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Saturday, 12 April 2014 07:01

The Mystery of the Turlock High Observatory, Gun Range

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| | Courtesy of Turlock High School|
It took a while, but Turlock High School is officially on Facebook – with an interesting twist.

Turlock High School is over 100 years old and it has quite a bit of history, much of it unknown, forgotten or mysterious legends.

First year THS Principal Marie Peterson decided to launch the school’s official Facebook Page with a recurring feature, known as “Behind THS.” The feature looks into those legends, letting the world know a little more about Turlock High’s history.

Peterson’s first topic of discovery was the observatory and telescope, visible from Canal Drive.

The observatory was built in 1974 and at the time it was used by math and science classes to observe the stars and faraway galaxies. A yearbook entry from that year reveals students used the telescope to take picture of the Andromeda galaxy, 100 million light years away.

The telescope remains inside the observatory and sits on a war surplus motorized gun mount. Evidently over the years the heat in the building caused the mirror inside the telescope to crack, and pieces of the lens went missing.

Eric Julien, a recently retired THS science teacher and department chair, says his students saw the educational benefits of the observatory.

“We saw solar eclipses, the rings of Saturn, the moons of Jupiter, and comets with that telescope,” he posted on the THS Facebook page.

Julien added that a deal with the Modesto Astronomy Club to fix the telescope fell through years ago.

“The Modesto Astronomy club wanted to do a first Monday of the month public viewing in exchange for rebuilding the telescope, but the School Board required them to have a $1,000,000 insurance policy,” he wrote. “They couldn't afford the insurance so it was never repaired.“

Peterson’s second “Behind THS” tackled the legend of the shooting range underneath the Girl’s Gym. Next year the gym will be closed during renovation, so Peterson decided now would be as good a time as ever to take a peak.

Turns out the legend is, indeed, true. Peterson says she doesn’t know when the shooting range ceased operations, but she discovered .22 long rifle bullets under the gym.

Thanks to some research by THS Newspaper Advisor Virginia Barr, it was learned the school had a rifle club organized in 1925.

While at some point the shooting range ceased operations, the Rifle Club remains.

“In 100+ years you see some interesting things come and go,” said Peterson. “We are proud of our NJROTC Air Rifle team who carry on this proud tradition, albeit with pellets!” 


Comments (2)

  1. Richard Schendel

Re: Your article on the Observatory. It was indeed built using war surplus equipment from Mare Island and was designed, built and then donated to Turlock High in the late 1040s by Henry Falk, an electrician who died in the early 1950s. The lens...

Re: Your article on the Observatory. It was indeed built using war surplus equipment from Mare Island and was designed, built and then donated to Turlock High in the late 1040s by Henry Falk, an electrician who died in the early 1950s. The lens was crafted and hand polished by him from materials he found at Mare Island. I worked with Hank as a teenager as a "Grunt" (tool chaser) and I think his real hobby was precision as attested by the telescope. Another example of his many talents is the house he and his sons built at 1920 E. Marshall. As an aside, Hank was a member of the Olympic US Rifle team in (I think) 1932). Richard Schendel THS 1950

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  1. Amy

I think Dr Rob Santos had a "Space Cadets Club" in 1983 that used the Observatory. We were seniors back then and we only had like 4 members.

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0 #2 Amy 2014-04-14 18:20
I think Dr Rob Santos had a "Space Cadets Club" in 1983 that used the Observatory. We were seniors back then and we only had like 4 members.
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0 #1 Richard Schendel 2014-04-13 17:51
Re: Your article on the Observatory. It was indeed built using war surplus equipment from Mare Island and was designed, built and then donated to Turlock High in the late 1040s by Henry Falk, an electrician who died in the early 1950s. The lens was crafted and hand polished by him from materials he found at Mare Island. I worked with Hank as a teenager as a "Grunt" (tool chaser) and I think his real hobby was precision as attested by the telescope. Another example of his many talents is the house he and his sons built at 1920 E. Marshall. As an aside, Hank was a member of the Olympic US Rifle team in (I think) 1932). Richard Schendel THS 1950
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