Shooting for the moon — Prestridge & Sons Auto gets Burns’ telescope back to former stargazing glory

Published 9:44 pm Friday, June 15, 2018

Frank Burns looked to the heavens as a young man in the Navy, letting the stars guide his way above unfamiliar waters.

The Naval aviator served aboard the U.S.S. Shelikof during World War II, and although tulips and plants would become his bread and butter, astronomy remained a favorite pastime.

In the mid-50s, while wife Kay was pregnant with their son, Ted, Burns would slip away to an attic man cave and polish and grind the contours of a mirror the size of a dinner plate until he could see the moon. Then he built a telescope to put it in.

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After working all day at Brookhaven Nurseries, he’d maneuver the 400-pound handmade telescope out into the pasture and balance the three legs on bricks to steady it. Then he’d show the stars to Ted and his sister, Jill, and any other school children and their parents who came to gaze at the universe.

After decades of stargazing, the telescope was hidden away in the back of his shop, but never forgotten.

Jill Logan and her husband, Bob, had the telescope restored as an early Father’s Day present for her dad.

They surprised him recently at an unveiling ceremony attended by grandchildren and great-grandchildren.

“We all have fond memories of this and we wanted to preserve it for past your lifetime and past ours,” Bob Logan said as he pulled the blue tarp off of the telescope.

“I am surprised,” Burns said. “I wondered what in the world happened to that.”

The telescope looks brand new.

Bruce Prestridge of Prestridge & Sons Auto in Brookhaven were recommended to the Logans by one of their customers. He took one look at the telescope and wanted to be a part of the restoration project.

“It’s amazing how he made it,” he said. “We had never seen anything like it. Once we saw it, all four of us were involved in it. We wanted to do it. All of us were on board once we saw what we had. We’ve done a lot of things, but never a telescope. It will probably be the last. I don’t know anybody that would have anything even close to something like that.”

Prestridge’s sons — Randy, Grant and Lance — joined him in the restoration project.

They stripped the body of the telescope and blasted it some, but mostly cleaned it manually. Prestridge estimates they spent about 35 to 40 hours on the project.

Welder Jimmy Mitchell created a trailer for it that was made to work like a “little red wagon” to pull it to a viewing site.

“We custom built it for the telescope so he’d never have to pick it up again,” Prestridge said.

Burns said he built the telescope from information he found in two large manuals, including instructions to create a counterweight to balance the telescope. It’s made of solid lead and he poured the lead into a mold he made to create it.

He used car jacks to make the three legs.

After the unveiling, Prestridge pointed out all the work they’d done to Burns.

“I didn’t take the brass off of it. I left it just the way you done it. We didn’t take any of the integrity away from it,” Prestridge said. “I’m as proud of it as if it was mine.”

“You did a better job of it than I did,” Burns told him.

Prestridge wanted to put the telescope back in working order.

“We’ve got all of this back where it works. You can loosen it and turn it any way you want to,” he said. “We fixed it all back the way it would work, every piece of it. It works just like you had it,” he said.

“I’ve laid at work at night wondering what in the world will I do with all that telescope I made,” Burns told him.

“That will last forever now. It’s not going anywhere,” he said.

Burns circled around the telescope and trailer to get a better look.

“I had a special place out there in the pasture that I made for this. I had bricks under each one of those where I could level it up just right and look at the stars,” Burns said, pointing to one of the legs with his cane. “The moon was the most prestigious thing to look at. It showed all the craters on it.”

Bob Logan said the telescope made the moon look so close the image would fill the eyepiece.

“When it’s a full moon it’s almost too bright,” he said.

Jill Logan remembers her father always tinkering and building things. The telescope was one of her favorites.

“Only the heavens know how many Brookhavenites have gazed at the galaxy through Daddy’s self-made telescope,” she said.