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'I worked on that telescope for 48 years': Massive, custom-built telescope stolen in Washington County

The telescope is worth about $15,000. But for owner Forrest Babcock, it represents more than money.

WASHINGTON COUNTY, Ore. — A massive, custom-made telescope worth thousands of dollars was stolen in rural Washington County on Thursday. However, for owner Forrest Babcock, the telescope represents more than money.

"I worked on that telescope for 48 years," he said.

Babcock, a resident of Carlton in Yamhill County, told KGW his 15-foot, 800-pound telescope was inside a trailer when it was stolen along with several other telescopes. 

His wife, Janet Zuelke, said someone used bolt cutters to detach the trailer, likely not knowing what was inside.

"They probably opened it up and had some choice words like, 'What in the heck is that?'" Zuelke said. 

Before the COVID-19 pandemic, the couple took the telescope to places like wineries, empty lots and schools, giving people a window to the worlds beyond. 

"When they put their eyeballs on that lens and see the rings of Saturn for the first time, it's like magic," Zuelke said. 

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From revealing detailed craters on the moon to swirls on Jupiter, this is no ordinary telescope. 

"When the kids come out and look through the telescope, they get inspired," neighbor Lynnette Shaw said. "For this small community, it's an enormous deal."

Shaw said events around the telescope provide valuable education for students in rural and underfunded districts. 

"To lose that would be an enormous loss for the community," she said.

That community is fired up, sharing Zuelke's plea for help on social media hundreds of times. 

The telescope is meant to be the centerpiece of a bigger dream: an astronomy-focused science center called the Carlton Observatory. The observatory paused fundraising during the pandemic, but this latest blow isn't about the money. 

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"I don't know how you put worth on thousands of hours of work on that blue telescope," Zuelke said. 

There is one saving grace. The telescope's key lens wasn't inside the trailer. Instead, it was safely stored at the couple's home. Without this 100-pound mirror, the big telescope isn't much use. 

Babcock and Zuelke hope the thief realizes that and does the right thing. 

"Drop it off anywhere you want, we just want the telescope back," Babcock said.

"No questions asked, just bring it back to us," Zuelke added. 

The stolen trailer is a forest green-colored, 1997 Wells Cargo enclosed trailer with a ramp door. It's 16 feet long with an aerodynamic bubble on the front. There are multiple "Oregon Star Party" stickers on the ramp door, and it has Oregon plate number U227280. 

Anyone with information about this theft is asked to contact the Washington County Sheriff's Office at 503-629-0111 about case 50-21-3408. 

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