Tuesday, November 30, 2010


That's the story of the last week.
I went to the Cities Monday for an eye doctor appointment, some household chores and Thanksgiving dinner but by Tuesday night the weather reports looked bad so I packed up and headed for Grand Marais Wednesday morning.
Once back up north it took me about 3 hours for track installation. I got back to the cabin late afternoon after packing the existing snow with our new tracks and learning some driving techniques to boot.

I spent some time packing our driveway so I had a nice flat spot to park and walk around the truck. As you can see, there was even some sun shinning.

This is what it looked like the next morning, Thanksgiving Day.
I was going to get my first real test of how well the tracks work and little did I know that yesterday's sun was the last I'd see for a very long time.

My first deep snow test run lasted about 500 feet before I ran into my first obstacle,
this large spruce tree fell under the weight of the new snow giving me a chance, once again, to practice backing up to our garage to get my chain saw. (I'm getting to really hate trees)

I backed down Jim's driveway in a full 16" of undisturbed snow,
and since then it's snowed some just about every day.

Observatory work has been nill other than clearing snow off the roof and packing some trails to it. All my free time has been spent getting our fleet of snowmobiles running, clearing snow at the storage building and pulling more snow off the roof of the cabin.

This will give you an idea of how much snow we're talking about.
It's looking like a long winter.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Hows This For Cool?

We haven't used the
Cool Shit-O-Meter
in a long time but today it hit a new high.

Lester and I did the big road trip over to Michigan to pick up the tracks and I have to say David at American Track Truck exceeded all my expectations.
He set us up with a nice place to say Tuesday night and was at the shop bright and early Wednesday morning to show us the installation procedures and test the fit of the system on our truck.

See what I mean, that's cool.

You can click on any photo to enlarge.

After a short test drive we pulled it back into the shop, removed the tracks and replaced the tires, loaded the trailer and got back on the road - in less then 2 hours!
This early start was good, we had found our way over in the dark and were looking forward to seeing the trip in the daylight but it didn't take long to make a wrong turn.
This wrong turn made us boot up the Ipad and google maps for help and it quickly showed us a new route, the route from Hell.
Logging road after logging road that kept getting worse and then we came to a crossroads where we were to turn left but there was one big problem, the locked gate across the road.
Out came the Ipad for new directions assuming the roads can't get any rougher, wrong again. Not only rougher but now we're back tracking, and this side trip only cost about 2 hours.
The second missed turn gave us a chance to visit the great town of Ontonagon,
no where close to being on our way home but we didn't let that stop us.
All in all our navigation skills cost about 3 1/2 hours but on the other hand without the Ipad we would still be some were in the middle of Michigan.

Again a big thanks to David at American Track Truck. Use this link for more information.
Can't wait to play in some deep snow.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Strange 2 Weeks Ending With Snow

Looking down the road from the observatory driveway.

This was the view Saturday evening, by Sunday afternoon we had about 8" total.

Fair progress on the warm room, one hold up is my electrician. I'm not sure he's the brightest bulb in the pack but we'll get through it just fine.
Very happy to report the stereo is operational and the acoustics are great,
Jimmie Rodgers yodeling never sounded better.

Greg visited last week for some Jupiter watching and seeing was pretty good for early evening. After Jupiter we turned our attention to Cadwell 14 or NGC 869/884 Double Cluster.
NGC 869 is also known as h Persei and NGC 884 is also designated chi Persei. They are both located in close proximity towards the Perseus arm of our galaxy at a distance of 7000 light years, and are very young for galactic star clusters, NGC 869 being 5.6 million years old, and NGC 884 just 3.2 million years old. Each contains more than 100 stars. Their apparent size is 30 arc min each, about the diameter of the full moon.
This was a very nice target for my first real out of the solar system viewing session.

I have also been dealing with the Insurance company about my truck. I have to say I thought I'd take a beating, but State Farm's settlement was fair and I thank them.
Here's what was left after having the tree removed and I am already missing that truck!
A big hunk of the last two weeks have been either clean up from the wind storm or getting ready for winter.
This coming week I'm heading to the UP of Michigan to pick up our tracks. They would have sure come in handy today with all the new snow.

Sorry for the slow updates, I'll try to get back to at least once a week postings.

Monday, November 01, 2010

Observatory Number 2 at Murmur Creek

With absolutely no planing we now have our 2nd telescope and observatory,
Thank you Ebay!

That's a 20 power scope on a wedge.

Clip on constellation charts.

Most scientific educational toy of the year.
That year being 1958 (year I was born)

all this for $20.00 shipped to my door.

Sunday, October 31, 2010

Lock Up Your Womens

now that the Explorer is totaled I've had to put the Buick station wagon back on the road
and we all know that chicks just love that car. Old, young, big, small, straight, lesbian, the Buick's attraction is universal and very powerful. I promise to drive it only when necessary and I also found my stick to beat them away, but I can't be held responsible for what happens.

I got a chance last night under clear skies to spend some time with Jupiter. There were 2 eclipse spots that traveled across the face of the planet in the early evening, seeing was pretty good and the telescope worked well. I was also treated to my first meteorite that streaked across the dome opening, very cool!

Work continues on the warm room mostly insulation and wiring. I installed the first 2" conduit to the observatory, this will be for all the USB and RS232 communication cables and there will be a second conduit for power cables in both 110 and 12 volt. We're keeping them separate to avoid any unwanted electrical noise interference.

Other then that I cleared the last of the trees off the road with my snow plow truck and I'm still waiting for the State Farm adjuster to show up. Hope it's soon, I'd love to get the driveway back.
That's all for now.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

One Very Bad Storm and Two Bad Nights

I decided to start writing this blog with pen and paper in the dark with only candles for light
It's now just 6:00 am Wednesday Oct 27, I've been awake since around 4:00 am after hearing a loud snap and the sound of another tree crashing down. They have been falling all night long.

It all started with a phone call late Monday afternoon from Jim foretelling of a large storm moving my way, growing up in Minnesota I have become skeptical of the" WCCO radio run for the basement weather forecasting" but Jim's a pilot so I did somewhat heed his warning.
The precautions I took included site clean up, tarping the material pile and tarping the one uncompleted wall of the warm room. Actually, I felt very comfortable,the ice dam installation on the roof was done making the building pretty well water tight, I was feeling smart.

Early Tuesday morning.
I couldn't sleep with the sound of jet force winds howling through the woods and over the cabin, and I'm laying in bed worried that my site preparation was inadequate. Luckily, daylight revealed not much more then a few downed branches along with my overturned greenhouse and beat up tomato plants, so I dashed for my truck in the heavy rain to go check on the observatory.
Pulling up to the site it was very apparent I suck at tarping!I did get somewhat lucky and both tarps were at least still in the county. After a weak attempt to reinstall them in the heavy rain and wind I decided to run into town for breakfast and the county commissioner's meeting.

I was able to drive approximately 700 feet before finding the first downed tree blocking the road! Thanks to my advance planing I was now backing up the 700 feet to get my chainsaw out of the garage and during this part of the operation I managed to rip the drivers side mirror off the door by hooking it on a tree, now I'm really pissed off, I love this truck.
(Nothing cheers me up more then a 1/2 hour of cutting wood in the pouring rain) Finally it was 8:00 am and I was just sitting down for breakfast, 8:30 I'm at the meeting and then home by 12:30.

Returning to the cabin I noticed the wind had dropped and it wasn't raining so I went right back to re-tarping and this time it was going to stay on dam-it! Two hours later I was feeling better about my preparation and walking towards my truck when I looked back proudly at my work only to see a huge gust of wind from a different direction rip it all right back off. It was all I could do to just drive off and try not to cry.
Back in the cabin I went on line to check for weather updates only to find that all that work I had just done was in the eye of the storm and it was only going to get worse. They were talking about this storm as a hurricane that would break all recorded low barometric readings, so the cats and I knew what we were in for(we now share a brain).

I have sat through some very bad storms including a horrible ice storm two winters ago, but every storm is scary when you live under 2 giant white pines in a small cabin. The wind started to pick up along with the rain and the electricity flickered through out the early evening, never a good sign around here (remember this is a county that's going to hang fiber optics cable from poles, what morons. Sorry had to vent)
I was dog tired and went to bed around 9:30,we still had power but the wind was growing more fierce by the minute.
So now we're back to the start:
it's 4:00 am, I'm not sure how long the powers been out, it's cold and dark in the cabin and even the cats are nervous. That last falling tree sounded very close. It took me awhile to find a flashlight and light some candles. Looking out the kitchen window I could see something was wrong even in the pitch dark.
I opened the door, shining the flashlight up the driveway and to my surprise I found my truck smashed under a huge spruce tree. At this point and in this light it looked bent in half. Now all I could do is wait for sunrise to inventory all the damage. I wondered how bad is my truck? is the pontoon boat still tied to the dock? is the dome still on the observatory? are there trees on the observatory or warm room? how many trees are on the road? are there trees on our storage building? how long will I be without power?
A lot to think about in the cold dark cabin.

Funny, ripping the mirror off the door doesn't seem important anymore

Sad part is I think this car was going to be our first to break 300,000 miles,
now we will never know.

In daylight it was nice to see
everything held up well, observatory buildings were just fine, pontoon boat still on the dock and after sawing out the 3 miles to the storage building things were good there also. Just my poor truck which now has a squirrel running in and out because there is a half full bag of bird seed inside. He thinks he's in heaven.

It's been a rough few days in Paradise!
I have to say thanks to Arrowhead Electric, they do a great job under this kind of pressure, I might complain about my bill but they are here when needed.
Thank you all!

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Wow Factor Setting In

Great strides last week,
Lester helped out early in the week with framing and siding that help stiffen the structure, we also installed 2 windows.
Jim arrived Friday afternoon and Pat Friday night so Saturday was a big day that started with reinstalling the telescope to it's pier (never a fun job) we finished out the daylight hours with siding, roof sheeting, ice dam and site clean up.
After dinner we attempted another polar alignment of the telescope, we have tyred this a few times before with no success but since then we have read more and felt confident, that confidence was quickly replaced with disappointment and the feeling we would never get it right.
To get something out of the night Jim went with point and hope method, it didn't take him long and Jupiter was in the eyepiece, I have to say that looking at Jupiter exceeded every expatiation I had, absolutely beautiful, we then spent time looking at the moon that was also stunning.

The construction continued on the warm room throughout the weekend right into the start of this week with great results.

The weather continues to hold and were just a few days away from being sealed up.

Custom glass block window just for fun.

Monday night after even more reading we finely got the polar alignment right, (goes to show even a blind squirrel finds a nut ever now and then). Thanks to Sam's work last week it took just a small wedge angle adjustment and with the proper set-up sequence it now works very well.

I also forgot that a few weeks ago Murmur Creek Observatory was added to the Amateur Astronomical Observatory site
This site was very helpful with our early research and is just fun to see all the different observatory builds, we thank them for adding us and if you get a chance have a look.

Wow Factor Setting In

Great strides last week,
Lester helped out early in the week with framing and siding which helped stiffen the structure and we also installed 2 windows.
Jim arrived Friday afternoon and Pat Friday night, so Saturday was a big day that started with re-installing the telescope to it's pier (never a fun job). We finished out the daylight hours with siding, roof sheeting, ice dam placement and site clean up.
After dinner we attempted another polar alignment of the telescope which we had tried a few times before with no success. Since then we had read more and felt more confident, however that confidence was quickly replaced with disappointment and the feeling we would never get it right!
To salvage something out of the night Jim went with the point and hope method, it didn't take him long and Jupiter was in the eyepiece! I have to say that looking at Jupiter exceeded every expatiation I had, it was absolutely beautiful. We then spent time looking at the moon which was also stunning.

The construction continued on the warm room throughout the weekend and right into the start of this week with great results.

The weather continues to hold and we're just a few days away from being sealed up.

Custom glass block window just for fun.

Monday night, after even more reading and I'm sure a few prayers from Jim, we finely got the polar alignment right, (goes to show even a blind squirrel finds a nut ever now and then). Thanks to Sam's work last week it took just a small wedge angle adjustment and with the proper set-up sequence it now works very well.

I also forgot that a few weeks ago Murmur Creek Observatory was added to the Amateur Astronomical Observatory site
This site was very helpful with our early research and is just fun to see all the different observatory builds, we thank them for adding us and if you get a chance have a look.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Great Weather and Progress

This might have been the nicest week of the summer,
60-70's temps and not a cloud in the sky, last year it had snowed by now.

The week started with running into Sam and Diane Monday morning at breakfast. As most of you already know, Sam is our project surveyor. I discussed with them that since our telescope was off it's Pier I would love to have his help to precisely a line our wedge and index the dome. They kindly set it up for Wednesday.
Turns out this would have been easier with the dome off the building but that's not happening so we got creative with the tripod setup to get the transit over rotating center of the wedge.

We spread out the tripod legs, drilled holes into the side walls, then spiked the tripod feet into the holes.

Then the shooting began, first shot to a control point then a total of 6 sun shots which involves a stopwatch and a short wave radio tuned to some international clock station.

Sam has all the latest computer gear to do sun shot calculations, here he is with his voice activated laptop (it must be, he talks to it constantly)
After the math was done he then had to spend time on a ladder shooting through the dome slot (and I don't think surveyors are big fans of ladder's but he did a great job!) I now have all the index marks I need and a perfectly set pier.
Another big thanks goes out to Sam and Diane for their support of this project and good luck to Diane who is running for a Cook County commissioner seat. All of us here at Murmur Creek Observatory give her our support and think she would do a great job.

The warm room construction continued all week,
it's been hard to keep true to the picture I have changed the roof line 3 times but I'm happy now.

Front view

Front side view

Back side view
So now I just hope the weather holds a few more days to get everything under cover. I'm also going to try to get the scope back up this coming week.

Sunday, October 03, 2010

Starting the Seuss House

Hon was up all weekend and anxious to show off her carpentry skills so
we started with framing up the floor section, boxing in one side with 1/2 inch plywood, then applied a thick coat of paint before flipping them over on there 4X4 skids.
The two sections were joined together and the boxed in cavities filled with R-19 rated insulation then covered with 3/4 plywood flooring.

Then the framing began.

Our fist surprise is that 16 feet looks pretty tall,
but in thinking back to storage building construction I recall that one day it looks huge and the next day small and now that it's full of crap it looks tiny, so I think this warm room will also even out.

Besides her unbelievable carpentry skills, Pat has always been our landscaping expert. She brought up the first Seuss shrub that got planted Saturday and looks great.
Other then that I'll find someone next week to help reinstall the scope and work will continue on the warm room with should include no fewer then 6 trips to the lumber yard!

Friday, October 01, 2010

Frustration and Disappointment Dealing with Meade

Well we learned a lot about Meade this week.
On Monday, according to Meade, the scope had to be sent back to be repaired, on Tuesday they needed a serial number to look up the scope's history, Wednesday we heard nothing, Thursday we got the word to pull it down and box it up and Meade was setting up trucking and on Friday Meade now claims they had a meeting and the Scope is fine and will work as-is, so they are doing nothing.
Apparently this quality of craftsmanship is OK with Meade,
after all it's just a telescope we spent a lot of money on, then installed it in a expensive Observatory and added another $4000.00 dollars purchasing a camera and focuser, so how precise does the telescope have to be? It's not like they are building Swiss watches.
If I have my way, this will be the one and only Meade telescope Murmur Creek Observatory will ever mount on it's pier.

The only bright spot Thursday was this view out the dome.

Lester showed up early and we got to work. It took about an hour and we had it carefully lowered into the shipping box, not an easy job inside the dome,. After binding up the box I pulled the stair railing off along with one side wall to make a path out as wide as I could. Our plan was to load it in my truck and drive it into town on whatever day the trucking company is coming to pick it up.
With today's news I now have to unpack and reinstall the scope on the pier, but it's getting harder to find strong backs and weak minded helpers that still answer their phones.

I did get a start on the warm room in between rain showers, photos to come later this weekend, but I just had to bitch about Meade first.

Monday, September 27, 2010

Huge Setback and Very Disappointed

Life is good when the highs are higher than the lows are low.
Well last week everything was looking good only to drop to a new low. On Tuesday Sept 24 our Starizona MicroTouch AutoFocuser unit and the color filters showed up so I started getting ready to install the compete assembly including the CCD camera.
The focuser is a beautiful piece of machine work that came with a shorty adapter allowing the installation of our QSI 583 Camera without clearance issues.

Here is the complete unit less the power motor that installs in place of that gold colored knob. The black rubber cover on top of the camera is for a second guide camera that controls the telescope during multiple exposures.

When Pat and I went out Saturday afternoon to test fit all this new gear, we were shocked to remove the rear cover of the telescope and find a lot of damage including mashed threads and a ripped up aluminum internal flange.

Here is a photo of the damage.
I called Jim Sunday night with the bad news and emailed him all the photos, he will have to be the one to deal with Meade.
Today I got the bad news that I'll have to take the scope down, pack it up and ship it back to Meade.
This just sucks!!!
I'll get it shipped this week, keep working on the warm room and hope we get it back by the end of October. I guess we will find out what kind of company Meade really is. This telescope was purchased as a refurbished item but in my opinion this damage could have only happened during assembly of the scope.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Stairs, Carpet, lighting and Clean-up

Sorry I've been slow to blog but things have been crazy around here lately, so I'll try to catch you up.
The end of August we had a lot of visitors including Stuart and Anita, friends from Georgia, this being their first trip to our remote site. Stuart used all his deep woods navigation skills and his vast local knowledge of Cook County to make the 17 minute trip in just under one hour. (Stuart you know I poke fun cause I care and the boys at breakfast miss you!)

Anita emailed me this photo she took during the visit, her email also stated that it's a magical place and I have to say I love that description, thanks.

The deck top when on well and I also boxed in the pier and started to design and build the stairs

Then the deck was covered with 18" square black carpet tiles and the lighting layout began.

The red rope lights are from Ax Man surplus and worked out great. Once the pier cover is painted black it won't glow any more and we also ran lights down the edge the stairs to make them very visible.

Last week I made the run to Duluth for warming room building materials so the Dr Seuss house will get it's start this week. Our neighbors, Bill and Jackie, donated a very nice window to the cause and we thank them for that.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Telescope Boot-Up & Perfect Granddaughter

Thursday we installed batteries and brought the scope to life.
We were lucky no none was killed.
Reading the manual by flashlight, we tried a polar alignment and I have to say it was a little spooky seeing the big telescope moving on its own.
Then we tried to focus in on something but we quickly decided we may as well have been looking up a goats ass, so we decided maybe a little more daylight manual reading is in order.

Friday morning I drove to the cities to see my son and his family who traveled in from New York with our new granddaughter Helena, Leni for short. Now I'm not much for babies but the only word I can come up with for her is Perfect and I do mean Perfect.
It was fun to see everyone, Pat's sister Sue and her husband Doug threw a great pool/dinner party on Saturday for the entire family. It's amazing how much fun kids have in pools.
Back up north Sunday night.
Monday I pulled down the scaffolding and started measuring for the raised platform that's needed because we chose to build with taller walls and door.

Total of 30" of lift will give us a nice eye piece height along with storage underneath for things like snow removal tools. So far the only tricky part is going to be the stairs
and remembering not to hit your head going up.

Friday, August 20, 2010

Very Big Week

Monday was sandblasting and paint day.
Sandblasting, on my fun shit-o-meter, is around a negative 5, just above going to the dentist for a root canal, but it went well.
The paint is a flat black spray can combination primer/paint that coated nicely and covered with only 3 applications. Tuesday was drying day.

Newly painted and sandblasted pier and wedge.

Jim arrived on Tuesday afternoon bringing all kinds of goodies with him including the CCD camera and it's manual, Photoshop 8, Photoshop Astronomy and a DVD astronomy course from the University of California, Berkeley entitled
Understanding the Universe.
He had told me last week how large the camera manual was, and I have to say the man does not exaggerate. The damn thing is huge. Watch for a separate blog posting on the camera later.
Earlier, I had also test fitted the wedge base plate to the bottom of the telescope and then packed the scope back into the shipping box for the last 3 mile trip to it's new home and I put up a set of scaffolding in the newly cleaned observatory.
Wednesday Jim was all fired up to mount the scope so we started by putting up the second set of scaffolding and then planking across the back of both scaffolds.
Then a trip out to the storage building for the telescope box and the wedge. When we got back to the observatory we placed the scope box on the rear planking and the wedge under the right set of scaffolding.
On the second trip we hauled the steel pier over, carried it in and installed it to the concrete pier. We then leveled it and tightened down the 3/4 inch anchor bolts.
On our third trip we picked up Jim's wife Michelle and headed into Grand Marais for lunch and 10 bags of sand to fill the steel pier, a must to deaden any ringing vibration if the pier is bumped. On the way back Jim asked Michelle if she would help us out and the three of us now had some heavy work to get done.
Filling the pier with sand was no big deal but lifting the 168 pound wedge from the floor to the top of the 6' tall pier hurt pretty good and we still had to lift the man killer telescope. It was even difficult getting the lid off the scope box inside the observatory with such limited room! With Michelle on a step ladder where she could see the bolt holes, we made the big lift and got the center bolt started, the other three bolts went right in and we then celebrated with Advil all around!

It was nice just to sit and look over all this hard work coming together.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Lots of Things Coming Together

Jim's been doing research and ordered the CCD camera, auto focuser and filters, and some of the items are being custom made to eliminate clearance issues.
The CCD camera has arrived and Jim is bringing it when they come up on Tuesday, I can't wait! The auto focuser is still a week or two away. Jim also mentioned that he had printed the CCD camera manual, a large three ring binder with 12 tabs. He's thinking it might be complicated, so do I.
The steel pier and wedge is back at the storage building and will get sandblasted and painted tomorrow. I had hoped to be done with this job, but the humidity has been very high making this kind of work next to impossible.

The heated control room building design is now final, I've done a lot of image searching on goggle for unusual small building and my favorite came on the Dr. Seuss Playhouse search.

Here is the link where I found it,
"The playhouse was designed and built by Rohan Goel, for his IB project and then raffled off"

I did build a small model to see if it scaled up larger without losing it's charm and it does work out just fine, construction will begin at the end of the month.
More planting this weekend when Pat was up, she has the grounds looking great, everything growing nicely including the grass and so far only 2 plants that our local deer, Bucky, just had to eat.

We are also looking into a set of tracks from American Track Truck for winter access to the observatory without spending half our lives plowing snow.
Here's a photo from their site, this system would make the 3 mile trip safe and warm.