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Herb Lapp
1960s Telescope Restoration

Herb is restoring three old telescopes. A two inch refractor, a six inch newtonian and a four and a quarter inch newtonian.



I was in 8th grade in 1960 and had the astronomy bug for a year while NASA was blowing up one rocket after another. I grew up in Woodbury, a small town in Southern New Jersey about 7 miles from Edmund Scientific Co. in Barrington. Our family had only one car as my father was the only driver so if I wanted something from Edmund’s I either mail ordered it or rode my bicycle the 14 mile round trip. Mail order was an untrusted new thingie back then so the only thing I got was the Edmund catalog that I read and read.

My best Christmas was in 1960 when my parents purchased a 60mm x 900mm refractor with an Alt-Az table top mount. It was a toy but for two years I learned observing and pushed that little tele for all its worth even trying to see what the Echo I balloon satellite looked like as it passed overhead night after night. I remember the entire family out in the backyard all tyring to see who could find it first. For the newbies, it was the precursor of satellite communications that we take for granted. RCA, I think and the government bounced radio, TV and telephone signals off of it.

Eventually it lost air as it was a 100’ very thin aluminized Mylar plastic holding helium gas.

A year later I started building an Edmund 4-1/4” f/8 reflector using cast off parts that I found in and around the bins in the store with all the World War II surplus optics. I got a scratched mirror and an eyepiece. My last acquisition was their famous equatorial mount. I think it set me back about $25. My father threw in a fiver to get me over the top! These two scopes stayed with me since then and have traveled from NJ to IL back to NJ, then to PA, then out to WI and lastly back to PA where I now live.

I gave the 2’ to my oldest grandson, Ryan, who was taking an astronomy class in high school. I just got it back as he’s in the UK serving in the U.S. Air Force as a jet engine mechanic who will return home in a week of so to get married. His younger brother, Ben is now in the 10th grade and is taking honors classes. SO Ben is interested in astrophysics, quantum mechanics, and the rest of scientific theory, so the pendulum swings again. I purchased one of the better Chinese made 4.5” f/4 reflectors that are so inexpensive compared to what I paid for my parts. I can’t remember the prices of their scopes. Memory suggests their 6” reflector was over $200.

When I got a job teaching physics and astronomy in a nearby town I got a part-time job at Edmund’s selling on weekends. I remember Mr. and Mrs. Edmund being around the store doing one thing or another but they were winding down letting their son run the business. I eventually assembled a 6” reflector doing the same thing as I did with the 4-1/4” scope. Teachers at that time were paid just above minimum wage.

I remember they brought a 6” tripod out with a clock drive to sell. It was a prototype or something. It never got to the floor I snatched it up before it could get cold! So it’s these three half century telescopes that I am restoring back to their glory. In the
meantime I purchased a Celestron Omni XLT150 Newtonian which I got for under $450.

The photos that follow show the progress.

The six inch tube

This is the 6” tube as a work in progress removing the black spray paint and most of the original white that Edmund’s had applied. They did do a good job painting their scopes. You could have it in any color as long as it was white! Even the prohibitively priced Unitron scopes were white.


The equatorial telescope mount

In an earlier photo Will posted a photo of the tripod laying on my basement floor. Since then I located the three wing legs and put them on. They are covered in dust and spider webs so they will get a good cleaning, some sanding then spray painted with some fancy Rustoleum paint…not that old gray color.

Six inch tube with eyepiece holder hole

Will previously posted photos showing a blackened tube for the 6” scope. It has been so badly dinged, etc that I decided to power sand off most of the paint to get down to the aluminum. I did the same thing to the 2” refractor tube as well. Back in the 1970s I was teaching astronomy and working part-time doing planetarium programs on weekends at Philadelphia’s Franklin Institute.

I started an astronomy club and we built a fully operable planetarium projector with a couple thousand stars. We used an old 16” chalk globe I swiped from the Social Studies department. I

took the kids over to meet the guys who developed and ran the Ziess planetarium. They asked me if I’d be interested in doing shows for them. I jumped at it as I recalled being a ten-year old Cub Scout sitting in that planetarium being mesmerized watching the shows hoping they’d never end.

I’m not sure what I’ll do with the old 2”. Perhaps I’ll use it part-time as a guide scope on an 8” I made in the late 70s grinding my own mirror. I did a Foucault test on the Edmund 6” mirror which gave excellent viewing results. I was surprised it turned out to be nearly spherical! It did a wonderful job back then, it’ll do it now, so no touchups on the mirror.

The two inch telescope tube


That tube, like the 6” was taped after the sanding so I could apply several coats of flat black. In a half century the inside wasn’t as black as it needed to be. Here you’ll see the 6” tube all taped up with the new inner flat black spray job drying. Oh it’s sitting on a Windsor comb-back chair I made. I also make hand-made Windsor chairs too.


Teh six inch telescope tube


The original focuser for the 6” was a rack and pinion compared to a large rubber band friction slide focuser for the 4-1/4”. I thought I lost the pinion gear but fortunately found it in my eyepiece box. One of the two black plastic knobs fell off and was lost. I restored that and will use it on the 4-1/4”. It’s funny the holes drilled into the 4’1/4” to hold the slider to the tube aligned perfectly to the holes for the rack and pinion. Wonder if that was intentional or if it was a coincidence?

The New Focuser

The new focuser has a larger diameter tube that holds the eyepiece so I had to enlarge the hole and drill new holes. 2” eyepieces weren’t part of that era. The tube’s aluminum so I just took my time hand filing the hole to slowly enlarge and added a rectangular notch to let the rack gear fit into the scope. I plan to take this and the 2” tube to a body shop and have a pro paint it using the hardened car paints since these scopes are so special to me. Not sure I’ll do that for the 4-1/4” tube. I plan to give it to a young neighbor who has three young kids.

He’s an excellent dedicated middle school math teacher. He comes regularly to use my shop equipment to build home projects. So maybe I’ll just let him get the cleaned, collimated scope with the the old 6” scope’s rack and pinion focuser.


The 4 1/4 inch telescope tube


The 4-1/4” tube with some kind of old dried nursing tape on it. My wife’s an R.N. but I can’t recall why I applied it to the tube.

Here’s the repainted original 6” rack and pinion focuser. The plastic knob cracked when I tightened the set screw. SO I used 5 minute epoxy to permanently attach the brass gear to the knob. On the other side I used a ¼-20 tap to thread the gear splines.


The eyepiece mount

That’s a brass toilet round nut that is loosely holding to the brass grear. I’ll epoxy it soon so it stays put.


Let's continue with the telescope restoration


A note from Will: I remember getting those Edmund Scientifics Catalogs when I was a kid. It was so much fun and I always looked forward to them. Those were some wonderful times in the sixties and seventies. Those Edmund telescopes and astronomy items can still be found on ebay. I have a direct link here: Edmund Scientifics Telescopes .