Clear Skys Inc.

P.O. Box 378, Almont , Michigan 48003

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Clear Skys, Inc. Observatory

“Review” by Tim Crawford

In 1999, at a location approximately 40 air miles north of Anchorage, AK, I constructed a 10 ft. x 2 ft. roll-off roof observatory in which to mount a new Meade LX200 12 in scope on an 8-inch diameter Le Sueur Pier with the Le Sueur adjustable polar plate (http://www.astropier.com/).

This worked quite well for me as there were few neighbors’ lights to be concerned about and I  liked having the open sky overhead. When the Northern Lights would sometimes interfere with observing it was nice to be able to sit down and simply enjoy the overhead show while it lasted. In late 2002 we retired and moved to Arch Cape, OR (on the North Coast, about 20 miles south of  Seaside, OR). Our new home here is only three lots off of the Pacific Ocean and has a small backyard and adjoining neighbors.  

It was my experience with the roll-off roof observatory that in high humidity periods (which were limited to about three weeks in the fall near Anchorage) the dew was like rain inside the open room. Based upon this experience, nearby homes, a small yard and desirous of minimizing the exposure of all my equipment to the salt air the only practical choice for me was to purchase a dome and place it on a deck. I searched the publications for dome manufactures as well as the Internet and secured as much information as possible about each manufacture, models and pricing. I also joined a yahoo news group, “Observatories.” I was seeking the largest dome that I could reasonably afford to purchase. I went ahead and poured the pier cement into the ground and mounted the LeSuer pier that I had brought with me from Alaska. After this was done I mounted the scope and ran a plumb bob off the DEC axis to determine the center of the deck/observatory and what the southern pier offset would be. Once this was done I then made a rough circle layout of various sized domes, i.e., 6 feet, 7 feet, 8 feet, 9 feet and 10 feet. 

From these observations I felt that I needed, at a minimum, for my comfort a structure whose base would be somewhere between 8 and 9 feet in diameter. I also wanted something with a reasonable wall height so that I did not have to crawl in or step over a high lip and something with, preferably, a door that I could simply open. I looked at a lot of domes that came close to meeting my needs and some of them were very nice, for the price, but just a bit small. I was giving very serious consideration to a 10-foot “Home dome”, which is a very nice dome with lots of automation options, but somewhat at a standstill as it was really more than I wanted to pay and I did not really require any of the automation options.

Then on the yahoo “Observatories” group one of the members informed everyone that he had a Clear Skys, a new mfg, dome on order. I immediately jumped to their website and downloaded the specifications : http://www.clearskysinc.com The dome they were advertising was an 8 1/2 foot model with 54” high walls with a door access. The overall zenith height, inside, was 106 inches with a 24” wide slot. Not only were the specifications within my search range the introductory price, at that time, was only $ 4500.00, FOB. I emailed them with questions regarding wind loading and ability to withstand heavy rain along with several others. The Answers provided were prompt and encouraging. I then inquired as to manufacture time and shipping costs.

Based upon these responses I immediately placed an order. Before actually starting the deck for the dome I had to first determine the floor height around the already installed 63- inch Le Sueur pier. I finally settled on a pier height of 43 inches above the floor by using ladders and boards at various heights while I moved the scope around on its polar mounting to try and arrive at, what for me, was a reasonable height compromise; then I built the decking and supports to the  determined height around the pier. Also I had to construct the deck around the pier using the plumb bob determined center from the center of the Declination axis of the SCT rather than the pier center. The offset of the pier, for my latitude, was around 15 inches to the South.

The distributor kept me informed with regular emails of the status of my observatory construction and the anticipated ship date; I really appreciated this.

I drove up and down the coast, approximately, 40 miles in either direction checking with business and trucking firms in hopes of find one that would allow me to have the carton shipped to them where they could offload for me and then let me disassemble and remove the individual sections. After several frustrating days I pulled into a warehousing/packing business on the waterfront in Astoria, OR, which is about 40 miles north of my residence. The general Manager, Dan Supple, of Astoria Warehousing, Inc., was very sympathetic to my plight and readily agreed to allow me to ship it to their loading dock where they would unload it for me and allow me to dissemble it so that I could remove the individual sections into a truck. Wahoo! The Observatory was finally on the way. The folks at Astoria Warehousing called me when it came in and I told them I would be  there the next day or the very next at the latest. I contacted the unemployment office in Astoria  and located two day laborers to help me uncrate the observatory and load it into a 17 foot U-Haul rental truck and then to help me with the assembly. After uncrating, which was a fast and easy job do to the excellent manner in which the individual pieces had been packaged up, the folks at  Astoria Warehousing told us to leave the large pile of crating wood as they would burn it with their own. After cleaning up I tried to pay Dan but he would not accept any. Wow! That was  unexpected; he told me that maybe some day I could do him a favor; I sure hope that I will be able to. It is not often that we come across such generous individuals.

 

The next day returned to Astoria to pickup my helpers and we set about assembling the  Observatory in my backyard. I had pre purchased eight 1/2 inch stainless steel bolts with which to install each individual wall section as well as two extra 1/2-inch stainless steel lag screws for each section. Given our high winds I wanted to be double sure that the wall sections would be fully  secured.

Before setting up the wall sections we drew a circle around the deck boards with the same  diameter as the inside of the wall footing so we would have a good point to begin the assembly and centering process (a pencil on a string works good for this purpose when one end is tied to a nail at the center point). I also laid one of the wall sections on a 4’x8’ piece of 1/2” plywood and drew a line around the inside of a wall section in a number of places (for different widths) so that I could then cutout a table to fit the wall curve. As events unfolded I ended up making two tables for the inside; each table was approximately 15 inches wide with one being about 60 inches in  length and the other about 50 inches in length. I used 1 1/2 inch dowels for the front legs on each side and rested the rear portions of the table on metal shelf holders bolted with stainless steel  bolts to the observatory wall. Before actual bolting of the individual wall sections we also stood all four of them up around the mark we had made and made a couple of small adjustments in the mark as required by actual placement. The assembly instructions required that each wall section be calked at their assembly joints; we did this and bolted the individual sections together. When they were all bolted we were then able to re-center the whole assembly before calking the bottom and bolting it down to the deck. This final re-centering was also important as I had predrilled holes for the computer/scope cables in the decking. Due to the height of the decking itself I ran to a neighbors so that we could have a fourth set of hands to help lift the dome up (two on the ground and two on the deck). The dome was a perfect fit and as the walls and deck were level it rolled around the top with a gentle push. I really do not think that the total assembly times exceed four hours.

First light was on 6/23/03. After a polar alignment check I slewed to the crown jewel of the  summer Skies, M13. The dome slit mechanism worked very well and I am quite comfortable with how it operates; you just have to be careful not to let the pull ropes out of your hands as the two sections can fall to their stops once Mr. Gravity takes over.

 

Everything worked as well as I could have expected. The interior room was still quite adequate for myself and several visitors, even with the two tables I had installed. While it is a bit tight on the south side of the Pier, due to the offset, I seldom have occasion to view from that area.

I was very happy with the observatory, that is until our first heavy rain. The darn door leaked around the original seal and I was annoyed about it. I immediately contacted Clear Skys, Inc. as well as well as several other purchasers about this issue. Clear Skys responded that they were going to test the door seals and see what they could come up with. The first fix that they sent me was not effective; however, the second fix was and completely solved the problem with no further incidents occurring. In addition to a new seal for the wall section of the door they also had me install a drip edge above the door. Future purchasers should have no problem in this regard as they have already incorporated the changes in their production. I should also mention that I have had no leaks around the dome slit-track area at all, even in some real gully washers. So far the structure has endured up to 70 mile an hour winds with no problems whatsoever (it is, of course, important, to remember to attach the interior dome tie down ropes before vacating after use); I have worried a bit about memory set on the wheels due to a slight pressure from the tie down ropes but so far, after about 8 months, there is no problem there as the wheels seem to retain their original rolling smoothness. I am a very happy camper with the Clear Skys, Inc. Product and would not hesitate to purchase another one again. In my experience they also have both excellent before and after market support. I am also quite proud of the 8’x8’ mural, in our backyard, painted as a surprise for me by our granddaughter, Alyssa Crawford, during her summer vacation.

 

 

 

Contact us for information at

clearskysinc@usol.com

 

 

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Last modified: 04/4/07