A History of Goldendale Observatory
By D. Hardin
The Goldendale Observatory had its beginnings not in Goldendale, but in Vancouver, Washington at Clark Community College. Four members of an amateur astronomy club began working together on a very ambitious project, the building of a 12 inch telescope on Larch Mountain for the college's astronomy department. Only one of the four had a college degree. Don Conner, the most involved of all, was a high school dropout, and apparently somewhat of a problem child. If this inauspicious beginning was not enough, Don, a retired auto parts worker, had multiple sclerosis severe enough to require his use of a wheel chair for most of the project's existence. Don had a driving interest in astronomy and making telescopes. He started out during the depression grinding mirrors from glass furniture coasters and emery dust discarded as waste from the Fuller Glass Company. He studied all the material on astronomy he could obtain. As Don became increasingly skilled he enjoyed passing on his skills to young people interested in astronomy and telescope making.
Working closely with Don on the grinding, polishing, and constant testing of the observatory's twenty-four and one-half inch, 200 pound Pyrex mirror was Don's long term astronomy club buddy, Mack McConnell. Mack was a glass engraver until an allergy forced him to take a job with the Vancouver Water Department. Another member of the foursome, Omer VanVelden, usually called "Van", was an employee of Weber Machine Company. Van worked nights and weekends manufacturing all the intricate gears, shafts, and fittings needed for the new large telescope.
Less involved in mirror grinding, John Marshall's role was nonetheless crucial. Marshall, a former electrician, did the work on the wiring, switches, motors, and other electrical components. One day John told Don Conner, "I think I can talk the college into financing a large mirror blank. What do you say to a twenty-four and one-half inch?" Perhaps that was the moment the telescope at Goldendale was born. Fitting action to words, John had the 200 pound, five inch thick Pyrex disk on order before the other three members of the group hardly knew what happened.