My Daddy's Telescope

At our home in Lueders, Texas, My Mother and Father enjoyed sitting in the front yard in late evenings and after dark when the stars came out.

My father would point out certain heavenly bodies and although he only had an 8th grade education he had done some study about astronomy and would point out the North Star, the Big and Little Dippers, the Planets and a few other heavenly bodies.

These stories started when I was around 12 years old and he would also tell me of the reflector telescope he once built which would allow you to see the rings around the planet Saturn. He told me of it being built using the rear axle from a model "T" Ford car and said the tube was 9 inches in diameter, 8 feet long and held an 8 inch mirror.

Told me, a Mr. Browning who owned the Chevrolet Dealership in Wichita Falls got him interested in Astronomy and he learned from him and when they moved to Longview he had left the telescope with Mr. Browning. Said, Mr. Browning had the telescope on display in the show room of the dealership for a long time.

My father especially enjoyed sitting in the front yard having a few beers with friends or Ellen and Eileen's husbands (His Son-in-laws) and they often times talked until after midnight..

So, I heard the story of the telescope over and over and over as I grew up.

One night when I was well into my teen years and after a few extra beers and telling the story another time my father decided to see if he could phone Mr. Browning after not contacting him in about 20 years.

Much to our surprise Daddy was able to obtain his phone number and talked to him for about 20 minutes and Mr. Browning assured Daddy that he still had his telescope.

5 or so years later, In 1956 when I was 22 years old, my aunt Annie Cobb on my mothers side died and we went to Burkburnett, Texas just north of Wichita Falls for her funeral. While there Daddy and an uncle wanted to drive over to Wichita Falls to look around so, I went with them. We were driving down a street when we ran across a building with big letters painted across the front which read "Browning's Automotive Repairs". My dad commented to my uncle, "I wonder if that is the Browning I use to know who owned the Chevrolet Place."

I immediately begin begging Daddy to stop and see if he still had the telescope, Daddy replied back "Naw!!! it's been over 20 years since I seen him and he don't want to talk to me." So, we didn't stop.

Another 6 years passed and in 1962 my father came down with prostrate cancer and I was now 28 years old. Some 16 years after I first started hearing the stories of my Dad's telescope.

Over the years Daddy had always said, he owned 3 cemetery lots in the cemetery were the girls mother was buried which was on the southeast side of Wichita Falls.

In June of 1962 when it became evident that my Dad only had a week or so to live, myself, mother and older sisters had a discussion of where to bury my father because although my mother had raised them we wanted to give consideration to and acknowledgment of the girls real mother. AND this way us kids would have all our parents buried at one location.

Accordingly, it was decided that I would go to Wichita Falls and check into Daddy owning 3 burial lots and if rights of ownership could be established then we were going to bury Daddy there with his first wife and later when my mother died she would also be buried there.

If that could not be accomplished then Daddy would be buried some place were my mother could be beside him.

AND so, I went to Wichita Falls and found the cemetery and funeral home and it was a very interesting adventure all way round but, that is another complete story to tell. Suffice it to say that Daddy had purchased 3 lots of which his first wife was buried in one space and some unknown had been buried in another space and there was a 3rd space for my Dad but, none for my mother.

So, based on my finding Daddy was now to be buried in either the Stamford or Lueders Cemetery and we kids decided to leave that choice to mother. At the time the Stamford cemetery was brand new and the Lueders cemetery was not very well maintained so my mother choose Stamford - I now wish he was in the Lueders Cemetery with his Lueders friends.

While in Wichita Falls, I was successful in finding the "Browning Automotive Repair Shop" we had drove by some 6 years previously when we attended my aunt's funeral.

I wanted to ask Mr. Browning if Daddy had left any papers such as cemetery deeds or other papers we might should now be aware of.

Mr. Browning had already read in the Stamford Newspaper about my fathers situation and he was kind of thrilled to meet the son of his long time friend for the first time.

I frankly did not have the telescope on my mind at the time and was thinking only of my father and the task at hand and was about to leave and had actually turned away and taken a few steps when I remembered the telescope and turned around and said "Mr. Browning as I was growing up Daddy would tell me about building a telescope which he left with you"

He said "Sure, Want to see it" -- With that he took me to a small storage room in the back of the shop and there on some shelves covered in a thick layer of dust was my fathers telescope he had started building 2 years before I was born in 1932.

Mr. Browning said he called my Dad a plumber because he had basically built the telescope out of oil well piping and oil field parts except for the telescope axis's which was made from the 2 axles and housing with brakes included from a rear end of a Model "T" Ford.

Mr. Browning would not let me leave without getting the telescope off the shelf and putting it together on the shop floor so I could see it set up.

With mixed feelings I stood there and stared at something my father had his hands on before I was born and had told me about countless times as a young son and now I was preparing to bury him. It hurts even now!!

With heavy heart I told Mr. Browning "You have had the telescope for so long I figure it belongs to you but, is there anyway possible for me to have it." He said, "Well son, the telescope belongs to your father and I reckon under the circumstances it now belongs to you." --- "You mean I can have it after all these years" --- "Of course you can"

I then ask, "Well I can't take it today because I will need a trailer to haul it but, would you keep it for me 30 days and I promise I will be back after it" -- Mr. Browning kind of laughed and said "Well I kept it 30 years for your father, I guess I can keep it 30 days for you."

3 days later on June 20, 1962 my father died from prostrate cancer, 12 days after reaching age 62 on June 8, 1962.

At the time I was working on the Atlas Missile Launch Complexes (Silos) which surround Dyess Air Force Base at Abilene, Texas.

I was on the Launch Complex scheduled to be the first turned over to the Air Force and we were working lots of over time and things were going like mad at the time.

So, I stayed in touch with Mr. Browning and ask him to be patience that one day I would be there to pick up my dads telescope.

By October of 1962 we were selling off the last of the launch complexes and by this time I was in charge of a special crew taken care of warranty items on the silos already turned over to the Air Force when on a final test at the Albany Launch Complex they had an accident and nearly blew up the missile and silo.

As it was, the launch complex was a mess and this all occurred during the Cuban Missile Crises and I was sent to the complex on 3rd shift to help expedite getting it back together.

When we got things back together and things slowed down a little and since I was already in Albany I left work early one morning around 4:00 AM and headed for Wichita Falls to pick up the telescope.

I took the highway from Albany that goes through Throckmorton to Wichita Falls which meant I was driving north and as the sun started to come up with my mind on the telescope, astronomy, space, and all the things our God has provided us on earth, I watched as the sun came up and it was the first and only time in my life that as the sun rose I got the sensation of the earth turning.

Always before and now the sun comes up and goes over. This time it was me moving and not the sun. I have never forgotten that sensation. AND I expect it could only happen in a place like Texas and with the mind set I had that day.

I went on to Wichita Falls and obtained my Dad's telescope from Mr. Browning. The mirror was no longer with the telescope and Mr. Browning didn't know what happened to it but, he said Daddy never did finish grinding the mirror down. I also remembered Daddy saying he never finished grinding the mirror.

Mr. Browning told me to get the Sky and Telescope Magazine and it would have places to purchase a mirror either finished ready to install or an unfinished one which I could grind for myself.

I looked all over Abilene and couldn't find a place to buy the Sky and Telescope Magazine so I phoned Mr. Browning and told him and he laughed and said well of course you couldn't. It is not in the stores and the only way to get it is to subscribe but, I am glad you called because it shows me you are interested in the telescope.

So, he gave me the address/phone number of Sky and telescope and after receiving a few copies of the magazine I learned that for $600.00 I could have a reflector telescope that would self track the object in the sky and were all automatic.

By this time I had repainted the telescope and modified a few things like putting handles on it to tighten down the Model "T" Brakes instead of using a crescent wrench. A telescope has to turn on 2 axis's to follow the planets. Actually 3, one of which depends on your longitude or latitude location.

Then one night I had the telescope set up in my drive way there on South 20th in Abilene working on it when a guy stopped and wanted to look the telescope over and come to find out he had one and was into astronomy.

He pointed out to me my Dad's telescope had a very bad flaw in it because sitting there with the wind slightly blowing the tube of the telescope had a slight movement or wiggle. He said that was bad because the point of light was so small after hitting the big mirror that the point of light with the planet or moon in it going to the magnified viewer would be blurred.

Daddy had built a strong base from 3 inch pipe but, a mounting plate between the Model T axles and the base was a little too thin and this allowed the wiggle.

About the time all this was going on we finished up the Abilene Missile Complexes (Silos) and I had a career choice to make. General Dynamics had nothing to offer as they were laying off long time employees and I was a local hire.

I could either go back to running a drilling rig like I had before the missile project came along or try to stay with missiling which I had come to like.

Places to do that were somewhat limited but, I wanted to try even though it meant leaving Texas.

At the time there was Boeing and the moon project in New Orleans or the Minuteman Silos in Wyoming or the Titan II Silos in Little Rock, Arkansas

There were other missile projects in other states but, these were the 3 possibilities I was going to try first.

As it turned out, I was hired at the first place I choose to check out and that was Little Rock Arkansas with The Martin Company and the Titan II Missile Silo installation.

After 15 months The Titan II project was completed and once again the layoffs came.

I next went to Roswell, New Mexico and back with General Dynamics to do a modification of the Atlas Silos which was the same as we had put in at Abilene. I tried to get back to Abilene on the modification program but, my previous boss with GDA in Abilene had gone to Roswell and he wanted me out there.

After the Air Force blew up 3 silos at Roswell, It only took us 5 months to complete the modification program and once again the layoffs. However, this time General Dynamic invited Boeing to come out from New Orleans and interview the GDA employees right there in the GDA offices at Roswell and they did and hired 145 of us to go to New Orleans.

I didn't like New Orleans from the first week I was there. Too many people for this country boy.

I was in New Orleans 15 months when Bendix came to New Orleans interviewing for openings at the Kennedy Space Center so I took a supervisors position with Bendix and moved to Titusville, Florida

Lived in 5 states in 3 years but, my Daddy's Telescope always went with me.

After getting settled in Titusville, I continued to subscribe to the Sky and Telescope Magazine and learn what I could about astronomy.

Of course here I was now fixing to help put men on the moon for the first time and after a while my interest dwindled in the telescope and astronomy because after all, each day we were preparing to launch man to the moon.

I did purchase a small telescope and did some sky viewing for awhile and I took that little telescope to work with me the night we were launching Apollo 11 for the first moon landing.

Didn't use the telescope for sky watching however, During a countdown, my crew and I were in a fall back area 1.5 miles from the launch pad and I used the telescope to watch the astronauts go up the gantry and across the swing arm to board the spacecraft.

I never did anything more to my father's telescope because I had mixed emotions even in the beginning about modifying it or changing anything from the way my dad had done it. I did add the Handles which didn't change much of anything.

When I learned I would need to take the wiggle out of it I decided I did not want to change the looks and make that much change and with a factory telescope of the same strength only costing $600.00 I decided to keep my fathers telescope as it is.

So, it sit in my garage until I built the museum and now it is down there. Moving around, it got banged up and the paint job I put on it has now deteriorated so I don't have it on display because I have not found the time to fix it back up and it is now in the stowage room of the museum.

Seems unbelievable that while Mr. Browning kept the telescope 30 years, As of 2005 I have now had it for 43 years.

The End

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