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About Teleport – a history

Teleport is in the building on the right, beside my home. It's outside the little town of Wylie, Texas, about 30 miles northeast of Dallas. We call it the LTFWT, the "Largest Telescope Factory in Wylie, Texas". My name is Tom Noe and I've been an amateur telescope maker since 1963. That's when I figured my first 6" mirror and made a pipe fitting German Equatorial mount my junior year at Eastern Kentucky University.

The Homestead near Wylie Texas

After graduation I got a NASA fellowship to pursue a PhD at the University of Tennessee but in a few months I began to see I was going in the wrong direction. I needed less theory and more practical applications. I should have been studying engineering and industrial arts. At the end of the semester I gave the fellowship back and for the rest of that year I taught physics, calculus, and general science in a private high shool in Knoxville, TN.

In 1965 Texas Instruments offered me a job that brought me to Dallas. They said my B.S. in physics and math made me a "semiconductor engineer." Back then no one yet knew what degree might be more suitable for working on chip technology. For five years, I did process engineering in the Integrated Circuits division, then for five more I was a member of the technical staff of the Semiconductor R & D Lab. The other 57 members were all Ph.D's who shared their neat toys and knowledge with me. TI gave me a crisp new dollar bill for each of a half dozen patents.

In the R&D lab I worked on wireless interconnections and developed some advanced ultrasonic welding technology. In 1971 I was loaned to the Government Products Division to apply it to interconnecting laser detectors to guide the first Paveway smart bombs. I built the first 127 of them that actually worked and were delivered to the Air Force. It was good to know what I did made them hit the target instead of some random place, but I didn't like not choosing what I worked on. I was also finding I didn't fit the corporate world, which seemed destined to take me ever farther from the hands on kinds of things I really liked.

I had been into photography and color darkroom work, first as a hobby then as a side business. When Kodak introduced the new C41 process, I built a small processor for my little home color lab. In 1975 I left TI and began to manufacture them. I slowly learned to do mechanical engineering and manufacturing and eventually computer aided design. I hadn't really wanted a business, just a nice workshop, but after a few years I had 15 employees. Over the next twenty years we built over a thousand processors for small photo studios, large corporations, NASA, NATO, hospitals, schools, police departments and military bases. That business has of course gone away in recent years, but I still have several C41 and E6 processors in operation around the world.

I loved the designing and building, but not the management or the business side of things, and I barely survived financially. When the processor industry phased down in the mid-nineties I built a smaller shop next door to my home in 1997 and became a one-person operation again. I made the last 8 processing machines there, which paid for the equipment and building which is now the LTFWT. Working alone, I began to enjoy being in the shop again. Now I spend just a few hours each month to provide parts and phone support for processors I made as far back as 1976, so the few owners still in the lab business can keep them going.

Back in the late 80's my processing machines brought me to San Francisco for a trade show. After dinner at Fisherman's Wharf, my wife and I walked up to Ghirardelli Square. As I stepped up on the curb, a man tugged my sleeve and said, "Come see the moons of Jupiter." I had been away from astronomy for years, but had seen magazine photos of a new portable kind of scope called a "Dobsonian". Somehow I recalled the nameand said "You have a couple of neat "Dobsonians" there. The man said, "Thank you. I'm John Dobson. Come see the moons of Jupiter".

In 1991 when I first attended the Riverside Telescope conference, John Dobson thoroughly went over that telescoping 10" I had built to ride on the motorcycle. Several years after that, when I showed the early commercial Teleports at the Table Mountain Star Party, we visited again. I talked with him about that chance meeting in San Francisco and the influence it had in bringing me back to astronomy and telescope making. Probably without that meeting, and certainly without what he had done earlier, the Teleport would not exist. Thank you again, John Dobson.

I had begun work in 1976 on a 12.5 " German Equatorial but had to put it away half finished while I built processing machines. In 1991 I finished it and took it to the Texas Start Party (my first) then on to the Riverside Telescope Makers Conference. At both I saw the "Dobsonian Revolution" that had transpired during my absence from telescope making. It inspired an idea for an ultra-portable scope, lighter, quicker, and more self contained than those I saw. I sketched out the concept sitting in front of my tent there just before I left. Years in the photo industry started me on a different path than others were following.

I had loved and ridden motorcycles since I was 13, and I wanted a scope to ride on my Honda Gold Wing. An 8" would have been easy, so I challenged myself to design a 10" that would fit the passenger seat. After a couple of hundred hours of CAD work and a few weeks of evenings in my processing machine shop, I had a working scope. Over the next few years it rode 12,000 miles on the Wing. The longest a trip was in 1992, to Nova Scotia then on to the Stellafane Telescope Makers Conference in Springfield, Vermont. I was overwhelmed when the Stellafane judges gave it four awards, more than any other scope there.

A few months later, the judges at the Riverside Telescope Makers Conference in California disqualified it. They said it was a "professional" or "commercial" design which left me both flattered and ticked off. The reactions of the Stellafane and Riverside judges and the attendees at both made it seem a good idea, but it seemed unlikely I would ever get an opportunity to make them for others. I’ve never been a serious observer, so my bike scope mostly sat in the corner for several years.

In 1995, I discovered Amateur Astronomy Magazine and later wrote an article about the bike scope that ran in issue #15 in 1997. That reconnected me with the scope, and I feel sure it was a factor in my later deciding to develop a commercial version when the opportunity arose. Thank you Tom Clark for creating AA and printing that article. (pdf file of the article)

Some of the possible refinements described in the article came to pass, but many were passed over in favor of better ones as I found them. The original bike scope seems crude now, but like the earlier work of John Dobson, it had to happen before the commercial Teleports became possible.

In early 1998 the film processing industry was clearly beginng to go away. I stopped making those machines and began full time work on a commercial version of the 10" Teleport. I showed my designs to Carl Zambuto, who agreed to supply their special primary mirrors. The quality of Carl's mirrors kept inspiring me to refine the scopes more and more.

Four scopes
The original bike scope, plus the three commercial prototypes

Hundreds of hours in TurboCad and the three prototypes led to a scope well beyond my original vision of the Teleport. The first 10" scopes shipped in ‘99 and over the next two years I developed 14.5" and 7" versions. By 2007, I had delivered 110 Teleports. Each small run has included a number of refinements, something I plan to continue as long as I'm able to make them. When I feel I can't improve them any more, it will be time to quit.

The Teleport is a very different animal than other PTM scopes. A batch of five to ten of them takes about a year to make, once the design and engineering has been finished. The time and effort I put into building them insures that the user gets the greatest number of the finest possible images with the least amount of time and hassle. There is plenty of demand for more scopes, but that would require me to hire employees. I already went down that road with my film processing machines and promised myself "never again".

All three sizes are shown below with me and my wonderful wife Linda Silas, on our Ducati ST2. Linda is a mechanical engineer, a musician, a recording engineer, a graphic designer, an and excellent seamstress. She developed and makes the Teleport shrouds and covers, does the graphics for the brochures and manuals, and created this web site. Thanks, Linda, I could never have done this without you!

2 people, 3 scopes and a bike
Which way to the star party?
(No, I still don’t recommend carrying a scope on a bike! It’s dangerous!)

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© 2002 Teleport Telescopes. All rights reserved. Created Jan 2002 by Linda Silas, The Annex Studios