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Engineers reassemble telescope more than a century old at Evergreen Aviation Space Museum

The telescope from the 1800s sat in storage at Linfield University for decades. It was donated to the school and was used as a teaching tool for students.

MCMINNVILLE, Ore. — A retired professor and an optical engineer reassembled a telescope more than a century old at the Evergreen Aviation and Space Museum on Wednesday.

The telescope sat at Linfield University for decades before arriving at the museum last month.

Four years ago, staff at the Carlton Observatory at Evergreen were made aware of an antique telescope at Linfield University. The telescope, made in 1888, was donated to the school back in the 1890s and was used as a teaching tool for students. At the time, it was considered one of the top optical instruments west of the Mississippi.

"When we heard about it, we knew that it was going to be an iconic piece and that it was probably a mechanical work of art." said Janet Zuelke, vice president at the Carlton Observatory at Evergreen.

Zuelke said the telescope was in pieces and had been sitting in storage at Linfield for over 40 years. Last year, Linfield University donated the telescope to the observatory. 

The telescope was moved to the Evergreen Aviation and Space Museum in June of 2021. On July 7, retired Linfield University physics professor Bill Mackie and retired optical engineer Forrest Babcock reassembled the telescope for the first time in decades.

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"There's a lot of interesting things about this one that you don't see anymore. That mechanical clock drive, they don't do those anymore," said Babcock.

A mechanical clock drive keeps the telescope on the object being looked at, such as the moon. Babcock said the telescope is meant for viewing planets and the earth's moon.

"The entire field of view would be about 500 miles, but you could see a crater as small as one mile. It's 238,000 miles to the moon, so a mile is quite small," Babcock said.

When working on a telescope that's more than 130 years old, Babcock said he relied on his experience and understanding of how telescopes are built. He even recreated missing pieces. 

"I found out there were two odd sized bolts missing, I was able to make the bolts."

Linfield University donated five other telescopes to join the observatory's collection. 

Zuelke said they will spend the next year to year-and-a-half raising money and hope to break ground in a year. The telescope will be moved to the Carlton Observatory when it opens in about three years.

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