This solar eclipse has a short story, with
four lessons to be learned about eclipse chasing. I signed up with
the Johnson Space Center Eclipse Expedition out of Houston. We flew
into Winnipeg and staged for three days, and the weather was
forecasted as "socked in" for eclipse day. Having planned for a
contingency, I solicited a doctor and two attorneys to split the cost
of a chartered, small ski-plane to fly to Hudson Bay... had it ready at the
airport. The attorney made me laugh as he was going on the
ski-plane to the
sub-arctic in a business suit and a dress overcoat; he intended to
step out of the plane, look at totality, and step back in. Hey, whatever
floats your boat.
This is a true part of this story... believe it if you like or not.
After going to bed, my
roommate Stuart Shenkman, a Jewish gent from New York City got out of bed at
midnight, went over to the picture window, threw open the drapes, raised his arms to the
heavens and said "God! these men have come a long way and
months of preparation to see this glorious work of yours... please
grant them clear skies." In my heart I said to myself... he has just asked
for a miracle! Listen on the audio tape for the guy screaming "I see
stars... I see stars." That's Stuart.
The entire 19 minute audio tape is available for play on this
At 3:00am I got up and made my last, pre-arranged call to the
Canadian Weather Office. The meteorologist said "John, there has been a freak weather
phenomena, called a thermal inversion. We were now going to be clear and Hudson
Bay is going to be socked in."
Wait... the story gets better. So the next morning the scientist,
engineers, and equipment are loaded into 2 buses, and off we dash to
the site. We are running from a cloud bank coming on our left, rear so we
are charging forward to gain more clearance, when the buses suddenly STOP.
A majority of the team wanted to setup now... so they would not miss their
flight connection back to Houston! All hell broke loose among a
group of us and we demanded that the expedition leader give us one of
the buses. He relented... put us on one bus. We charged on. We
settled on the frozen
Hecla Island in Lake Winnipeg.
Next, the expedition $100,000 NASA radio would not work in 9°
F, and for most the cameras they had snapped their film because
they were not arctic greased. In the photo below you see
my trusty equipment trunk, with my $35 Globe Patrol radio kit ,and
tape recorder from Radio Shack... look closely at my feet and you
see my grounding nail driven into the ice... and on my audio tape
listen to WWV from Ft Collins, Colorado singing away with the time
signal... as well as my camera clicks. All the equipment you see in
these site photos are hand made from wood, tubing, hardware-store
parts, and optical parts bought off Sky and Telescope magazine. The
camera was my friend, David Stewart's Canon 35 mm
[arctic greased] which I switched from telescope to telescope. The refractor was
FL 600mm and the 6" was a fast, rich-field reflector around
500mm. My point: you can do eclipse chasing even on a budget.
Lesson 1: Timing is EVERYTHING.
ALWAYS be in control of your own fate... never let anyone preempt
your judgment and passion to get to the open hole in the sky.
Always have a BACKUP plan.
Don't hesitate to ask GOD for a little help.
Always ask for a little help from the casual star gazers, they love
the promise of photos, and I try not to disappoint them.
Phillip and Dawn Jacobs of Houston helped me here.
Photosphere prominences everywhere
Notice the script hanging on
the telescope, telling me what to do every second... it is so easy to
fall awe-struck during totality and not remember anything.
Experience the feel of totality in 1979...
Hear the sounds below...