White, then white, and finally red (Tasco reflectors)

Dec 1

Written by:
12/1/2012 8:51 PM  RssIcon

A couple years ago I discovered the "Classic Telescopes" sub-forum at CloudyNights.com.  Reading through the threads about many of these 1950's, 60's and 70's (and sometimes 80's) era scopes, you start to get a real good sense that many of these older instruments outperform their like-sized cousins today.  Now, I'm not in a financial position (or usually in the right part of the country to be close enough) to get some of the large Cave reflectors, or older Unitrons, much less the more rare and pricey antique ones like Brashears and such.  

Nope, for me it's things like Sears, Coulter and Tasco.  I know, I know - you're thinking, "Sears?  Tasco?  Isn't Tasco that cheap retail store stuff that you can find on craigslist for like $50 or less?"

Well, yes and no.  

Thing is, the OLDER ones are actually half-decent.  I have a 1970 Sears 6333-A 60mm refractor.  It's head and shoulders above most any 60mm refractor sold today in a store.  Plus it's in a REAL wooden box!  And the Tascos are from back when these scopes were made in Japan.  Later they were made in Taiwan - still acceptable, but the Japan ones were a bit better.  Then they were made in China.  And then they just got too cheap to be any good.

But the old ones are still around!  It just takes finding them.

Now ironically, back in those days, people maligned Japanese-made products as "cheap," which they were... compared to American-made products, due to the currency exchange rate at the time.  But the quality overall tends to be quite good - especially compared to low-cost, similarly-sized telescopes today.

So over the past few years I've picked up some of these older scopes, usually for quite little.  The Sears cost me all of $25.  I have a Tasco 10-TE 76mm refractor that was.... free.  I picked up TWO Tasco 11-TE5 reflectors (both white), both of which went to friends - because they were good enough that I knew they wouldn't cause frustration.

But... there was a loose end.

I had this wind-up clock drive, to track the sky.  You know, not a battery-operated one, an actual mechanical, wind-up clock drive with a spring and flywheel inside.  And it attached to those Tasco 11-TE5 4.5" reflectors.  Except there was a problem.

I didn't have the scopes anymore.  But I did have the drive.

So, I kept looking for another 4.5" Tasco.  I'd see some WAY overpriced ones (sorry, $250 is really not what they're worth) and some that looked in really rough shape.  Until last week, when I saw a red-tube Tasco on my local craigslist.  For $50, I couldn't pass it up.  It is just like the white ones, except the tube is red, and labelled "11-T" and with plastic focuser knobs.  Otherwise, it's identical to the white ones.

It's in nice shape.  Just a small dent on the tube.  It needs to usual TLC; the focuser grease is the sticky, not-helpful stuff that came on these units.  The right ascension worm gear is a little dusty and dirty.  There are some bolts that need tightening.  It needs to be collimated.

The usual stuff.

But I really like this scope.  And the clock drive works on it!  I'm not really a sentimental person, but that gets me all sentimental-like.  The Huygens eyepiece - the simple, 2-piece designs that are usually the "crap" eyepieces that come with cheap telescopes - is actually a decent one: All metal barrel, coated lenses, and made in Japan too.  It throws up a sweet image.  Narrow field of view, sure, but sharp.

And there are some things I can do to soup it up.  I plan to put flocking in the tube, to cut down the stray light reflections.  The original finderscope is not terribly good, so I'll swap an Orion 6x26 onto it.  The tripods that came with most of the old scopes - yep, the Sears included - are of such lightweight, non-dense wood, they are quite shaky.  I bought some poplar to make a better, stronger tripod for it.

So it won't be original.  But it will be a great scope for outreach that will work well and toss up a really nice image.  And it won't weigh much or look intimidating - I can pick the whole thing up now with one hand, which is nice for "grab and go" observing.  Plus it will show people what THEY could see in a 4.5" scope that they could by for about $239 new today.

I think that would be worth the investment, to get other people excited about looking up too.

That's what this is all about, right?

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Re: White, then white, and finally red (Tasco reflectors)

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The Nightlight

This blog includes what to see in the night and daytime skies, thoughts on telescopes, binoculars, and other astronomy observing accessories and equipment, plus my own occasional notes on objects I've seen and observed. Oh, and the random theater or other "my take on life" post. In other words, there is always something interesting. Check it out.