Thirty five years ago, engineer-machinist-inventor Fred Schleipman went on a solar eclipse expedition. Between shadow bands he met Bert Willard, an optical engineer and member of the Springfield Telescope Makers of Springfield, Vermont.
When visiting Willard’s makers-club, Schleipman became enamored with a telescope on display—an original Porter Garden Telescope. Schleipman then began his next expedition, i.e., to re-create it. So unique and fine, it would be a pity to have this instrument of beauty fall into obscurity.
Finally in this decade these garden telescopes are being offered— re-created by limited edition and found at Telescopes of Vermont . The team involved in this endeavor includes Fred Schleipman, Russ Schleipman, Bert Willard, Dave Nugent and Jim Daley. Each individual has a story to tell as you’ll find on the “About Us” page.
Back in the 1920’s Russell W. Porter was renowned for a number of reasons. Among them was his reputation as the “father of amateur astronomy in America”. It is estimated that Porter had 60 of these telescopes made. Perhaps 14 of Porter’s original telescopes survived, one being held at the Smithsonian. When originals are located, and that’s not often, they are auctioned off quickly and for large sums of money.
Notice how one looks through the eyepiece. One of the niceties of this particular instrument is that the mirror and eyepiece are detachable while the pedestal can be left outdoors. Its leaf motif is very attractive. It stands 35 inches high on a custom designed pedestal. When the eyepiece is fully extended it is about 70 inches tall. A handsome case stores the optics. Each telescope takes five months to craft, no detail has been overlooked, no shortcuts taken.
The collective research, passion, and endeavor of crafting such a rare instrument today seems every bit as honorable as the original piece. A tremendous amount of work goes into recreating the instrument—engineering, patterning, casting and machining. Very few foundries and craftsmen are available with this knowledge and skill, not to mention the required optical expertise.
To get a glimpse of the precision involved and the foundry process, I recommend viewing the New England Dream House 2007 video. You’ll get a look at just what gives value to these garden telescopes. Telescopes of Vermont is located in Norwich, VT.
Nancy R. Peck