There it sat, in the back of the blue van, in it’s walnut colored wooden case. The top was open, the optical tube was on the top, the wooden legs right beside it. There were quite a few scratches on the legs, and I could see a couple of long ones on the white tube. I felt myself edging toward hesitation. Maybe I should just get back in the car and head for home.
The seller reached in and pulled the black metal dew cap out of the lens hood to show it to me and I could hear it coming before he said it.
“They don’t make them like this any more, you know.”
I looked at it. More scratches, plus a dent near the middle. The hesitation leaped several more notches up the what-am-I-doing-here scale.
It was a brisk Saturday morning in November. I was standing at the back of a van, with both doors open, in a mall parking lot, debating whether to remove cash from my pocket and put it in the hand of a person I had never met. In broad daylight. Besides trying to wrestle with the rising hesitation, I was wondering if anyone was watching us — and hoping they wouldn’t get the wrong idea.
“Now hang on a minute,” my telescopic conscience said. “You can’t expect brand new. This thing is old. You gotta expect a few scratches. You didn’t drive two hours to get here to surrender to a few well-earned scrapes . . . . . did you?“ I hate it when that thing starts talking. It likes to spend money — mine, mainly.
“OK,” I said to the seller. “What does the lens look like?”
He pulled it from the box, tilted the scope up towards the sky, and said, “Here, take a look.”
I did. A bit of dust. No scratches. No clamshells. Silver-colored spacers between the lenses. It looked much better than the tube.
“How are the views?” I asked, instantly regretting the question.
“Oh, geez,” he said. “They’re wonderful. Stars are pinpoint sharp, Jupiter just leaps out at you. Great double star scope. Wonderful contrast. Really, it does a very nice job.”
I looked at his son. Fourteen years old, maybe. Short, round, baseball hat on backwards. Gym shorts down to his knees. “What do you think about it?” I asked, not sure what to expect.
“Oh, man, it’s nice. I love the moon in that scope.”
He grinned. He looked at his dad. They smiled at each other. Non-verbal collusion, I thought.
I took the tube, held it up to the sky, and sighted along the edge of it. “Look how long that thing is! Feel the heft! Imagine yourself sitting behind that long tube pointing up into the sky with Jupiter at the other end of it. One thousand millimeters of focal length —– how could you go wrong?” My telescopic conscience again, with a subtle nudge.
I looked at the seller’s son again. He smiled again.
I hesitated. I wavered. I slipped. I handed over the cash.
I had two hours on the return drive to wonder about the contents of that wooden box in the back of my car. Even though it was firmly in my possession, I still had those parking lot doubts. An old telescope . . . . . an old 60mm telescope . . . . . a slightly scratched old 60mm telescope —– and an old mount and old wooden legs, all of it in an old brown wooden box . . . . . . . . . well, it sure wasn’t an APO, that was for darn sure.
You can conjure up a lot of what-if’s on a two hour drive, but I finally left the doubts somewhere along the side of the road about halfway home . . . . . . . and began to think about sitting under the stars behind that long white tube on those long wooden legs, with Edwin Hubble standing next to me in a cloud of pipe smoke, saying, “You know, son, my first scope didn’t come close to this nice piece of work you’ve got here. What do you say we look for a few Cepheids in Andromeda tonight?”
Obviously, a serious case of drifting from doubt to delusion.
Now of course the first thing I did when I got home was to take everything out of the box. After I had it all put together, I began to feel much better. That long white tube looked great on the tall wooden tripod, the mount seemed to be reasonably smooth, the slow motion controls engaged easily, the clutch locks did what they were designed to do — but the focuser was about as wobbly as a loose wheel held on by a single lug nut bouncing over a pothole filled road. I tried tightening each of the two screws on the bottom of it, but it just made one side or the other bind a bit more. I looked at the three screws holding the focus assembly to the tube — and in a leap of reckless faith — because I had no idea what I would find — I took ‘em out.
As I removed the last screw, the focuser started toward the floor. I caught it, and as my hand grabbed it, I saw something shiny go past and land on the floor. I leaned over, picked it up, and found myself looking at a red-something-or-other about 1 1/2″ long by 1/2″ wide. The narrow length of it was slightly curved to fit the inside of the scope tube. It looked almost like delrin — but it couldn’t be delrin — the scope was manufactured before delrin was invented.
I peered into the end of the tube with a flashlight and could see two more of the same pieces attached firmly to the inside of the tube. It took a few minutes, but I finally realized they were spacers that were used to keep the focus tube parallel to the inside of the scope tube, and their surface was shiny to make it easier for the focus tube to slide back and forth. I took some thin — very thin — scotch tape, applied it to the top edges of the piece that had come out, and after some trimming and a couple of false starts, I managed to slip it into position so that it was spaced evenly from each of the other two pieces, put the focuser back in place carefully, tightened the three screws, and gave the focus knob a turn — smooth as glass. My first 60mm repair job and it was a success!
I still don’t know what exactly that red piece is made of, but it’s still sitting in the focuser three years later with that tape holding it in place, and the focuser still glides back and forth with the greatest of ease.
After a couple of non-cooperative nights of rain, I had a clear evening to see what this skinny white monster could do. At that point, I didn’t have a .965″ to 1 1/4″ hybrid diagonal, so I used the .965” diagonal and eyepieces that came with the scope. I pointed the tripod and mount to the north, adjusted the latitude control, put Polaris in the center of a 20mm eyepiece, and took a long, hard look. The primary gleamed back at me like a yellow-white jewel on black velvet. I replaced the 20mm with a 12.5mm eyepiece and was able to pick out its faint companion. I racked the focuser in and out — evenly spaced concentric rings on both sides of focus. Certainly no problem with the collimation. Pretty darn good so far.
Now, for the object that my telescopic conscience had been dangling in front of me — Jupiter!
I turned the scope toward the south, lined up on that Jovian point of light just to the west of the meridian, and centered it in the 20mm eyepiece. Nice, bright, sharp — and small. Hmmm — out with the 20, in with the 12.5mm. I refocused, took another look, backed away for a second, looked again, backed away once more, then looked again, started to mutter something, and nothing came out —— words failed me!
The image was still small, but it was sharp, crisp, clear, and bright. The three visible moons were beautiful pinpoints of light, and both belts looked like they were etched across the face of the globe — it was simply amazing. From the start, when I first saw the pictures of this scope, I really had no idea what to expect — but I never expected anything like this. I just could not believe it. I sat still for about fifteen minutes totally absorbed by that image, and then I noticed a very small, white pinpoint of light right at Jupiter’s west edge. It was Io, which I hadn’t seen moving across the front of Jupiter. I watched as that very small white dot of light slowly popped free from the edge and into silhouette against the blackness of inter-planetary space.
Awe struck I was.
Since that time, I’ve used the Tasco mainly for double stars, although it frequently finds its way back to Jupiter, as well as to Saturn. It splits Epsilon Lyrae with no effort at all. The reddish-orange primary and slightly green secondary of Raselgethi is a thing of startling beauty; I’m riveted to the eyepiece when I gaze at the orangeness of Algieba; and at about 75x, Meissa rewards me with a small dot of light nestled tightly against it’s larger blue-white companion. Splitting Rigel with it is usually a breeze, but the first night I did it, I’m sure most of my neighbors for several blocks around could hear me. Like my first view of Jupiter, I couldn’t quite believe it.
And when the seeing is poor and the transparency great, deep sky objects are always an attractive target. I quickly nailed M1, the Crab Nebula, even though I was told by several people it couldn’t be seen in a 60mm scope. M31 is a wonderful sight, but a galaxy that really caught me by surprise was M33, the Pinwheel in Triangulum. On a night when the transparency was five on a scale of five (five being excellent), it stood out very clearly against the black sky background. I could actually detect a bit of structure in it, was able to trace its irregular shape, managed to pick out a few stars near its center, and caught a glimpse of the condensed area known as NGC 604 on the northeast edge of it. M42 is worth a long look, and even though the field is narrow because of the 1000mm focal length of this scope, with a 30mm Tak LE, the nebulosity of the Pleiades is stunning.
And every time I find myself grinning from ear to ear when I’m at the eyepiece of the old Tasco, I hear the voice of my telescopic conscience again: “Told you so.”
Filed under: 1. Star-splitting Scopes