Back from the Dead

To paraphrase Forest Gump, mishaps occur.  The second law of thermodynamics assures that you can expect a certain level of random breakdowns over time.  But this one really caught me by surprise.

I had just moved to a new apartment with a roof terrace and placed my 8″ LX90 on its tripod at a spot from which I could see the most sky, with a TeleGizmos “365” all-weather cover ( tightly bound over it.  As that company puts it, “A year of strenuous testing in some of the harshest outside environments, including the desert southwest, Florida Keys, Colorado @ 8000 feet and the Texas Hill country has proven the 365 Series to be capable of handling all types of weather on a continuous 24/7, 365 basis.”  Ah, yes, but they didn’t put it to the Brooklyn test.  As our famed governor says, you need to be “NY tough.”

The OTA knocked off its base, Photo by: Stanley Fertig

But I’m being unfair.  This was in no way TeleGizmos’s fault.  Their cover did in fact protect the scope from the heat, rain, snow, and even gloom of night.  But it had no means to protect the telescope from a rogue gust of wind.  We had a sudden storm in March soon after we moved in and the wind on our roof must have gusted well over 50mph.  I came home from an errand and my wife informed me that something bad had occurred:  I went up to the roof and found the scope, still enshrouded in its cover, knocked over onto the cement tiles.

I was and remain dumbfounded that the wind could knock over a heavy-duty, stable tripod with that much weight associated with it, but there was the body, lying in a pool of blood, as it were.  I took the scope inside and examined it.  It had fallen quite a way, given that its base had been sitting at least a meter off the ground on top of its tripod.  As the Meade mount + Optical Tube Assembly weigh about 20kg or so, that was quite an impact on an unforgiving surface.  And it showed.  The OTA was dented and had split off its base on one side.  The DEC axis clutch handle was cracked and one fork arm slightly twisted.  It was not pretty.

It was particularly sad because this was a superlative scope.  As most Meade owners know, the company’s telescopes vary in quality, from mediocre to excellent.  I had really been just plain lucky when I bought this one—it was the one in a million to roll out of their shop.  Over the past few years, without exception, everyone who had looked through this scope, including a great many AAA members, whether at N-S Lake or various other AAA observing events, had remarked what exceptional optics it had.  It allowed us to regularly see Jupiter’s Great Red Spot clearly from Brooklyn Heights, etc.  And now my luck had run out.

What to do?  As I saw it, I had three choices:  sell it for scrap and buy a new one, contact Meade customer support, or write to Dr. Clay Sherrod, the Arkansas Sky Observatories guru known for fixing and “supercharging” many brands of telescopes (  I quickly eliminated the first option, convinced (justifiably or not) that I would almost certainly not obtain a new LX90 with optics as good as this one.  Although I had previously had a good experience with Meade customer support, the second option as it turns out wouldn’t have got me far as Meade was shut down due to the coronavirus.  I had previously corresponded with Dr. Clay a few times—if you’re a Meade owner, sooner or later you’re going to engage with him—and in any case I decided to write to him and sent him some pictures.

He wrote back, saying, “Wow…it certainly appears that this is about as bad as you can have happen to the LX90.”  He went on to say that he had a spare 8″ OTA complete with rear cell in his shop, into which he could put my optics, and that he had enough spare parts to completely rebuild the fork arm, if necessary.  The bad news was that he couldn’t look at the scope before the last week of May (i.e., about two months later) as he had a backlog of scopes to repair and supercharge!  So I sent him a deposit to reserve my place in the queue, and resigned myself to forgetting about astronomy on the roof for a couple of months.

When the time arrived, I shipped him the scope, enveloped in a cocoon of five rolls of bubble wrap, resembling an alien pod from the original 1956 version of Invasion of the Body Snatchers.  I sent him a picture and he suggested I not sleep anywhere nearby!

The bubble wrap “cocoon” ready to go, Photo by: Stanley Fertig

Dr. Clay works quickly.  Within a few days of receiving it, he had taken the OTA to a body shop, who unrolled the tube flat to eliminate all dents and remove crimps, then re-rolled it into a perfect cylinder.  Meanwhile he worked on the mount, repairing the damage to the forks with spare parts.  Within a week, he had also “supercharged” it (optimizing all gears, grease, collimation, Autostar software, etc.) and tested it thoroughly.  The result was, as he put it, “incredibly nice performance once I was able to get things adjusted back to normal.”  He then shipped it back in my original bubble wrap alien cocoon.  And as he had mixed various spare parts to bring it back to life, he dubbed it “Frankenscope.”  I like the moniker;  going forward I’m going to call it “Frank” for short.  Or, since I had more or less given up the scope for dead until Dr. Clay resuscitated it, perhaps I should instead call it “Lazarus.”

Back home after the adventure, and happy!, Photo by: Stanley Fertig

Unpacking it in Brooklyn 3 days later, I found the scope I love, as beautiful as ever, with its superb optics and performance, which I tested on the roof.  “Same as it ever was,”  as David Byrne once said.  Now all I need is to find a Frankenstein decal for it, and as Dr. Clay advised, to “keep it out of the wind.”

Thank you, Dr. Clay.