A New Astronomy Club Is Founded: The Cleveland County Astronomical Society, Boiling Springs, NC

This picture was made on a weekday afternoon in the summer of 1987 at Simmons Air Field, located a few miles south of Polkville, North Carolina. The grass landing strip provided the first dark-site for club observingWe had our meetings at that time in the basement of the Lutheran Church in Shelby, then we moved to the old courthouse, now known as the Earl Scruggs Center.  In the early 90’s, we would begin having our meetings at the Williams Observatory, on campus of Gardner-Webb University.

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That’s me in the right-center, not looking at the camera.  I rode my bicycle for the photo, with a T-shirt tucked in my cycling jersey back-pocket. 

Note my hair:  This is commonly referred to as “helmet-head” as one should never wear a helmet before getting their photo taken!

The youngest guy in the picture, is my son, Brad.  He is now in his mid-40’s (2021) and living in the desert southwest. 

Note:  See more photos of the air strip and information near the bottom of this post.

I was surprised to find the following in some of my files. An advertisement in the local newspaper that was responsible for the astronomy club, which was dated Wednesday, December 18th 1985. 

My youngest son Brad, read the article and the rest is history.  If you can’t read the print in the lower left corner…it reads:  

“Interested in Astronomy?  –  Paul Webb, an amateur astronomer for 12 years, would like to form an astronomy club in Shelby.  Anyone interested in joining should contact Webb after 5 p.m. at (and I can’t read the number) 

I don’t recognize any of the people in the Shelby Star photograph.

 

More information concerning the astronomy club as provided by Tom English: 

My first introduction to the CCAS was shortly after I was hired at Gardner-Webb College in fall 1989 (it became a University later) when G-W Biology/Geology Professor Les Brown told me that Ken Vassy had contacted him and asked him to relay to the new astronomer(me) that Ken was reviving the club and holding meetings in his classroom at Cleveland Community College.  So sometime in the fall of 1989, I went over there to meet him before I actually attended a meeting.  Ken was quite a character, and he was excited about getting the club back in business.

The original CCAS followed in the wake of Comet Halley, as did so many astronomy clubs in the U.S. in the 1980s. Paul Webb (on the right in the photo above) was the driving force behind the club.  When Paul moved to South Carolina, the CCAS lost its impetus, and quickly ceased operations.  With plans underway to build a campus observatory at Gardner-Webb, Ken saw an opportunity to resurrect the club.

Early CCAS Mark II meetings featured Ken talking a lot about telescope making and quoting from Jean Texereau’s book on the subject.  Attendees included Keith Rabb & Robert Levine, who are in the photo above, and another guy in the photo who I believe was named Ron.  I think David Brooks and Teresa Halyburton also attended some of those early meetings, and I was able to get G-W astronomy student Kale England, who had his own personal observatory in his front yard in Ellenboro, to come to a couple as well.  I think Ken also got a couple of his students to come on occasion. There were rarely more than half a dozen more than people there those meetings. 

It wasn’t long before BoB Eskridge & Leon Knott showed up.  BoB was from Shelby, but had memberships and associations with multiple clubs around the region. Leon was at the Museum of York County in Rock Hill, home base of the Carolina Skygazers.  (MYCO and the Skygazers, by the way, hosted the annual Great Christmas Gift Show-off, an event that Ken talked about incessantly – it was the demise of that event that led BoB Eskridge and I to establish BoBfest a few years later.) I may have met Gary Addington from the Gastonia club at one of those early CCAS meetings – but I don’t recall for sure. 

CCAS past presidents and officers:  (photo taken in about the mid 90’s) 

Back row left to right:  Brett Clapper, Tom English, Paul Webb:   Front row left to right:  BoB Eskridge, Ken Vassy, Roger Ivester, Tom Lorenzin, Steve Davis

Tom English (L) myself (C) and Don Olive during one the Regional Meetings of Amateur Astronomer’s at Gardner-Webb University.

Note:  Tom Lorenzin as pictured above (first photo) was a speaker at one of the meetings.  Tom is the author of “1000+  The Amateur Astronomer’s Field Guide to Deep-Sky Observing”  and also 2000+.   

Tom Lorenzin passed away suddenly on August 23rd 2014 at 67 years of age.  

Lorenzin gave me a lot of good advice, concerning the observations of deep-sky objects.  And he also challenged me to see some difficult objects, such as all nine galaxies in a 1/2º field, when centered on M86.  I could name many others. 

1000+ was my “observing program guide ” through the 90’s.  I worked on objects via right ascension in sequence each night, and 1000+ was the perfect atlas for this. 

Lorenzin coined the name “Deer Lick Galaxy Group” which seems that only a very few know why he named it this. The following link tells the story:

Simmons Air Field, Polkville, NC:  The first observing site for the CCAS. 

Fred Simmons was a local architect, pilot and owner of the airport.  Fred was very interested in astronomy.  He even hand-painted the sign, which said “CCAS Official Observing Site” which was posted on a utility post. 

Unfortunately over time the writing had weathered away, making it unreadable, but it was still history . So, I asked to have the sign, and it’s now on display in the Williams Observatory. 

Mr. Simmons passed away on December 6th in 2014 at the age of 99!

Roger Ivester

A photo of the sign, airport and airplanes from earlier years. I asked for the sign, and it’s at the Williams Observatory, but almost unreadable now.

The First “Regional Meeting Of Amateur Astronomers” aka “BoBfest”

The first event was held on January 23rd 1993 in the Ritch Banquet Hall, on campus of Gardner-Webb University in Boiling Springs, North Carolina. There was approximately 75 amateurs attending, from local, to as far away as Tennessee, South Carolina, and VirginiaThe following is a brief description of how the event got started:  

The Carolina Skygazers of Rock Hill, South Carolina held an annual astronomy event.  The purpose of this event was to allow anyone who had received a new telescope, or other astronomy equipment for Christmas, the opportunity to “show and tell.”

Due to conflicting events, the normal meeting room at the York County Museum would not allow the regular scheduled astronomy program to take place and had to be cancelled.  

The telephone call that started it all:   

After finishing the CCAS monthly newsletter together one night, Tom English received a call from Bob Eskridge, who would inform him that the Rock Hill event was being cancelled.  There was a discussion between Tom and Bob about the possibility of the Cleveland County Astronomical Society taking over this event.  It was agreed by all concerned that the CCAS, would host a new event, titled “The Regional Meeting of Amateur Astronomers”  also to be known as, “BoBfest.”  The meeting would include, astronomy speakers, vendors, solar observing, a swap table, and most importantly the opportunity for amateurs in the region to just get together and have a good time.

Shortly thereafter, plans were already being made to host the event at the Ritch Banquet Hall, on campus of Gardner-Webb University. The date was set, Saturday, January 23rd 1993, and the rest is history.  

Why “BoBfest?”

We always used an extra capital B: why, I’m not sure. And was it named “BoBfest” to honor BoB Eskridge?  (then and now, known as “The Ambassador of Astronomy” of the Southeast)…. or was it  just because Tom English and Chris Glaves liked the sound?  

The truth is that they thought “BoBfest” sounded a bit more relaxed and fun than “The Regional Meeting…” 

Roger Ivester

Lost Arrow Ranch” and a tribute to Mike Price:

The CCAS also had a dark-site in Rutherford County in later years. It was known as the “Slab” to the astronomy community, named so, for a concrete patio…apparently from an old house, that occupied the location at one time.

The following is a photo of Mike Price, who passed away, Friday (December 17th 2021)

Mike considered himself only the caretaker of more than 1500 beautiful and mostly untouched acres, given the name “Lost Arrow Ranch.” It is a truly a dark-site, perfect for astronomical observations and for those seeking quiet and refuge from the modern day world.

He was a pilot and owned his own aerobatic plane. Before one of our observing sessions, he gave us an exhibition of his flying skills. All I can say…AMAZING!

Mike and Jackie are honorary members of the Cleveland County Astronomical Society (CCAS).

Note: The Catawba Valley Astronomical Club also observed at this location on occasion.

An observing event at “Lost Arrow Ranchin 2016: Barre Spencer and me.

Jackie Price and BoB Eskridge

Brett Clapper, Stuart McDaniel and others

The Pavilion at “Lost Arrow”

Mike and Jackie cooking:

Debbie Ivester with Mike and Jackie’s dog. (2016)

Mike Price Obituary:

https://www.washburndorsey.com/obituaries/mike-price-67

Supplemental photos of the observing area, made today (Tuesday, December 21st)

The concrete “Slab” where we once observed from, but later moved a few hundred yards to the “Hill” which allowed for a better view of the East and Western sky.

The “Observing Hill” where we would set-up telescopes in “more” recent times:

Satellite view of the observing area via Google Maps. The “observing hill” is to the left or the somewhat circular clearing and the “Slab” is the square toward the right.

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