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It Does Not Pay to Delay

 
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About two months ago I had parked the SUV too close to our hand dug well that was next to the driveway, and being unable to see it, Katie got in the Explorer and drove straight into it. She hit pretty hard! So it did not surprise me when the coolant started leaking out of the ole rig. At first it was only a gallon every few weeks, but soon it was leaking almost a gallon every four days. At $10 per gallon, it was getting expensive...but then a radiator is not cheap either.

So finally I decided before ordering a radiator, I had better find the exact cause of the leak. So I started it up. let it get good and warm, and then went out and checked everything over. The thermostat housing was squirting oil right onto the engine covers. Katie had not harmed the radiator at all.

So I ordered a thermostat housing for it, $70, and then a gallon of antifreeze to top it off ($10), and a half-hour later I fixed the leak.

You could say I bought that thermostat housing twice...one in the form of 9 gallons of antifreeze over the last few weeks, and once for the part. If I had just done a careful inspection instead of assuming I knew what the problem was, I would have saved myself quite a bit of money.

So the lesson to be learned here is:

To never assume you know what the problem is.
Always check the simple stuff first.
Check to see what the parts cost.
And then if you are new at wrenching, check out YouTube because at least 5 people have videos on how to fix the problem. You can really fix the problem yourself.
 
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I can relate Travis, but I threw $200 at a complicated problem in a hostile environment. Turned out my timing belt slipped thank Toyota for making non interference motors. You have to remove the passenger motor mount to replace a timing belt, water pump, and crankshaft position sensor on 90s to 00 Toyotas. I was in the middle of the desert glad a tech that replaced my timing belt before painted the camshaft position on the pulley and head to recognize the problem.

If it had been an interference motor it would have required head work and possibly piston damage. I rather drive old tech ICE than any new throw away car.

98 Toyota RAV4
1976 GMC k15
1971 Porsche 914
1963 VW Ragtop beetle

I am a AAA certified mechanic I never persued the profession.
 
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So I'm trying to take your advice and tackle what I can on a new problem.....

Just before Christmas, our furnace blower went out.  After a couple of false starts, it was repaired.....but for one night at least the new fan was limping at low speed because the young installer did not have the wiring hooked up properly.  When he returned the next day with the boss of the outfit, everything was corrected and up and running fine. Before they left, they did the usual once-over of the oil-burning furnace and replaced the fuel filter that comes from the tanks as well.  All of this may or may not have anything to do with what happened yesterday.

So yesterday, I figured we'd better get more fuel oil with a storm moving in.  Our same guy delivers the fuel who's been doing it for 20 years.  He uses a 'listening pipe' on the vent pipe while he's pumping into the tanks just to see that what he's hearing is matching the setting on the pump (~200 gallons).  All seems fine.....yet in my haste, I don't go into the basement as usual and check the gauge.  I paid up as usual and he left.  Today I finally went down to see where the gauge is at.....and it's only moved a bit from the 70 gallon mark to the 90 gallon mark.

As the photo shown below illustrates, we have a common configuration of twin fuel-oil tanks in the basement with piping at the top of the tanks for both filling and venting.  Shut-offs can be seen on the bottom of both tanks and both tanks feed into the single narrow copper pipe that runs the fuel through the filter on the way to the furnace.  I *assume* that equalization of the fuel in the tanks when they are filled occurs through the ~1" diameter pipe that can be seen between the two shut-offs.  You can see the little red fuel gauge at the top of the left tank....and it has always dutifully risen to the correct level when we've ordered fuel in the past. So I'm stumped as to why we are having this problem now. Extra notes:  I've made sure that both shut-offs are in the open position, but I have not checked the vent to make sure it's not plugged (I assumed the delivery guy was checking this by default as his listened for the sound of filling tanks).  Although I can possibly remove the float gauge to see if it's faulty, that tank "sounds" low when I bang on the side whereas the other tanks sounds more full (each tank is rated at 250-275 gal.)

Recommendations?.....Thanks!
FuelOilTanks.JPG
[Thumbnail for FuelOilTanks.JPG]
 
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@John Weiland -1) Is the gauge dropping faster than expected?
2) Does the amount of fuel you paid for approximately match what you think is in the tanks?
3) At *any* point, is the copper pipe from the tanks obscured from view?

Years ago, neighbors of ours had a pipe that went through their concrete basement slab from the tank to the furnace. The pipe dipped below the concrete into the subsoil where it corroded through and then leaked an entire tank full of fuel under their slab. Major expense breaking up the slab, digging out all the contaminated soil, replacing with clean fill, and re-pouring the slab! This does not sound like the problem you're having, but I thought I'd mention it in case other people reading this might be in a similar situation as my neighbors.
 
John Weiland
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Thanks for the input, Jay.  Fortunately, the copper tubing that leads from the fuel filter to the furnace is all exposed, so no where does it go through concrete.  

Hard to tell if the fuel is dropping faster than it should.....I will just have to keep monitoring it to see how that is changing over the next few days.  As for the amount in the one tank, it would sort of make sense based on what I sense may be in there.....not far from full after having taken on 200 gallons.  Sure wish there was another way to tell.  Certainly pulling the gauge off of the left tank would allow me to see in there with a flashlight to make a confirmation on that one tank but I'm not sure what to do with the other one short of trying to put a dip-stick into it from outside of the house.  I've heard some mention that if the tubing/pipe is too small running between the two tanks that there can be rust pieces that break off and clog the line.  But in this case it seems to be about a 1" diameter pipe and I would think the tanks would still equalize, just more slowly.  Will keep pondering this one and perhaps call the installer of the furnace at the start of next week....  Thanks!
 
Jay Angler
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I'd love to hear the final outcome. We heat with wood, but the nice thing about permies is that we can learn from other people's challenges!

Does it make you wish you had a rocket mass heater?
 
John Weiland
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I think I would build a house around an RMH concept....our current 1915 old farmhouse build is drafty and not really suited to the winds of the plains and I suspect an RMH might be a bit wasted on the design.  We do use the woodstove on the main floor every night we can...I'd say we probably approach between 10 and 30% of our heating with wood.....10% on cold windy days when no sun is providing passive solar and 30% on days when the woodstove and daytime sun combine to reduce thermostat calls to the furnace.  Part of the problem is that my other half insists on having dog doors for their free access to the house at any time and a ton of cold air pours down one of them into the basement.  Needless to say between what that does to the tank hot water heater down there and the temperature of the air that needs to get heated by the furnace before blowing it to the upstairs rooms, there would be room for improvement.  But it's great to live along a river where there is no end of dead-wood to cut up and stack for winter.  Anyway, yes...I hope to round out this thread with the solution to the fuel-oil tanks when it comes in.....
 
Travis Johnson
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I think you can figure out the problem yourself John easy enough.

There must be an access hole to each tank I would think. Like one might be the fuel gauge, and maybe the other has a plug in one of the top bungs. I am not sure, but there are several ports on the tops of these tanks. Either way, I would take an adjustable wrench and pull them off, as they should be easy to take off, and then dip the tank with a clean, but long skinny stick or dowel. That will tell you for sure if the fuel is the same in both tanks.

If it is a venting problem then doing that will show you as well, as the fuel should equalize, but you would hear transfer if it did, so you would know if that is your issue.

I have always said, "It is just a guess, unless you test", and that is as true for oil tanks as it is for soil analysis. If you cannot trust your gauge, then manually dipping each tank will tell you.

Your oil techs will most likely do the same thing, and charge you a lot more for what you can do yourself. It would be a 20 minute job...

 
Travis Johnson
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In one of my houses I have an oil furnace, but that house was vacant for 11 years. However the oil tank was filled in it just before my Grandmother died so the tank has 275 gallons of #2 fuel oil in it.

The tank is pretty new so I have a lot of time to worry about the tank rusting a hole through it, but from what I understand, that fuel is still good. Diesel fuel does not degrade like gasoline, so with a bit of antialgae, it should be usable. I thought about pumping it out and at least using it for fuel in my tractor or skidder?
 
Travis Johnson
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John Weiland wrote:So I'm trying to take your advice and tackle what I can on a new problem.....

Just before Christmas, our furnace blower went out.  After a couple of false starts, it was repaired.....but for one night at least the new fan was limping at low speed because the young installer did not have the wiring hooked up properly.  When he returned the next day with the boss of the outfit, everything was corrected and up and running fine. Before they left, they did the usual once-over of the oil-burning furnace and replaced the fuel filter that comes from the tanks as well.  All of this may or may not have anything to do with what happened yesterday.

So yesterday, I figured we'd better get more fuel oil with a storm moving in.  Our same guy delivers the fuel who's been doing it for 20 years.  He uses a 'listening pipe' on the vent pipe while he's pumping into the tanks just to see that what he's hearing is matching the setting on the pump (~200 gallons).  All seems fine.....yet in my haste, I don't go into the basement as usual and check the gauge.  I paid up as usual and he left.  Today I finally went down to see where the gauge is at.....and it's only moved a bit from the 70 gallon mark to the 90 gallon mark.

As the photo shown below illustrates, we have a common configuration of twin fuel-oil tanks in the basement with piping at the top of the tanks for both filling and venting.  Shut-offs can be seen on the bottom of both tanks and both tanks feed into the single narrow copper pipe that runs the fuel through the filter on the way to the furnace.  I *assume* that equalization of the fuel in the tanks when they are filled occurs through the ~1" diameter pipe that can be seen between the two shut-offs.  You can see the little red fuel gauge at the top of the left tank....and it has always dutifully risen to the correct level when we've ordered fuel in the past. So I'm stumped as to why we are having this problem now. Extra notes:  I've made sure that both shut-offs are in the open position, but I have not checked the vent to make sure it's not plugged (I assumed the delivery guy was checking this by default as his listened for the sound of filling tanks).  Although I can possibly remove the float gauge to see if it's faulty, that tank "sounds" low when I bang on the side whereas the other tanks sounds more full (each tank is rated at 250-275 gal.)

Recommendations?.....Thanks!



I am wondering if they turned off both valves when they changed the fuel filter, and then forgot to turn one back on when they were done. That would keep your fuel oil from self-leveling in both tanks. That would explain everything, especially if it was the outer tank. That one would be filled, but does not have the fuel gauges in it. I would check that really quick.

If that is not the problem...

A fuel gauge at Home Depot only costs $42. You could replace your faulty one pretty cheaply and easily. Heck it might just be stuck. All you need is an adjustable wrench and about 10 minutes of your time. If it is broken, you can get a new one. Dip both tanks while you are down there, and you will really know what is going on.
 
John Weiland
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Travis Johnson wrote: That one would be filled, but does not have the fuel gauges in it. I would check that really quick.



An update here on this problem, which indeed appears to be lack of flow between the two tanks.  I was able to get the plug unscrewed from the top of the outer tank.  Didn't even need a flashlight to look inside....it was full to the brim!  It appears there is a blockage somewhere not letting that fuel flow out of the tank....in fact, I'm thinking we are running for the rest of the weekend on fumes from the other tank.  (Not that dire.....there's enough in there for a bit still.)  I've made sure that the spiggots on both tanks are open and just no evidence of flow between them.  So I guess I will be calling the plumbing and heating crew again for some service.  Would not want to play around with it myself and end up with 200 gallons of fuel oil on the basement floor.  Especially given what is probably going to happen to the price of petroleum over the next few weeks.  :-$

Edited to add....will probably take your advice now with the 2" plug free from the outer tank and install a gauge in that one for future reference.
 
Travis Johnson
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John Weiland wrote:

Travis Johnson wrote: That one would be filled, but does not have the fuel gauges in it. I would check that really quick.



An update here on this problem, which indeed appears to be lack of flow between the two tanks.  I was able to get the plug unscrewed from the top of the outer tank.  Didn't even need a flashlight to look inside....it was full to the brim!  It appears there is a blockage somewhere not letting that fuel flow out of the tank....in fact, I'm thinking we are running for the rest of the weekend on fumes from the other tank.  (Not that dire.....there's enough in there for a bit still.)  I've made sure that the spiggots on both tanks are open and just no evidence of flow between them.  So I guess I will be calling the plumbing and heating crew again for some service.  Would not want to play around with it myself and end up with 200 gallons of fuel oil on the basement floor.  Especially given what is probably going to happen to the price of petroleum over the next few weeks.  :-$

Edited to add....will probably take your advice now with the 2" plug free from the outer tank and install a gauge in that one for future reference.



No need to run on fumes. The one that is full will be higher then the other so you can siphon into it. If one tank is full, and the other is not, then open ports on both tanks and just siphon one to the other. To do this, buy a clear tube, or cut a junk garden hose. use a spare washing machine hose, any 4 foot tube will work. Fill a bucket with diesel fuel, and then put the tube into the tub, this will fill the tube up with fuel. Then put your thumb over one end without letting out the fuel, and then stick the other end in the tank. When you let your thumb off, the fuel will run out of the tube, start a siphon, and you can transfer fuel from one tank to the other until the fuel company can get there. Doing that will be a lot cheaper then running out of oil, or having them come on a weekend call.

You cannot dump 200 gallons on the floor because when they hit the same level, the siphon effect stops.

Edited to add: The part about filling the siphon tube with oil in a tub is just so you do not try sucking on the tube to get a vacuum, and end getting a mouth full of #2 furnace oil.
 
Jay Angler
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Travis Johnson wrote:

The part about filling the siphon tube with oil in a tub is just so you do not try sucking on the tube to get a vacuum, and end getting a mouth full of #2 furnace oil.

Alternatively, with other fluids, when the donor tank is so full, I've sealed around the hose in the donor tank well enough that gently adding compressed air pressure to the tank is enough to "encourage" the liquid to leave by the only route possible which is through the hose. As soon as the hose is flowing, I make sure that air can get in the emptying tank to replace the fluid. I've never done this with heating fuel, though - maybe Travis would know if there's any danger from the approach, but I have done this with both water and gasoline.

I definitely agree with Travis that using your mouth to suck the fuel into the siphon is a bad idea!
 
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Jay Angler wrote:Travis Johnson wrote:

The part about filling the siphon tube with oil in a tub is just so you do not try sucking on the tube to get a vacuum, and end getting a mouth full of #2 furnace oil.

Alternatively, with other fluids, when the donor tank is so full, I've sealed around the hose in the donor tank well enough that gently adding compressed air pressure to the tank is enough to "encourage" the liquid to leave by the only route possible which is through the hose. As soon as the hose is flowing, I make sure that air can get in the emptying tank to replace the fluid. I've never done this with heating fuel, though - maybe Travis would know if there's any danger from the approach, but I have done this with both water and gasoline.

I definitely agree with Travis that using your mouth to suck the fuel into the siphon is a bad idea!



That way is just fine too. :-)

 
John Weiland
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Great suggestions....Thanks!  I just remembered that I have a siphon for kerosene for filling one of those wick-based heaters (pictured below).  The tanks are close enough together (and the outer one so full!) that I could probably siphon between them using this device initially, even though tubing is a bit on the short side.  Thanks, both of you.....  and yes, although "Premium" hits the palate slightly better than "Regular Unleaded", I'd rather not mouth siphon any more fuel in my remaining days... :-P
FuelSiphon.JPG
[Thumbnail for FuelSiphon.JPG]
 
Travis Johnson
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Buy 2 feet of clear tubing at the hardware store and clamp onto the end of it; that will make it longer!

 
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Double check those valves, operate them a couple times. Probably they are open as advertised, but... That easy a fix is worth 30 minutes invested!

If there is a blockage, it may not be obvious _where_ it occurs. One way to tell would be to make _sure_ the gauge works and monitor that over the next month. Another way which might NOT be a good idea would be turning off one valve at a time while the boiler is running,  to find which side the boiler is running on. It might not be smart because getting the boiler back to running properly may be troublesome. But knowing which side is blocked still doesn't pin point the problem. I'm not sure you want to try to correct a blockage DIY. There are things that can crop up which would need tools you may not have and/or  pieces may be needed that you cannot get quickly. It could get _very_ messy. In summer this wouldn't matter as much; in winter it needs some thought.


Rufus
 
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I would think, if there was a blockage, it would be part of the valve on that tank.

My guess is, when they went to change the fuel filter a few weeks ago, they shut the valve, and it closed as it should. But when they went to open the valve afterwards, it broke. They did not know because it feels like it is threading out, but it is busted and the plunger is stuck shutting off the fuel supply.

But the good news is, you can siphon the full tank, to the empty tank all winter until they fuel is burned up, and then fix it yourself. It is not a complicated job....
 
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Travis Johnson wrote:....But when they went to open the valve afterwards, it broke. They did not know because it feels like it is threading out, but it is busted and the plunger is stuck shutting off the fuel supply.

.



Yeah, I could see where this is a real possibility.  The valves "feel" okay when turning them, but I can't know if the plungers are working or not.  At any rate, today's task will be the siphoning project...have to go into town anyway for some other errands so will pick up the clear hose material and get fuel starting to transfer.  With fuel running from the right tank into the left tank (the left one having the gauge) I will be able to see if the gauge is still operating properly.  Certainly it is dropping as the furnace has been using fuel the past few days, so on some level it is operating, but it's not clear how accurately.  This may be a good time to think again about installing a back-up electric plenum heater into the ductwork for times like this.  There are other times when the furnace needs to be "reset"....which I know how to do but it's not something my wife wants to deal with.  A plenum heater would be a back-up that would temporarily provide heat to the house (along with the woodstove on the main floor) in the event that I'm at work or away for a few days.
 
Travis Johnson
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John Weiland wrote:

Travis Johnson wrote:....But when they went to open the valve afterwards, it broke. They did not know because it feels like it is threading out, but it is busted and the plunger is stuck shutting off the fuel supply.

.



Yeah, I could see where this is a real possibility.  The valves "feel" okay when turning them, but I can't know if the plungers are working or not.  At any rate, today's task will be the siphoning project...have to go into town anyway for some other errands so will pick up the clear hose material and get fuel starting to transfer.  With fuel running from the right tank into the left tank (the left one having the gauge) I will be able to see if the gauge is still operating properly.  Certainly it is dropping as the furnace has been using fuel the past few days, so on some level it is operating, but it's not clear how accurately.  This may be a good time to think again about installing a back-up electric plenum heater into the ductwork for times like this.  There are other times when the furnace needs to be "reset"....which I know how to do but it's not something my wife wants to deal with.  A plenum heater would be a back-up that would temporarily provide heat to the house (along with the woodstove on the main floor) in the event that I'm at work or away for a few days.



I am not sure where you live, but if I was close enough I would help you install it. You would have to dig deep in your pockets though...depending on the length of time it takes us to install it, between 1-3 cups of coffee! (LOL)

I had to make a decision the other day (Friday) because with this Disabled Farmers Program I am in, being the new year, we all wanted some sort of plan for me. Rather than go on indefinitely without a decision, I decided to go to Trade School to be a HVAC Tech. I have an interest in this stuff anyway, and here in Maine anyway they cannot get enough people in that trade, so I figured I would do that. While I am going to school I hopefully can get this latest round of cancer dealt with, and be in a good spot for a new career. I am hoping that boiler work slows down enough in the summer so I can mow the sides of the road from June to September, then pack back up with boiler work.

 
John Weiland
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Thanks, Travis and others.  We are outside of Fargo, North Dakota, so a bit of a hoof for you I'm afraid :-)  Plus, compared to Maine, the flatness and lack of nearby ocean would be too disorienting to you probably and we would need to drive you to the nearest sugarbeet pile so that you could see some relief on the landscape and regain your bearings! LOL  :-)

Re:  HVAC.  A super usable trade to be sure.  Our work facility just lost our HVAC specialist due to retirement.  Although I'm a short-timer there myself, I'm concerned about where the state of the facility will be headed without his 40+ years of HVAC and electrical wisdom as well has his institutional knowledge of our facility.....for which he helped design the HVAC system even before it was built.  Any new recruit will just not have the same knowledge base nor "investment" in seeing the building run well.  So I agree that good, knowledgeable people with HVAC skills will be hard to find.   Hope it offers you some new avenues to bring cash flow.....

 
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John Weiland wrote:Thanks, Travis and others.  We are outside of Fargo, North Dakota, so a bit of a hoof for you I'm afraid :-)  Plus, compared to Maine, the flatness and lack of nearby ocean would be too disorienting to you probably and we would need to drive you to the nearest sugarbeet pile so that you could see some relief on the landscape and regain your bearings! LOL  :-)

Re:  HVAC.  A super usable trade to be sure.  Our work facility just lost our HVAC specialist due to retirement.  Although I'm a short-timer there myself, I'm concerned about where the state of the facility will be headed without his 40+ years of HVAC and electrical wisdom as well has his institutional knowledge of our facility.....for which he helped design the HVAC system even before it was built.  Any new recruit will just not have the same knowledge base nor "investment" in seeing the building run well.  So I agree that good, knowledgeable people with HVAC skills will be hard to find.   Hope it offers you some new avenues to bring cash flow.....



Oh I have been by your house, it is the 27,000 fence post on the right on I-94 if I remember (LOL)

I am just teasing you, but I have been to Fargo quite a few times, I worked for the railroad for years so I have been everywhere. For some reason I thought you were from New England, so I probably won't be able to help with your Electric Back-Up Conversion. Sorry!

I am not sure where I am going to school yet, but the good thing about this program is, they do not just leave you. A local college by me has add-ons if you will, so once you get the Oil/Propane Burner part, you can go back to school for 45 hours and get the High Pressure Steam, MiniSplit, or Solid Fuel endorsement so you can do more and more. The hours depend of course on the endorsement, but the point is, it is not like I have now, and only now, to use the money in the program. They actually prefer people to take it slower so that they do not pay for something, and a person quits.

I would like to get the 2 year degree in one shot, but with a family of six, having cancer, and then 2 years of college would be too much for me I think. I can do 12 weeks though...


 
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Next stage.....transferring fuel.  I sized the tubing and where to make the cut by wrapping the tubing around both tanks (photo 1).  Then attached the hand-pump and siphon apparatus with some metal hose clamps.  Photo 2 is shown with the transfer set up.  According to the meter on the recipient tank, the fuel was coming across at around 10 gal per 10 - 15 min.  .....and that will taper off of course as the transfer continues until near equal volumes are reached between the tanks.  The hand pump can pump against gravity, but that would be slow going to try to get all of the fuel to transfer.  May have to get some sort of fuel-grade pump to get the rest.  Depending on the winter temps, we may need to refill again, but I think I will just have the valve on the stuck tank repaired ASAP to get up and running again.  So much good advice here.....thanks again!

Edited to add that the left (inside) tank started out this morning measuring "60 gal" and is now slightly over 170 after several hours of siphoning.  Probably near the end of the transfer.
SizingTransferTubing.jpg
[Thumbnail for SizingTransferTubing.jpg]
SetupToSiphon.jpg
[Thumbnail for SetupToSiphon.jpg]
 
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