HISTORY OF THE RAS
Part 2 - The Kaiser Era (1957 - 1964)
by Bob Stephens

There is little written history left of the early years of the Riverside Astronomical Society. We did not start publishing a formal bulletin until the mid 1960ís, which is the formal source of much of the knowledge about the club. What we do know comes from several sources...

(1) a recollection published by Harold Kaiser in the December 1980 Prime Focus
(2) an article published in the Rohr News in January 1961
(3) a recollection published by David Sleeter in an email message in March 2000
(4) recollections from Jackie (Holmes) Bridges, Ashley McDermott and Randall Wilcox who knew Harold Kaiser back in the late 1960ís and early 1970ís

The Riverside Astronomical Society was founded May 27, 1957, when Frank B. Jones placed a notice in the Press Enterprise. Harold Kaiser and Warren Estes were the first and second of nine people to respond to the notice. The first meeting of the RAS was held at Shamel Park, where Frank Jones was elected President.

Sky & Telescope Announcement - November, 1959

Kaiser Observatory Kaiser Observatory

It is not known if H. Page Bailey was ever a member of the RAS. However, he was certainly in contact with the early members as he offered to donate his 15Ē Cassegrain telescope to the club. However, since the club did not have a place to install it at the time, they could not accept the offer.

That first year was vigorous for the RAS. They were active observers and immediately joined the Association of Lunar and Planetary Observers (ALPO). The club quickly grew to 25 members. We donít know where the initial meetings were held, but they eventually went to a classroom at Poly High School. The Star Parties seemed to be held mostly at Harold Kaiserís Observatory. This was a 16í X 16í building that he and his future Son-inlaw, Gene Purtick built in Kaiserís backyard. In it was installed Kaiserís 12- 1/2 inch Cave Astrola telescope, which Purtick later modified for astrophotography.

Harold Kaiser with his 12-1/2" Cave AstrolaHarold Kaiser with his 12-1/2" Cave Astrola

In those first years, the club was heavily involved in the International IGY Program plotting meteor showers. The skies in Riverside were quite dark, as it was out in the Ďcountry.í Even by the mid 1960ís you could still see 6th magnitude stars from Kaiserís observatory in Arlington.

For 23 months the club worked meteor showers, observing nearly every clear night. Often, a group of nine would recline in a circle facing each other with one person as the recorder. They were very proficient at counting meteors, recording the magnitudes, the constellation of origin and the direction of travel. They considered themselves in competition with other clubs around the world, placing second for 1958.

In 1958, Warren Estes, then a teacher at Riverside Junior College (now RCC) was elected President. He attracted many new members from both the college and around the community. Warren was well known for his lectures and demonstrations. He was even better known for his ability to build telescopes from the simplest materials. He designed a German Equatorial mount built from pipe fittings, that at least a couple of dozen RAS members constructed over the years. Warren and his dad did also owned a business, for which one of the sidelines was building telescopes. It was called the Estes Telescope Company.

Also in 1958, Richard and Helen Lines joined the club. He was such a driving force, that in 1959 he was elected President. Unfortunately, his job took him to Arizona late in 1959. Richard Lines would later discover a comet, become well known for his work on photometry of variable stars, and developed automated telescopes.

Harold Kaiser was appointed to fill out Linesí term as President. He remained President for 1960, 1961, 1962, and 1964. Gene Purtick was President in 1963. Warren Estes was the Chief Observer all the way to 1975. Harold Kaiser is described by everybody who knew him as being very gruff, but very supportive of club activities and amateur astronomy.

Star Party at Kaiser Observatory
Star Party at Kaiser Observatory in Riverside

During this time it wasnít just all about observing. Harold Kaiser was also a mirror maker. Steve Meyering would be jealous to know that Harold Kaiser had a mirror grinding machine capable of grinding a 24 inch mirror. It is not known if any mirrors of this size were made Ė in fact it is doubtful that they made any mirrors larger than 12 inches. Kaiser was good friends with the legendary mirror maker, Alika Herring of Cave Optical. Gene Purtick worked at Cave Optical for a while.

Harold KaiserHarold Kaiser

Kaiser was very encouraging of club members to make mirrors and telescopes. However, he was very critical of mirror quality. That mirror grinding machine and the entire mirror making supplies was later donated to the East Bay Astronomical Society in San Francisco.

By the early 1960ís, the RAS had 30 members and moved the meetings to the Victoria Savings and Loan in the Riverside Plaza. Throughout these years the club went on several field trips to such places as Griffith Observatory and Palomar Mountain.

About 1964, Clifford W. Holmes joined the RAS and became fast friends with Warren Estes.


More History:  Roots of RAS    1965-1968
   1969-1974   1975-1982   1983-1991   1992-1998

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