My Brown Bess

When I got married in 1981, we took our honeymoon around Lake Superior.  We visited all of the historic sites we could find.  At Fort Michilimackinac, we saw the Great Lakes fur trade first hand and watched a man shoot a Northwest trade gun. Out on Mackinaw Island the next day we toured the military post and saw a soldier shoot a flintlock musket. I was absolutely hooked! I had to have a flintlock.

Shortly after we returned home, I bought a Pedersoli Brown Bess Musket in kit form at the Track of the Wolf store in Osseo, Minnesota. This was about the best I could find at the time. NW guns were few and far between and two to three times the price I paid for the Bess. I hunted with the Bess several times. I used it for deer hunting in 1983 and harvested many small game animals with it including a ruffed grouse on the wing!

I used my Bess for re-enactments and target shooting as well. I became part of a voyager re-enactment group and became a pretty good shot with the Bess.  Soon I cut off about 10 inches of barrel, installed a few tacks and made a woods runner gun out of it.


As my tastes and interests changed I sold or traded off most all of my muzzleloaders.  My Brown Bess was the last one to go.  I remember thinking that I was done with black powder shooting and would probably never need or want a muzzleloader again.  Live and Learn.  I have come full circle and am muzzleloader poor now.  Meaning I have so much money invested in muzzleloading firearms that I am so poor, I can’t even pay attention.

Over the last couple of years, I have done an occasional search for Brown Bess’s on the internet.  Recently, I found a Bess for sale in Minnesota that looked surprisingly like the one I had sold so many years ago.  I contacted the seller and made a purchase.  I don’t know if this is my old Bess, but it sure is close.  I am really enjoying having the old girl back in my arms again.

In November 2016, I took her with me down the Green River in Utah.  I had experimented with some non-toxic shot loads and had her loaded for geese and ducks.  I never did take a shot at game on this trip but enjoyed carrying her through the canyon lands!


I look forward to many another trip and adventure with my old Bess.  She is a good old gal!!!


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Green River 2016

Saturday, November 5, 2016, I met Aaron Griggs and Tom Karnuta in Buena Vista, CO at 6:00 AM and we headed west toward Green River, Utah. We arrived at 11:30 AM in time for lunch at Ray’s Tavern before heading out to Crystal Geyser where I set camp while Tom and Aaron staged my truck and trailer at Mineral Bottom, 64 river miles downstream.

p1020062Crystal Geyser as seen from the riverbank.

First Camp
Sunday, we launched from Crystal Geyser around 9 AM and paddled past Dellenbaugh Butte to the San Raphael River.

Dellenbaugh Butte
We landed upstream and searched for a campsite. We found nothing conducive to us as canoe campers and so decided to move on down to Dead Cow Wash. We made camp just before dark and cooked our supper after sunset. Twenty-one miles made for a long day on the river, but it was a good day!

Tom in his solo canoe

Landing at Dead Cow Wash
Day 3, we got up after sun-up, made some coffee and packed up. We launched from Dead Cow Wash and paddled the 4 ½ miles to Three Canyon where we landed and set up camp.

Camp at Three Canyon
My canoe seemed to be leaking a little bit and I needed to wash it off and inspect the bottom. I washed off all the sand and mud and made a careful inspection but I could see nothing glaringly obvious. (After I returned home I found a pinhole through the skin and patched it up with some pine tar.) I made water from the stream with my filter bag, washed out my socks and went for a hike. I hiked and climbed up the first small canyon to the waterfall.

p1020073 One of the slot Canyons at Three Canyon
When I came back, Tom was making rice. I cooked some deer meat and we ate supper. We talked around the fire until bedtime. We slept warm and well!

Cooking at Three Canyon


Day 4, I heard Tom & Aaron up early. When I got up they were gone. I made water and coffee then walked down to the river where I found the petroglyph again. While I was writing in my journal, Tom came back to camp. I showed him the petroglyph and we found the BLM can with its notebook for those who want to leave their mark today. I left a note about how we were hunting and trapping our way down the Green River.
p1020146-1Tom at the petroglyph at Three Canyon

p1020099Another slot canyon at Three Canyon

I went up Three Canyon and hiked/climbed up two side canyons as far as I could. According to Thomas Rampton’s book “Labyrinth Canyon River Guide” the slot canyons at Three Canyon are some of the largest remaining slot canyons accessible to us in Utah. The majority of them were inundated by Lake Powell behind the Glen Canyon Dam. Some of these canyons are less than 50 feet wide at the bottom with walls several hundred feet high. I met up with Tom along the way. After we separated, I hunted my way back to camp and spent some time watching the river go by where Tom joined me upon his return. After supper, a fox barked at us from across the creek.

Day 5, Wednesday, Tom & I made coffee and packed up camp while Aaron pulled his traps. Nothing. We paddled 11 miles today down to Keg Spring Canyon. We looked for the petroglyphs noted on our map but found none.

p1020146-2Aaron and I on the river
We landed at Keg Spring canyon to find very little mud and no water in the stream. This was very disappointing for last year there had been abundant clear water flowing and we were counting on finding water here. It was very apparent that there had been a flood earlier in the year for many places were full of sand and other debris. After setting up camp, Aaron and I went up the canyon and found a couple of pools of stagnant water. We filled the filter bag and brought it back to camp. Aaron set a few traps while Tom & I cooked supper. We had a nice night around the fire.
p1020199Camp at Keg Spring Canyon
p1020147The drinking pool

Day 6, after coffee and some breakfast, Aaron went to set some more traps while I hiked up Keg Spring Canyon after Tom. We met up and hiked together for a while.
p1020153Pampas Grass
p1020149Tom Karnuta in Keg Spring Canyon
p1020149-1Gabe Hanratty in Keg Spring Canyon

After he turned back, I explored the confluence of the two feeder canyons. I climbed a large slope to a shelf and followed it into the right-hand canyon.
p1020166Shelf dividing the canyons
p1020172The view from the shelf

After I climbed down, I met up with Aaron and we hiked back toward camp until we met up with Tom at the drinking pool. We filled our water bag & took it back to camp for supper.
p1020202The River Register
Day 7, we paddled 17 ½ miles today. We stopped at the river register and looked for a Denis Julien script from May 16, 1836. Only one of our two maps listed it and it was very vague as to its location. We fought our way through the willows and tamarisk looking for it but to no avail. A branch swept my eye glasses from my face and I spent 10 minutes looking for them before I finally found them hanging on some of the grasses four feet away from me and three feet off the ground. We paddled around the Bowknot bend and made camp at sunset on the same rock shelf as last year.

p1020217Aaron Griggs enjoying a morning pipe.

Day 8, after daybreak we did a little shooting and packed up our camp. We paddled 6 miles to Hell Roaring Canyon where we saw Denis Julien’s inscription from May 3, 1836.

p1020219Denis Julian’s Inscription of May 3, 1836

Three more miles of paddling and we were at Mineral Bottom. We left the river at 1:30 PM. This was the first time we had read the time since before we launched 7 days ago! I have never seen a week fly by as fast as it does on the Green River. It seems that one day you are launching your canoe to start a great adventure and the next day the adventure is done and you are on your way home. None of us were ready for the trip to be done and we were all feeling a little melancholy as we drove up the road toward Moab and civilization. We had spent this week without cell phones, internet, twitter, Facebook and didn’t miss it in the least. Just the three of us, the river, and the canyons. We had contact with some people on shore one day and none of us even thought to ask about the outcome of the Presidential election. We truly were living in the moment and nothing outside of the canyons mattered to us at that time.
As can be seen from the pictures we had beautiful weather the entire week. I set up camp at Crystal Geyser in a light shower, but otherwise we had sunshine with highs in the upper 50’s to lower 60’s and we never experienced a frost at night. The moon was waxing and gave us a fantastic night light every evening.
p1020215Two Mile Canyon behind the canoe

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A Canoe Trip on the Guadalupe

May 8 – 13, 2016 – I joined 3 men for a canoe trip down the Guadalupe River in south Texas. We all met at the take-out site near Nursery, TX on Sunday, May 8. I brought with me a Red Drum and two Speckled Trout I had caught near Port Aransas and I cooked them on the fire for supper Sunday night along with some pork & beans one of the other guys brought.


Monday, May 9, we shuttled vehicles and Jim Branson brought us up to our put-in site north west of Cuero, TX off of Farm Road 768. We put-in shortly before noon and traveled the river until about 3:30 PM when Henry and I tipped on a snag in some rapids and went for a swim.


We lost some of our gear in the deep water and had to float downstream a couple hundred yards before we could regain our footing and right our canoe. The boys in the other canoe collected some of the floating bags that had gotten away from us. We made camp on a gravel bar in a field of Burdock plants and tried to dry out our gear. In the wreck, I lost the batteries for my CPAP machine and was forced to sleep without it for the next two nights. I also lost my camera and one of my canteens (the full one sank, the empty one floated under the canoe with the rest of my gear). Henry lost his trade gun and his pack basket which held his shooting bag, a couple of pistols (a CVA cap & ball .44 and a .45 Philadelphia derringer), and a brass cup that had quite a bit of sentimental value. He also lost his cellular phone. After we got securely ashore, Cobbler & I paddled back upstream and I floated down through the rapids in my life jacket trying to feel anything of our gear with my feet, but to no avail. The water was too deep and too fast for me to find anything.

At some point on our first day as we were paddling down the Guadalupe River near Cuero, Texas, we passed the place where Alonso De Leon crossed the river when he was exploring south Texas in the 1689. (1)   We also passed the crossing of the Chisholm Trail, although both places went by unrecognized. (2) We made about 12 miles before we tipped and decided to make camp.

Our crew consisted of four men on the river and Jim Branson acted as our driver and shuttle coordinator. The river crew included Larry Newbern (Cobbler) from Houston, “Cuz” Tremble from Shiner, Henry Crawford from Lubbock and myself, Gabe Hanratty from the high mountains of Colorado.


Cobbler was 78 years old and had a urostomy pouch on his bladder. Cuz was 60 years old and was having some issues with a slow heartbeat. He had to measure his heartrate several times a day. Henry was 56 and diabetic. He lost his testing supplies in our wreck and so had to take his insulin based on his regular dosage since he was unable to test his blood sugar. I am 56 and use a CPAP machine for sleeping to help alleviate my sleep apnea and take medicine for hypertension. We were the “geriatric” crew of the Guadalupe River!


My canoeing partner, Henry B. Crawford, henceforth known as “Tippecanoe”!

Tuesday, May 10th, we awoke to thick fog and a very heavy dew. The clothes we had left out overnight to dry were as wet as if they had just come out of the river. We stayed on the gravel bar until after noon hoping to get some sun to dry things out. We disembarked around 1 PM and started on down the river. After a couple of hours on the water, Cobbler and Cuz attempted to make a landing across some small rapids at the head of a gravel island and rolled their canoe upstream into the current and took on quite a bit of water. We landed just below the rapids in the backwater eddy and jumped out of our boat and helped pull them ashore. They emptied their canoe and let things dry for an hour or so before we continued downstream. Here we discovered that Cobbler had lost his camera in the spill or he had left it at the previous camp. Either way, we ended up pretty shy on sketches. Which is sad because we saw some beautiful country along the Guadalupe! We paddled 8 miles today and made camp on the high end of a sand bar island under some Cypress trees. During the night, I had a critter climb down out of the Cypress tree at my head and when he found me sleeping there made a huge commotion that woke me up with a WTF!


Wednesday, May 11th, we got up and left the island and paddled downstream about 5 miles until we came to Rocky’s place and made camp. Cuz and Jim had made arrangements beforehand to camp at this site and so we didn’t travel very far today. The Guadalupe is a winding river to be sure. We are traveling generally NW to SE on this river through southern Texas and yet here at Rocky’s the river is flowing straight west. We set up our camp and strung up some clothes lines to hang out our wet gear and managed to get most everything dried out. We had a very nice relaxing day here at Rocky’s. We ate cold food and drank the beer that Jim Branson brought out for us. Jim also brought me one of my extra batteries for my CPAP machine and I got a great night’s sleep. We saw a deer on the far bank of the river and many large gar surfaced as we relaxed along the shore. I did manage to get into some poison Ivy while tying up a clothes line and had to fight with that for the next two weeks.


Thursday, May 12th, we put in from Rocky’s and paddled down to our take out spot. We went about 15 miles in 4 ½ hours. We beached our canoes and carried our gear up to the camp. Jim had picked up our bedrolls and camp gear at Rocky’s in the morning and he brought everything out to the camp soon after we got there. Along with more beer, God bless him!


Friday morning, we loaded up all of our camp gear into Henry’s truck and jumped in the canoes and paddled the last 12 miles to Victoria, TX. When we went underneath the Hwy 77 Bridge there were some phenomenal log jams stacked up against the bridge pillars. We went under another bridge just below the highway and had to snake through some more log jams where we once again got crossways to the current and logs and went for a swim. I lost my glasses off of my face and some flint chips and petrified wood pieces I had picked off the beach earlier to give to my grandkids. We floated down a few rods and regained our feet, righted the canoe and got it dried out, reloaded and continued on down to Victoria. In total we canoed about 52 miles of the Guadalupe River. We saw at least 3 deer along the way. We heard turkeys every day and saw several Gar surface as we paddled along. I saw one beaver and further downstream, Henry & I saw a tree that had been gnawed on by beavers. I saw some squirrels and two snakes swimming across the river. Both of these were at a distance, for which, I was glad. Rocky had told us about killing two Copperheads while cleaning up debris on his property the week before we camped there. Henry & I saw a small owl sitting on a branch of a Cypress tree about 5 feet above the water. He sat there and watched us paddle by seemingly without a care in the world. We also saw several turkey vultures, Kara Kara vultures and I saw a Bald eagle. We saw some beautiful large old Cypress trees along the river. Many of them were covered with Spanish moss. We saw one huge old Cottonwood tree on our last day. I finally saw some of the wild pigs on our last day as well. There was a sow and 8-9 piglets drinking as we went by and when they noticed us they bolted from the shore and ran up the bank into the forest.

On this trip, I learned that most people in Texas don’t eat Armadillos because they can carry leprosy and when Henry & I mentioned digging for clams we were told they can carry hepatitis, so Cobbler & Cuz were not interested in anything to do with clams. I used my water filter on this trip and the pre-filter bag I had sewn seemed to work very well to remove some of the silt and organics before the water actually contacted the filter itself. For a weapon, I carried my 1808 Harper’s Ferry conversion pistol. It is .54 caliber smoothbore and I carried it loaded with shot for snakes. After the first dunking it fired right away, but I didn’t get it dried out enough before I reloaded and it didn’t fire after the second swim. When we got off the river, I had to pull the charges to get the nipple and barrel clear.


Henry & I left the camp about 4:00 PM Friday afternoon. It is 96°, hazy and humid. It appears that south Texas is in full blown summer already. I saw several farmers cutting hay already here in early May. We stayed at a Day’s Inn in San Antonio Friday night. I brought my pistol into the room and cleaned it in the bathroom sink. It was in dire need of a good cleaning after being dunked in the river twice on this trip.

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2016 Deer Hunt

Aaron Griggs told me about seeing 3 bucks on the Antero Wildlife area near Antero Junction, CO.  I showed the area to Violet and asked her to watch for deer as she drove back and forth to work.  The week before opening day, she saw two bucks crossing the highway at least two different days.  October 22, 2016, I was at the SE corner of the property ½ hour before shooting time.


I left the truck about 6:45 and walked north about ¾ of a mile and took a stand near a fallen log that I could use as a backrest.  I hadn’t sat there for more than 10 minutes, when I saw a buck working his way along the old Midland railroad grade about 175 yards away.  When he disappeared into the trees, I got up and made my way across the small meadow to a large pine and took a seat beneath it.  When he came back into view he was less than 70 yards from me.  I lined up the sights of my old Winchester 1894 .32 Winchester Special behind his front shoulder and let fly with a 165 grain Hornady Flex-tip bullet.  He humped up when I hit him and turned toward me at a walk.  He came up the hill a few feet and turned away from me.  I was ready to put another shot into him but it wasn’t necessary.  He laid down and died under a small tree.


I field dressed him and made my way back to the truck.  I drove as close as I could to him and hiked back to him along the abandoned railroad grade.  I put my rope on his antlers and pulled him down the hill.  Violet came out and helped me load it in the truck.  When we got him home I washed him out and weighed him.  He dressed out at 137 lbs.  I skinned and boned the meat and put it on ice to cool.

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Lacing the Canoe

Recently, I purchased a Birch bark replica canoe from John Lindman of the Bark Canoe Store in Spokane, Washington.  He supplied me with the artificial Watap (Indian word for Spruce root)  and instructions on how to lace the gunnels.

The gunnel in the foreground is laced in a few spots to hold the canoe together for delivery.


This gunnel is completely laced including some bark accents.


The lacing is done by wrapping the Watap around the gunnel through holes drilled into the hull.  The gunnel cap is then attached to the gunnel on top of the lacing to protect it from abrasion.

p1020004 p1020005

The finished wrap including the bark accents.


Next I painted the edge of the canoe and stenciled in some figures on the bow and stern.

p1020006-copy p1020007-copy p1020008-copy p1020009-copy

I will fill the wrapping holes with pine tar and she will be ready to go down the Green River!

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Aux Aliment du Pays – Off the Nourishment of the Land

Requirement #19 of the American Mountain Men states: Must spend three days and two nights totally alone under primitive conditions and aux aliments du pays [“off the nourishment of the land”].  Here is my story about completing this requirement:


Day 1 – I awoke early on November 27, 2015.  It was the Friday after Thanksgiving.  Because of other commitments, this would be my last chance this year for a three day weekend in the woods – aux aliment du pays.  After loading my gear in the wagon and making sure everything was done for Mrs. Hanratty, I headed down the trail to one of my favorite camps. The maps call it East Castle Rock gulch.  I did a solo camp and a hunting camp here in 2012.  Bill Gantic and his Labrador retriever, Molly had joined me for the hunting camp.  We had had some snow overnight and it was still snowing when I arrived at my campsite.  I cleared away 5″ of snow and set up my small wedge tent.  After setting camp, I went for an afternoon hunt.  As often happens when it is snowing the animals take shelter and there is little movement in the woods.  I saw a few rabbit and squirrel tracks under the spruce trees where the snow had not built up yet.  I spent an hour or two in the evening reading and writing the story of the six day trip I had just completed down the Green River in Utah.  I had a pretty cold night and it continued to snow.


Day 2 – I awoke to sunshine and a warmer morning than yesterday.



There was a new 3″ of snow on top of what was on the ground when I turned in. I grabbed my smoothbore and went out to find some breakfast.  I found some deer and coyote tracks in the fresh snow and a few cottontail tracks under another spruce.   I visited the campsite I had used twice in 2012.  The wind was blowing mildly and there was small snow clumps falling from the trees.  I wasn’t able to scare up anything to eat.  I could find no new rabbit or squirrel tracks this morning.  Water, however was not a problem.  Some of the shady areas had over a foot of good clean snow.  The springs I had dug out in 2012 were frozen over and the marshy areas had ice flows frozen across them but the little spring near camp must be somewhat warmer because it had a good strong flow.

CIMG1988 CIMG1986

During the midday, I enjoyed the warm sunshine and continued to work on my Green river story. The wind continued to blow and the clumps of snow continued to fall from the trees.  There is still a lot of snow in the trees yet to come down.  As the sun started to tilt to the west, I went out for the afternoon hunt.  I still could not find any rabbits or squirrels to make a meal from.  Although I hadn’t eaten anything since early Friday, I wasn’t hungry.  I had consumed a lot of water during my time in the woods and that seemed to quell my hunger very well.  I was having a problem with my CPAP equipment the night before and my dog Cole was hurting pretty badly and I could tell he wasn’t looking forward to another cold night in the tent. I decided to pack it in and head home. In the late afternoon sun, I broke camp and headed home to hang my canvas, catch up on my notes and plan my next venture.


Aux Aliment du Pays Take Two:


On Saturday January 16, 2016, I left home first thing in the morning headed for an area known as the Apishapa Wildlife Management Area.  On the way in, I saw a roadrunner and some prairie dogs.  The weather was clear and the temperature had climbed to 42 degrees under the winter sun.  When I arrived, I scouted several trails and found myself a place to camp on the south side of a large gully among the western red cedars and Ponderosa pines.  There is water in the Apishapa River down in the gully. There is a lot of ice but the water is still accessible.  I am east of the Spanish Peaks and Walsenburg, south-east of Greenhorn Mountain and to the north I can see a snow covered peak which is Pike’s Peak.  I set up my lean-to and gathered some rocks to make a Blanchard fire pit.  I gathered up enough firewood to last the night and laid out my bedroll.

CIMG2019 CIMG2021

As the afternoon wore on, I took my shotgun and dogs for a hunt.  We got into an area of brush & cedars where we started to see cottontail rabbits.  At one point the rabbits seemed to be everywhere at once.  Between me & the three dogs we had those bunnies steppin’ & fetchin’ like their heads were on fire and their asses were catchin’.  I shot at one running but didn’t get my cheek down on the stock and so I shot too high and missed.  A little later, I jumped another one and he ran under a cedar which was choked with brush around the trunk.  As I circled the tree, I saw it sitting near the trunk in the brush.  I put the bead of my shotgun just off of the end of his nose and pulled the trigger.  He went down in a heap.  I pulled him out of the brush and let the dogs admire it while I reloaded.  We didn’t see any more game on our way back to camp.  When we arrived at camp, I cleaned my prize and set it out to cool until tomorrow when I will cook it.  There is more to eat here than just animals. The Cane cholla fruit and the prickly pear cactus. Wikipedia says of the Cholla fruit: “The fruits are yellowish, tubercular like the stems, and shaped something like the frustum of a cone, with a hollow at the wide end where the flower fell off; they are often mistaken for flowers. The plant retains them all winter. They are dry and not tasty, though the  of Arizona and New Mexico are said to have eaten them.”   The prickly pear can be singed of its needles and cooked or eaten raw (I have eaten prickly pear at Bent’s Old Fort).  I had plenty of bunnies and so did not need to resort to eating these plants. I spent a quiet evening in camp before I turned in just before 9:00 PM.  The temperature at bedtime was 30 degrees with a stiff wind from the SSW which made it feel much colder.  I rigged an extra bit of canvas over the end of my lean-to in hopes it would block the wind enough so I could sleep.

Day 2 – I awoke at sunrise rolled over and went back to sleep.  It sure is a good feeling knowing you have meat in the larder.  I woke up again at 9:00 AM, it was 28 degrees.  I got up and grabbed my shotgun and headed out in search of more meat.  Just east of camp the dogs jumped a rabbit and as it circled back I took a shot at it and didn’t lead it enough and so I missed again.  I reloaded and we saw another bunny but I didn’t get a shot.  A little farther along, I saw one that the dogs didn’t see.  I circle the trees where I saw it disappear and pushed it out.  It did not get away.  Back in camp, I cleaned and cooked both rabbits on my meat hook from the tripod I made.


The sun came out as the clouds moved off and the temperature warmed into the upper 30’s.   For this hunt I am using my sawed-off double barreled 20 gauge percussion shotgun.  I have fired the right barrel 4 times and the left barrel is still in reserve.  The country here is supposed to hold quail as well as rabbits, deer, antelope, Big Horn sheep and coyotes.  I haven’t seen any birds or sign of them as yet.  The prairie is grass covered with many cholla plants and prickly pear cactus.  The edges and gullies are sparsely covered with cedar trees and the occasional Ponderosa pine.

Day 3 – January 18, 2016.  It warmed up overnight and the wind picked up a little.  When I got up I started packing up my camp stuff and rolled up my blankets.  We went out for a three mile scout.  We ate our second rabbit before we left and decided not to shoot anymore along the way.  I had heard there were quail out here and so I decided to focus on getting a few birds. I did not see any quail while we were out today.  We headed home late in the afternoon when the temperature had reached 55°.  It was hard to leave with the weather this nice!




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To beard or not to beard

Here is an interesting article from a fellow Word Press blogger.

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2015 Fur Trade Symposium at Bent’s Old Fort

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Trail Signs

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AMM Video

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