1947, a group of amateur astronomers, including George A. Carroll, Ernest R. Siefkin, and Jerome
B. White created The Association
of Amateur Astronomers (AAA) for the purpose
in the study of the history and science of Astronomy and Astrophysics,
operating a nonprofit organization holding scientific meetings,
and conducting research projects,
to assist in the dissemination of scientific knowledge pertaining
to Astronomy and Astrophysics
February 1957 - The members of the AAA, then numbering about
15 Southern California amateur astronomers,
each committed their time and resources to the completion of
an observatory that would house a major instrument for the benefit
of amateur astronomy.
Committee (EC) was formed to be responsible for various aspects
of the design and building of an observatory. The committee
was given authorization to call on any one of the members for
aid, information, or any assistance needed for fulfilling its
first EC consisted of Ernest (Easy) Sloman - Chairman, George A. Carroll - Chief Engineer, Eugene C. Larr - Optical Engineer, and Alan McClure - Expediter. The
other members of AAA would associate themselves into the divisions
of the EC, thus all members would have a significant part in
the completion of the overall project under the direction of
a primary accountable leader from the EC.
group reasoned that by focusing on the building of the telescope
first, the completed, or nearly-completed instrument would provide
credibility to the successful completion of the whole observatory
project. The telescope would serve as a beacon to attract new
persons (and funds) to the membership and would give other supporters
reason to invest in the project. This
initial insight would later prove to be a very important key
to the successful completion of Stony Ridge Observatory.
1957 - After obtaining advice from Dr.
Ira Bowen, Director of the Mt. Wilson Observatory, and Don
Hendrix, chief optician responsible for the final polishing of the Hale 200-inch mirror, Gene Larr suggested to the EC that a mirror of a focal
ratio of f/6, between 30 and 40 inches in diameter would
be appropriate for the design specifications of the new
telescope. Larr also had discussions with Dr. Bowen about the future observatory site being located somewhere on the grounds of the Mt. Wilson Observatory. Dr. Bowen, although initially accepting of the idea, said that their insurance policy could not permit the use of their site. Gene Larr had some friends and acquaintances who were professional astronomers and expressed an interest in joining the group. Although he never did join AAA/SRO, the famous Mt. Wilson/Palomar astronomer Alan Sandage did express his interest to join.
for 30- to 40-inch mirror blanks were obtained from the Corning
Glass works in Pennsylvania. An obsidian mirror blank that was available for sale at Tinsley Labs in northern California was also considered but was later rejected because of numerous
near-surface bubbles that would require extra work to grind
out. Ultimately an order to cast a 30.5-inch pyrex glass blank
was placed with Corning for a cost of $1425.
design and construction of the telescope was the responsibility
of George A. Carroll (1902-1987),
a pioneer aircraft designer and a well-known instrument and
telescope maker in Southern California.
the cost of the primary mirror known, George Carroll estimated
the total cost of the telescope to be $7500, or about $500 per member.
It was decided to increase the $5/month membership fee to $10/month
to help cover the cost of the telescope over 4 years.
1957 - Members not directly focused on the design and construction
of the telescope involved themselves with other aspects of the total project.
The selection of a suitable observatory site was being pursued
by Easy Sloman. On his short list was a 160-acre plot
privately owned by a friend of his near Chilao Flats in the
Angeles National Forest that might be available for lease, at
a cost of about $400/yr. However, 160 acres was certainly more area than needed for our observatory. Representatives
with the US Forest Service (USFS) indicated to Sloman that a
lease for $100/year could probably be made through a "Special
Use Permit" for USFS land that would satisfy our project
June 1957 - Carroll suggested that the estimate of $7500 for telescope was probably too high. An English mount, similar to the mount of the 100-inch telescope at Mt. Wilson, was proposed that could save 30% of the cost of a fork mount for the telescope. The fork mount prevailed because of its convenience of use.
1958 - Because of delays and some perceived shady negotiations
by Corning Glass, the EC canceled the Corning order and decided
to purchase a 30-inch mirror blank from the Hayward Scientific Company
in Whittier, CA.
1958 - Gene Larr reported that the 30-inch mirror blank from
Hayward Glass would be ready to be picked up in April. The cost
of the mirror blank was $1420, $5 less than the original estimate given to us a year earlier by Corning. He expressed the immediate need to start construction of a mirror-grinding machine. He and Roy Ensign had the materials to start its construction.
Larr, Sloman and Al Cram were asked to visit alternate sites for the location of the observatory suggested by the U.S. Forest Service (USFS), and to select one ASAP. Larr was authorized to negotiate with the USFS.
1958 - The mirror blank from Hayward was cast 2 inches too thick. After
assessing the issue and finding it unacceptable, Gene
Larr rejected the blank and instructed Hayward Glass to re-cast the
blank to our specifications.
1958 - After a thorough investigation of possible sites for the observatory, a site near Charlton Flats in the Angeles National
Forest was selected because of its good
astronomical seeing conditions and its close-in location.
After some intervention by our Congress person, an application for a "Special Use Permit" was filed with USFS.
But... (always a but..., or two) the California Transportation
(Cal Trans) would not spend public funds on construction of
a private road to the observatory site, which was located about 4000 feet off of the highway. Plus, the County of Los Angeles had never before granted a new building permit
for an observatory on a remote mountain top.
Eventually an agreement to a plan was made in which some of the road work would be paid for by the County of LA and some by the USFS, and some would be the responsibility of our members. A contractor was selected to build our part of the road up to the site.
September 1958 - Carroll reports that the design for the telescope is completed - next step is to work with George Perkins to come up with drawings and to identify a fabricator for the polar axis and the fork mount. Carroll suggested a truncated cone structure for the dome, similar to the dome for the 24-inch telescope at Lowell Observatory. Larr recommended wood for the structural material and sheathing, noting excellent reports from Lowell's experience. Norrie Roberts, in charge of all the buildings at the site, felt that a hemispherical dome, made from steel supports and aluminum sheathing, while expensive to construct, would be more desirable. After much discussion, Norrie's proposal prevailed.
That turned out to be a crucial decision when, in 2009, the "Station" fire swept over the observatory site - from 2 directions! - without permanent damage to any of the facilities. A wooden dome, as originally envisioned, would not have fared so well.
Larr reported that the rough grinding of the front surface of the 30-inch mirror has begun at his shop in Altadena, CA using a temporary grinding machine.
USFS was still working on the fine print of the "Special Use Permit."
November 1958 - Carroll presents completed drawings of 30-inch, next move is to dole out fabricating jobs to various members, he mentions that he found a machine shop in Burbank (Rene Corporation, owned by John Terlep) that will fabricate the mount/fork parts for free.
January 1959 - Carroll reports further on Terlep's shop, willing to let AAA use space and all machines for free in order for AAA members to fabricate the mount. Terlep joins AAA.
Norrie Roberts, Chuck Buzzetti and John Terlep drew up plans for the buildings and dome at the observatory. These were submitted for the County's approval, enabling us to obtain the necessary permits.
February 1959 - USFS Special Use Permit is approved - 11 months after the application was submitted. Alan McClure leaves the group to work on his own 24-inch telescope project. Roy Ensign reports that work on the new grinding table is completed.
Construction work begins on the new observatory. One of the founding
members, Dr. W. H. Griffith, started filming the progress of the project which led to a documentary movie that highlights the construction years at SRO.
1960 - Filed an Amendment to the Articles of
Incorporation, changing the name, AAA, and creating the nonprofit
organization The Stony Ridge Observatory, Inc. (SRO)., The name "Stony Ridge" was suggested by Easy Sloman.
1961 - For unknown reasons, Eugene Larr, our Chief Optician, 'disappeared'
from the group. Many attempts to contact
Gene had not been successful and it became necessary for
the SRO Board to find a replacement for this member whom, here-to-fore, had a major role
in the early development of SRO. Gene was replaced by Roy K. Ensign to continue as
the Optical Engineer to lead the mirror grinding and
figuring, which was already underway. By doing an internet search on
Gene's name, the author discovered that apparently Gene
experience an epiphany after contacts with a minister at a church next door to his Altadena shop,
and in 1973 became the first Minister and co-founder of the Chapel
of Awareness Spiritualist Church in Encinitas, California. He also continued his astronomy and telescope building interests
by teaching amateur telescope making, and making presentations
for an amateur astronomy group in the San Diego area.
March 1963 - Roy Ensign reported that the figure of the mirror is correct to within 1/35 wave! - a remarkable figure. This essentially marked the date of completion, prior to aluminizing, for the primary mirror.
John Terlep reported that Norm Bolz has nearly completed installation of the dome rotation system at the site.
Spring/Summer 1963 -
At this date, the financial status of the group was thoroughly tapped out. With about $400 in the bank and $1400 in debts, prospects for the completion of the observatory were of great concern to everybody. The most expensive piece of the project was the steel/aluminum dome. Nearing completion at Thomas Tool & Die Company in Sun Valley, the dome still had to be trucked up to the site and with a crane, lowered onto the observatory building.
SRO dilemma occurred during the era when the United States
a spacecraft mission (Apollo) with the goal of, in the words of President
Kennedy, "landing a man on the Moon and returning him safely
to the Earth."
Lockheed-California Company had signed a contract with the Aeronautical
Charts and Information Center (ACIC) in St. Louis (a section
run by the United States Air Force), to supply the ACIC with high-resolution images of the
lunar surface for the production of lunar charts
that would be used in determining possible landing sites on
the Moon. Lockheed
then faced a dilemma of its own; where could they find a large
amount of telescope time at an observatory to fulfill their
contract with the ACIC?
that time, three SRO members, George
Carroll, Norrie Roberts and Chuck Buzzetti worked at Lockheed-California.
Through these employee contacts, Lockheed became
aware of the nearly completed Stony Ridge Observatory. Lockheed offered a sum of money to the observatory to complete the dome and bring in power and telephone service. For this, an agreement was made between SRO and the aero-space company for SRO to supply the needed telescope time to fulfill their ACIC contract.
August 1963 - Roy Ensign reported that the mirror was at the Mt. Wilson Observatory being aluminized. At this meeting, the members celebrated 1st light with the viewing of Saturn through the 6-inch guide scope.
1963 - The observatory was completed and "first-light"
beamed through the Stony Ridge telescope. Upon completion,
this superb 30-inch instrument was the eighth
largest telescope in California and one of the
largest amateur telescopes in the world.
At the end of this 6-year endeavor, the total cost for the Stony Ridge Observatory was about $40,000 in 1963 USD, $2,667 for each of the founding members. The current SRO membership (about 30 members) seems to agree that it would be very difficult to match such a commitment today.
the years following the successful completion, Stony Ridge has partnered with a number
of colleges and universities
to provide an environment for their undergraduates to gain
experience at a professional quality astronomical facility. A number of scientific projects and outreach programs have been undertaken by the amateur astronomers of Stony Ridge Observatory.
A reminder - Due
to its remote location, public access to the observatory is
restricted, but anybody can visit the site by invitation only.