Wednesday, October 03, 2012

One obsession down...

I watched the presidential debates tonight, and have to say the entire experience was not a good one. Moderator Jim Lehrer lost control fast than a junior high substitute teacher, and is a good reason why we need someone other than tired, old, white, male journalists running these things. So I'm not gonna talk about the debates.

Instead, I'm going to tell you about the observatory I discovered--or rather, re-discovered--because of the Chicken Ranch. Crazy, huh?

A year or two ago--I forget how long exactly--I was in the Alkek Library at Texas State, going through the mind-numbing and nausea-inducing ritual of searching microfilm of old newspapers for information on the closure of the Chicken Ranch. Or maybe it was hunting down a rare, pre-Marvin Zindler news report of the brothel. Either way, in either the Houston Chronicle or Houston Post I came across a wild art photo (that is, a random photo not accompanying a particular story). In this case, it was a photo of an old, worn-down, domed observatory outside of Schulenburg, Texas. The image triggered one of those long-lost memories that surprise you when they resurface because you'd so thoroughly forgotten them. I'd seen that observatory before. Clearly, I had, although I was probably too young at the time to realize what it was, and only the odd shapes of the building registered. This isn't that particular photo, but it gives a good idea of what I remembered:

Schaefer Observatory, courtesy of
Photo courtesy Eclipse Tours

Over the past year or so, when driving through Schulenburg on the way to visit family in Columbus, I always made it a point to try and see if it was still where I kind of though it used to be. It wasn't. This discouraged me, since what's more depressing than a bulldozed observatory and telescope? But lo and behold, Gary McKee, a historian from Schulenburg with whom I'd corresponded with regarding the Chicken Ranch, told me that it'd been moved when I mentioned my half-hearted search to him. Moved where? To the Blinn College campus in Schulenburg, the site of the former Bishop Forest High School (which, to my surprise, closed in 1989--being Catholic, I got plenty of encouragement to go to Bishop Forest from the local parish. Sorry, but a parochial education--particularly two towns over in Schulenburg--didn't appeal much to me). So today, driving back home from a quick visit to Columbus, I made a quick detour to Schulenburg. And there it was, in better shape than my memory, but the same observatory, plain as day:

Schaefer Observatory at Blinn College, Schulenburg, Texas

The Schaefer Observatory, I've learned, was built by H.P. Schaefer and his sons in the 1940s to observe the moon (and presumably planets and other objects). One site says he hand-ground a 10" mirror for his hand-built telescope, which would have been a pretty darn impressive Newtonian telescope for the day. The dome was metal, and near as I can tell, the cylindrical section was wood. It's been restored and hosts star parties these days, with a great, open southern exposure (if you ignore the power lines running across the field). It makes me happy to know that this piece of history has been preserved for future generations.

I've been fixated on telescopes again lately, mainly because mine still remains mirrorless. I hope to remedy that soon. And some day, I will acquire a much larger telescope with state-of-the-art go-to capability along with an excellent, stable mount for astrophotography. And one we get some property out of town with dark skies, I shall build my very own observatory with a dome and everything. That's been one of my long-time dreams since I first bought my 6" Meade back when I was 13, and I look forward to following in Mr. Schaefer's footsteps.

Now Playing: The Kinks Everybody's in Show-Biz
Chicken Ranch Central

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