How we got the dome: A Narration

by Richard F. Somer, MVAS

It could be said that the acquisition of the Ash Dome that now serves the MVAS Apollo Observatory began with the arrival of Halley's Comet in 1985. That was the year that I bought a Meade LX3. Not an obvious connection, but bear with me - there is one.

People who own telescopes often seek out other telescope owners. And so it was that several inquiries led me to Joe Perry and Sam Falvo, two of the area's active observers. Whenever we met they would bemoan the fact that there was an observatory dome "up near Floyd" that the government had abandoned. "Why don't they let us have it?" was the refrain.

One weekend, in 1986 I think it was, the three of us visited the site, on Koenig Road, reached by climbing over a partly fallen fence and ignoring the restricted-area signs. The landscape was littered with waste materials once used in space research, including the sixteen-foot Ash Dome mounted on a cement-block base about five feet tall. The interior was empty. The dome still rotated - manually - but light leaked through assorted bullet holes, gifts bestowed by mindless rifle owners. All we needed was a way to get it off its base and out the gate.

But it would be better to do it with some authorization. Thus it occurred to me that the local Army Reserve Unit might have access to or knowledge about the property. A phone call to the Commanding Officer corrected that notion. But then he directed me to an office at Fort Drum. Once through the usual telephone maze, I spoke with a lady named Ann Waterman. I described the dome, its location, and apparently abandoned status, and explained how useful it would be to the "Mohawk Valley Astronomical Association." The name just popped into my mind. (After all, I could hardly say that Joe, Sam, and I would like to have it.) She said she would see what could be done.

Several phone calls - and months - later, Ms. Waterman directed me to an Army office in Rochester, New York. I was to write the Lt. Colonel there describing the dome and its location and explaining the use the "Mohawk Valley Astronomical Society" wished to make of it. That done, he responded that he must notify all other Army installations of the availability of the dome; if none wanted it, we could have it.

Eventually the notification came that if we were willing to waive injury claims, we could remove the dome under the Army's supervision. Army supervision turned out to be the attendance of a captain who had the misfortune of being assigned there. It was a Saturday in July, hot enough to cook on the dome surface. Fortunately, several of us had visited the site before, preparing the dome for its removal. So all we had to do under "supervision" was to lift it off the base, take it apart, and load it onto a truck (provided free by Walt Koperda).

The dome was sufficiently light that six people could easily lift it while two four-by-fours were slipped between it and the base. Then it was slipped off, using two other four-by-fours as runners. It was then dismantled, section by section, and piled flat on the truck bed. It was all done within four hours, as I recall. And then we took the dome to Sam Falvo's, where it rested in pieces in his yard for eleven years.

Involved in removing the dome and transporting it to Sam's were Joe Perry, Sam Falvo, Dan Pavese, Kurt Wiehenstroer, John Ossowski, Arlene Somer, and I. Randy Staver and others had dropped by and helped on the days when we were preparing it for removal.

But it was not until May 1989, that an organizational meeting was held to draw up plans for the present Mohawk Valley Astronomical Society. The rest, as they say, is astronomy.

Return to the Dome's History page
Return to the MVAS Apollo Observatory page