It's All History...
Once upon a time, a beautiful piece was written on the history of the Warren Rupp Observatory, and should not be lost. You will find this original page both HERE and in an eventual "Archives" page. I have no wish to eradicate what once was... But I've always had a feeling that there might have been just a bit more to the story...
And I was right.
To walk into the original "Clubhouse" is a step back in time. The very walls breathe of the past. Spend a night in the "Dome" and you will feel the spirit of those who made it come to life... And who better to tell the story than the one who was there that made it all happen?
"I grew up in Mansfield, then went on to college at Ohio State in Columbus. While at OSU, I was becoming very active in amateur astronomy and I soon joined the OSU astronomy club. Of course, I caught observing fever and soon found myself living at Perkins Observatory almost every clear night, moon or no moon. At Perkins, I became good friends with Doug Wereb who was the resident observer there. At OSU, I got the privilege to learn amateur astronomy from the minds of Brent Archinal, John Kerns, and Dick Suiter, who were all working on their doctorate degrees at OSU.
(1979 - 1980) I was deeply involved in amateur astronomy, into being at Perkins most evenings, going to classes, pulling the long hours, and burning glass plates with the Perkins 24/16" Schmidt camera. I became friends with other amateurs who also caught the astronomy bug. Thanks to the Columbus Astronomical Society (CAS), I met members Mark Mattox, Bob Bunge, Tom Burns, and Bill Burton… We all became a virtual “observing clique”.
While still in the OSU Astronomy Club, I noticed an Astronomical League (AL) newsletter and began to read it. I came across all the AL clubs in Ohio. That’s when I noticed a club called the Richland Astronomical Society (RAS)- Mansfield. Mansfield? Being from Mansfield, I just had to investigate. An observing buddy of mine, Mark Mattox and I decided to give RAS a visit. We found out about their meetings and location and soon discovered "Hidden Hollow".
Our first visit was a very clear, very cold, new moon in December 1980. When we arrived at the club house at Hidden Hollow no one was there. Surely someone from the club will soon be here as Mark and I began to setup our telescopes. Sunset and evening twilight came and went, still no RAS members. Oh well, looks like the two of us will be going at it alone. The skies at the RAS site were darker than any we have seen in Ohio. Being on top of one of the highest points in the state also added to our excitement. It was a very cold night and for the first time, I had to warm up in a car off and on throughout the night. It sure would have been nice getting access to the club house, it looked like they had electric heat floor boards in there. We were definitely going to come back, but the next time, it will be at a RAS club meeting.
Mark and I soon came back to an RAS club meeting. We brought our scopes to observe after the meeting and met a handful of RAS members. The club did very little observing at this point in time, but thoroughly enjoyed our presence and the enthusiasm to get out and observe. I kept on showing up, this time with more and more members from OSU and CAS clubs. Curious, the RAS members began observing with us. The comfort the club house provided along with very dark skies made the Hidden Hollow site the premier location for amateur astronomy.
(1981) With such beautiful skies, every time it was clear, OSU and CAS groups decided to come to RAS because the site was so much better than Perkins and the Delaware Rifle Range. They enjoyed it so much, eventually many of the CAS and OSU observers who visited joined RAS. As the membership grew, the Club became revived from all this excitement generated by the Columbus invaders. Club meetings now had programs, talks, demonstrations and workshops. Existing members also had a few surprises for us as well. The club possessed a variety of quality telescopes, and many of the members have many years of amateur astronomy expertise. The “society” of amateur astronomy now came to RAS and began to observe with us!
I graduated from OSU in March of 1981. I got a job at Therm-O-Disc in Mansfield and now lived off Possum Run road by Snow Trails Ski resort. Getting to the RAS site was now a 5 minute drive. The 12.5" Meade Research Series scope I purchased in June of 1980 already had a number of places it called home - a back room in the OSU Astronomy department, lecture hall at Perkins Observatory and now the corner of the RAS clubhouse. It became a very familiar site at RAS and was usually the first scope you ran into when you went up the stairs to the observing platform. It was not alone either. Many other scopes joined the 12.5" taking residence in the clubhouse. “We were so involved in amateur astronomy at that time... we were observing fanatics. Everyone was into exploring the night… from 1981 to 1985 we were totally into it."
(He then goes on to dig in an old filing cabinet to show me many old, faded certificates of Messier and Herschel Club members from a time that the whole club was deeply into observing. Such notable names that went on to become physicists and accredited astronomers! I can’t help but wonder what happened to this excitement?)
"You get the picture now…. We were alive. The Club was thriving! The Clubhouse became a bunkhouse full of cots and tired observers. There were people and scopes everywhere on clear nights. RAS was the center piece of Deep Sky Observing in Ohio. We were tireless and our enthusiasm was about to reap big benefits...
Doug Wereb (who is now a regular attendee at RAS star parties) mentioned to me that he knows a guy in Cleveland who has a 31" mirror. He went on and told me the story about Norm Oberle and the legacy of the Lake Erie Astronomical Project (LEAP) that was created specifically for the 31 inch. Doug told me Norm is looking for a home for his 31 inch mirror. That is all that I needed to hear...
Using Doug as a messenger, I invited Norm down to one of our club meetings. It was one of those beautiful spring days in 1982 where high pressure and deep blue skies were abundant. I knew that this night was going to be special. Norm showed up for the club meeting as promised. After some brief introductions everyone got busy at the task of preparing for a night of observing. Norm was shocked by the flurry of activity going on around the clubhouse as 30 or so members and guests were busy preparing for the evening. Soon after sunset, the Hidden Hollow skies went to work. After about an hour or so of observing and working the crowd, Norm was completely convinced. This is the place where he wanted his mirror and visions of a 31" telescope to be called home. Before Norm left, he told me "I will give your club the mirror if you can build a scope for it". A simple task?
At our September 1982 Club meeting, I gave a progress update of Warren's meeting and the good news of RCF's donation. We were also going to meet soon with the LEAP Board of Directors. We decided that the club should form a 31" committee that would meet with LEAP. After a few minutes and assigning tasks for various assignments, a small committee was formed for the 31" project. The original committee members were Keith Moore, Brian Cardwell, Chris Coteff, Gary Wood, Larry Greer and my self.
On Sunday, September 26, 1982, the 31" committee met with LEAP's Board of Directors at the club house. The meeting was very positive and many ideas were tossed around. Basically, LEAP agreed to resolve and provide RAS with the 31" mirror and miscellaneous assets if the observatory could be built. The 31" committee left with tasks on how to build an observatory for the 31" telescope. Gary Wood and Jim Thomas took on the task of designing a roll off building for the 31". In April 1983, the design of a roll off building was completed.
I contacted Warren Rupp to inform him we had plans completed to house the 31". With the Richland County Foundation and other miscellaneous donations to go along with Warren's promise to match dollar for dollar, I was excited about the coming meeting with Warren. In May of 1983,Warren invited me to his house to talk about our observatory plans and the possibility of RAS operating a 31" telescope. The first hour or so, we spent talking about RAS, amateur astronomy, etc. I was surprised how interested Warren was in astronomy and how RAS came about at Hidden Hollow. The original RAS observing site was a concrete pad at Therm-O-Disc. It was there because another member was the founder and CEO of Therm-O-Disc. When Warren got involved with Friendly House (the governing board for Hidden Hollow) the club moved residence to Hidden Hollow and built the clubhouse that is currently there. Warren was genuinely interested in keeping RAS alive and thriving. He said to me "show me plans for the observatory". I showed Warren the plans for the roll off observatory. "No! No!" Warren said after a brief glance at our plans. Stunned, I stood there motionless and speechless. What's wrong with it I thought. "I want an observatory, a professional observatory. One with a big dome, a massive mount!" Warren said. I said something like that would cost a lot of money! "I don't care about the costs", he said. "My wife and I have trusts set aside just for this type of thing" he told me. "Come back with some plans for a professional observatory." I told him I would be back. I left with no emotion, I wasn't excited or disappointed, just shocked!
It became clear to me on my way home that the club was not going to be successful in designing and building an observatory at the scale Warren wanted. This was clearly out of our league and expertise. I called Doug Wereb and Norm Oberle and told them what Warren wanted. Norm was convinced Warren was serious about doing this. Through Norm and Doug, I was soon in contact with Tom Dobbins (Dobbins Instruments, Inc.). Within a week, Doug and I met with Tom in Lyndhurst (outside Cleveland) at his house. Tom was just starting his company building telescopes. Through Norm and Tom, an engineering and architecture firm was contracted to design the observatory plans for the 31".
In January 1984, the engineering design was completed for the 31" telescope, dome and all. On February 9th, 1984 I headed back to Warren's house with the plans for the 31" observatory. Little did I know what was going to happen next. The cost of the observatory now had topped an estimated $250,000.
I showed up at Warren's house with the entire set of drawings, plans, estimates, quotes, etc. Again I laid out the drawings for Warren to look over. This time, he sat there staring in silence. Not knowing what to do, I kept my mouth shut too. He then asked a few questions. "Is Hidden Hollow ok with having this observatory there?" Yes, Bernie is excited about having it there too, I said. "This is exactly what I had in mind", Warren said. "Leave this stuff here and I'll take care of it." he said. I said my goodbye's and left Warren's house not knowing what to do next. I called Tom the next day and told him what happened. A couple days later, Tom called me...
Tom told me that he was in contact with trustees from the Warren Rupp Foundation, Friendly House and a person named Bernie Dillon from Hidden Hollow camp. In March 1984 board members of LEAP, Tom Dobbins, Gary Kader and myself met Warren Rupp at his place of business for first time introductions and to discuss legalities of the 31" mirror. After the meeting, it was clear Warren was going to fund the project. The Warren Rupp Observatory was going to be a reality.
At the RAS April 6th, 1984 meeting, Tom Dobbins showed up and informed the club that work on the Warren Rupp telescope had begun. Tom gave a detailed description of what the telescope would look like, who is building it, and a tentative construction schedule. Tom had the floor for the entire meeting and left the club members speechless as he talked more and more about the telescopes capabilities. By the clubs May 4th 1984 meeting, construction of the Warren Rupp Observatory site had begun.
According to Warren's wishes, the donation of the 31" mirror and funding of the observatory was going to go to Friendly House of Mansfield (governing board of Hidden Hollow Camp). The Richland Astronomical Society (RAS) was going to be the care taker and operator of the new observatory. Bernie Dillon contacted me and told me that there needed to be a Director of the Warren Rupp Observatory. The RAS voted me in as the first director of the Warren Rupp Observatory.
The observatory building (without telescope) was completed late in 1984. Warren Rupp visited the observatory September 13, 1985 to observe the assembly of the telescope to date. The telescope was finally assembled in October of 1985 although miscellaneous work continued all through 1986 making the telescope easier to use and correcting minor construction problems. I was the lucky recipient of first light through the 31" while it was still tied up with ropes waiting for additional balancing weights and RA drive.
While employed at Therm-O-Disc, a co-worker and friend of mine, Warren Walker was talking about the new 31" telescope he had read about in the newspaper. Warren liked to build electronic things and was way ahead of his time in regards to computers and computer technology. I began to tell him about the telescope, observing and amateur astronomy in general. He seemed interested, and I invited him to come down, see the scope and do some observing. Warren Walker quickly became fascinated with amateur astronomy. A circuit board designer, and systems engineer by trade, Warren is prime for the tasks and challenges that lie ahead. Warren Walker went on to be a significant contributor to RAS and the Warren Rupp Observatory. And like they say, the rest is history.
I hope this article closes the gap and ties in the loose ends regarding the history of the Warren Rupp Observatory. From a stagnated small group in 1980 to the keepers of the best amateur operated telescope in the world, the Richland Astronomical Society truly is Ohio's best keep secret."
I would like to thank Bruce Scodova for telling me the story of how the Rupp Telescope came into being and for all his help in editing and correcting facts in this article. It is with the deepest respect that we present this page in history. Please check out Construction of the 31" Telescope for a pictorial, start to finish, building of the Warren Rupp Observatory.