Sunday, December 14, 2008


Me and My Pal

I’ve told the story of my first look through a telescope and my own first telescope often enough, I reckon. That’s natural; that’s what sticks in our minds even as we get years and years on down the amateur astronomy road. Can I tell you about my second scope, though, muchachos? It’s the one that really mattered, that had the most to do with setting me on the strait and narrow to a lifetime of enjoyment and wonder.

I’m not the only one who’s loved and fondly remembers The Pal, either; this little classic of a scope, Edmund Scientific’s 4.25-inch f/10 “Palomar Junior” Newtonian, was how many, many space-crazy younguns got their start in the amateur astronomy of the 1950s and 1960s.

Before there was a Pal Junior, though, there was the Tasco 3-inch, the coming of which I’ve documented in some detail in Stephanie’s Telescope. I was the greenest of green novices at the time, sure, but it wasn’t long before even I realized that something wasn’t quite right with my Japanese wonder-scope. The Moon looked pretty good, good enough that I attempted some afocal pictures of her with my box camera. Stars and those deep sky objects I could see didn’t look half bad neither. Oh, the stars were a little spikier and weirder-looking than I’d expected, but I put that down to my own inexperience. What tipped me off somethin’ warn’t quite right was the planets. As wet behind the ears as I was, I was still able to locate what I supposed must be Jupiter and Saturn and Venus. What did I see? No belts. No rings. No phases. What I saw was, as I’ve said more’n once, something that looked more like a custard pie than a planet.

At first I supposed this must be my fault. I knew about collimation, and had attempted that fine and arcane art. I must have messed it up somehow. I spent hours tweaking, getting the Tasco just right—which wasn’t really that hard. It had an OK primary cell and a surprisingly good secondary mount and spider. No dice. Custard pie still. I’ve often wondered about that little feller over the years. Was his primary really bad, or was it somethin’ else? Maybe the little mirror was held too tightly in its cell by the clips? I hadn’t known enough way back when to check that. In recent years, however, I’ve decided that, no, it was just a punk little scope. My Tasco Newt is long gone, and I’ve never run across that particular model again, but it is very similar to its contemporaries sold under the moniker “Adams Celestial,” and I have seen some o’ them over the years and verified that their optics ain’t nothing to write home about either.

So where did that leave little Rod? Not overly happy, but happy enough. I still longed for belts and rings, but the scope did, as above, do a good job on the deep sky within the limitations of its tiny aperture, so I concentrated on that—not a bad thing, I reckon. No denying, though, that I was, like every amateur then or now, soon lusting after More Better Gooder. Me ol’ Mum, a school librarian, had the kindness and foresight to order me a subscription to that little ol’ rag from Cambridge M.A., Sky and Telescope, and that in short order edumacated me that my options extended way beyond Tasco and Gilbert. Soon, the folks’ mailbox was bursting with a brace of scope catalogs: Cave, Starliner, Optical Craftsmen, Criterion, Unitron, and, most of all, Edmund Scientific.

In the 60s, Edmund was amateur astronomy...
In this latter day, you newbies cain’t imagine what a huge presence Edmund Scientific was in amateur astronomy in the 50s, 60s, and even into the 70s. Today, telescopes are a sideline for both the original Edmund, which concentrates on sales to universities and industry, and the bought-out “consumer division,” which mainly peddles science-oriented gimcracks. Back in the 60s, though, for many of us, Edmund was amateur astronomy. Like me, most of us amateurs, even those out of short pants, couldn’t afford the beautiful 4-inch Unitron Photo Equatorial or them hulking Cave Newtonians. We could, however, dream of Edmund Scientific’s mighty SPACE CONQUERORS. These lovely white-finished scopes, which included a 4.25-inch, a 6-inch, and an amazing looking 8-inch were still dreams for most of us, mind you, but they were at least dreams with a tangible thread of hope runnin’ through ‘em.

Soon, Edmund’s little (but thick) digest-sized catalog was my study-hall and lunchtime reading matter of choice. Yeah, it was filled with gadgets and gimcracks aplenty, like today’s Edmund. But there was some amazing stuff even amongst the foolishness. In those less uptight days, you could, for example, order a little envelope full of Trinitite, the baked glass sand resulting from ol’ Oppie’s big party at Los Alamos back in ’45. Most of all, though, there was an astronomy section, a big one.

Not only were there those lovely scopes, there were eyepieces, books, and accessories aplenty. Sam Brown’s wonderful illos figured prominently. The little book just reeked amateur astronomy. Hell, I probably wore out three copies (Edmund kept sending new ones without complaint). Drool-soaked pages don’t last long, you see. I liked looking at the accessories, of course, but what I stared at the hardest over the summer of ’65 was The Super Space Conqueror.

This majestic instrument was not just imposing-looking; a scan of the catalog blurb revealed it was a powerful performer, “Clearly shows you the Rings of Saturn, Jupiter’s Moons, Mars, the Craters of the Moon, and all the wonders of the sky.” Haysoos Christmas, this thing would even reveal stars, the catalog said, down to 13th magnitude. And it was equipped with a real equatorial mount, a finder scope, and—get this—a clock drive! Hotcha! I was in. Who could ask for more?

The only trouble was how to get one. Prominent in the advertisement were the numbers $199.50. Which was a lot. Equivalent to about 1000 bucks in today’s dwarf currency. Big Trouble in River City for li’l Rod. A quick back-of-the-envelope calculation revealed I might be able to amass such a sum (mowing lawns, birthday and Christmas cash, collecting soda pop bottles) by the time I graduated high school.

How about Criterion, then? I had also received a catalog from that other giant of 1960s amateur scopedom. Nope. Their highly regarded (including today) RV6 Dynascope was exactly five bucks cheaper than the Edmund SSC. What then? The next step down for both companies, a 4.25-inch Newtonian, might be doable…but…no…NO WAY. A six inch was the instrument for any self-respecting amateur. I knew that. Patrick Moore said so himself. I would not settle for a mere four. Not until fate landed a Palomar Junior in my lap, that is.

Edmund 6-inch...
The funny thing about the little Edmund telescope all of us remember so fondly as the “Palomar Junior” is that the the company didn't call it that very often. In most of the catalogs it was referred to as the “Deluxe Space Conqueror” (as opposed to the SUPER Space Conqueror, natch) or as a “Palomar Type” telescope. “Palomar Junior” was printed on the telescope's little shower-cap type aperture covers  in wonderful 1960s script along with an art-decoish star and Saturn. No matter what Edmund called their 4-incher, I’ve never heard anybody who owned one refer to it as anything but "Palomar Junior."

Other than a memorable name, though, what did the Pal Junior have to offer, according to the Edmund Bible? I was in favor of the Super, but I’d certainly devoted considerable time to studying the Deluxe’s page as well. Optically, you got an f/10 (or thereabouts) spherical primary mirror. Finder? A 6 x 23mm in dual-ring mounts. The focuser, the Big E said, was a genu-wine rack and pinion. These components were installed in an aluminum tube painted, like all the Edmund Newts, a glowing, holy-looking, white.

The Pal's German equatorial mount was similar to that of the Super Space Conqueror but much downsized and no drive was included (though an AC clock was optional). This mount featured setting circles and was perched on a metal pedestal rather than a tripod.

Accessories? In a fit of largess, not one but two eyepieces were standard, a 1-inch (25mm) Kellner and a ½-inch (12mm) Ramsden. There was a (gasp) achromatic Barlow, too. The included documentation was extensive and consisted of Sam Brown’s How to Use Your Telescope, The New Handbook of the Heavens, and Edmund’s Star and Satellite Path Finder (a cardboard planisphere).

I thought all this was rather ho-hum sounding compared to the Super, but judging by the pictures in their respective catalogs, the Pal Junior was a step or two above the Criterion 4-inch, which was mounted on a rather spindly-looking tripod. The problem remained, however, as to where I’d get 200 bucks for a Super. Till one morning at breakfast my Old Man, AKA “The Chief Op” around our house, let slip that one of his buddies down to The Station (he was a broadcast engineer at a local TV station) had a 6-inch Edmund telescope he might be willin’ to sell cheap.

Criterion's Dynascope...
Oh. My. God. I was in an agony of anticipation till the afternoon a few days later when the OM roared into the driveway in his Ford Fairlane and pulled a long cardboard box from the back. Just as I was about to lose it, I noted the look on his face that spelled “Hold on there, little pard.” Turned out the 6-inch Edmund was not a 6-inch Edmund. It was actually the Pal Junior 4-inch instead. Have you ever seen the Warner Brothers Cartoons where Elmer Fudd, in a fit of acute pique or disappointment, shrinks to an inch in height? That was me.

Noting my disappointment, the OM gently allowed as how he knew this was not what I wanted, but that he’d told the owner we would give it a try, anyway. After all, he observed, this was something I might be able to afford with some help from him and Mama. I tried to continue to appear dejected, but couldn’t quite keep up the front. There was a telescope in that box. An almost new and nearly unused telescope. As I relate on the Stephanie’s Telescope page, the OM’s co-worker had bought the Pal for his son, despite being well aware that what the boy wanted for his birthday was a go-kart. Mummy stepped-in and demanded a go-kart for her sonny-boy with the result that the Pal had to find a new home.

Yep, almost new and looking good once we’d manhandled the GEM outa the VW and mounted the OTA on it. Impressive? Hell, to tell the truth, this was about the size I’d imagined a 6-inch would be. It was, frankly, a fair handful for li’l Rod to lug around, with a tube every bit as long as that of the average 6-incher, and a mount and pedestal that, combined with a big cast iron counterweight, seemed to weigh a ton. Yes, the Pal looked good: ever’thing was there, and there literally wasn’t a mark on him. Then as now, however, only the night sky can pass a verdict on a telescope. There was a nice Moon on the wax on this June evening, and Saturn would even be on display if I could wait till the wee hours. There was no question about that; I was one pumped 12-year-old.

First light was more fun than frustrating for once, not that there were not some irritations. Number one was that pedestal. While I thought one would be better than a tripod stability-wise, I had not figgered transporting the thing into my equations. Yep, if I’d had a dollar for every time Mama hollered at me for banging one o’ them damned legs into her furniture, I’d a-had a Unitron Photo Equatorial by Christmas '66.

More serious when it came to observing was the fact that the Pal’s OTA was held in its cradle on the GEM by a couple of bolts and wingnuts rather than tube rings. That meant the eyepiece wound up in some uncomfortable positions. While I was vaguely aware that the R.A. axis should be pointed north all the time, I resorted to moving it to point in whichever direction yielded the most convenient eyepiece angle. No, you couldn’t track objects with a single motion with the polar axis pointing away from north, but I don’t think I really knew that was what an equatorial mount was ‘sposed to do for you anyway.

Them was minor irritants, though. While the mantra, “just a 4-inch, just a 4-inch” continued to murmur in my head, that stopped abruptly once I got my Pal—I was already beginning to think of it as “my Pal”--centered on a sweet young crescent Moon. Man alive! The craters! I’d thought the Tasco did good, but this was oh-so-much better. Not only was the image brighter at the 90x the Ramsden delivered than it was at considerably lower power in the Tasco, it was noticeably sharper too, with features away from the terminator being much easier to see. It was clear the OM was suitably impressed as well.

Early in the evening, I probably also turned the scope to the few DSOs I knew how to find at the time—M13 and M8, likely—and these must have been pretty good as well, but I don’t remember that. I spent most of the night on the Moon. Until Saturn was finally high up enough in the East to fool with. The OM, god love him, hung in there with me.

In one sense we were downright unlucky. In the summer of 1966, the tilt of Saturn’s rings was about what it is right now—just shy of edge on. It would have been so nice to have had a first real look at a Saturn with wide-open hat-brim rings and a razor-thin Cassini’s, but ‘twas not to be. As it was, the Pal did what we wanted her to do, proved her mettle. The little ball of the planet was a sharp bb, and the rings a nice not-quite-line through the disk. There was a hint of banding on the planet, Titan stood out well, and there were what I thought might be—but I wasn’t sure—a few additional Moons. “Daddy, I like it, I like it a lot. Can we get it?”

The OM wasn’t ready to talk finance in the middle of the dadgum night, but said we’d talk about it over at breakfast, if I could get up for breakfast, that was. As you can imagine, I had a hard time getting to sleep despite the hour, and paged through The New Handbook of the Heavens under the covers with the aid of my trusty flashlight until at least three.

The next morning, true to his word, the OM discussed Ways and Means. Seemed as the telescope’s owner was willing to let it go at considerable discount off the $79.50 in the catalog, but not that much of a discount. The Old Man figured the Pal’s owner would want at least 60 dollars, a still-frightening sum for me.

He also said, though, that he’d find a way to pay that off if I’d pay him off by foregoing at least part of my small weekly allowance, kicking-in my lawn-mowing money, and contributing whatever dollars Aunt Lulu and any other relatives sent with birthday and Christmas cards. Also, seeing as my birthday was right around the corner, I would have to agree that the Pal would be my birthday, party and all—though he reckoned Mama would still bake me a cake. Finally, he ruled that we ought to at least try to sell the Tasco (as if I would miss it). “Yes, Daddy, sure will, that’s fine.” We both knew I had a hard time saving money, especially to pay off something I already had in my hands (like the big chemistry set), but somehow we both knew this was different and that there would be no problem.

I now had my telescope; it was time to start using it. Instead of moonin’ over scope catalogs, I’d better start studying object catalogs. While I’d wanted Jupiter and Saturn bad, now that I had them, it seemed I was actually more interested in the Messier objects represented by those fascinating pictures of galaxies, nebulae, and clusters in The New Handbook and that most wonderful little Golden Guide, Stars. I’d been forced to stay outside the Solar System for nearly two years by the Tasco, and it seemed that was where I really wanted to be anyway. Soon, I began to make a concerted effort to do the Ms, aided and abetted by a spanking new copy of Norton’s Star Atlas (Fifteenth Edition). I’d been able to finance that because ol’ Aunt Lulu had been right generous that year, and the OM decided half could go for a scope payment and half for “Whatever the boy wants to do with it; it’s his.”

What was my deep sky voyaging like back then? It was somewhat hit and miss. The 23mm finder on the Pal didn’t make starhopping easy, and Norton’s, despite what my buddies in the informal astronomy club we younguns founded that summer had told me, was not that hot either. Oh, it was a beautiful book (if antique-seeming), but even ignorant little me was soon aware that a 6th magnitude atlas just does not have enough “guide stars” to make object-finding easy. Nevertheless, I began to knock ‘em off one by one. Some were sweet--the M42s and M37s. Some were a little disappointing; I was never sure I was really seeing any stars in M13, maybe because I’d been told that required “at least a 6-inch.” And some, like M101, the subject of the previous blog, were impossible.

Nevertheless, I kept plugging away, marking ‘em off one by one on a paper scroll-like device I’d “invented.” The OM had given me a discarded roll of teletype paper, and I’d written each Messier’s vital statistics on a section of that paper till I had a long strip listing all 110. Something else the OM had tossed and I’d recovered from the trash without Mama’s knowledge (you will not bring one more piece of junk into my house, young man) was a “calibration guide” for some kind some kind of electronic test gear. Maybe a surplus signal generator. Oh, he was big on war surplus electronics to Mama’s horror, but my delight. This Thing consisted of two mounted rollers with cranks, I wound my Messier scroll onto this and went to town. I’d observe M92 (or whatever), place a check and a short note on the scroll next to its name, and crank on to the next fuzzie. God how I wish I still had this Rube Goldberg Contraption!

As most of y’all know, Uncle Rod is a long time astrophotography dabbler. I’ve been trying to take images of the Solar System and the deep sky almost since the first moment I laid hands on the Tasco. I’d gotten some barely recognizable images of the Moon with the 3-inch. That is, you could tell, if’n you held your mouth just right, that they were photos of Earth’s satellite, not a 1960s UFO or one o’ them accursed custard pies--but just barely. I figgered that I might be able to do better with my Pal, which was, after a year or two, now my beloved companion nearly every clear evening. To that end, I decided I needed a better system. With the alt-az Tasco, I’d simply set my little box camera up on a tripod next to the eyepiece, shot afocally, and hoped for the best. The two things I thought could improve my Moon Picture technique were mounting the camera directly on the scope and, well, using a better camera.

The mounting problem was solved by a gadget Edmund sold that suspended a camera over the eyepiece via a bracket that mounted into four pre-drilled holes in the OTA (the OK but somewhat rickety focuser didn’t have a lock and couldn’t have supported even the lightest camera). This doo-dad, which sold for $9.95, also included a small screen for Solar projection and, I thought, was therefore a Good Value. As soon as the scope payments ceased, I glommed onto one (Mama was still baffled that I still wouldn’t rather have a slot car). The better camera problem depended on the Old Man.

In addition to ham radio, he had an at least off-and-on interest in photography, and had been able to accumulate some fancy (used) cameras over the years, including an Exacta single lens reflex I much admired. Even the least of his stable, a Retina, would have been far better than my plastic 620 film Argus twin lens reflex (which, amazingly, survives to this day). I knew good and well he would not let me borrow one of his cameras—I freely admitted then and admit now that that would have led to inevitable disaster. The secret was to get him interested in taking pictures of the Moon himself.

That turned out not to be as hard as I’d expected. I showed him a few of my humble prints made, I confessed, by borrowing his enlarger and print trays when he’d been on transmitter duty at night. Far from being miffed at that, he was intrigued, impressed even, and said he thought he might like to try his hand at the Moon too if I didn’t mind. Mission Accomplished.

First thing we discovered was that the heavy Exacta easily overcame the little Pal’s dec lock. In two shakes, however, the OM had cobbled together a tube counterweight out of some surplus aircraft parts he had squirreled away. The pictures he and I obtained were not perfect. The vibration induced by firing the Exacta’s shutter was like the recoil of a .50 cal Ma Deuce. Oh, we tried the “hat trick,” cable releases, and other work-arounds, but with minimal improvement. Still, our results were darned respectable. The one shown here is actually from one of our less successful evenings.

The real value of those nights with the OM and his Exacta turned out not to have a damned thing to do with the resulting photos, which were never good enough to grace the pages of Sky and Telescope, even in those simpler times (but which, nevertheless, mightily impressed my teenage amateur contemporaries). No, it was not the pictures, but the memories that developed.

In just a few years, as my life began to change in ever accelerating fashion, as teen years melted into young adult years, I began to treasure my recollections of the nights the OM and I spent awash in Luna’s silv’ry glow. I don’t know why I was surprised, but I was, when I became aware the OM did too, at least as much as I did. Till the day he died, way too soon at the end of the 1980s, he’d often mention “Those freezing nights Rod dragged me out to take his Moon Pictures.” The twinkle in his eye showed he wasn’t serious about the dragging or the cold (in Possum Swamp?), and, like me, would have loved to have relived those years.

When the changes begin to come thick and fast with high school and college graduations, change piles upon change, and some of the things of youth are inevitably forgotten or set aside. I’m proud to say my Pal never was. Oh, even before I was out of high school I had More Better Gooder, but I still found uses for the Pal, once in a while, anyhow. In fact, I didn’t stop using the li’l guy till I left for the USAF.

I was surprised to discover, when I returned to the Swamp toting a C8, that one of the acquaintances I found I most wanted to renew was with my Pal. Unfortunately, the intervening decade or so had not been overly kind. In want of space, Mama had exiled him to the carport with its damp and bugs. It looked as if the OM had tried to keep him covered, but the mirror’s coating was in a sad, sad state state. There were patches on the small primary where there was no coating. Maybe a little bit guiltily, he had decided to repaint the now-weathered tube and mount. He didn’t do a bad job on the tube, but the mount was now a weird shade of electric blue that nearly obscured the formerly lovely gray-crackle paint finish.

I felt like that space voyager in a Twilight Zone episode who returns home to find that, in accordance with Mr. Einstein’s rules, his best friend has aged to senility while he has remained young. I was a little P.O.ed, wishing the OM had just left my Pal alone, but I had a C8, and there was a lot of other stuff to occupy me—like finding a job. I cleaned up my Pal the best I could and stored him until the time I could give him further attention.

Which turned out not to be for nearly eight years. Driven by nostalgia, I guess, one day I pulled out the Pal’s little primary, examined it, and, determining that it was fine except for its abused aluminum, sent it off for a new coating. When it returned, I immediately reinstalled it, and then, finally, my Pal and I were back out under the stars together after nearly 18 years. What did I think? I was impressed by the images almost in spite of myself.

They weren’t just as good as I remembered; they were better. Two decades had made me a much more capable deep sky observer, and I was seeing things with the scope I never saw back in The Day. What didn’t impress me? The mount. It was still heavy, every bit as heavy as I remembered, but much shakier than I recalled. And that finder? I’d suffered with that? Which might lead you to believe I soon deposited my Pal back in the U-Storit and moved on. Not hardly. The Pal was to go on to gain at least a small measure of fame late in life.

Not long after the scope’s “second first light,” I conceived of a project, a series of columns for my club newsletter demonstratin’ what could be observed from light polluted urban and suburban sites with minimal optical aid, a series I called “From City Lights to Deep Space.” The scope I used for a considerable amount of the observing I did for these columns was, you guessed it, my Pal.

I did replace his focuser with a (slightly) better one from Novak and the tiny finder with a Telrad (I carefully preserved both original items), but that was it. I had a ball running the Ms again with my hallowed Palomar Junior, my readers loved the columns, and, eight more years later, the series evolved into an honest-to-god book, my Urban Astronomer’s Guide. If telescopes can feel anything, and I think they sometimes can, muchachos, I believe my Pal is happy in his retirement, basking in a little glory. And I also hope and sometimes believe that somewhere out in the Ether the OM is smilin’ too.

Postscript: a few years after the publication of The Urban Astronomer's Guide, I’ve thought about my Pal frequently, but haven't used him much. I hope to change that in 2009, following a complete restoration. My intent is to put the Pal Junior in as close to original condition as I can. To that end, I reckon I’ll have to start haunting Ebay and Craig’s list for a few parts. I suppose I’m lucky in that all I really need is a finder (the old one was missin’ its crosshairs and part of the eyepiece when I returned to Possum Swamp after my Air Force adventures), and one of his focuser knobs (literally fell to dust in my hands one night). I would very much appreciate y’all’s assistance in this project, since, as you can imagine, it’s close to my heart. If you hear about any Pals or Pal parts for sale for reasonable prices (you know how cheap I am), please let your nostalgic ol’ Unk know.

Postscript to the postscript: Same as ever' year, the next edition of this here blog will not appear next Sunday, but on Christmas Eve. Y'all be good; the jolly man with the huge belly and the white beard--and I don't mean Bubba down to the club--knows if you have been bad or good!

Rod, in many ways this sounds like a redo of my own early years and my Sears 60mm refractor, and especially how you used the EQ mount! I did the same. LOL My folks were, and still aren't interested in my hobby, but Dad was fully supportive of it at the time I needed him to be. Thankfully I still have both of them at my 50 years of age.
I've always liked your blog, but this one touched me the most. Thank you
Doug Bailey
doug76, truckstop astronomer on CN
Thank YOU Doug....

Unk, almost every one of your posts makes me doubly glad that I finally sprung for a scope, and also makes me wish I was out using it right now instead of hunched over the laptop. This one more than most. Thanks, sincerely, and Merry Christmas!
I got a Tasco telescope, a spotting refractor since it only had a straight-through "EP" which couldn't be replaced. My grandfather gave it to me as a kid, and I can't remember how old it was when I got it but the box it came in looked like it was from the 1960s (I got it in the 80s). Still it had a tripod 1/4"-20 adapter and provided nice views of the moon and of the stars even though it was probably only 60mm if I recall. Anyway, I still think of that long gone telescope from time to time when observing through the C8 or ETX-125. Nice article this week.
My telescope of childhood was a KMart 3 inch refractor. I ended up selling it when I was in the Air time for astronomy then.
That was way back in 1977, and I did not get a replacement telescope until 1997, 20 years later.
I do not miss the old refractor. The mount was a yoke, and it had a fixed eyepiece with a built-in barlow.
Wow - what deja vu! It was 1964 and I had just ordered my Edmund equatorial mount and wood tripod- same one for the Palomar Jr. You see, I chose to build my very own 4-1/4" Palomar Jr. eauty...looking for just the right linoleum tube to hold my Edmund mirror mount and secondary spider. I chose the non-rack & pinion focuser due to economics. I waited and waited for the rural postal delivery - it seemed like an eternity then. Finally, it was here...record speed assembly mode and now first light - WOW! You know, the ONLY thing better than the countless hours reading the Edmund Scientific mail order catalog was GOING to Edmund in Barrington, NJ. Forget Epcot - get me to Edmund! I was on my way now... spending countless hours under the muggy summer skies of Princeton, NJ. Your story helped me to recapture the spark and passion that was
1964- MY "Year of Astronomy".
I have a 1968 6inch edumund refractor telescope like the one you have with electric clock drive on it. would you have or can make a copy of the manual for the telescope.
There was really no manaul...just a typewritten sheet or two that disappeared sometime in the 70s. Other than that, there was Sam Brown's _How to Use Your Telescope_ and _The New Handbook of the Heavens_, the latter is available from used book merchants, and so is the former as part of Sam's still in print _All About Telescopes_

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