Parks Fiberglass tube and Marilyn had it professionally painted at an auto body shop. She choose the "Emerald" color of the 1999 Cadillac Seville. Thus, the name "Emerald Scope". Plans for the dobsonian mount were obtained from Barry Peckham of LITEBOX TELESCOPES in Hawaii. A professional carpenter did the cut outs and construction, and Marilyn sanded, stained ( using her own mixture to make a cherry stain, with a 1:1 combination of Minwax Colonial Maple and Red Oak), and polyurethaned. She also lined the inside of the tube with black velvet, which dramatically increases contrast by reducing stray light, and utilizes a very smooth JMI NGF-1 focuser. This scope is as great to look at, as well as to look through. Rarely do you get that combination, this is one awesome telescope.
After checking out the scopes we all went to our now favorite Pizza and Family Restaurant, in Springfield. They load you up with great tasting food, very friendly service, and outstanding prices (leaves you with that extra money to shop at the swap tables!). We rushed back to the convention to get ready for the Saturday Evening Program on the hillside amphitheater. But with incredibly blue skies above, I knew we would not sit through the whole program. "Big Bob" Morse of the STMs was the master of ceremonies. It is here that the awards are presented to the very anxious telescope makers who entered their scopes in the competition, Marilyn and myself included. But first the raffle, and some very fortunate people won some excellent prizes, especially the those who won Al Nagler's special door prizes that averaged between $1000 to $1600 each. Each year "Big Bob" finds out who the youngest and oldest attendee is, this year it was John Dobson (87) and David Levy's grandson 10 months old. Then the announcements for the winners of the telescope competition, first the mechanical, then craftsmanship, and special awards, then, finally, the optics. We were holding our breath. They always announce the awards in reverse order. Marilyn deservedly won first place for optical excellence in the under 12.5", and I luckily won first place in the 12.5 and over group. You can't imagine our excitement, especially when Rick Hunter (one of the optical judges) announced after handing out the awards, how excellent our scopes are, and for people to go over to the pink club house area to observe through our scopes which happened to be set up next to each other! We sat and listened to David Levy's Shadowgram, in which he made a tribute to the wit of Walter Scott Houston, the deep love that Roger Tuthill had for Stellafane, and also to the specialness of Stellafane, the best of all the star parties!!! UNFORTUNATELY we did not stay to hear the great talk from Dr. Shoemaker, but at Stellafane clear skies are on the rare side, so when opportunity came knocking, we jumped at the chance to observe!!
The STM's really deserve a ton of credit for the work they do. They really do start the day after the convention to get ready for the following year. Many subtle improvements were made this year to increase our enjoyment. One of which is to have those camping with RV's to come a day earlier to find a spot and set up. If your not a camper, you can't imagine what this means to those that do, its an outstanding idea, and I for one will be willing to bring my RV back up to Stellafane. As usual, the food was great, the people were friendly, the star party went smoothly, ideas were shared amongst all, and, for a change, the skies were clear and the Perseids were lighting up the sky. It just doesn't get any better then this. As a side note it was a personal pleasure meeting Carolyn Shoemaker, as she really enjoyed attending her first Stellafane! See you all next year, the first weekend in August.
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