University Lowbrow Astronomers

A Scope via Craig’s List, eBay, and AstroMart.

by Tom Stoner
Printed in Reflections: February, 2009.

I’ve had telescopes before; the first having been an early model Meade 4500 4.5 inch Newtonian reflector I purchased used on eBay. That scope wasn’t at all well packaged by the seller and ended up damaged in transit, which has since made me very reluctant to purchase anything fragile via any means that will include rides in the back of big brown (or white, or yellow) trucks.

Happily that Meade 4500 shipment was insured and no one tried to confirm it had been packaged to meet any particular good standard before they paid a full insured-value claim. I ended up with a battered, but not destroyed scope, basically for the cost of none too gentle shipping across the country. Meade was contacted and for a reasonable price was able to provide replacements for the broken diecast pieces, while the OTA was disassembled and the dents were pressed out of the metal tube. In the end I had a fully functional but somewhat scarred little scope, for a bit of sweat equity and not much additional cost.

Over a couple of years in the early 1990’s, this manually aimed instrument happily meet the demands of my extremely casual observing schedule, but eventually aperture envy took over and the local Ryder’s shop took my order for a new Meade Starfinder 8, eight inch reflector on a Dobsonian mount. The little Meade 4500 moved on to a new (and hopefully more active in their observing habits) owner.

Over the next few years a number of accessories for the Dob were obtained. A 9 x 60mm right angle finder scope was fastened onto the scope’s wound cardboard tube. That necessitated a Velcro-mounted counterweight at the lower end of the tube. Filters, and an expensive collection of Vixen LV long eye-relief eyepieces were obtained from various sources—most primarily the AstroMart web site.

Eventually however my only very occasional observing habits were caught up in a desire to empty out a corner of my dining room. First the scope itself was sold, and then some of the filters and all of the Vixen eyepieces were sent off to new homes. Soon, only one or two filters, a couple Orion eyepieces, the 60mm RA finder, and a laser colluminator remained from my experiments with home observing, tucked away in a corner of a closet.

It had not been long after I’d purchased the big Dob that I’d become aware of the then (I think) new Meade ETX-90 scope. Now the first time I’d hauled that f6, 8 inch Dobsonian scope to our cabin near Traverse City in the back seat of my Supercab pickup, the neighbors later admitted they thought I’d purchased a new water heater. They wondered why I hadn’t simply thrown it into the bed of the truck for the trip to the cabin. That scope’s size certainly reduced my interest in packing up and heading out for a dark site for some observing. I’d most frequently set up on the sidewalk in front of my house in Ann Arbor, to give the neighborhood kids early evening views of Saturn’s rings and craters on the moon.

The ETX-90 or a like design looked attractive to me, primarily because of its obvious portability. Also because I’d never had a scope on a mount that could be aligned to automatically track objects, the ETX held additional attraction. When the Starfinder 8 was sold, I told myself that if I ever purchased another scope it should be one like an ETX.

Meade ETX-105

I really wasn’t looking to finally buy another scope in the fall of 2008 when I noticed a Meade ETX-105 listed for sale locally on Craig’s List. The bargain price caught my eye however, and after a short telephone conversation with the seller I knew I was hooked. A visit to inspect the scope was scheduled, and I made sure to take along the asking price in cash, in case the scope, tripod and mount turned out to be as nice as had been presented.

Of course the whole reason for this story is that I do now own that ETX-105. The only concerns evident when I inspected it, were the combination spreader bar-eyepiece tray for the tripod and the AutoStar hand controller were missing.

I’d done a bit of online research before going to inspect the scope and knew the tripod originally had come with a blue fabric carry case and that case had a pocket in which to store the spreader bar-tray and possibly other accessories. The carry case was missing from this scope, and I presume along with it the spreader bar-tray and the controller. I knew the controller was available from Meade as a separate product, and from my previous experience buying replacement parts for the 4500, I thought the spreader bar-tray assembly would be available as well.

Wrong! Meade doesn’t sell the spreader-tray separately; not to me and not to Ryder’s, to resell to me either. Their unbelievable suggestion as a solution was to purchase a whole new tripod, which of course they would be happy to supply. Not a good solution, with a modest budget in mind.

In some additional online searching, I found that a nice replacement combination spreader and tray had been available under the brand Star Tek, but apparently is no longer being manufactured. “Wanted” ads on AstroMart indicate I would have plenty of competition in finding one of them too.

John Kirchhoff from Ryder’s very kindly searched his resources late last fall for a replacement spreader-tray too, and told me about one available from Astronomy Shoppe in New Hampshire, but holiday shopping for others drew away my attention and I’ve not ordered one as of yet.

Although I haven’t tried as of yet, I believe this compact scope and all its accessories will fit comfortably into the trunk of my Corvette convertible, in case I find myself wanting to get to Peach Mountain or some other dark observing site quickly some night. Of course it will fit just as easily into the back seat of my Olds Alero sedan too.

As for accessories, eBay provided a source for a replacement AutoStar controller as well as some additional Meade ETX accessories. Apparently a sad result of the current economy; I found a company in Pennsylvania liquidating the inventory of a hobby distributor. From them I was able to purchase a new controller as well as a dew hood and electric focuser for the ETX-105 all at deep discounted prices.

Because I’d sold my previous collection of Vixen LV eyepieces, I was once again in the market for a variety of eyepieces as well. New ETX scopes apparently all come with a 26mm Super Plössl eyepiece that’s reportedly decent, and following my Lasik surgery of about 3 years ago eye relief isn’t nearly the issue it was when I wore corrective lenses. I hope my vision remains that way following my upcoming cataract surgery because on AstroMart I found and purchased a boxed set of the Meade Super Plössl eyepieces. This is a set of eight, ranging in length from 6.4mm to 40mm, and hopefully they will meet my still casual observing needs well.

So in the end, I think I’ve been able to assemble a nice little observing system that, even after I’ve finally purchased that new spreader-tray, will have cost considerably less than the basic scope cost new. When spring finally arrives I’ll be teaching myself how to properly set everything up so that the scope will find and track the objects this old rookie astronomer might want to observe.

Tom Stoner

University Lowbrow Astronomers
Huron Valley Corvette Club
Sandhill Soaring Club


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