Astronomy Shed Build

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This past winter, we had planned on staying a month at Rusty’s RV Ranch in Rodeo, NM, then head back into Arizona for a few months.  After three days in Rodeo, we canceled our Arizona plans and extended to 3 months, but that too would prove not to be enough.

Rodeo, NM is not a highly populated area nor a resort destination for most.  However, because of this, it is a VERY dark sky site.  Some of the darkest skies in the US.  It was so dark that during the night on a new moon, I could walk around and not trip over anything with nothing but the light cast off of the Milky Way and other star’s light.  We were… in awe.

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One of our reasons for visiting Rodeo was to scout the area and consider building a remotely operable observatory. I’m a bit of an amateur astronomer, but because we’re generally in cities and have to concern ourselves with light pollution and personal property security that tends to outweigh the desire to break out all my gear (only to tear it back down a few hours later).

The TurtleHerding AstroShed

The TurtleHerding AstroShed

Rusty’s RV Ranch is a prize find for astronomy and birding buffs alike.  Rusty, the owner, is very serious about preserving the night sky.  Exterior RV lighting is prohibited, and you must use red lights when walking around after dark.  For vehicles, parking lights only should be used after dark when driving through the ranch.

Early in our stay, I mentioned the scouting efforts to Rusty, that we were looking for a suitable location for a remote observatory. Rusty let me know that she and Tim have plots of land which are available to lease for just this purpose! Further, I was introduced to someone with an observatory just down the road from Rusty’s and got to see a lot of his great solutions to issues which I’d been struggling to work through thus far ( like, how to secure the rolling roof once closed so that high winds would not blow the roof off ).  Within a week or two, I had signed a lease and ordered the building which would become my remote observatory!

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Special Thanks:

Before continuing, I’d like to extend a massive ‘THANK YOU’ to a fellow astronomer that I met at Rusty’s.  Mark, whom you’ll see in just a few photos, was a huge help.  He introduced me to Don, who’s own astronomy shed was the inspiration for mine.  He provided loads of hands-on assistance, including digging holes, swingin’ hammers, holding things while I was sawing, hammering, drilling.   Mark put in countless hours and is the reason my first astronomy shed turned out so well.

There were also many others who extended a helping hand or tool along the way.  Dennis, Jason, Eric, Chris, Tim, Bob, Rusty, among others.  Thank you all for your part in making this dream a reality.

And, of course, to my darling wife.  She gave me the OK for this endeavor and tolerated my obsessive toiling, planning, talking about this project as well as me being out of the RV working on it for weeks on end.  Thank you, my sweet.  I love you.

Work began immediately.
(NOTE: This post is very long, relatively detailed and full of pictures.)

Here’s a quick breakdown of the items tackled:

  1. Clearing the land and a driveway back to the corner lot that I’d picked ( northwest corner ).

Cleared Astronomy plot

Cleared Astronomy plot

Planning for all the materials required for the build and getting them delivered.

  • I mentioned that Rusty’s RV Ranch is remote, right?

  • Luckily, Valley Mercantile is about 20 minutes drive away in Animas, NM.

  • The Mercantile had a surprisingly good selection of materials and even coordinated ordering in some of the less common items ( 20′ long 1/4″ x 4″ plate steel for example ).

  • They were able to deliver practically all of the major building supplies right to my build site!

  1. Measuring and setting up a foundation for the shed.

    • I decided to dig holes and bury concrete blocks. I wanted the foundation to be deep enough not to wash away or settle in the monsoon season of the desert southwest, but high enough to keep the building above the ground to prevent water washing up onto/into the shed.

    • Were I to do this again, I’d pour concrete footers instead. Getting the blocks even remotely level and at the same height as each other proved nearly impossible. I ended up shimming quite a bit to ensure the building was itself level and evenly supported.

not a pet cemetery…

not a pet cemetery…

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4. Carefully measure and pour the concrete footer for the telescope pier.

  • I wanted the concrete to stop just below the subfloor of the Astro-shed. This configuration would permit me to cut only small holes for 1/2″ all-thread to stick up into the shed and mount the telescope pier onto those all-thread rods.

  • Thus, meticulous measuring was required since the square shape of the footer would need to fit between two-floor joists of the shed. This ultimately worked out very well, much to the surprise of the shed delivery team.

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5. Getting the building delivered and set over the concrete footer for the pier.

  • It was dark by the time the building arrived, which made things a bit more tense getting it set into the proper position.

  • Further, I had to drill four holes through the floor for my all-thread rods to poke through.

  • The delivery team did not think this would work. I re-measured everything one last time and confirmed that the concrete would be just 2″ below the floor, nestled right between the floor joists with only 3/4″ clearance to the joists themselves.

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6. Shim the runners under the building to ensure it was level and evenly supported, as well as positioned so that the all-thread was centered in the four holes I’d drilled.

7. Get initial power setup at the shed.

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I started with 2 x 300-watt solar panels and a ~100Ah deep cycle battery. This setup was temporary, just waiting for other power items to arrive and allowed me to run some network gear.

  • Once my primary power storage arrived ( a 5.2kWh Tesla battery module ), I converted over to it and added a 1000 watt inverter. This power system permitted me to run any AC load I needed, which mostly consisted of recharging the batteries for my various tools.

  • 8.Splitting the roof!

    • One key aspect leading to the choice of the Graceland Portable Building’s Side Lofted Barn was that its roof to wall interface was the same height around the building ( no staggered height between end and side walls ) and had two 2×4’s at the top as the wall plate.

    • This meant I could separate the two 2×4’s, leaving one attached to the roof segment, and one attached to the top of the wall, then reinforce where necessary.

    • I could also lift the roof and install my track, plate steel and rollers with relative ease (although this was tougher to execute than I’d expected initially).

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