Astrophotographer's Journal, Part 2:
Between Eclipses: 1979 to 1991

Jeffrey R. Charles

© Copyright 1997; 1998 Jeffrey R. Charles. All Rights Reserved.

This document is the first installment of "An Amateur Astronomer's Journal", an autobiography of Jeffrey R. Charles which emphasizes his activities in his favorite hobby, amateur astronomy. In pursuit of this hobby, he invented many innovative gadgets for astrophotography and eclipse imaging. In 1984, he He founded Versacorp, a business which was initially based on optical telescope accessories he had designed and built for his own amateur use. Versacorp has since entered other markets such as engineering, image processing, and panoramic and full sphere imaging. A great deal of this document series is still under construction. It will eventually include descriptions of various astro gadgets, and journals of various astronomy meetings, star parties, observing sessions, and astrophotography sessions.

Chronologically, this document follows: Eclipse Chaser's Journal: My First Eclipse: Feb. 26, 1979.
It precedes: Eclipse Chaser's Journal, Part 2: The Big One: July 11, 1991.

Astrophotographer's Journal, Part 2


Life Under the Night Sky

Under Construction

My First Astrophotos

Under Construction

Comet IRAS

Under Construction

Moving to Arizona

Under Construction

Look! It's Halley's Comet!

Under Construction

Innovations in All-Sky Photography

Under Construction

Pining for Another Total Solar Eclipse

Under Construction

Health Care Haves and Have Nots: Being a Have Not.

While recovering from my 1979 illness (the one unrelated to the eclipse bug!) my only income had been from preforming various camera and instrument repairs. During this time, I had maintained a health insurance policy which was a conversion from the group policy one I had when I worked in Greeley, Colorado.

In 1983, I moved from Colorado to Arizona, where I began working as a telescope repairman and camera and telescope salesman at Wilson Camera, a local camera store which had a cooperative arrangement with a co-resident telescope wholesaler. My income at the camera store was not anything to write home about, but the annual total was better than the sporadic income I had received from my previous self-employment in camera and instrument repair. Since my income level was insufficient to facilitate purchasing real estate, I was inclined to plow what money I did have into Versacorp, my telescope accessory business. Among other things, this made it difficult to either afford or justify the expense of an eclipse expedition. I even sat out the relatively nearby annular eclipse of May 30, 1984, choosing instead to invest in going to the Riverside Telescope Makers Conference near Big Bear in California.

My new employer eventually offered an attractive health insurance plan, but I kept my private policy until they decided to triple the premium in one fell swoop. At this point, I switched to my employer's group health insurance, which was administered by Blue Cross at the time. They later switched to Aetna, which was not nearly as good because payment was often delayed so long that some bills were in danger of being turned over for collection by the time a claim was processed. I did not have a great deal of claims, but peace of mind was important. Even slow insurance is far better than no insurance.

Versacorp gradually started getting off the ground, but the downtown owners and managers of the camera store chain where I worked started demanding that we come in on Sundays and work without any base pay. If we balked, we were threatened with termination. Sundays were typically slow, so being required to work without base pay usually meant we had to work for free. In addition to this, occasional demands to come in and work on designated days of were made on short notice, and any balking was again met with threats of termination. All of this made it difficult to run my business.

The local store manager was powerless to do anything about the actions of the chain's owners and managers, so he was more or less exploited right long with the rest of us. The co-resident telescope wholesaler (a friend of mine) was not a party to the chain owner's actions, and he was not in a position to influence things either. Since my full time hours were no longer predictable enough to schedule my business activities, I transitioned to working part time.

Shortly after this, the demands for us to work for free on Sundays stopped. I heard that someone (I don't know who) had turned the store owners in to the labor relations board. This may have been true, because the owners later retaliated by claiming that something had been stolen and they made all of their sales employees go and take polygraph tests on their own unpaid time. This was not the first time this kind of thing happened, and whenever the company required the tests, employees were always prohibited from making their own audio recordings of the polygraph sessions. This seemed very suspect. This sort of thing made the owners a pain in the seat to work for, but somehow, I managed. Obviously, the employee turnover rate there was very high, averaging less than three years.

Losing My Health Insurance

At the end of 1985, I resigned from working in a sales capacity at the camera store so I could devote full time to my own business. The owners had stiffed me for a raise they had agreed to give me a month before, but I was still under the impression that I had been able to leave on relatively good terms with them. They were informally retaining me for some future applications that they or the co-resident telescope wholesaler had in mind for me, such as teaching a short astrophotography class to customers. Accordingly, I was allowed to retain my group health insurance as part of the arrangement and did not have to convert to an individual policy. Maintaining insurance was important because I still was not completely healthy. I figured that some of my symptoms could due to pollen allergies, and wanted to explore the matter. This was far more practical with the group policy, since individual conversion policies typically have a much higher premium and far fewer benefits. Several months later, it appeared that the camera store's plans involving me would be canceled or indefinitely delayed, so I left the company.

I was able to retain my health insurance after leaving the company (or so I thought) due to the recently enacted COBRA law. In maintaining insurance, I was directed to pay the premiums to my former employer rather than the insurance company. The policy took a long time to pay on claims, but it seemed to cover most necessary procedures. The next winter, I became ill with a protracted sore throat and fever and had to go to the doctor.

The illness persisted for weeks, and while I was still sick, the insurance claim related to my first related doctor visit was denied. Accordingly, I investigated the matter, and I was shocked and surprised to find that my former employer had not forwarded all of my insurance premiums to the insurance provider. As a result, my policy had been canceled due to lack of premium payment! Not only did this mean my current claim was not covered, but it also made it impossible for me to obtain a conversion policy! I contacted the Commissioner of Insurance, but it did no good. My former employer was unable or unwilling to do anything either, though I did eventualy get them to refund most of the money I'd paid which they had not forwarded to the insurance company. The bottom line was that I had lost my health insurance - while I was sick!

The Financial Tailspin

On top of becoming ill, I now could not obtain health insurance due to so-called "preexisting" conditions in my medical history, some of which were shown in my records as the result of incorrect diagnoses. This brought about serious financial concerns. In the absence of adequate treatment, the throat infection and fever I'd had when I lost my insurance lasted for six weeks! As a direct result of not having adequate access to medical care, my general health declined to the point that it affected my business earnings on a constant basis. In 1987, I lost 55 work days due to illness, suffering from a fever in excess of 101 degrees on many consecutive days. That would have been the first year Versacorp made a profit if I had been healthy enough to work full time. As it was, I only broke even.

Less than a year after the loss of my insurance, I had to go on AHCCCS (the Arizona version of Medicaid) in order to get any health care at all. The maximum allowable income one could have to qualifify was ridiculously low; a maximum of only $3,300 per year! In addition, I had to provide a copious amount of financial documentation just to prove I was poor enough. Worse yet, I was unable to qualify for the first several months because AHCCCS personnel did not allow me to deduct legitimate business expenses when determining my income. Therefore, even my gross sales had to be very limited if I was to qualify. After that, the ridiculously low income requirements doomed me to an indigent level of income for years. It was either that or do without medical care for what had become a chronic condition. This was the ultimate "Catch 22"!

Arizona's indigent health care system typically pays a doctor or health care organization a flat rate for each patient they take on under the program. This cen tend to eliminate incentive for a doctor to utilize the resources necessary for proper diagnose a condition, so I had to go through the arduous process of switching doctors until I could find one that would take my condition as seriously as his wallet. One of my earlier doctors even said that he would not seriously investigate my condition "until the symptoms become more acute" - and he said this at a time when I had not been able to use the restroom for over a week due to intestinal problems! In the presence of such medical incompetence (and quite possibly avarice) my condition worsened.

During this time, the "great unknown" of potential uninsured medical expenses had made me reluctant to take risks in my business or expand it to the point of getting off Medicaid, let alone to the point of hiring employees. Expansion can be a slow process, and lack of health insurance could land me right back in the poor house (and back on Medicaid) if everything did not go just right. With my lingering illness still not allowing me to work full time, things were anything but just right. This situation also made it impossible to afford filing patents for several new products that I had wanted to test market, so I did not introduce many of them. Since about 1980, the cost of patents had skyrocketed, making it all but impossible for an individual of modest means to file, prosecute, and maintain a comprehensive patent or set of patents.

Shortly after resigning from the camera store, I had moved to Camp Verde, in Arizona's Verde Valley. The area started out being a good place to operate a small business, but some in the area were orchestrating a movement to incorporate the town, and the claims of some of the promoters seemed to be rife with misinformation. I had seen small areas incorporate before, and the results usually were later considered to be undesirable by many of the people. The local barber I frequented was very much in favor of incorporation and he would try to sell people in the idea when they came into his shop. One day, after finding I would not back incorporation, he cut my hair nearly twice as short as he had been instructed to. After this, I obviously started going to another barber! Eventually, the town incorporated, and it was said that some in the new government started acting like annoying big shots. The town soon began to pass burdensome regulations on small business and according to some, a few of the local big shots appeared to be throwing their weight around. The town even tried to pass a one percent sales tax on local real estate! (Not unique now, but it was relatively new then.) Some small businesses soon failed or fled the area. I began operating my business on the sly until I moved out of town (income was almost nill while I was ill anyway), since getting a permit would have potentially subjected me to petty hassling by amateurish town big shots. Once again, it looked like incorporation may have proven to be a failure (or at least appeared to deliver less than it had been promoted to) and a burden to some in the local population.

Health Care and Opportunity North Of the Border

I ultimately saw a possible solution in immigrating to Canada. Their national health insurance program would allow me to obtain basic medical coverage while self employed. There, the availability of health care would not be dependent on income.

In the U.S., a person with a "preexisting" condition has to either be poor enough to qualify for Medicaid or just plain rich enough to afford paying for medical care outright. A person in the middle is just stuck! COBRA became law around 1986, but it is only a temporary solution, providing coverage for 18 months. This was of no long term use for a self employed person. Immigrating to Canada could eventually facilitate expansion of my business, owing to the universal availability of health care.

Some say that taxes are higher in Canada. Some are indeed higher, but after I researched the matter, I found that if one calculated the combined cost of both taxes AND health insurance, Canada came out about the same as the U.S. for income levels under $40K or so. (Assuming of course that you can even get health insurance in the U.S!) If one made more than $40K, Canada would be more expensive; however, the lack of health insurance in the U.S. was making it almost impossible for me to increase the size of my business. Canada's universal health insurance at least had the potential to facilitate better health, which would result in an increase my business and income. Under these conditions, I would be happy to pay more taxes!

Visiting Canada

In the summer of 1988, I sold my Celestron 8 telescope to pay for a trip to Canada. The primary purpose of the trip was to find the best area in western Canada for potential relocation. In August, I began a month long tour of British Columbia and Alberta to check out local conditions, see friends, attend the Mount Kobau star party, determine if I was sensitive to local allergens, check out local industry, and get information about home occupation and other business and zoning regulations. As a potential immigrant, I expected to fully comply with all regulations, including local zoning bylaws which addressed home occupations. Accordingly, I wanted to be sure I acquired all of the available information about regulations that that would affect my business in each area. If the laws affecting one area were burdensome for a small business, I would just select a different location.

After visiting Canada, I liked British Columbia's Okanagan Valley (Particularly Penticton, Summerland, and Salmon Arm) the best, but ultimately decided that relocating to the area around Abbotsford, BC would be the most advantageous from a business standpoint due to its proximity to industry in Vancouver. Locations in Alberta like Canmore and Red Deer were nice, but the harshness of winter in Alberta made these locations less attractive.

One thing that impressed me about many cities, towns, and districts in Canada is that they acted as though they really wanted to encourage small business in their area! This was quite unlike many municipalities I had encountered in the U.S. With the exception of Kelowna and its surroundings, most cities and districts through out the entire Okanagan valley in British Columbia seemed to be the most encouraging. While many other areas I visited were also favorable, this degree of facilitating a home occupation business was only matched by Abbotsford in B.C. and Canmore in Alberta.

I had planned to start the trip by driving from Arizona to L.A., then up the west coast, but last minute demands by a part time employer in my home town and last minute problems with the sale of a telescope to a government customer in Alaska delayed the start of my trip by more than 24 hours. This required me to take a faster route through Utah in order to still be able to see all the Canadian people and places I wanted to see, yet still make it to the Mount Kobau star party. So much for seeing San Francisco! One consolation was that my new route allowed me to see the Glen canyon dam in northern Arizona. The first people I visited on the trip were Pastor Dale Brown and his wife Gerry, who lived in Mount Vernon, Washington state. I had been acquainted with Dale and his family since 1975, when he had been a teacher at a Capernwray bible school facility near my former home in Estes Park, Colorado. While visiting, I attended their church and then went to a church picnic, where some people were baptized in the ocean. I also got to visit some people I had met years before when they were students at the bible school in Colorado.

Some of the other people in the church seemed to be under the influence of a teaching that I was not familiar with. Without notice, one member at the church picnic insisted on praying for my healing, then he seemed a bit surprised by the fact that I had not been instantly healed. I later learned that this person's inappropriate theology had come from a movement called the Vineyard, which had recently conducted a seminar in the area. The undercurrent of this theology (which had not been endorsed by the local pastorate) caused a split in the church a few months later.

From Mount Vernon, I took a one day trip into Canada just to get familiar with the Vancouver, BC area. Upon entering Canada, I sought out business and other information at the nearest government building. There, I encountered a female official having long dark hair. Her face was so attractive that she knocked my socks totally off. I had not experienced this sort of encounter for years, and I was virtually speechless and unable to phrase my questions properly. It was sort of like when one's mind goes south during a total solar eclipse, only more pronounced. As I tried to babble my questions, she just sort of stared back while looking rather unamused. After this minute or so of probably making an idiot out of myself, I drove to an Infocentre in Delta. There, I obtained brochures and provincial business information, being undistracted by the appearance of the helpful attendant. From there, I went to Vancouver, where I stayed until after dark. There was a lot in the area to photograph, particularly in Stanley Park, which was then a safe place to visit at night. At about midnight, I arrived back at Dale's house, where I had deliberately left most of my belongings in order to minimize the complexity of crossing the border.

The next day, I went back into Canada with all my luggage to begin my multi week tour. I had to spend several hours at a bonding agency getting customs paperwork in order so I could temporarily bring a sample of my VersAgonal product into the country. I had been in touch with the agency about my requirements for weeks, but they had apparently lost track all records of my previous communications with them. Once things had been worked out, the business day was almost over, so I just worked my way inland as far as Abbotsford, but I had to backtrack to Langley to find a hotel room because all of the hotels near Abbotsford were full due to a local air show.

The following day, I want to Vancouver and some surrounding communities, spending a more time getting small business information at city and provincial buildings than I did sight seeing. I also stopped by Vancouver Telescope Center, a major astronomy dealer in Vancouver. After that, I checked out Canada Centre. From Vancouver, I set out toward the east, taking photos, and stopping in various towns to obtain information. After dark, I drove into the Fraser valley and toward Manning Provincial Park. Once in the park, I noticed that the sky was very dark, so I stopped to look around. Above some trees, I could see M31, the Andromeda galaxy. Its shape was discernible with the unaided eye! In the Milky Way to the South, the dark "hobby horse" nebula stood out more plainly than I had ever seen it before - even from Arizona. This was a dark site! I got out my 4" f/8 refractor and started looking at various objects, using magnifications of 17x and 25x. The view of the Andromeda galaxy was very memorable. For only the second time in my life, I could see a myriad of details in its vast and dim expanse, which extended well beyond the field of my lowest power eyepiece. It was far better than looking at a photograph! Even though it was cold, but I looked at M31 for several minutes before I was finally able to tear myself away from the impressive view and put the telescope away. After this, I resumed my drive and stayed the rest of the night in Princeton.

The 1988 Mount Kobau Star Party

The next day, I drove to the Mount Kobau star party, near Osoyoos, where I had a good time and met many other amateur astronomers. A lot of them had home built telescopes, and the featured speaker was John Dobson, whom I had met years before when he put on a show in Colorado. He still seemed to remember me from that time I had repaired his slide projector after it had broken during one of his presentations.

Some people at the star party were more light hearted than those typically attending the more recent national events in the U.S. The relative absence of formal competition may have had something to do with this, since more people may have just come to observe and have a good time. One person even told me a rather unique joke relating to how Canada got it's name. He said something like: "You've heard about how people in Canada like to say "eh" after each sentence, eh? Before Canada had a name, some chaps got together and decided to come up with a name for it by drawing some letters out of a hat. One fellow who was not too familiar with local colloquialisms was assigned to write down each letter as it was pulled out, then a chap pulled out one letter then said: "It's a C, eh!". He pulled out the next one and said: "N, eh." Then he pulled out another and said: "D, eh." After this, they looked at letters compiled on the paper and saw that it spelled "CA NA DA". And so, Canada got its name!"

On Mount Kobau, I also met some characters I did not want to see. That year, there had been an explosion in the population of striped yellow hornets (often called "yellow jackets") and they were so numerous that there was always at least one in sight for every ten square meters of ground area. I avoided being stung, but many there estimated that at least one in four attendees had been stung that week.

In the evening, they had a group picture taken and then gave away "door prizes", and a lot of them. After the major prizes, the proceed to have continued individual drawings for about 24 candy bars. Appropriately, the candy was mostly Mars bars. I don't recall if they also had Milky Way bars. The sunset was spectacular, and the observing that followed was quite good, though the cold tended to be rather distracting. Having lived in Arizona for five years, I had lost some of my tolerance for cold. I asked some people if they had seen the aurora borealis recently. One person said that he had seen it in the last couple of days and added that it was sometimes a problem in Canada, since particularly bright displays could compromise deep-sky observing conditions. At about one in the morning, I dozed off in my car, covered with lots of blankets. Early the next day, I left Mount Kobau and drove down toward the Okanagan valley.

The Scenic Wonders of Canada

After leaving the Mount Kobau event, I went to Osoyoos, but my my pollen allergies went bananas there, so I started on my planned northerly route up the Okanagan Valley. I stopped at a swap meet in Okanagan Falls, but the plethora of yellow hornets in the area (some of which were nearly 7 cm long) made me lose interest in any sort of outside activity. My next stop was Penticton. I really liked it and stayed there for several days, doing little but enjoying the scenery and getting zoning and business information. My allergies were not as bad there as they were farther south, and there also seemed to be fewer hornets buzzing around. Of the cities I had visited thus far, the city government of Penticton seemed to be the most organized and easiest to get along with. I stayed at the Holiday House Motel, which was operated by a very personable German family. One night, I let their family look at various planets and deep-sky objects through my telescope.

From Penticton, I went to Summerland, where I went to city hall to get the usual business information. The town hall building seemed a bit more austere than that in Penticton, but I was favorably impressed with some of the people there. While I was there, one of the clerks who had seen my product brochure asked me if I could hang around a few minutes, adding that someone may want to meet with me. I said I would stick around, and I was pleasantly surprised to find that it was the mayor and one of the city officers who wanted to meet me! They wanted to see what my business was about, so I told them. I even told them that my finances were not too rosy due to health insurance problems, etc., and that did not seem to bother them. They indicated favorable impressions about the innovative nature of my products and indicated that they wanted me to choose Summerland as the place to move and set up shop. I certainly liked the Penticton/Summerland area and the fact that Summerland seemed so business friendly made an even better impression! I mentioned that there were a lot of factors to consider but indicated that would let them know if I was going to be able to relocate in the area.

Factors to consider included the matter of the Immigration process. People I met in Canada told me that it was extraordinarily difficult for someone from the U.S. to immigrate. Some jokingly told me that I would have a better chance of getting in if I threw away my identification and drifted on shore in a boat as a "refugee". They were correct about this difficulty. Following the influx of Vietnam draft dodgers, Canada had made it much more difficult for people from the United States to obtain landed immigrant status in Canada.

From Summerland, I continued north to Peachland, where I spent the night. The only room available was very small, being only half a meter wider than the bed. I later found that the room was also spider infested, but I went ahead and stayed there anyway. The next morning, I was surprised and alarmed to discover that the spiders infesting the room were not ordinary spiders. They were brown recluse spiders - some of the most poisonous in North America! Fortunately, I had not been bitten, but when I was sitting in my car later that morning, I saw one spider crawl out of my satchel when I opened it. Another of the spiders was sitting on my clip board when I pulled it out of my satchel, and it promptly made a dash straight for me! I never moved so fast in my life! I am glad I wasn't driving at the time! After this, I stopped at a local park to rid my car and luggage of any remaining spiders, but I did not find any more of them.

The next stop was Kelowna, which was on the east side of a floating bridge across Okanagan Lake. The city government people seemed very bureaucratic, with some of them downright snobby. Traffic in the city was also a nightmare, which did not impress me very favorably. With Kelowna being the Okanagan Valley's major source services for machining, anodizing, and plating, the thought of having to frequent it was not attractive, so I ultimately ruled it out.

The next major town Vernon. When I was about half way there, it started raining lightly. A few minutes later, when I was about 11 km away, my car felt like it would when driving through a deep puddle of water, but there had been no puddle. As I was pondering this, my car quickly lost power and coasted to a stop. I tried starting it again, but it would not, so I looked under the hood. All seemed well, and when I got in to try it again, it started, ran rough for a couple of seconds, and stopped again. It did not start after that, so I tried to flag down the few passing motorists. It was starting to get cold and dim, though sunset was still a while off. Half an hour slipped by and no one stopped. Finally, after 15 more minutes, some tourists from the Illinois stopped and took me to a Chevron station in town. From there, I called a tow truck, which arrived after only a few minutes. I rode out in the tow truck to pick up my poor old car, a 1972 Plymouth Fury 3 with 85,000 miles on it. We picked up the car and went back to the station, where I was told they would work on it the next day. From the station, I went to a hotel that was within walking distance.

The next day, I went to the station and was there when the repairman found the problem. The composite timing gear had stripped, causing the engine to fail. The repairman put on a new gear and reassembled the front part of my engine, but the car would not run reliably when it was started. He was puzzled and after checking a few things, he hooked some equipment up to the engine. After this, he told me he thought the car only had compression in 3 of its 8 cylinders. He confirmed this by hooking compressed air up to each spark plug socket and cycling the engine. Apparently, the pistons had hit some of the valves when the timing gear stripped.

He said that I needed new valves, and knowing the typical cost of that, I began to consider the possibility of having to leave the car. I had paid $225 thus far, and had only about $400 left. The repairman realized that I could not afford a conventional valve job, but he volunteered an alternative. He would look for heads with good valves at the junk yard and install them for me at his house. His employer understandably did not want to tie up the auto shop with an unconventional job, and he was going out of his way to fix the car for the amount of money I had left, minus enough for to pay my local hotel bill and buy enough gas to get to the home of some friends in Red Deer, Alberta. In Red Deer, I hoped to regroup and wait for the money now needed for my return trip to arrive from the U.S. Here was an HONEST auto repairman, who was also being an exemplary ambassador for his country! I was very thankful for his offer to fix my car in this way.

Since the repairman would not have time to do the repair for a day or two, I called Lyle Greenwood, a friend in Salmon Arm whom I was going to visit and told him I would be delayed. I had known him because he visited Camp Verde, my home town in Arizona, on some winters. I had been introduced to him by our mutual friend Gordon Williams, who was an expert in the art of horseshoeing. Vernon was less than 100 km away from Salmon Arm, so Lyle offered to have some people he knew pick me up. I jumped at the chance, and was visiting him on his ranch the next day.

It rained my first afternoon in Salmon Arm, and the rain was followed by a magnificent rainbow. The next day, Lyle gave me a tour of Salmon Arm, and that night, there was a beautiful display of Aurora Borealis to the north and east. It was about 60 degrees wide and 10 to 15 degrees high. It seemed to have a pale greenish white color and an appearance like an oblique view of the bottom of a curtain. Its undulating features were combined with fine vertical lines, and its features slowly moved toward the west. It also had brighter vertical bands which were very diffuse and moved across it without appearing to affect the general shape of the aurora. Occasionally, when a brighter band would move over a prominent feature of the aurora, the top of the feature would quickly but temporarily lengthen several degrees. The motion of the diffuse brighter areas was about half a degree per second; much faster than the motion of the physical features.

The next day, I was able to pick up my car. It ran better than it ever had before and continued to run like a champ for years. The repairman only charged about $325 (Canadian dollars) for the job. I went back to Salmon Arm to say goodbye to my Lyle, then I took off to the east, toward Revelstoke. I got to Revelstoke after business hours, so I was unable to visit the town hall. I did stop at a tourist information facility, where I was able to get some information. Revelstoke was spectacular, but rather isolated from industry, making it somewhat impractical as a place for my business. Not having the money for a hotel, I drove on toward the east, having to pass through the magnificence of Glacier National Park at night. I could only see the silhouettes of the mountains against the starry sky. Some mountains appeared to be almost 45 degrees high from the road, so I knew the daytime view would have been spectacular. At about midnight, I reached Golden and parked at a truck stop, where I spent the night sleeping in my car. It was very cold, but I had brought lots of blankets.

I awoke to a magnificent view of a vast range of mountains to the west as they were illuminated by light from the rising sun. They gradually changed from a soft pinkish hue to a warm orange color. I soon took off again toward the east, seeing more impressive mountain scenery near Field, then the mountains near lake Louise in Alberta. I wanted to make it to Red Deer by evening, so I only briefly stopped to take pictures. I continued through Banff and Canmore, then to Calgary, where I stopped by Quasar Optics, a major telescope dealer. After having realized how good the road was between Canmore and Calgary, I decided to try and visit Canmore again on my way back home. From Calgary, it was just a short hop of about 150 km to Red Deer, where I arrived in the early evening.

My friends in Red Deer, Larry and Myra, had met at Capernwray Bible School in 1982, where I had also been a student at the time. Larry was originally from Red Deer and Myra was from California. They married shortly after leaving school and now had a daughter. They were gracious hosts and allowed me a lot of time to recover from the sleep deprivation and recent strain of my trip. Larry was a city bus driver, so we talked while I rode with him on his route. In some of the evenings after I recovered, they showed me around town, even taking me to a local club which featured a live musical group. I spent some time at a local diner that they were just about to open. The city hall was surrounded by one of the most impressive and extensive collections of flowers I had ever seen.

One day, we had an interesting problem when we discovered that Larry and Myra's their child safety seat had been left in the car Myra had taken to work at the diner. Their daughter was at home with Larry and I, and Larry needed to get to work. We also needed to transport the child to Myra at the diner. Their other car was not at the house, so my car was the only one available. We obviously could not leave the child home alone, and local laws did not allow us to legally transport a child without the safety seat. Myra was not able to leave the diner and bring the seat home to us, and there was inadequate time for either of us to drive the round trip for the safety seat before Larry was due at work. The option of Larry taking the car directly to work was not feasible because then I would be left at the house with their daughter and no transportation to get her to the diner - and I had no idea how to change diapers, should the need arise! We eventually figured out how to solve this problem, which had put some light hearted adventure into my trip.

The problem sort of reminded me of an old school math quiz in which a farmer who had a sack of grain, a goose, and a fox, all of which had to be taken across a river in a boat which was only large enough for the farmer and one of the items he had to transport. He could not leave the goose alone with the grain or the goose would eat the grain. He could not leave the fox alone with the goose or the fox would eat the goose. This grain, goose, and fox problem is solvable. Can you solve it?

One evening, I showed Larry and Myra some slides and prints I had taken at the school we had attended six years before. After an enjoyable week with them, my wired money arrived from the U.S., and after some difficulty getting it from the local bank which had imposed extra charges for unauthorized exchanges, I started back for the states. Seeing Larry and Myra again had lifted my spirits from the previous downer of my car breakdown.

While in Red Deer, there were a few times that I felt exhilarated, like I had more energy than I'd had in recent memory. Sometimes, I just wanted to take off and run as fast as I could when going between two places, even though I got winded rather quickly. I did not know why this was so, and I would have attributed it to fewer allergies if it were not for the fact that I constantly had the sniffles. But then, sniffles are a lot better not being able to breathe through one's nose at all!

After leaving Red Deer, I went back through Calgary and got some business information. Calgary's laws were very unfavorable for small businesses in which some or all of the business activity is done at home, so it was ruled out. From there, I went to Millarville, Turner Valley, Longview, and Black Diamond, where I spent the night. The next day, I went to Canmore and stayed there all day and the next night. It was a neat place, surrounded by magnificent scenery, but it suffered from an overabundance of yellow hornets, much as had been the case in the southern part of the Okanagan valley. Even so, I shot more than three rolls of film there. Surprisingly, the zoning in many parts of town were favorable for a limited home occupation business, quite unlike Banff, its nearby neighbor. From Canmore, I took a leisurely drive to Banff, then to Radium Hot Springs, where I spent the night. The day after that, I went to Kimberly and Cranbrook. I was amazed that houses in Kimberly were selling for $30,000 or less; some for even $10,000, due to a depressed local economy. From there, I left Canada, crossing the border at Kingsgate. After this, I drove to Troy, Montana, where I spent the night.

Revisiting the 1979 Eclipse Site:

Leaving Troy, I drove toward Great Falls. On the way back home, was going to see my brother David in Loveland, Colorado. This made it practical for me to again visit the site in Montana where I had observed the total solar eclipse of February 26, 1979. That night, I stopped in Grassrange, Montana and spent the night in the same motel I'd stayed in back in 1979. I went into the hotel's main lobby area, where people were dancing to a local band.s rendition of "California by Mornin'". I went over to a middle aged lady whom I may had seen on my last trip and mentioned that I had stayed at the motel for the 1979 eclipse. I asked if she remembered the eclipse, and she did. She told a couple of other people that I had been there for the 1979 eclipse and related to them and I how neat the eclipse had been.

The next morning, I went to the exact site where I had observed the 1979 eclipse, arriving there when the sun was at about the same azimuth as it had been during the totality. I had my wide angle photos of the eclipse site with me, and by using various land marks, I was able to stand in the exact spot where I had seen the eclipse years before. It was amazing! I was able to remember the eclipse as though it had happened yesterday! I remembered the appearance of the lunar umbra during totality and compared this recollection with the color drawing I had made. My drawing was definitely in the ball park! It was really neat being able to remember things so well. I wondered what it was about the place that had brought back the memory so clearly. While there, I took some 360 degree panoramic pictures to assist me in evaluating my drawing and the umbra photos I had taken at the eclipse.

Canadian Mud in My Face

After arriving home, I applied to immigrate to Canada under the independent "Self-Employed" classification, since I did not want to be obligated to hire employees within any specified period of time. After my application, everything seemed to be going well. Unfortunately, when the visa officer interviewed me after my paperwork had been processed about a year later, he arbitrarily applied the "Entrepreneur" requirements to me. This required me to have a net worth of $250K, which I did not have. (It was my opinion that the Entrepreneur requirements may have been drafted with Hong Kong immigrants in mind. This view was in fact echoed by a source within Canada's Immigration system. Canada and Hong Kong were both Commonwealth entities, and many immigration issues not relating to finances would presumably be less stringent for other Commonwealth people. The Entrepreneur classification may make immigration even easier for those who meet its financial requirements, which in turn could encourage immigration by those with lots of bucks.) I did not think that the application of "Entrepreneur" requirements to me or any other "Self-Employed" person was consistent with the policies outlined in my Canadian immigration publications, but there was little I could do about it. I had no relatives in Canada, so the Consulate told me that I could not appeal (eh). That was that! Oh well.

Finally, a Competent Doctor!

My health had been worsening for years due to the incompetence or lack of interest doctors had given to my condition. Changing doctors under Medicaid was difficult to impossible, but I got a break when I moved from the Verde Valley to the west part of the Phoenix area. There, I was assigned a conscientious, competent, and no nonsense Philippino doctor, who had a handle on my condition the first time he saw me, sent me to a specialist, and had me on the road to recovery from my long standing celiac sprue condition within a couple of weeks. The avarice and incompetence of previous doctors had robbed me of my health for years, but the nightmare was finally over. This ultimately allowed my medical and financial situation to materially improve, but the previous unavailability of private health insurance had caused me to be "out to pasture" for many years, so I had a lot of catching up to do, even in regard to eclipses. My health and finances had been a mess for a while, but this did not keep me from at least PLANNING for a future eclipse!

Receiving treatment for my condition was only half the battle. Once my income improved - even to a total of as little as $1,000 per quarter, I would again lose my access to medical care by becoming "too rich" to qualify for AHCCCS. Private insurance companies still would not cover me due to so-called preexisting conditions, with virtually all agents telling me that there was no point in even applying. Due to these experiences, I am obviously an advocate of REAL health insurance reform! NOW is the time to do something about it! Technical skills are no hedge against losing access to health care. If things are not changed, everyone will continue to be at risk. This nightmare could happen to YOU!

New Directions In Astronomy Gadgets

Under Construction

The Video and CCD Revolution

Under Construction

Acquiring and Using the Vernonscope 94 mm Refractor

Under Construction

Anticipating the Next Eclipse:

Meanwhile, the day of my next eclipse drew closer. On July 11, 1991, there would be a total solar eclipse in neighboring Mexico. The path of totality passed over a few major cities. This could make travel to the eclipse relatively inexpensive. From some locations, this eclipse would offer over six minutes of totality, more than twice as long as the duration totality at the 1979 eclipse! I looked forward to the day of the great eclipse with the anticipation a little kid has before Christmas.

Continued in Eclipse Chaser's Journal, Part 2: The Big One: July 11, 1991.

Recommended Reading:

Eclipse Chaser's Journal

Steps to a Successful Eclipse Expedition, by Jeffrey R. Charles

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Document Originated: 27 February, 1997
Document Last Modified: 30 April, 1998
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