Dick the Astronomer
Dick’s fascination with astronomy began before he was 8 – when he made his first small telescope – and continued through his entire life.
He built his first observatory in the back yard of our home on Deblin Drive in Milford, Ohio in 1968 and immediately set up his home-built telescope – a 12 1/2” Newtonian. By this time he would not only build the telescope but was already grinding any lenses or mirrors that he needed for the telescope.
As I mentioned in an earlier chapter, Dick would daily go downstairs into the basement and walk for miles around a 50 gallon drum that he had rigged as a grinding machine.
Once he had spent the hours needed to create the proper curve on a lens he would then test it. Inevitably this would require more grinding followed by more calibration until, ultimately, the ‘perfected’ lens would be ready for use.
John Ventre, Dick’s friend and (among other things) the historian for the Cincinnati Observatory, reminded me that not only did Dick belong to both the Cincinnati Astronomical Association (CAA) and the Cincinnati Astronomical Society (CAS) but served as President of both organizations, thus becoming the only person to be President of both organizations and the only person to be President of the CAS twice.
Dick also became a founding member of the Midwestern Astronomers (MWA) and maintained association with this organization and its members until he died.
It’s been over 40 years since those ‘early days.’ The move to our new home in The Pines allowed Dick to build both a new Observatory and a large Pines Optical Shop and saw the manufacture of the first of the Dick Wessling YellowScopes.
Dick officially opened the Pines Optical Shop in 1991 to sell his YellowScopes and to promote his work of cleaning and refiguring mirrors and lenses. He had already made several YellowScopes for himself and friends, but the formal creation of the Optical Shop took him in a new, more professional direction.
As fast as he would produce a YellowScope, he would ‘play’ with it a bit – with the rationale that he was testing it – and then quickly sell it to some worthy soul in order to have money to make an even bigger, better or more innovative telescope. Dick had pride in his work, but for him the paramount challenge of a new and better instrument always took priority over the one already finished.
Dick not only made telescopes but he used them practically on a nightly basis. He would enjoy relaxing on the back deck, bottomless beer mug in his hand. His journals and many photo books are filled with sketches and photographs that he took of the moon, stars and planets.
Once, when Dick and his friends had gone to visit the ‘Farm’ down in Kentucky (where the skies are still dark), as they returned late in the night (early in the morning), Dick, looking out of a window into the sky as he often did, said, “Orion is on the wrong side of the car.”
They were driving south instead of north and had to turn around. Although they had traveled 45 minutes in the wrong direction, everybody managed to have a good laugh at this.
One of Dick’s photos allowed me a special opportunity. While a student at the University of Cincinnati, I had a rare opportunity to have a private meeting with Neil Armstrong, then teaching Aerospace Engineering at UC. I wanted to show Neil a photograph Dick had taken of the moon which showed the area of the moon landing. Neil was most impressed with this gesture and asked me thank Dick for his thoughtfulness.
I used to kid around with Dick that I thought he was a reincarnation of Galileo. He got a kick out of this. Now I think it’s probably true!
Dick delighted in traveling to observe the sky and meet with his fellow astronomers. Every year he would go to various places to observe and once even managed a couple of weeks in the Caribbean for an eclipse of the sun. Upon returning he reported the eclipse was great and the night skies dark but the place was too hot and humid – if memory serves, the eclipse was in August so I suspect he did not exaggerate!
In 2001, the Cincinnati Observatory approached Dick to clean the lens of their 155 year old refractor telescope. After Dick agreed to the project, officials from the Observatory (all friends of Dick’s, of course) brought over the lens still encased in its brass cell.
Dick carefully opened the casing and removed the lens – dirtied by a century and a half of use – cleaned the lens and then measured and tested it. I remember Dick explaining that the various measurements would create a kind of ‘picture’ of the lens – that once the lens went back into its brass cell it would probably not be removed for another century. He realized this would be the last opportunity for a long time to measure the curvature of the lens, its exact focal length and the like. And this he did.
After Dick retired from 3M in 2007 he devoted most of his free time to working on the latest variations to his YellowScopes. However, his other interests and obligations also became important, such as cutting the lawn or skiing or repainting the various buildings or playing golf or cleaning the deck or reattaching shingles after late summer wind – well you get the drift.
Two of Dick’s telescopes remain in our home to this day in places of honor. Our daughter Diana is proud to own one of her Dad’s Yellow Scopes, as is our son David. Of course many of Dick’s friends enjoy one or more of his telescopes.
The last words come from Cincinnati historian John Ventre and from the playwright Anton Chekov:
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