Jump to content


* * * * *

Fairhavens Observatory: The Story

Discuss this article in our forums

Fairhavens Observatory:  The Story

Graphical user interface, website

Description automatically generated


Perhaps at the root of all amateur astronomer’s dreams is to one day have a permanent observatory.  All those hours of driving, setting up equipment, tearing it down at zero-dark thirty can sometimes just suck the joy out of our hobby. 

After I retired from Steward Observatory Mirror Lab I wanted just that; my own observatory.  I could afford the equipment, but the years were catching up on me and it had almost become a necessity without downsizing all the equipment I had worked so hard and saved to acquire.

At that particular time I had completed a thirty-year military career, a BS, and nearly ten years at the Mirror Lab.  The wife and I had bought a beautiful home in the suburbs as a retirement home, and everything seemed stable.  Then I got the “bug”.

Shortly after, we sold our home in Tucson and bought a few acres close to a small desert town some forty miles east of Tucson.  It already had a good well and a nice, but small, mobile home.  It never occurred to me that I was nearly sixty-five years old at the time.  All I could see was my own observatory and beautiful night skies to explore.

This is the story of how “Fairhavens” (the name of my observatory) came to be.  My life style was never one that required planning:  It was a reactionary type of life.  As an enlisted soldier I only followed somebody else’s plans and ideas.  But now I was in the situation that I had to actually plan.

Already having most of the gear I needed, the building took priority.  I split the project into segments.   I did minimal research on the land and found out that every year during the Arizona monsoon season the water would run up to eight inches deep across my property.  The  easiest solution of pouring a flat slab certainly wasn’t going to work, so I decided to construct an elevated floor to stay above the flood waters.  Of course, that necessitated a permanent mounting for the two piers I wanted.  The dimension of the footprint would be ten feet by twelve feet with a roll-off roof.  I simply laid out some 2 x 4’s as a rough reference.  The plan being that I would then dig holes at the location for each pier and use rebar and concrete to support the piers and dug the holes.


A picture containing outdoor, old, stone

Description automatically generated


I visited a scrap metal yard in Tucson and acquired a pair of six foot long ¼” thick, 6 inch diameter used well casings.  I had circular ½”, 12” diameter plates welded to one end of the pipe.  At that point I had no idea how long those pipes would have to be to attach the telescope mount at the proper height so I left them longish.  It was essential to keep the piers vertical while pouring the concrete so I fashioned a “jig” to hold them steady.


A picture containing ground, outdoor, field, desert

Description automatically generated


After completing the mounting concrete base, the piers were mounted, measured, cut to proper height, and had flanges welded on top so the telescope mounts could be adjusted for accuracy.


A picture containing outdoor, grass, sky, ground

Description automatically generated


Keeping the piers vertical would be a problem.  I remembered one of the lessons pounded into my Infantry brain back at the lab that three points forms a plane.  So, I had three ¾” holes drilled exactly 120 degrees apart in the bottom flange.  I then used ¾” 24” long J bolts fastened to the plates and extending down into the hole where they would be secured by concrete and rebar.


I had two piers placed where I wanted them with three anchor bolts to adjust their vertical aspect.  Now I needed to work on the actual floor of the observatory.  I decided on a subfloor leveled on concrete blocks.





A picture containing ground, outdoor, building material, dirt

Description automatically generated


The subfloor was covered with two layers of ¾” CDX plywood


A picture containing outdoor, ground, grass, field

Description automatically generated


As is evident from the picture, the 24” J bolts extended up from the concrete base to the base flange could then be adjusted.  The holes in the floor to allow the concrete to extend above the floor level had a ½” spacing so vibration from the floor would not be transmitted to the piers.  It should be noted that each pier base consisted of 9 yards of hand mixed concrete honeycombed with 24 feet of 5/8ths inch rebar.  Clearly, they were not going anywhere!





Now it was time to start on the walls.  I used standard 2x4 framing techniques and drilled holes to accommodate wiring later.


A building under construction

Description automatically generated with low confidence


I used 5/8th “ T111 siding that was fastened by screws to the framed walls.


A picture containing outdoor, sky, trailer

Description automatically generated





Next came the most difficult aspect of the building: the roof.  Since I intended to have a roll-off type roof I had doubled the header for the frame wall using liquid nails and screws to hold the top two header boards together.  The top header board was 2x6”.  The cost of 4x6” straight lumber was prohibitive so I constructed my own by bonding two 2x4’s together.


Birds on a roof

Description automatically generated with medium confidence


At this point I made my first BIG error.  I should have paid for the 4x6 beams.  Second, I should have used 90 degree angled runners and steel wheels.  In stead of the rubber wheels and “C” channel.


My design proved to be a major problem once the roof was built.  Not being an engineer, I had not factored the weight of the roof which was way too much for the type roller system I used.  I later replaced the steel channel with upside down 90 degree rail and replaced the rubber wheels with steel ones.  That alone would have been a nice correction except it changed all the measurements.  Essentially, I started over.





The last major building structure was the support system for the open roof.  Again, I had used the wrong steel channel and replaced it with the angle.  All of the height measurements were changed less than one inch, which proved to be a real problem.


A building under construction

Description automatically generated with low confidence


It was now time to populate the structure.  Over the next few years I had a variety of telescopes that kept me occupied.





A picture containing person, indoor, telescope

Description automatically generated  A space shuttle on a launch pad

Description automatically generated with low confidence A picture containing floor, indoor, bathroom

Description automatically generated  A picture containing floor, indoor, telescope, black

Description automatically generated


A short time later, my wife of 50 years suffered kidney failure and needed a transplant.  I sold all of my equipment and property and moved back into town to the very neighborhood we left in the beginning.  So, I am downsizing to an AVX and smaller scope.  A sense of humor really helps.


  • Bob Campbell, Mike McShan, Moravianus and 20 others like this


Hey Bob, give me a call at 619 518 5568 if you want to talk.  Sounds like we have lots in common.


    • Bob Campbell likes this

Thank you all for the comments.  My wife is doing fine, though now in a wheelchair.  I recently started gathering my new smaller rig which is comprised of an 8" RC on an AVX mount.  I'm 75 now with years to come.  It's been a rough few years, but my wonderful wife of 55 years is healthy and we are doing well.  All in all, it's been a real character builder with no complaints.

you are a wonderful person...God Bless you sir for being such a wonderful husband and for the years of serving in our nations military..  i wish you were my neighbor.. 

    • Bob Campbell likes this
Bob Campbell
Oct 10 2021 05:58 PM

Hey Bob, give me a call at 619 518 5568 if you want to talk.  Sounds like we have lots in common.


Hi Pat


I'd like that a lot. Right now is not a good time family-wise, but if and when this improves, I would love to chat.


Best wishes and CS



you are a wonderful person...God Bless you sir for being such a wonderful husband and for the years of serving in our nations military..  i wish you were my neighbor.. 

Thank you so much for the kind words.  Betty and I have been best friends for over 55 years.  Without that, not much would have mattered.



Thank you for sharing your journey...


We are all better for walking down the path with you...


Made my day...



    • rjaszcz likes this

Thank you sir for the informative, entertaining, and inspiring article. So glad to know your lovely wife is doing better. I wish her prompt and complete recovery, and tell het that you two are an inspiration to me and my wife. We hope to reach the milestone you two have already reached (we just had our 30th anniversary). We have been thinking on moving to the Tucson area for some time (currently in Idaho). Hope we have a chance to meet you both one of these days. Thank you for your service and clear skies!

We've never been to Idaho, but I will guarantee you will love Tucson.  Please contact me if you decide to come this way!  Thank you for the kind comments as well.


Clear Skies,


    • desper0 likes this

That's a really good solution that I have used in the past.  Unfortunately, I am a 100% disabled Vet with some really yucky shoulders (Airborne).  In fact, I'm getting a shoulder replacement in a few weeks.  So having a permanent spot is kind of a necessity.  I've got some plans underway that utilize an "Observatory Tent".  I will probably do an article on that if it works out okay.  Where there's a will, there's a way.



I love my new wheeley bar.  I bought a house that is wonderful; but not very conducive to astronomy... I'm still young and not broke enough I can push it around.  But, there is a solution for it if you want it. 


If you can find some help to assemble it, those plastic sheds can be converted pretty readily for simple operations.  Maybe consider one of those 'planetary' cameras for EAA so you can let your wife enjoy the show too.

Cloudy Nights LLC
Cloudy Nights Sponsor: Astronomics