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William Norman "Chuckwagon" GrayStudent Observatory

Observatory Information


The observatory is sited on top of the four-story Oceanography & Physics Building (OCNPS) on the Old Dominion University campus located at 4600 Elkhorn Ave., Norfolk, VA 23529-0116.

  • Longitude: -76 degrees 18 minutes 29 seconds or -76.3081 degrees West
  • Latitude: 36 degrees 53 minutes 7 seconds or 36.8854 degrees North
  • Altitude: 65 feet 4 inches to roof slab above sea level = 19.90 meters above sea level.

Observation Planning

Listing of Instruments & Facilities


Gift from a Friend of Old Dominion Funds a Small Rooftop Observatory

"Chuckwagon" Gray with a Mead LX200 10 inch telescope"Chuckwagon" Gray with a Mead LX200 10 inch telescope

On Feb. 10, 2000, William Norman "Chuckwagon" Gray passed away. His obituary said he was an 82-year-old retired postman, but "Chuckwagon" was much, much more than that.

Born in Norfolk, Virginia on June 17, 1917, he served with the 34th Bomber Group in World War II and remained a loyal member of the "alumni" of that group until his death. In his later years, he was a volunteer for Meals on Wheels.

"Chuckwagon" Gray's B-17 Bomber during WW II"Chuckwagon" Gray's B-17 Bomber during WW II
Star lagoon

Prior to the war, he had joined the Post Office and after his discharge as a Master Sergeant from the US Army Air Corps, he returned to the Post Office Department and was assigned to the Railway Mail Service, delivering the mailbags from night trains that ran from Norfolk to Bluefield, W.Va. This meant that he was awake at night and he started to study the skies when he was not sorting mail. This piqued his interest in astronomy and, although he had no formal education in the sciences, he read and taught himself all the basics of the science.

In 1975, the Astronomical Society of Tidewater (AST) was quite young and "Chuckwagon," who had just joined, volunteered to write an article for its monthly newsletter, Between the Stars.

It was so well received that they asked him to write another and another until he became the official scribe (we called him secretary/treasurer) of AST.

He wrote his last article (number 266), when the organization disbanded in early 1992. His articles were compiled into a book, "Between the Stars." Although there are some grammatical and spelling mistakes, it is wonderful reading and the depth of his knowledge comes through clearly.

Why was he called "Chuckwagon"? Because when the AST was holding regular star parties, at all hours of the night out in the fields near Ivor, Virginia, away from the city lights, you could always count on him to bring snacks and his Coleman stove to make hot coffee.

Bruce Hanna, Planetarium Director in the observatory domeBruce Hanna, Planetarium Director in the observatory dome

Many of us have gained knowledge in our disciplines through formal education, but the people who truly thirst for knowledge are those who are so interested in a subject that, in spite of obstacles such as a lack of formal education or the inability to afford college costs, they teach themselves.

"Chuckwagon" stands tall among those people, and yet he understood the value of a formal education and often said he wished he had gone further with his.

The AST always met on the Old Dominion campus, and "Chuckwagon" appreciated the university's generosity in providing a meeting room for the AST, so he donated money to have a small observatory built on the roof of the Oceanography and Physics Building. The finished observatory has been named the William Norman "Chuckwagon" Gray Student Observatory, a fitting memorial to a true scholar.