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History is slipping away...

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#1 amicus sidera

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Posted 10 August 2014 - 10:10 AM

Preserving and using classic telescopes is without any doubt a worthy endeavor; one has only to look at past threads in this forum to see the well-deserved care and attention that we lavish on our old instruments. In time, they become more like family than mere possessions.

 

Might I suggest that similar attention should be paid to the history of these instruments? As many of you know, I wrote a modest history of Edmund Scientific telescopes, the impetus for which was, along with an affection for the instruments, the lack of information available on them at the time. Turk has done a fantastic job with Cave Instruments, and again, prior to his efforts there was relatively little information available regarding them. Richard Hill has composed an excellent work covering Criterion, and Bob Piekiel has "written the book" on Celestron. 

 

This is all well and good, but there are many manufacturers whose stories have, to my knowledge, not yet been properly recorded for posterity; a short list might include such manufacturers as Unitron, Pacific Instruments, Spacek Instruments, Jaegers, Coast Instruments, Optical Craftsmen and others that got their start postwar, and reached their zenith during the Space Age. The individuals who were directly involved in these ventures are quite old now, and many have passed from the scene; all the more reason to begin immediately making an effort to unearth at least a basic outline of the who, what, when and where of commercial instrument makers of this period. In any cases, if the principals are deceased, their progeny might well be willing to discuss their forebear's involvement. I know from firsthand experience that this will take some digging, a lot of cold-calling and trips down dead-ends, but wouldn't it be worth it to preserve such information about the instruments we so love? 

 

One needn't be a writer to take on such a task, just interested enough to make the effort to unearth the information. Whatever is gathered could be put into readable form by others, if one feels that they lack the requisite skills (although judging from the high level of discourse on this forum, nearly every poster here is more than capable in this regard).

 

So, what say you all? Should the past be allowed to slip away and be forgotten, as it is currently doing in many cases, or should we make efforts NOW to preserve as much history as is possible?

 


Edited by amicus sidera, 10 August 2014 - 10:21 AM.


#2 turk123

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Posted 10 August 2014 - 05:25 PM

Great post Fred.

 

The history is slipping away just as you say.  That was the inspiration for me to do the Cave website.  First hand sources are all but gone and it can be difficult to find past history.  But think about how hard it will be twenty or thirty years from now when secondary sources are gone.  Even the literature and documentation is slowly disappearing.  I've learned quite a few techniques to do the research and in the process, it opens more and more doors.  But it takes time and it is becoming difficult to get releases for stories, articles and pictures as the last of them are found in old archives and newspapers with no way of legally using them or getting permission.  But I ask and ask again until someone finally gives in.  I have about a third more articles and pictures in my "research" folder that I can't use due to lack of permission.  

 

I recently will be adding a new section to the Cave website called "The Astronomers".  I have Justin's article on Everett Kreimer that will be in there.  I wanted to do a little background on Everett so I bought his book.  I contacted Justin and got his phone number and called him.  I was so interested in his nitrogen cooled film camera and the technique he used to capture the images.  He hung up on me!   He is up in years and I do not hold it against him for getting a call from someone he does not know asking about his life and he hanging up on me mid sentence!  It shows the difficulty in doing the research as sources get older and people forget.

 

It is important.  So important that I've instructed my son to continue paying for the Cave website long after I am gone.  Not for me, but for the many visitors I get each day.  I average about 18-25 visitors per day.  I use Google analytics to run statistics on the site.  Out of all the visitors I get, 61% are new visits!  If you throw out the 1 and 2 second hits, you get a better idea who is looking.  42% are women.  That's interesting!  I now have visitors from every state in the country and most of the world.  The only area that has not responded is Africa.  If someone writes a thread on an astronomy website, the numbers spike up to 90-100 per day for about 3-4 days.  It is interesting to watch.  I can even watch in real time.

 

I have always been interested in history.  My major in college was Political science.  I'm an avid reader of history also.  The Cave site is a fun project for me and I will continue to work on it.  So what's next?

 

I thought of doing a Unitron website.  There is not much out there historically documenting the company and it would be an appropriate site to add to the historical community and fill that void.  The problem I've found is that I don't hear the stories about Unitron and it's founders like I hear the stories of Tom Cave.  Maybe they are lost.  I don't just want to do a catalog.

 

I encourage any of you to take Fred's advise and just start writing it down.  Send those that are building the sites the stories and participate in documenting the history.  

 

One last thing.  Sometimes doing the research is very difficult. Here are a few stories:

 

I've now contacted Davina Keiser (Tom Cave's daughter) 4 or 5 times about the Cave website.  She responded on the first email and said she would help.  What a source for old documents and stories!   But she never did.   :(     That is sad.    I don't know why.  I have a record of someone in santa barbara, california viewing the website from time to time.  I don't know the family or any history between Tom and his daughter and I wonder if I should leave it alone.  Sometimes I guess you have to walk away.  

 

I've also had a very difficult time with Tom Caves last few years at Cave Optical company.  There are only a few that really know what happened to the company in it's last years.  We all know about the late shipments with the wrong specs and the deposits lost.  But I mean the real story!  I know two people who have confided to me that they know the whole story.  They do not want it printed and did not share the stories with me. "Some things", they said "Should be just left alone".  I thought about that for awhile.  What would I do if I knew?   I think I could handle it with respect and reveal it for what it was without tarnishing his good name.  But then again, I do not know what happened in the end.

 

I know I'm rambling a bit here, but I just wanted all of you to see my approach to what Fred is saying.  I think it is very important to document the past and to do it now before it is lost.

 

 

 

 

 



#3 Bomber Bob

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Posted 10 August 2014 - 05:43 PM

I think it is very important to document the past and to do it now before it is lost.

 

I agree 100%; and even though I'm not a Cave owner, I've been one of those repeat visitors who've enjoyed your website.  I don't have time now, and it'll be several years before I can retire, but members like Stephen & CharlieB have a wealth of knowledge on Tasco & Royal products that could stand as independent websites... If not as complete histories, then as the places to gather enough information to spawn books on these classic telescopes at a later date.

 

Thanks for starting this conversation!



#4 magic612

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Posted 11 August 2014 - 11:35 AM

I have about 300 other projects going on at any one time, and I can't participate in writing some of these (needed) histories. But a suggestion: Rather than just have separate websites detailing this, would it be beneficial - if at all possible (and within their paramaters) - to add a lot of the factual information about these companies to Wikipedia? Cave Astrola only registers to minor mentions on Wikipedia, and they're only about some observatories with Cave instruments it seems. 

WIkipedia is likely to last quite well, and then others can add information to a (usually) decently edited site that is universally known. And you can use your own pages as the source material, which will net good links and traffic to your sites, benefiting the hits you receive from a better-rated source. It would be a good win-win, I think. Certainly Tasco, Meade and Celestron and other major brands have pages, but these smaller, older ones do not from a quick glance I did.

 

Just a thought as a way to help preserve the information for longer, assuming Wikipedia would allow the pages to be added and kept.



#5 hottr6

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Posted 11 August 2014 - 04:59 PM

Someone needs to write a book about Ed Byers.



#6 youngamateur42

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Posted 11 August 2014 - 05:03 PM

Sorry to hear that Tom.  I've unearthed the history of several old timers, Jackson T. Carle, I found his famous telescope. Evered Kreimer, got to meet the man, as Tom said I wrote up a short article that will be in September Reflector. I have ongoing research on several astronomers from way back when. But Fred, completely agree on the other companies, there is very little known about them, and it's very hard to get the information, unless you know someone who worked there, like Gil V. at Criterion for example.



#7 turk123

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Posted 11 August 2014 - 06:57 PM

Someone needs to write a book about Ed Byers.

 

I agree.   



#8 steven40

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Posted 11 August 2014 - 08:39 PM

Hello everyone!

 

Back in the mid-60's I was in high school, using my RV-6 at night, grinding mirrors after I came home from school, and studying Sky and T from cover to cover---a real astro-nerd! Jaegers Optical was 20 minutes from my home, and I worked there on weekends, and summers.

 

I'm compiling my recollections of my time there---testing 6 inch refractor objectives with Al Jaeger, Sr., etc., etc.

 

Will post here by the end of the summer---I promise!

 

Steve



#9 Gil V

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Posted 11 August 2014 - 10:33 PM

I'd hate to see a Wiki on Criterion. I could never stop editing it. Soooo much misinformation...

#10 Chuck Hards

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Posted 12 August 2014 - 08:06 AM

Hello everyone!

 

Back in the mid-60's I was in high school, using my RV-6 at night, grinding mirrors after I came home from school, and studying Sky and T from cover to cover---a real astro-nerd! Jaegers Optical was 20 minutes from my home, and I worked there on weekends, and summers.

 

I'm compiling my recollections of my time there---testing 6 inch refractor objectives with Al Jaeger, Sr., etc., etc.

 

Will post here by the end of the summer---I promise!

 

Steve

 

Steve, please do!  Jaegers was one of the pillars of American ATMing and amateur astronomy back in those days.  Can't wait to read it.  



#11 magic612

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Posted 12 August 2014 - 08:15 AM

I'd hate to see a Wiki on Criterion. I could never stop editing it. Soooo much misinformation...

 

But if you have a website about the history, and your site IS the source material, people can correct it based on what you have written. 

 

I'm just trying to think of a better way to have this information available that will be sure to last longer. 



#12 Chuck Hards

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Posted 12 August 2014 - 08:40 AM

If anyone hasn't read it yet, here is Gil's excellent memoir on his days working at Criterion:

 

http://www.cloudynig...rion-days-r2753



#13 combatdad

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Posted 12 August 2014 - 10:36 AM

For those unaware, as far as Unitron Company history goes, this article from Company Seven is one of the best I've found.  It covers the history from their introduction by Nihon Seiko in 1951 (United Trading Company) to their demise in 1992 (Unitron, Inc), pointing out the ten or so company name/address changes in between.  Additionally, there is a Unitron Wikipedia site...that doesn't appear to be used much.

 

Dave

 

http://www.company7....nitron_114.html



#14 Geo31

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Posted 12 August 2014 - 10:48 AM

I'd hate to see a Wiki on Criterion. I could never stop editing it. Soooo much misinformation...

 

The drivel written about Criterion on the Company 7 website certainly doesn't help.  They are generally considered a solid source of info.  After reading what they have about Criterion, it throws all their historical writings in doubt, at least for me.

 

You know, so many of the companies we love from 50 years ago (or thereabouts) were either single owner or VERY closely held.  Even what we think we know about them is probably not correct.  Tom mentioned he has talked with Cave insiders that seem to suggest there is a story nobody knows.



#15 combatdad

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Posted 12 August 2014 - 11:28 AM

Can't argue the Criterion case with you, George.  My initial discussions with Company Seven staff though indicate they did their homework...at least with Unitron.  And if everything is not correct, it provides some good data points to start checking out for someone interested in writing a more detailed footnoted history...

 

Dave



#16 Geo31

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Posted 12 August 2014 - 11:58 AM

Dave, I'm sorry, I know it looks like I was commenting on your post, but it was actually a matter of I was writing while you posted.  Just timing.

 

My comment was spurred by Gil's post.  I read what they have on their site about Criterion and I personally think they should be embarrassed by it.  They even make political commentary.  Whether you agree with their political commentary or not, it ABSOLUTELY does not belong in their write-up.  They also make a lot of conjecture that I know is wrong.  The problem is when folks start posting something for a historical record and include their opinion (or even conjecture) as fact.  It gets repeated and leads to incorrect "common knowledge."  Seen it too many times.

 

In the end, I wonder how many "facts" we think we know that are wrong about Unitron, Cave, Criterion, Coulter, et al?  All too often, the insiders who really know just don't talk about it.  But we've certainly come across enough to make me question the "common knowledge" and other "history" that is passed along.

 

[edit]

On a personal, first-hand note, I know a lot has been written about Coulter and when the owner died, etc.  I don't know the exact facts, but I personally was in Idyllwild on vacation in 1987 (+/- 1 year) and just happened along the Coulter shop (and owner's homestead).  The lady who answered the door informed me that the owner had passed.  Yet, all other writings I've seen place the owner's passing a fair bit later.  Either the lady who answered the door was lying to me, or the "common knowledge" is WAY wrong.  I honestly couldn't tell you which.  I do know the shop was idle (no pun intended) and dark.

 

<shrug>


Edited by Geo31, 12 August 2014 - 12:44 PM.


#17 combatdad

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Posted 12 August 2014 - 12:10 PM

George, agree totally with what a history should represent.  I'm a history buff myself...military and space mainly.  I'm considering taking on researching and drafting a Unitron History...one that will be as well sourced and footnoted as possible...and absent of any political or personal agenda...just the facts.  Right now all sources should be viewed as potential data points needing correlation and verification IMHO.  :)

 

Dave



#18 dawziecat

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Posted 12 August 2014 - 12:49 PM

I would love to see a book about Unitron! I am not sure one could just stick "to the facts though?"

 

As can be readily seen here, Unitron is about far more than "facts." They defined an era lasting through at least two generations and any comment or inquiry about the mere "facts" of these instruments, can elicit an emotional reaction akin to those of the faithful when religious beliefs are questioned.

 

This came as a complete revelation to me. I was certainly "there." I absolutely lusted after one of these things as a youth and did receive one through the munificence of my parents. I used it for years.

 

While I still consider Unitrons/Polarexes unquestionably beautiful in their physical appearance, unlike so many here, I no longer consider them in the least desirable compared to what modern OTAs and mounts offer. They still will turn a head when on display though. My head at least.

 

Bring on the book! I absolutely guarantee I will buy a copy!


Edited by dawziecat, 12 August 2014 - 12:51 PM.


#19 combatdad

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Posted 12 August 2014 - 01:40 PM

Appreciate your enthusiasm, Terry...but there is no intent to write/sell a book!  Would most likely end up a collaborative effort, and available free to anyone who wants it.   Still working out the details. 

 

This is going to be my last post on this subject for the time being.  As an original owner of two Unitrons, and recently retired, I have the inclination and time to take on a project like this.  I plan to converse with some of the experts like Fred and Tom and get their sage advice, and most likely will start a new thread in the future to outline a way forward.  

 

Dave



#20 Jim Curry

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Posted 13 August 2014 - 10:42 PM

Tracking down the Fine family of Unitron fame to get the history of their father/relative is still doable.  Another company worthy of recording is Questar.  I visited their facility years ago.  They have the quintessential showroom for their scopes.  A wood paneled library setting with a selection of 3.5", a 7" and a long range microscope/spyscope.  I'm sure the display changes over the decades.  They even had the original observatory still on site.  Well covered by a shade tree I doubt it had been used in many years.

 

Jim



#21 A6Q6

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Posted 14 August 2014 - 08:35 PM

  They even had the original observatory still on site.  Well covered by a shade tree I doubt it had been used in many years.

 

Jim

Hi Jim, Company 7 has a lot realy good  info about Questar, and old sky and Telescope Questar ads from 1954 to the  60s tell some interesting facts.  I think the observatory was for the 12" they used to make.  There was some talk a year or so ago about them making more 12" scops,  havent heard anything lately.  Rodger W Gordon is the person to talk to about Questar and Quantum telescops, he knows some Q history that even Jim R. at Questar doesn't know.


Edited by A6Q6, 14 August 2014 - 08:53 PM.


#22 DocFinance

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Posted 15 August 2014 - 06:37 PM

I sure wish I had time to do this type of research, but I've got my own to do.  What I will offer, though, is to edit/clean up anybody else's stuff.  As a teacher and writer I've found that a lot of folks are self-conscious and therefore never put things out there for others to read.  That's a realistic fear in this day and age.  If anyone needs it, I'll be glad to help edit or at least proofread stuff anytime.


Edited by DocFinance, 15 August 2014 - 06:38 PM.


#23 A6Q6

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Posted 16 August 2014 - 10:11 PM


 " If anyone needs it, I'll be glad to help edit or at least proofread stuff anytime." Thats a nice offer Doc, but can you or anyone tell me how to use the (check spelling) ? I can find it but can't get it to work on this new CN 3.0 :(


Edited by A6Q6, 16 August 2014 - 10:18 PM.


#24 Lew Chilton

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Posted 17 August 2014 - 04:24 PM

Someone needs to write a book about Ed Byers.

There are a number of additional extremely talented telescope builders and opticians from the past who certainly deserve recognition, like George Carroll, Art Devaney, Lynn & Avery Hildom and James Herron. None of them may ever have a book written about them, but each deserves a chapter.


Edited by Lew Chilton, 17 August 2014 - 04:25 PM.


#25 Jan Owen

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Posted 17 August 2014 - 05:59 PM

Another biography I'd like to see would be about Chuck Brisley's Star Liner Company in Tucson...  I always planned to buy one of his Newtonians when they were in business, and somehow always let it get away...  An old favorite...

 

Another company I bought a lot of stuff from (but never a telescope) was Telescopics...




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