Part 5 - Post Holmes Years (1975 - 1982)
by Bob Stephens

This is the fifth in a series of articles about the roots of the RAS. Up until this point, I have relied upon research into old bulletins, interviews with former RAS members, letters, newspaper clippings, photographs, and magazine articles. Finally we gotten to the point where I can supplement that with first hand recollections (such as that is).

In past episodes, I discussed various periods in club history:

(1) our predecessor, the Citrus Belt Amateur Astronomers

(2) the Kaiser Era from 1957 to 1964

(3) the Holmes Era from 1965 to 1968

(4) the RTMC Era from 1969 to 1974

These stories can all be found on our web site at http://www.rivastro.org/ras-history.php.

In the mid 1970’s the RAS took another leap forward. Significant changes occurred to the Riverside Telescope Makers Conference allowing it to become a national conference. At the same time new management came to the club with the core officers changing for the first time in almost ten years.

Riverside Telescope Makers Conference

The Riverside Telescopes Makers Conference was started in 1969 and was held at Riverside Community College until 1972. For 1973 and 1974 it was held at Camp Isomata in the Jacinto Mountains, becoming a camping weekend. 1975 was a turning point for the conference, as Camp Isomata was raising its prices beyond the point that participants could afford. Looking for a new site, Cliff Holmes and Pat Michaud of the San Bernardino Valley Amateur Astronomers (SBVAA) were driving down Highway 38 in late 1974 when they spotted a camp at the end of a valley. Dropping in to talk to the camp manager, Brian Bost, they quickly struck up a friendship and a partnership that would last for years.

The Telescope Field at the 1976 RTMC

In May 1975, the RTMC was held for the first time at Camp Oakes, and it became an instant success. The first year at Camp Oakes had about 200 come, about the same attendance as at Camp Isomata. However, thanks to articles in Sky & Telescope about the telescope making occurring on the west coast, attendance quickly started to climb to 300 in 1976, 400 in 1977, and 600 in 1978. By the early 1980’s, over 1,000 people were coming from all over the western United States to the conference. For a few years, the SBVAA cohosted the RTMC.

Cliff Holmes setting up his telescope
at the 1975 RTMC

Pat Michaud of the SBVAA
at the 1976 RTMC

The RTMC was at the cutting edge of amateur telescope design and construction during the 1970’s and 1980’s. The RAS’s own Jon van Gelder designed one of the first digital setting circles, which earned a mention in Sky & Telescope. We eventually mounted a later version on my 14-inch telescope.

Jeff Scheoder with his homemade
11-inch refractor at the 1976 RTMC

Jon van Gelder with his digital setting circles mounted on Bob Stephens’ 14-inch telescope

Being before the advent of inexpensive commercial telescopes, this was the golden age of amateur telescope making. Designs of all sizes and shapes showed up from John Dobson’s enormous 24” telescope to Jeff Schoeder’s homemade 11” refractor. The one thing that some of these telescopes had in common were that they were massive. Over the years, several trailer mounted telescopes made an appearance.

Dennis di Cicco, Ashley McDermott, Bob Stephens, and Pat Michaud at the 1977 RTMC

During the late 1970’s, the popular subject of talks was increasingly becoming about astrophotography. Advances in film, equipment and techniques were driving the interest amongst amateur astronomers. Talks on telescopes designed for astrophotography, cold cameras and hypersensitizing film were regularly presented.

The legendary astronomer Bart Bok gave the best talk in 1981. His talk was entitled “The Milky Way Revisited, or a Star is Born.” As the discoverer of Bok Globules and an expert on all things Milky Way, Dr. Bok was going to give us a tour of our galaxy using the best pictures available. However, his slides were stolen at LAX. Devastated, he did not know what to do. Cliff told him to get up anyway and draw pictures with words. Waving his arms about, Dr. Bok did just that.

Bob Stephens' 14-Inch and Brad Dischner's 16-Inch telescopes
in 1978

A photo of the participants at the 1978 RTMC


Cliff Holmes was the President for 1975 and 1976. However, by the end of 1976, Cliff had been President for 12 years and felt it was time to pass the reins. For 1977, Luther Davisson took over as President. However, his tenure was to only last one year, and after some serious arm-twisting by Cliff, I became President for 1978 through 1980. After that three-year stint, Mike Sugarman took over as President and lead the club for the next two years.

Despite his retirement as president, Cliff remained incredibly active in the club, remaining on as the Director of the RTMC, becoming Chief Observer, and eventually becoming President again for a couple of years.


During this period, we had several top-notch speakers including Dr. James Gunn of Hale Observatories (1977), Dr. Bart Bok (1978), Dr. Halton C. Arp (1979), Dr. Wallace Tucker, Dr. Don Yoemans of JPL, Dr. Eleanor Helin, and Dr. Ed Krupp of Griffith Observatory. Several of these were Morrison Lectures sponsored by the Astronomical Society of the Pacific. The talks by Bart Bok and Halton Arp were standing room only. On several occasions we held joint meetings with the SBVAA.

Cliff Holmes addresses the audience at the 1979 RTMC

Star Parties

Throughout the 1970’s and early 1980’s, the RAS typically had winter and spring Star Parties held at our Gavilan Hills site. The reason for this was that much of the club focus during these years was to provide Star Parties for the astronomy classes at Riverside Community College and UCR. We also had summer Star Parties, often held at the Heliport at Angelus Oakes. This was our “Deep Sky” observing site, and a lot of experimenting with astrophotography occurred there. Many of those Angelus Oakes Star Parties were held in conjunction with the SBVAA.

Coulter Optics introduces a 29-inch Dobsonian that
required a flat bed truck and 10 guys to move

In addition to those regular star parties, we also went to some special locations such as the Mount Palomar Campground and Camp Roosevelt in the San Jacinto Mountains. In addition we had several special star parties at member’s homes that were in relatively dark sky locations such as Rick Bean’s house in Hesperia, Bill Goff’s house in Wrightwood, and Gary Lopatynski’s house in Anza.


During that time, the RAS has scheduled tours of local astronomical facilities such as Perkin Elmer and Palomar Mountain. In 1982 we rented a bus for a tour of Goldstone. That was a very successful tour with 43 members coming along. We later tried more bus trips, but the cost of renting a bus escalated to the point where we could no longer afford it for small groups.


In 1982, the RAS rented a bus for a tour of the Goldstone Deep Space Communications Complex


Certainly, the most spectacular event of the era was the arrival of Comet West in March 1976. We anticipated the arrival of this comet for several months, thinking it would be bright, but not magnificent. Then, as the comet came to perihelion, the nucleus split into four pieces and the comet dramatically brightened to –2 magnitude. The comet was an early morning object, and the RAS held Saturday and Sunday morning star parties out in the Gavilan Hills. About 200 people on each of the two mornings crawled up into the hills at 4 AM for these star parties. They were not disappointed and were treated to fantastic ion and dust tails rising up before the morning dawn. We still argue to this day over whether Comet West or Comet Hale-Bopp was more impressive.

Comet West photographed by
Bob Stephens from the Gavalin Hills
in March 1976

About 200 people came to view
Comet West at 4 AM in 1976


The end of an era occurred when the club did its last grazing occultation on September 18, 1977. From the mid 1960’s to 1977 there are 18 documented attempts at viewing grazing occultation of stars by the Moon. This effort was to help professional astronomers map the limb and orbit of the Moon in support of the Apollo program.

Another passing of an era came when Warren Estes passed away on February 11, 1978. Warren was one of the most important persons in the development of the RAS from the late 1950’s to the mid 1970’s.

Warren Estes at the 1976 RTMC

Other members were undertaking interesting projects. Brad Dischner built a truly massive 16-inch telescope suitable for astrophotography. Although he only used it for visual work, it was pictured in Sky & Telescope. Bill Goff, a prominent member of the AAVSO was doing variable star observing from his home in Wrightwood. Rick Bean observed the Moon and over the years wrote several Prime Focus articles on the subject. I eventually tired of astrophotography, sold my 14-inch to Rick Bean, built a 10-inch Ritchey-Chretien Telescope, and joined Bill Goff in observing variable stars.

Throughout the years, the RAS had the use of observatories as a central meeting and observing location. The first one was the Kaiser Observatory in the late 1950’s and early 1960’s. Then, in the late 1960’s and early 1970’s, the club used the Alvord Observatory at the La Sierra School District. However, the club had long dreamed of owning an observing site.

In 1980, the club did an extensive search for property around the Anza area, and secured the promise of a free use of property from a friend of the club. However, the property wasn’t right and the club would not own or control the land. Finally, there were not enough club members truly interested in pursuing the project, so the offer was not accepted. Then when Mike Sugarman became President in 1981, he too pursued the idea of obtaining property for an observing site, and ran into the similar issues.

The club also developed an interest in acquiring a driven telescope and astrophotography equipment for club members to use. Eventually the RAS acquired some giant binoculars and other loaner equipment. During this period, the dues were raised from $14 to $15, and then in 1982 it was decided to double the dues to $30.

The highlight of Mike Sugarman’s presidency was incorporating the club. By 1982, with the growth in the RTMC and with desires to have an observing site, it became obvious that the club should become incorporated. We contacted an attorney that worked with other local astronomy clubs, and he got our corporate status as well as our tax exemption. We were on our way to becoming the club we are today.

More History:  Roots of RAS   1957-1964   1965-1968   1969-1974   1983-1991   1992-1998

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