History of the Milwaukee Astronomical Society

1952-1963 - The Quonset, Moonwatch, Expansion Plans

This era is going to plagued with difficulty in getting the B-Dome finished and then getting the telescope operating in the dome. It will not be until almost 1960 until it is functioning. 


B Block - B stands for Buckstaff.

When the new observatory is finally complete, Buckstaff's telescope is installed and becomes the third permanently mounted instrument in operation. We have now entered the era of the "Double Dome." Informally it is immediately called the Buckstaff Telescope, but most members generally started referring to it as the B-Scope. By this time Armfield had to move to Ohio and with his departure he officially gave his telescope to the MAS. That telescope was informally called the Armfield Telescope, but the membership referred to it as the A-Scope. Later, both telescopes would be formally designated.


The Buckstaff Telescope in its new home.

The Buckstaff Telescope. Note at this time it does not have a clock drive.


Ed Halbach receives the New York Astronomical Association award for his services to amateur astronomy, the first of many he would receive during his lifetime.


Having failed to raise enough money to build a third dome, a new rollaway shed is constructed to house the 10-inch reflector that was donated by Luverne Armfield. It was built in the location of the rollaway shed that housed the extremely long 8-inch reflector donated by A. C. Tabbott. The shed in this position (essentially between the A and B Domes) becomes known as the C-Shed. The rollaway shelter that was there was then moved some 20 feet north and west to house an Alvin Clark refractor which became known as the D-Shed.



The transit of Mercury is successfully photographed by members of the MAS. Bill Albrecht leads solar eclipse expedition to Mattice, Canada, but is clouded out.


Late in 1954, the society lobbied the City Service Commission that the Monastery (the old voting booth building) had become inadequate for it's public outreach and education because often there'd be more than 100 visitors. They were requesting a city-owned Quonset hut and there were a number of them in Bay View which would be vacated shortly by their tenants. Since they could not be given directly to the society (and the MAS couldn't afford to purchase one), they requested that one be transferred to the Milwaukee Public Museum who would then lend the building, just as it was done for the voting booth building. The request was approved in January of 1955 and then thanks to the museum, we received a 48' X 20' Quonset hut. The members raised it and mounted it on timbers ready to move. Early one morning, with police permission, the building was transported to New Berlin. The foundation had been prepared in advance. They were hoping to lay this between the A and B dome, thus fulfilling the original plan of two domed buildings joined by a single story building that would serve as a meeting hall. But the height of the B-Dome was not sufficient so the idea proved impractical. Instead, it was decided that it could be attached to the A-Dome and point toward the north. In time, the Quonset would be partitioned to have an office area in the back area and a oil heater added. That year there was an Annular eclipse expedition to Somalialand.


The membership voted to increase dues to $7.00 per year. 


The MAS starts an open house program for its members every Saturday night from May to October which eventually will be every Saturday which today we call Saturday Member's Night.

The MAS joins "Project Moonwatch" which is a satellite tracking program, a program that already existed, but was boosted by the Soviet Union's launch of Sputnik.

Ed Halbach at the blackboard.


View of the converted Monestary - now called the Satellite Shed.

In 1958, A.O. Smith Company donated $1700 toward the construction of a rotating shuttered satellite observation building. The funds were used to modify the “monastery” building to have a flat roof with a hinged cover at the north end. By that time the office and library were moved to the back room of the Quonset.

The picture at the left shows the new structure that became known as the Satellite Shed. At the left of that picture is the original Tool Shed and just to the right is the lower portion of what was the radio mast constructed in 1938.

Member Roy Lewis passes away and in his will be bequests to the MAS an Alvin Clark 5-inch refractor.

First edition of the Double Dome newsletter. 

The newsletter for the club called The Double Dome is started at the suggestion of Halbach. There had been no newsletter for the club since 1938! In the first issue, dated January, the following was written by an unknown editor: "THE EDITOR indignantly denies founding this newsletter to promote his own speech. The idea was Ed Halbach's, and the purpose is to publicize our efforts to blast ourselves off our fat launching pads. Since one of the immediate objectives is to finish the Buckstaff 12 inch installation, we were tempted to call this sheet the 'Empty Dome.' Feared somebody would mistake the title for a description of the writer." The next issue wouldn't be published for another 13 months!


Members Pope and Osypowski obtain superb lunar and planetary photographs using the A-Scope.


Continued work on satellite tracking, culminating in the visual observation of Sputnik 4 re-entry by Schaefer, Zit, and Highsmith in September 1962. These along with observations the MAS Moonwatch program made were instrumental in helping to recover pieces of the spacecraft that fell in Manitowoc and West Bend. You can read more about this here.


The 13 inch mirror on loan from the AAVSO is in need of refiguring and realuminizing. Rather than go through that expense, especially because it’s plate glass and does not belong to the MAS, they started a fund in 1960 to buy a new 12.5 inch mirror of superb quality from Cave Optical. A fundraising campaign is started and for $250 they secure the mirror, the diagonal, and a new mirror cell. The old 13 inch mirror is returned to the AAVSO. The new mirror has a focal length of 108.875 inches making the new A-Scope an f/8.71.


The Wisconsin Sand and Gravel Company offered to buy our observatory site. The City of New Berlin had made it clear that they want our observatory moved and both hills leveled. Bill Albrecht paid for a 45-day option on a new site west of Waukesha on Highway 18. After much talk and many meetings they refused to pay the $60,000 we asked. Our refusal to move for less than $60,000 stopped this.


The MAS is offered as a gift 2 additional acres of adjacent land by the Phillips family which we gladly accept. The new property line to the west is where there is now a natural gas line easement.  This prompts another major plan for expansion of the observatory.

New and old observatory property lines.


The board approves the official naming of the two main telescopes: Armfield and Buckstaff with nameplates. For years they’ve been informally called that, anyway. There is a new sign in the parking lot. The board approves the addition of restrooms and a darkroom for the observatory by extending the Armfield Observatory.

Luverne Armfield Telesscope plaque. Ralph Buckstaff Telescope plaque attached to the pier.

Dues were raised to $10.00 per year with $1.00 additional for family members. All new locks were installed and a telephone was added.