PCW Memorial Observatory -
An Observatory Experience
Custom Built by Backyard Observatories, May 2007
Well Backyard Observatories ( www.backyardobservatories.com
did it again. Number 87!
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
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
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
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
I need to build some shelves as well, but there's just so
much to get caught up on, I think the shelves may have to wait.
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 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.
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
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.
And break time. That looks like a tuckered out Kenny.
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.
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
I've got Big John collimated and ready to go! Woohoo,
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
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
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,
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’,
Time to roll the roof closed, smile at the scopes resting peacefully, and call
it a night.