We Observe by Anthony Mallama

 Indian Hill

We Observe by A. Mallama
1 Youthful Enthusiasm
2 The Moon and Vietnam
3 The Observing Dynasty
Public Awareness
Indian Hill
What Now?

Updated January 18, 2002

16 Inch Stokes Reflector at Indian Hill Observatory

The 16" Stokes Reflector

 Special Photos:
November 2001 Aurora
November 18 Leonid Meteors


The public awareness efforts of the mid 1970's led to the project to build Indian Hill Observatory as discussed below. The observatory project is described in a Valley Skywatcher article by Bob Petti. As secretary during those years, Bob did an excellent job of recording progress on the Hill. His article is reproduced below up to the point where actual construction of the building began.

Secretary's Notebook

"Looking back over the past year of activity in C.V.A.S., it's easy to note that the most significant event of 1983 was the official opening of the observatory at Indian Hill, home of the club's gargantuan 16-inch F7 Newtonian reflector...

"The dedication of Indian Hill Observatory on September 10, 1983 at the Ohio Turnpike Astronomers Association (O.T.A.A.) convention hosted by C.V.A.S., showed all interested that years of promises, planning and effort paid off in the long run.


"It all began in May 1978 at a local Camp Burton star party where dreams were discussed and a surprise offer of acreage for lease was proposed by Mr. Keith Richards, an acquaintance. In August and September 1978, an amendment to the club constitution was passed creating the office of Observatory Director, to which Tony Mallama was elected, with Ian Cooper assisting. Previously in August at the Mahoning Valley O.T.A.A. convention, C.V.A.S. failed in its final bidding on a Draper 6 inch F15 retractor planned for the first observatory instrument. This led to the purchase of Mr. Stokes' homemade 16-inch Newtonian previously used in photometric applications, another rare opportunity. In October, a volunteer Observatory Committee was formed to assist the Director.

"By year's end, clearing the woods for a driveway and parking lot was the first order of business. The driveway, once part of a cliff, was then formed with earthmoving equipment, the first large expense paid for by generous donations by the serious membership. A tree cutting and brush clearing project was initiated at the hilltop of what came to be known as Indian Hill, named after the suspected Indian fire pits found around the site. Cut and split wood was sold as firewood logs for fund raising in support of the project. Designs were considered for the observatory building, roll-off roof design being the preferred type.


"The 16-inch mounting and mirror cell underwent repair, cleaning and sandblasting. The mirror was sent to Tony Mallama in Maryland for inspection and re-aluminizing. Monthly work sessions at the site were now commonplace. First observations with portable telescopes were made. Angle-iron roof rails for the sliding roof were acquired and an additional building was proposed for the natural sciences center by Keith Richards... The Committee hired Mr. Adams to bulldoze the hilltop level, and remove stumps and debris. Log cutting and sales continued successfully. Gravel was delivered and laid along the driveway and parking lot. Drainage trenches were dug preserving the road. The first C.V.A.S. picnic was held at the site June 23-24, 1979. Geauga County approved the ecosystem for building. Optical components (the main nearly finished mirror) for a second club observatory Cassegrain type telescope of 12 1/2-inch aperture were donated by members. During autumn and winter, a survey of the area was completed and title transfer was discussed. Roll-off shed designs were still in vogue, a north-south building orientation preferred. Steel shafts and bearings were donated for the 12 1/2-inch companion Cassegrain and a retaining wall consisting of discarded rock debris was built surrounding the hilltop to prevent soil runoff. A building permit was acquired from the county.


"Under the direction of Director Doug Caprette, logs were now obtained from the backwoods area of the Richards property, which members were permitted to thin. Proceeds went to the club. Building dimensions were decided, and the cement pier was planned (designed after Stokes' original) and laid in August. Norm Oberle, well-known area optical designer and A.T.M. visited, suggesting his 31-inch Newtonian reflector could be installed at the observatory site as the primary instrument, yielding many times the light gathering efficiency of the 16-inch. His proposal failed, due to perceived space limitations... Autumn and winter marked the first fund raising raffle, and provisions were made preparing the motor clockdrive, which turned into a bigger project than originally thought.

Addenda to Bob's Notes

I would only add the following to the secretary's notes. Dan Rothstein did a tremendous amount of work from the beginning until the end of the project. Indeed Dan also served as self-described "slave driver" threatening, coercing, and shaming other members into doing their share of work. Secondly, Ian Cooper was more than just an assistant director, and went on to be Director himself. Lastly, the choice of the Stokes telescope seems correct in hindsight. A 6-inch F15 refractor would have been too small since almost everyone in the club had a 6-inch or larger telescope by this time. A 31-inch probably would have stretched the resources of the club beyond the breaking point.

A New Member Steps Forward

In 1974, the annual Riverside Star party attracted Doug Caprette. He was deeply impressed with the view of M13 through Denny Jefferson's 12 1/2 inch as well as other sights, and soon joined the club. For the first few years, his participation was limited because he was a student at Bowling Green University; however, in 1980 he became a leader in the Indian Hill project. The following information is from the interview tape I made with Doug, and has been paraphrased slightly to convert from conversation style to written style. We pick up the narrative with the construction of the pier.


"We wanted to finish the pier as a landmark accomplishment for the OTAA meeting. There was a disagreement between me and Dan Rothstein over where exactly to locate the pier and building. I wanted it about ten feet further south, but Dan was concerned that the dirt there had been disturbed by the bulldozer. I knew about the dirt but I also knew that it was only two feet deep whereas we were going nearly four feet deep for the foundation. Dan and others had already begun digging the previous week. I spent about 45 minutes preparing myself to argue with Dan about moving the building. I won the fight, and as a result we now have a better view to the north.

"We started the hole for the pier the week-end before the meeting. We dug it by hand and carried up sand, gravel and water from below by hand. Keith had found someone who donated the sand and gravel. Dan and I had made the forms for the pier at my house, based on the dimensions of the pier at Stokes' observatory, and scaled down slightly. We built the pier in two stages. We put a 3 x 3 x 3 foot block totally underground, and left the reinforcement bar sticking up from that. We finished up the next Tuesday night. Earl Paulin was up there; he was more active in the early stages. Earl figured out how to hold the forms together, and nailed them. We got up near the top of the forms and ran out of cement. I reached in and removed a bucket of cement. We stuck in a big rock, then replaced the cement up to the top. I estimate that the pier weighs about 6000 pounds, and it was all carried up the Hill by hand.


"We had a trench dug for the foundation by Harold Adams, who has done all the bulldozer and heavy work like that. Then we had cement delivered for the footer. It was a hot day, over 90 degrees, and humid. The cement truck driver suggested mixing extra water with the cement so that it would flow better. This would help because he was not able to reach all parts of the trench with his truck. The problem, which we didn't realize at that time, was that it also caused the cement to harden faster. Dan, Bob Petti and I tried to level it by pushing it along with our shovels. We were working like crazy trying to get the cement leveled before it set. It was starting to set up on us, and I remember looking up from where I was working.

Dan was loosing his senses from the heat. I asked him where Bob was. Dan replied that Bob was leaned up against a tree recovering from heat exhaustion. Bob is someone who will work himself to death, putting so much effort into it. "We got the cement pretty level before it set up on us. It was kind of disappointing though. You could tell there were obvious low spots. Later we bought some cement block shards to level it. Steve Fishman arranged for some masons to come out to install the cement blocks, which we had delivered to the Hill in station wagons and a pickup truck. The mason put in three tiers of blocks, and we finished by putting on the fourth tier.


"At this point, we were ready to carry out construction of the building from designs we had prepared. My grandfather's business associate, George Englehart, helped with the plans. The club had decided from the start to make a roll-off roof observatory, and I spent two evenings working with George Englehart on the details. I drew up the actual plans from sketches we did together. I stayed up all night for two nights drawing the detailed plans. Around this time, I visited Norm Oberle's observatory, which was of a similar construction, having the roll-off roof sliding over another room. It helped to see an actual finished building of this design that had worked out successfully.

"Ian's carpenter friend, Bernie, came out the day we put up the frame walls. He showed us how to put the stud walls together on the ground. We finished them and lifted them into place. The long wall with no doorways was so heavy that it took all 12 of the people working on the Hill that day to lift it into place, and we just barely got it up. That first day, we had all the walls up, and it gave us a great sense of accomplishment. That was a Saturday, on the next day we built the roof of the warm-up room, and then we all got up on the roof to have our meeting.

"The next week-end, we put up the rails which were angle-iron welded to steel plates. We left the lag bolts for the rails loose until we had a chassis built for the roll-off roof. Then we rolled the chassis on and off once to align the rails and then tightened the lag bolts.

"Building the roll-off roof took a couple of weekends because the hips were complicated by lots of odd angles. My sketches of that part were crude, and in fact what we built was not exactly what our plans showed. The second hip was different than the first because we learned from building the first.

"Ed Winslow had been working with us throughout all the carpentry. He had carpentry experience. (Bernie was only with us the first day because he had other paying jobs, and I can't fault him for that.) Without Ed we would have probably never have gotten the rest of the building finished. He knew the right way to do everything, including roofing and flashing. We owe a lot to Ed. The building is a lot sounder than it would have been without him.

"We finished the floors during the winter.


"Not long before the dedication, we were ready to mount the equatorial head on the pier. We put a block and tackle on the roll-off roof and used it as a crane. The telescope tube was painted by Earl, and then it was bolted to its saddle on the ground. Several people picked it up and put it on the equatorial head. We finished the telescope, except putting in the mirror, the week before the dedication.

"During that week, Bob Petti, Denny Jefferson, Dave Radcliff, and I put the mirror in its cell, and put the cell in the tube. That night was clear and Bob, Dave and I decided to get 'first light'. It took all three of us because the telescope was not well balanced. One person had to hold the counterweight, the second had to hold the mirror end of the tube, and the third had to stack up cement blocks to get to the eyepiece. In order to take turns looking through the eyepiece, we had to plan ahead and walk our way around the telescope, so that it would not get away from us.

"We looked at Jupiter first, and it was disappointing because the night was a little turbulent. Next we looked at M-11. We had to observe objects that were not too high because we didn't want to pile the cement blocks up too high. M-11 convinced us that it was worth all the effort. There was no doubt after that.

M-22 was also most impressive. Keith and his daughter, Kim, joined us later that night.

"The morning of the dedication Ed was out there and he fixed the clutches on the right ascension and declination axes. We adjusted the weighting so that it was possible to observe using the clutches. I brought my father's aluminum step- ladder.

We used my Sky Micro Regular focuser on the side of the tube, since we did not have the 2-inch focuser yet. It made access to some position of the sky easier. For example, zenith was easier then, but it was more difficult in other parts.

"That night was incredible. It was late in the year (September). We had a warm, steady breeze blowing all night, so it was T-shirt weather. The air was very steady. We had some very, very good views. We had a case of champagne. Just about

everybody in the club was there. We had a whole assembly of people out on the lawn for the dedication speeches. Of course, Art Stokes was there, and we had a wonderful star party that night."

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