Fairhavens Observatory: The OTHER Story
By Patrick Stevenson
My previous article was an overview of Fairhavens, my first dedicated observatory, along with its untimely demise. It is now five years later and I am ready to try again. As is revealed in my first article, the wife and I had to move back into town (Tucson) as a result of a medical problem (Kidney transplant) that required she be closer to a hospital, and a legion of doctors. She is much better now and, other than a wheelchair, is destined for a normal life, albeit in the aforementioned town.
I have downsized my new astrophotography gear to a Celestron AVX mount with an Orion 8” Ritchey Chretien telescope. Because of my own problems (I am really old and bent) I needed to find a way to permanently mount my gear outside. BTW, my favorite quote is by Keith Richards (You old guys remember him) when he said, “If I’d a known I was gonna’ live this long I woulda’ taken better care of my body!”. So, the search began. The ground in the backyard of my rented home was not a typical hard-baked smooth adobe typical of Arizona surface, but rather a mix of gravel, rocks, weeds, and bugs.
Being a rental home I could not build a permanent structure (I couldn’t afford one anyway). So, I started looking for a temporary structure that would protect my gear from the elements and still leave room to move about. First place I always go is Cloudy Nights classifieds and looked under Observatories. Of course, anything I could have used was already sold. I then went to Amazon and found this gem.
It became a candidate when I found the price to be less than $300. Planning began in earnest and I bought it sight-unseen. My planning was no different than pretty much all of my previous projects, the key word being ADAPT!
As is typical of unimproved Arizona dirt there was the attendant population of “Goatheads”. For those not initiated, a goathead is a disgusting little weed seed that consisted of a tiny ball populated by an abundance of spikes sticking out. They gleefully stick to the soles of your shoes only to be easily dislodged in your carpet. The simplest (cheapest) way to form a barrier is “Pea gravel”.
I decided to dig a foundation to contain the gravel during our Monsoon rains here in Arizona and started the digging. The depth of the walkway was determined by the hardness of the dirt.
The tent dome was eight feet in diameter and had four entry doors. For a few consecutive nights I stood in the backyard like a Do-Do bird at night with my eyes about telescope level to locate the center of the eight-foot diameter tent and drove a spike into the ground to mark the center.
I then marked a three-foot walkway from the back patio to the edge of the eight- foot scribed tent footprint and began digging.
In case I had not mentioned previously, I was a Psych Major so had little or no math background. That, by the way, was a bit of a hindrance. During my years working in the Mirror Lab at Steward Observatory I gained the rudiments. I took my two-dimensional sketches to the local landscape yard and had them calculate how much gravel I would need at three inched deep. It worked out to be about one and a half tons. Seemed like a lot to me but I figured if it were too much I could find somewhere else to use it.
I thought that digging the walkway and eight-foot circle was a big enough problem until a large dump-truck showed up and vomited a stack of pea gravel on my driveway. Umm, how do I get it to the back yard? Ace Hardware is only a few blocks distant, so I ran down there and bought a flat-nosed shovel and the cheapest wheelbarrow they had. At that point it still had not occurred to me exactly who was going to pilot the wheelbarrow. At that moment the light went on over my head and I remembered that my thirty-five year-old son was living with me temporarily!
He is a great asset in many ways. But having spent a substantial amount of time in Iraq as a Light Infantryman, his back was not in great shape. So, between the both of us, it took a few hours to move and level the gravel.
I was beginning to smell victory at this point. Actually it was just Tylenol. The work ended long before the day and we retired to the den with ice water, a ceiling fan, a couple of Tylenol and a wide-screen TV.
It was time now to start assembling the observatory tent. The floor of the tent was heavy fabric but still needed to be protected from the pointed feet of the mount. Back to ACE where I bought three concrete fence caps to use for protecting the mount feet from puncturing the tent floor by sinking into the pea gravel.
I took my AVX mount outside and positioned it facing magnetic north using my cell phone. After getting it positioned, I slid the blocks under the legs and removed the mount. I scribed the position of each block and dug the pea gravel down to the hard earth and replaced the blocks while smoothing the pea gravel back to the edge of the blocks. I was now ready to install the tent. Since the tent has four access openings it was easy to orient the floor.
As you can see, I marked the position of each foundation block with yellow duct tape before placing the AVX mount inside the tent. From this view we are looking south with east to the left. Since east is my target area, I placed the tent facing this direction. As I mentioned previously, the stakes that came with the tent are the usual short aluminum sort that will work on wet lawn, but certainly not on desert dirt so I went back to Ace Hardware and bought a box of 12-inch-long heavy nails which worked perfectly. It was now time to start populating the tent.
As is evident, there is plenty of room for both the mount and the RC telescope. This structure will easily fit an 8 -inch f/4 reflector as well. The small table in the background supports my laptop, Ipad, and cases to store cameras in when not in use.
The Orion 8-inch RC height is adjusted to clear the edges of the tent walls so I have access to the east from nearly the horizon to the north and to the south.
The roof of the tent is a cap that is held in place by both velcro and nylon straps. It takes about five minutes to remove or replace the roof. Two days after finishing the project we had a late Monsoon storm roll through. There were high winds, lightening, and horizontal rain. The structure held up perfectly with no leaks or damage of any kind.
The total cost for the whole project was $450 and about a gallon of sweat (Arizona heat; it’s a dry heat)
Thanks for reading!
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