Milwaukee Astronomical Society


Where Hobbies Cross

Paul Borchardt

After I retired, I found astronomy could fill much of the time I now had, but I still needed something else to do on those pesky cloudy nights. Another hobby, one that I could use my hands and imagination to build things. I remembered when I was in high school dabbling in model railroads before the astronomy bug had bitten me consuming my time and extra cash. So it was back to the trains again, and I joined a local train club to help gain the knowledge I'd need to build a scaled down piece of the world in my basement.

The layout, circa early 60s done in N scale, which is 160 times smaller than the real world, began to take shape. I built the normal items you'd find, a small rural town, factories, homes, farms, a river and hills. Yes hills, a nice high hill where an observatory could be found. I thought how cool it would be to have the MAS observatory on my layout, but none of the companies that make N scale replicas offer observatory domes, or the other structures found on our hill top. A few years went by, I continued to fill my little world with other scenes but always keeping in the back of my mind how I could come up with what I needed to build an observatory.

Then last winter a friend of mine, Craig Johnson, who runs a business that makes custom motorcycle parts told me he had bought a 3D printer to make prototype parts for his business. My idea light bulb lit up when he told me about this printer and what it could do. I asked if he could print a few small buildings for me and he said no problem, just supply the scaled 3D files of the buildings I needed and he could print them out in plastic, (the deal also required several 12 packs of Spotted Cow). I have access to Solidworks, a program used for CAD designing in manufacturing which I used to design the buildings and domes. Measurements of the Observatory were made and used to construct a tiny MAS observatory in my computer. My files were loaded into the printer and after about 8 hours of hot plastic oozing out in all the right places I finally had what I've been wanting for so long.

There was still more work to do. The buildings were printed in several pieces and needed to be assembled and painted. Space had to be made on the layout so the observatory could be fitted in, it was turning out to be more work than I thought, but that was O.K., it hadn't been all that clear lately.

As I noted earlier my layout is 1963, all the trains, vehicles, buildings, and even the billboards are from this era. So, the observatory needed to be too. From photos and written history of the MAS I found there were no restrooms on A-building, the C and D sheds were much different structures back then, and the Z-building didn't exist at all. I arranged the buildings as they really are to each other given the space I had to work with. The real observatory was in a cornfield back then, not on the edge of a cliff in a pine forest. But that what I thought would be great, so in my world that is where it's perched.

The layout is a fun project that I enjoy working on, the fact that I could cross over my two hobbies a little makes my imaginary world much more special.

1965 Actual Grounds

Observatory in 1965

Paul's Model

Observatory from my layout - 1963

What makes this even more special is that this is how the observatory looked when I made my first visit to the site in August of 1971 minus the restrooms and darkroom section of the Armfield Observatory which were added in 1964. I joined at that time and the board approved my membership in October of that year. So I have now been a member of the club for 50 years!