June 1, 2000 marks a watershed date. On that date, the Interpretive Building at The Wilderness Center closes for renovation and expansion. Now, I realize that the new IB will be a wonderful place. And I realize that as a volunteer/club member, I don’t have to put up with the shortcomings of the building every day in a hundred different ways like the staff does. If I did, I might be singing “Ding Dong the Witch is Dead” or something like that instead of “Auld Lang Syne”. But, I have many very fond memories of the current IB. We’ve spent hundreds of hours in here doing many different things. Nearly every nook and cranny holds a memory. So, though we are all looking forward to the new, improved IB, let’s take a few minutes here to share a smile and maybe shed a little tear for the passing of the old IB.
My first real experience as an IB user was as a workshop instructor for the “Backyard Astronomy” workshop I first offered in late summer/early fall 1982. Coming in as a presenter, one is impressed with the facility. The auditorium is a beautiful room, with a gorgeous view. (This will be largely unchanged in the renovated building.) We had slide and overhead projectors, a sound system, a movie projector (now replaced by projection video) all supplemented by a projection room, a large screen and a lectern. Wow. Now, as we got to know all these “features” over the years, we got to know their idiosyncrasies. Like slides changers that don’t stay in the wall. Like really inadequate lights. Like using a forked marshmallow roasting stick as a pointer (before we had laser pointers). But the things we did in that auditorium - many club meetings, workshops from Halley to Hale Bopp, starfest lectures, used book sales (my back still hurts from hauling all those books!), Astronomy day lectures, puppet shows, Space Days, videos, slide shows, planning meetings, the Voyager/Neptune flyby marathon, Astronomy for Educators (both the “Hell Week” and the more humane versions), stowing and stacking tables and chairs, Christmas parties, Summer Star-B-Q’s... In non-astronomy activities, I have sat through a number of trustee meetings, pot lucks, catered dinners, flipped many thousands of pancakes and inhaled lots of atomized oil droplets, dealt out delicious barbecued chickens, and stowed and stacked tables and chairs.
How many times did we rearrange the display room? I used to tell folks that we got rid of all the trashy nature stuff, and decorated the place right for Astronomy Day. We’d bring in our telescopes. I just found an old picture where Ken Schlegel put a cardboard horse’s head and saddle on my proud new 10” Dob, along with a sign for “Horsey rides - 10 cents”. The corner full of scopes was always a great conversation piece. We’d bring in books, and computers with all kinds of software that seems awfully primitive now. We worked on grinding a mirror on a couple Astronomy Days. And then, there’s the lunar gravity simulator- an inspired contraption if there ever was one. It’s amazing how much fun you can have with a parachute harness, some rope, a couple pulleys and some weights. How many kids did we ride in that thing? Must be thousands by now. Of course, decorating has its pitfalls. I think I had the only “lost time accident” when falling off of a chair trying to hang something up for as Space Day in ‘97. Broke a couple bones in my left foot. I’m still hearing about that one. We set up a star lab in the Display room, we hung Linda and Kent’s collapsible Bell Herron planetarium dome in there. We hung Kris and Linda’s huge solar system mural in there. We ate lots of pizza in there, too.
Over the display room is a maze of catwalks. You have to really watch your head as you work up there to rig the gravity simulator. Low hanging ducts are killers. Robin likes to tell of the usual sequence: scurry scurry scurry, THUMP, OWWW. If the victim weren’t too sharp, you’d get to hear it again. Followed by laughter from down below.
The observation room was home to a few small meetings, and Astronomy Day setups. But it has always been a quiet refuge showing birds and squirrels by day, and raccoons by night.
When we first came, there was a peculiar little room called the “Mud Lab”. It was cold in the winter, hot in the summer and it echoed. The founding fathers of the IB had a vision of using it as a planetarium - they built in a plastered dome. But there was no instrument. Shortly after we got going as a club, Drew Miller made contact with Dick Emmons. Dick and his son Tom made a projector for us (paid for by the old Ladies Auxiliary and the WCAC). My dad, Paul Gill, made a console for the controls out of oak sawn from a tree on the site somewhere. We had to figure out how to mount the projector so that we could use the classroom. A friend of my dad’s, Russ Sommers of Canton, engineered and made the hanging apparatus we have used. It has served us very well. We turned it into a planetarium that was cold in the winter, hot in the summer and echoed. Many of us wrote programs for that little planetarium, but it was just a “hobby planetarium” till Joann got a hold of it. She made an honest planetarium out of it. We have taught in there. We have met in there. We have built stuff in there. We have mixed up pancakes. We have had membership and education committee meetings. We’ve changed many light bulbs in that little planetarium. And Joann has done programs for about 4500 kids. The “wake” we had for the planetarium at our May meeting was great closure for this wonderful little planetarium that could (and did!).
I used to put together the newsletter in the office, before I had my MAC and before we all had John. So a few long Sundays were spent down there. But my favorite office story regards the security system. Back before we had to have a staff member present when we opened up the building for small public events, we had a starfest scheduled. Dean Wilson and I showed up on a rainy evening (yes, we did them rain or shine). I unlocked the door, ran to the office and could not get the alarm to shut off. “YOU HAVE ENTERED A SECURED AREA! THE POLICE HAVE BEEN CALLED! PLEASE LEAVE!” I always hated that recording. Finally Ken Schlegel came and shut the damn thing off. After the program (very sparsely attended), it was time to lock up and leave. Dean waited outside the door. I armed the alarm, shut off the lights and headed out the hall to cruise out by the light of the Coke machine. Unfortunately, there must have been a total eclipse of the machine in process - that hall was pitch dark. And I was totally un-dark-adapted. I started down the hall. I ran my right shoulder into one of the coat racks. I careened off like a pinball and hit a rack on the left side - this time with my face. As I fell to the floor, holding my nose, all I could think was “I’m gonna set the %^%$@!#$% alarm off again!”. I got up, holding my bleeding nose and bent glasses, and made it out the door in the nick of time. Dean got a good laugh. I had a divot where my glasses dug into my nose, but no other damage. Needless to say, Robin got a good laugh too. (She’s way down the list of people to go to for sympathy.)
The basement classroom was the site of several telescope-making extravaganzas. Dave Ross, CEO of RevCo, made several generations of ‘scope workshops. There are probably still pieces of label tape backing somewhere in that room. We went through enough of it. And then there was glue. When we made the 4.25” Dobs, the poor soul I worked with loved to glue. What he lacked in carpentry skill (almost everything) he made up for with glue. I think three racehorses gave their lives so that he could have a telescope. I hauled many sacks of birdseed out of that room as well - usually with Gordon Maupin and Dale Gurich on a Sunday afternoon in November. I also remember coming down for a dress rehearsal for the first Enchanted Forest. (They were not the well-oiled, ad-hoc events they are now). Sitting in this downstairs classroom amid the costumes, noise and haste was a box of kittens. Bob Hawes had brought them in from his barn. Of course, Robin had to look in the box. One kitten took an immediate liking to her - a tortoise shell with a “dirty nose”. Of course, we took her home. Some of you know her as Aphrodite, now almost 13 years old.
There is a little room off of the classroom. It has the Center’s electrical panels in it. It used to be used for some storage as well, before we began to fear the building inspector. One night I had to go into that room to reset the timer for the parking lot lights (in the old days). I opened up the door, hit the light and there was a raccoon looking up at me with his fangs bared. I jumped about three miles and slammed the door. Then I realized he was sitting on a tree branch. I started to think... So I opened the door again, and there he was again, in the same pose. Frozen forever by the taxidermist. Don’t know what happened to that coon. Must have given it away or something. Don’t miss it a bit.
Various things happened in the storage rooms back the hall. We used to store the Giust refractor in the “Library”, so we often went in and out of there when we set up that scope. Unfortunately, the plumbing leaked above where we stored it, so we got rust on the scope. Should be only a memory with the new powder coating job.
The maintenance shop. I can see it full of birdseed. Ken Schlegel had the courage or stupidity to show me how to drive the new Ford tractor so that I could pull it out when we needed to. I don’t think I ever damaged it. Much. We (Kent & I) had the hubris to offer a mirror grinding class with a grand total of two 6” mirrors of experience between us. Luckily, the “Doctor”, Dave Stansberry, decided to take the class, and he became a co-instructor. Saved our bacon. We would come down each Saturday morning and set up the barrels and grind from 9 to noon. Had about 8 brave souls including Gary Liknes, Dean Wilson and Eric Mast. One of the sessions we were heavy into testing. There was a box of Bob Maxfield’s peanuts down there. I ate so many, I got sick. We had shells all over the place. We also used the shop to work on the Dob workshop scope parts - lots of help from members. We also took the Keller Scope apart down there. It was preserved on video. It is a wonder it went back together. Who knew that a sledgehammer was part of the telescope maintenance kit? And we broke a sledge getting the shafts out!
Lots of wonderful memories of the last 18 years live in the Interpretive Building. On my last visit, May 26, I found myself wandering around the building, looking at ghosts and memories. I remember a similar, misty feeling when we left our home in Perry Heights for the last time. If the new IB, and the Astronomy Building are half as versatile, half as resilient and half as much fun, we’ll have a great time. Thank you, Interpretive Building for a great 18 years. Thanks to those who designed the current IB for making a really fun place. And thanks to Gordon and the staff for trusting us to use the building.