1946. Born. And then...
In the early seventies and my mid twenties,within a few wisps of smoke,I got gripped enough by the idea of telescope making to actually make one: a 6" f4 Richest Field Telescope. Stimulated by S.L. Walkden's fine description of the R.F.T. ethic in the closing chapter of ATM Vol.2 and corroborated by Clyde Tombaugh's enthusiastic words about the joy of rich field viewing.
The triumph for me at the time was ignoring the prevailing wisdom of the time, which was, for a beginner, to make a long f.l. mirror before attempting anything as short as an f4, and,actually grinding,polishing and figuring the main mirror. Employing the then just published ( in Sky & Telescope ) 'Millies-Lacroix' mirror testing parameters, it could fairly be said that I made several mirrors from that one piece of glass as I went back several stages a number of times before I was happy with that paraboloid's figure and finish. With a wet fine ground mirror in hand it was, I remember, a great joy to reflect onto a card a detailed magnified image of the long grass in the field beyond my window. And that was before I'd set to on the polish. I use it still to this day,it gives splendid views and I've been in thrall to short focal lengths ever since.
However, I was far too casual with regard to the making of the telescope structure. Fuelled by the three timeless volumes of Scientific American's "Amateur Telescope Making",it had to look right too. And it had to be made of metal also. It had to be something I might have hoped that Porter would have approved. Well,I did eventually fashion a sort of makeshift,which,if you sort of squinted as you looked at it ,seemed,... sort of O.K.. It took ages as I had to learn new skills. I even had cast in al. reinforcing rings for the tube ends and cell. Eventually,over a course of years, I learned to a reasonable degree the skills of machining and engineering to a 'need to know' level. All that aside,from about that point in time within this sub culture of telescope making I got left way behind as things began to change quite markedly.
The age of the home craftsman with his home machine shop, small foundry and fondness for brass seemed to pass overnight. The collective desire to build a mechanical work of surpassing elegance such as a refractor with beautifully turned cast parts of different coloured brasses or, say, a Porter Springfield mount vanished in a flash, it seemed like. In its place the ruthlessly pragmatic John Dobson with his philosophy of easy to build,easy to use and stupefyingly ugly large aperture reflectors replaced the ATM pioneer and genius R.W.Porter in the regard of the TM brethren,and wood replaced metal as the material of choice for telescope structures. The writer Richard Berry, (.. not, I regret to say,Richard Berry who wrote the sublime Louie Louie ) in his role as editor of the very fine "Telescope Making" magazine, (...alas, no longer published ) and with the same noble ideal as Porter of promoting the idea of 'scope building by/for 'everybody' relentlessly promulgated the use of paper tubes, plywood and glue, with the result that, lumpen, boxlike structures, consumed and coarsened the imagination of amateur 'scope builders everywhere. Metal cutting skills it seemed were rarely mentioned. It seemed to me we'd entered a new age of the artless. Tempered, in part,by the creation of Obsession 1 by Dave Kriege in the mid '80's,a 20" F5 large wooden truss 'scope which used all of Dobson's principles of simplicity but somehow managed to be a creation that combined function with a goodly amount of grace and proportion. This,despite its hefty weight became the template for most of the Dobs' to follow to the present day, and actually managed to look pretty fine. Nonetheless it still looked like you needed a pickuptruck to take it places. Indeed,wheelbarrow arms and a set of wheels are still standard issue with it I think.
It was not until a 1999 article in Sky & T elescope by a lad called Gary Wolanski and around the same time a report on a 'scope built by Greg Babcock,did I begin to rouse myself from out of my non telescope making torpor and think along the lines of building a large'ish Dobsonian telescope. Gary's 16" carried a main mirror of only 3/4" thickness,was made of aluminium and weighed a whopping 40lbs.! Importantly it also looked purposeful and right. Greg Babcock's 'scope knocked the socks off me and I became a Dobsonian nut. When I came across Bruce Sayre's website that was it,I had to build one! These were 'scopes that could be admired as they stood still, doing nothing but look interesting.
Incidentally, 60 years ago,I was born in and still live in a Pennine parish called Saddleworth,West Yorkshire,England,situated between the towns of Oldham and Huddersfield. Within Saddleworth's boundaries I reside in a village called Uppermill and a small lane in its centre called Saint Marys Gate. As it's on the west side of the Pennines it catches hold of all the prevailing sou'westerlies that are the most common winds here. The clouds,tend to pile up on each other and loiter before,unburdening themselves of their wetness and sailing over the hill to the wider wastes of Yorkshire. There aren't that many clear nights in any one year,and of those even fewer where I would consider loading my gear into the car to travel the mile or so around the hillside,to where I do most of my observing. Fewer still the nights that could be called pristine for the area. Maybe a couple of times a year. Indeed, I'm coming to the conclusion that there are far fewer clear nights nowadays than in the recent past. I imagine that upon those good nights those with good eyes and youth would plumb well into the magnitude 6 realm of 'seeing'. As it is I sometimes fancy I can discern stars to 5.5 or so on occasion. For that I'm grateful,as there is the massive light plume of Manchester to my west and,less evident,over the hill to my east the towns and cities of west Yorkshire. Because of the near loom of the hills around me I can observe down to the horizon in all directions but due west. Even on 'if'fy nights the milky way can be traced,if only directly overhead. Not bad.