Ken Hartke

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I'm retired and living solo "out west" in the New Mexico desert. I've been an observer and blogger for years and usually have four or five blogs going but wrote for myself or for friends. A lot of it was travel stories or daily random postings -- but it was a good experience. Red Room allowed me to share things on a wider scale and with its demise, I (maybe) found a more public voice.

In Praise of Old Hotels - Part 12: Gallup, NM


El Rancho Hotel – Gallup, NM

During my late December trip to Flagstaff I was looking forward to stopping at the El Rancho Hotel in Gallup, New Mexico, on the way home. I had heard stories about the place. It was a "must see" according to people who had been there. My curiosity was caught up in the anticipation of a classic old hotel. On my way west I spent a night in the La Posada Hotel in Winslow, Arizona, and at Bright Angel Lodge at the Grand Canyon. Both of those places were part of the Harvey Hotel operation and were associated with the Santa Fe Railway.


The El Rancho and the La Posada were often inhabited by movie stars when they were working in the area shooting old western films. My expectations were influenced by my stay at the La Posada and at Bright Angel Lodge. That was unfair and unrealistic. The El Rancho is a different animal.


When I write up these hotel blog postings I think in terms of classifying the places as historical or haunted or tourist hotels. They can be Route 66 "Mother Road" hotels or railroad hotels. The El Rancho fits in several categories but not easily into just one.


It certainly has history. It opened in 1937 and was built and operated by R. E. GriffGriffith, the brother of D. W. Griffith, the early film industry pioneer who directed "Birth of a Nation". I guess the Griffith boys knew this would be prime movie making territory. The hotel was designed by Joe Massaglia who later had an ownership interest in the classic southwestern Franciscan Hotel in Albuquerque (demolished in the 1970s, of course). As far as I could discover, Joe Massaglia never designed anything else. Although it was never a Harvey Hotel, the staff members were trained by the Harvey Company. The Harvey Company had a large hotel in Gallup, the El Navaho, which was designed by Mary Colter but (you guessed it) demolished in the 1950s.


The El Rancho is a rambling and rustic sort of place. It was touted as "the World's Largest Ranch House" with the charm of yesterday and the convenience of tomorrow. It intentionally looks a little rustic and scruffy like one would expect of a wild west ranch house. It has been described as having a southern plantation look to it. I can see that a little. It has been added to over the years but the three-story central part is the original structure. The place is close to the railroad and positioned on old Route 66. It is definitely a tourist hotel and I wonder about the possibility of hauntings.



My arrival was at night and the parking lot out in front was jammed. I was wondering what the huge draw was but found out that there was a local Christmas party going on. The lobby is a two-story showplace of western and movie memorabilia. You immediately know you are in the American west if you have somehow awakened from a coma. The second floor lobby balcony is almost covered in old movie star publicity shots, mostly autographed. Just about everybody from Hollywood westerns and even some Egyptian or Middle Eastern themed films stayed here. There was a nicely decorated and huge Christmas tree taking up one part of the lobby.




I was booked into the Alan Ladd room on the second floor up an impressive staircase (the elevator wasn't working). It was across the hall from the Jane Fonda room and there were a dozen other actors' names on the other rooms nearby. John Wayne, Ronald Reagan, Humphrey Bogart, Kirk Douglas, and Gregory Peck all stayed here, among others. I could have booked the Ronald Reagan room but chose not to for personal reasons. The hallways have southwestern Indian-style murals painted on the walls.


Alan Ladd, it turns out, suffered from (terminal) chronic insomnia and probably didn't get much sleep in my room. He might have been pacing the floor all night -- it was big enough and he was only about five foot six.  I'd like to think that maybe he just read a book. 

The hotel furnishings look like they are from the movie star era. There are a few chairs made out of cow horns out in the lobby. I had furniture in my room that I suspect dated from the 1930s or 1940s. That is not to say that it was restored or refurbished, it just seemed to be original and matched some of the furniture out in the lobby. The two beds in my room were not original but were quite comfortable and I slept well. They have Wi-Fi but it is an odd system based on room numbers and service is hit and miss. I was actually curious about any reported hauntings in the place. People have reported hearing footsteps and laughter and some mysteriously moved objects. I heard footsteps and laughter but there was a party going on. I suspect it is pretty much spirit free....but maybe a little creepy.


The Christmas party was still going on as I went into the dining room to eat. The food was simple but plentiful. I had a steak and it was good. The waitress was friendly and cheerful, like those that call you "dearie" or "honey", which was nice for a change. You wouldn't get that homey treatment at the La Posada or Bright Angel Lodge. I had a good "cowboy" breakfast the next morning and got the same treatment.

The restaurant décor is sort of Mexican, sort of Western, and sort of Oriental all at once. I'm guessing a Hollywood concoction of styles. The restaurant is popular with local Gallup folks who seem to be somewhat entertained by scrutinizing the hotel guests. There aren't many movie stars eating in the restaurant these days but they seemed happy to speculate and watch me eat my breakfast. I took my time and gave them a good show.


The hotel went into bankruptcy in the 1980s and was heading for demolition when it was purchased by Armand Ortega for $500,000. He spent another $500,000 refurbishing it and got it back on its feet and reopened in 1988.  Mr. Ortega, who died in 2014, was an accomplished businessman and national park concessionaire. He operated restaurants and southwestern art gift shops and spent a lot of time at the El Rancho visiting with guests. There is a large Ortega gift shop at the hotel just off the lobby.  I left the El Rancho thinking that it needed some help. It is on the Historic Register and they obtained a grant a while back to fix the wooden shingled roof.


The place has its own style and is not easily placed in one category or another. That accounts for some of the charm of the place. There are no obvious stories of movie stars riding their horses into the lobby or tales of it once being a brothel. You are left with the notion that this is a place stuck in time but also in transition for a long time...maybe from the start. First the railroad, then Route 66, movie stars and film crews are now mostly gone, the interstate highway is across town.  It is a little off the beaten path unless you are following the Mother Road.   Improvements and additions were made and some were probably not well conceived. Maintenance costs must be very high. With the death of Mr. Ortega I'm not sure what the ownership status is or what the future holds.


Recent Comments
Rosy Cole
Thanks so much for these informative posts and all the pictures. They're a lovely addition to your series and well worthy of some ... Read More
Thursday, 28 January 2016 17:44
Ken Hartke
Thanks. I'm glad people enjoy following my rambling offerings -- both geographic rambling and the wordy kind. I also post these ... Read More
Thursday, 28 January 2016 18:09
Katherine Gregor
Your hotels come across as characters in their own right, Ken.
Friday, 29 January 2016 07:19
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The Autumn Visitor



About five years ago, maybe six, I did something that people tell you to never -- never, ever -- do. That would be meeting someone through a casual internet forum exchange; maybe two or three exchanges and then invite them into your home…without knowing anything about them. It happened so casually and easily that I almost didn’t realize it at the time. The result being that I had a stranger coming from about 5,000 miles away who could not speak English and we would be spending the better part of a week together.  When I mentioned this to my daughter her head almost exploded….”What were you thinking?”  Okay…I get it. Maybe he is a serial killer. Maybe he’s an international fugitive looking for a place to hide out.


The person, I most often just called him “Denis from France”, is about my age and lives in the west of France, in Brittany, and has a little truck garden where he grows and sells vegetables in retirement. The garden is big enough that he has a smallish Farmall tractor.  He was once a high ranking police officer before retirement and has an obsession for old rock and roll music and musicians. He is divorced and has a high school age son.  I didn’t see any red flags. We had things in common --- same age, both retired, both with a criminal justice background, both single, both like old rock and roll, both have a kid. The fact that I don’t speak French and we couldn’t easily communicate didn’t seem like that much of a problem.


We met on the internet almost by accident. He was asking questions on a forum that I sometimes visit and I supplied the answers. The next thing I knew, he was on his way.  The deed was done and he was coming.  The town where I lived at the time, Jefferson City, Missouri, was not exactly a cosmopolitan hot spot. I don’t have a clear understanding of what French people do from day to day. I’ve never been to France. What were we going to do?  On a positive note, he was coming in October; a pretty time to visit.


As it turns out, Denis was going to attend a few old rocker concerts and my visit was sort of a way to spend time between these concerts and see parts of the country. He has a way of worming his way into the concert roadie brotherhood. He shows up a day or so before the concert and won’t leave so they give him something to do and he gets to hob-nob with Leon Russel or whoever. These old rock stars don’t have what you would call a security detail. If they tell him to go away he pretends (perhaps?) to not get the message and there aren’t many roadies who can speak French.


So, a day or so before he arrived I got a message that he was going to stay at a local motel and not at my home. Okay…whatever works will be fine.  We made plans for me to pick him up and we would go to see the local sights…such as they were. I got to the motel – one of those where the rooms open to the outside parking lot. I knocked on the motel door and it opened and a tremendous cloud of smoke billowed from the room out into the parking lot.  I almost jumped back from the door. Denis appeared through the fog. Yikes – I didn’t know someone could smoke that much and live.  We made our introductions the best that we could and started off on our adventure.


Denis carries a fat French-English dictionary with him wherever he goes. We spent four days together and our communication was very odd with lots of confusion and misunderstandings.  Much of our time was spent thumbing through the dictionary pages looking up words. I can't even pronounce French words in a way that he could understand what I was saying so half the time I ended up pointing to words in the dictionary. Denis was a little better with English but not much. English has words with origins in French and I figured that there would be a few words that we would have almost in common. Unfortunately, sometime after the Battle of Hastings there has been a conceptual change in some of those words. We had to resort to sign language quite often.


I tried some chitchat. It was slow going but we managed.  I tried to explain that Missouri was initially settled by the French which explained the various French place names but he was not impressed by that revelation. I asked if he had ever been to Quebec – of course not. Why would he ever want to go to Quebec? He also had never ventured anywhere out of France other than to the US. I mentioned that some of my ancestors were French Walloon Huguenots. His reaction to that was not good….I take it that Walloons are not highly respected in his part of France. I felt that this was going downhill very quickly.


My little town is in Missouri’s old German wine country so I figured I would take Denis to a local winery. French people like wine…right?  Maybe I chose the wrong winery. We sat outside in the autumn afternoon sipping the local wine along with a plate of some snacks – cheese, an apple, crackers, etc.  It was a beautiful day and I was having a good time. Denis took two sips of the wine and would not drink any more of it. The best I could tell was that he didn’t think it was very good.  It dawned on me later that perhaps alcohol was not on his list of things to drink but I would not have known given our limited communication skills. There are a few hiking trails on the winery grounds that go along the Missouri River bluff so we took off on a hike with me trying to explain about Lewis and Clark. The trail we were on ended at a place that was noted and described in their journals back in 1804. This is all hot stuff if you are from this general locality and the local history starts around 1700 but to Denis 1804 was like last Wednesday.


Denis had a rental car so when we were not together touring the wonderful sights he was out on his own. He met a woman in a local café who was originally from France and they had breakfast together a couple days.  He seemed happy to have that connection.


He was visiting in late October and everything was geared up for Halloween. Although I don't do any decorating, people in my town went all out decorating their houses and yards for Halloween. Some folks had pretend tombstones in their yards, skeletons or cobwebs hanging out of trees and witches flying on broomsticks.  I think Denis understood the concept of Halloween but was a little confused by the decorations and the weirdness (as am I, frankly).  Because much of how we communicated was non-verbal, it was hard to gauge his reaction. This was not his first visit to the US and he would usually come in October and November. I’m sure he had encountered this before but it seemed like he was a little disturbed by the craziness.


We were literally walking through trenches and crunching on spent shell casings underfoot while looking at displays and old military equipment. There were sound effects and flashes of light. Denis was so impressed that he called his son in France to tell him about it right then and there. At least I think that's what he was talking about. I thought things were looking up…Denis was enjoying his visit.


Well, what else can we do…this is October in the Midwest. I took him to a corn maze, one of the Midwest’s finest autumn traditions. He had no real understanding of what we were doing because I failed miserably at trying to explain it. I guess they don’t have corn mazes in Brittany. Once there he was mildly amused as we wandered around through a maze of seven foot high rows of corn. We could hear voices of other people lost in the corn but couldn’t see them. It took us a while to find our way out but we did and were presented with an official certificate of completion. This was a working farm where city people go to pick out their own pumpkins or apples and they have all sorts of gourds and squash. Kids can go on pony rides or hayrides. At one point Denis got excited because he saw a tractor that was the exact year, make and model of his Farmall tractor at home. I thought that he would break down in tears. I took his picture by the tractor. He seemed very pleased.


So, at the end of the visit he said his goodbye, in English, and I said 'Bon Voyage' and he went on to his next stop in Kansas City. I guess we managed to break through the language barrier (somewhat) but got hung up on the culture barrier a couple times. All in all it was a good experience. I lived to tell about it and so did he.


A few days later I got a message from Denis. He visited Kansas City and thought it had more to offer than Jefferson City. I guess I can't argue with that. Denis comes back to the US for other concert visits almost every year but he always steers clear of central Missouri for some reason.  I admire Denis and his perseverance. He knows what he likes and does what he wants to do. He has no qualms about travelling alone and that is another thing we have in common. It has been several years now since his visit and I hear from him every year around New Year’s wishing me a pleasant, healthy and happy new year. I do the same. He writes in English and I respond in French.


Recent Comments
Orna Raz
This is a lovely story, so typical of you. Funny my daughter had a similar reaction to yours when she first heard that I was going... Read More
Sunday, 10 January 2016 22:05
Katherine Gregor
What a great story, and what a wonderful, non-judgemental person you must be to take it all in your stride.
Monday, 11 January 2016 09:16
Ken Hartke
Gosh... you make me blush. I wanted to include a picture of the church of St. Mary, Aldermanbury, but it didn't work. Here is a l... Read More
Monday, 11 January 2016 20:30
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Now Where Did I Put that?

I'm always misplacing something. This Christmas it was the long-loved Christmas stockings that we always put up as part of the annual tradition. I found everything else but not the Christmas stockings. What was Santa going to do??? I ended up running out to buy new stockings. This week I spent a day putting the Christmas stuff away and, of course, I found the old stockings in a place I had searched a couple times before.  Some elf must have been playing a trick on me.

Well. this week I'm looking for an old blog post. I started writing a new post and after a few paragraphs I thought "Man. this sounds very familiar...  I think I've written about this before."  I have left a trail of blogs posts across the internet. At one time I had five blogs going at once with each one on a different topic area. I think that there are twelve blogs in all but I may be forgetting one or two.   I had problems managing so many so I've consolidated and finally got down to just a couple.

Anyway, I started searching to find that long-lost blog post. I'm sure it existed. It was not on any of my currently maintained blogs on Wordpress. It was not on those old blogs over on the Weebly site  Not on Green Room.  I wondered if it was on The Red Room...  How would I know and would it still be there somewhere?

I remember pulling blog posts off of the Red Room site during those few days before it went "belly up". That was a quick salvage job, depositing them in a humongous text file...cut and past, one after the other. At the time we didn't know how or if we could access those posts in the future.   I searched my computer and found a few Red Room files. I searched the text files but couldn't find what I was looking for.

I found a Red Room link. Hmmmm. Surely this won't work.  I'm easily distracted so I tried it just to see where it would go. It went to a new "Red Room Experience".  "WELCOME TO REDROOM" it shouts. I paused for a second and then scrolled down the page. " is an emerging project created especially for you. We wish to share with you our extensive knowledge of finance that will soon help you live the way you want to live, without having to worry about whether you can afford it. Discover a brand new lifestyle that will let you save money easily, earn it while doing what you like, and multiply your assets in the most efficient manner.

Join the Redroom Community right now and start living a life you deserve."

As I said, I'm easily distracted. I poked around a little. There was a page showing how to make money. I could make $100 a day as a day laborer or by selling my stuff on an on-line auction. Better yet, I could rent my stuff to people who wanted to use, but not own, the high quality stuff I had acquired.

This wasn't getting my anywhere. I moved on. About twenty minutes later I found what I was looking for on Wattpad. I had forgotten that I even posted much on that site. I might need to hire a day laborer to keep track of the stuff I misplace.









Recent Comments
Katherine Gregor
I know just what you mean! Just before Christmas, I went out to buy a pencil sharpener, because I couldn't find my old one. Then,... Read More
Saturday, 09 January 2016 16:08
Ken Hartke
Katherine -- There must be a natural law that if you misplace something and then purchase a replacement you will soon find the ori... Read More
Saturday, 09 January 2016 16:42
682 Hits

In Praise of Old Hotels — Part 10: Winslow, Arizona


mail1La Posada Hotel — I’m on the road again. I decided to give myself a Christmas present with a mid-December trip to Flagstaff, Arizona and a side trip to Grand Canyon. I might as well check out a few old hotels along the way. In the past I always sped through northern Arizona stopping only at gas stations or for fast food. This time I decided to take my time.


Winslow is a small town, getting smaller, and is semi-famous for the song lyrics: “Standing on the corner in Winslow Arizona…etc.  etc.” and for being close to some tourist attractions like the Painted Desert, Meteor Crater and the Petrified Forest. The Santa Fe Railroad brought thousands of tourists to Winslow each year and they all paraded through the La Posada Hotel because the hotel was also the train station. It still is but you can get to it from old Highway 66 or Business I-40 as we romantically call it now. 

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERALa Posada is the creation of architect Mary Colter who had an impressive career designing structures in the southwest including Grand Canyon National Park. She designed Bright Angel Lodge where, if the weather cooperates, I will be staying in a few days (stay tuned). Colter also had an impressive imagination and was greatly inspired by southwestern, native, and Spanish architecture. Colter joined up with the Santa Fe Railroad and Fred Harvey and created a rambling hacienda complete with a fantastic story-line of four generations of local Spanish-Basque Grandees who ruled an imaginary cattle empire in the desert. Apparently Fred Harvey ate it all up and so did the Santa Fe Railway who paid for it all. You undoubtedly will recall the Fred Harvey hotel chain and the famous Harvey Girls that staffed the hotels. La Posada was the last great Harvey Hotel to be built, opening in 1930. It is in a Spanish hacienda style but is quite eclectic, especially after the last renovation, since the original furnishings were auctioned off. Most of what you see is inspired by the 1930s era but it is a mix of Spanish, Indian and even Chinese….almost as if some family lived here (the owners do).


OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe hotel was a (modest) hit and why not? People had to walk through once they got off the train and there wasn’t much else as competition. They were serving up over 1,000 meals a day in the restaurant. There was a fleet of Packard touring cars that took tourists on eye-popping drives to see the Painted Desert and the local Navajos. 


The hotel stayed in operation as long as rail travel for tourists stayed strong. Route 66 brought people but by then there were some roadside tourist courts and these car people didn’t need the Packards. Finally the hotel closed down in 1957 and was later horribly renovated into offices for the railroad with drop ceilings and office partitions. The furnishings were auctioned off. In 1993 the railroad decided it wanted to dispose of the place (think demolition) and it was placed on the “most endangered” list by the National Trust for Historic Preservation. It seemed to be doomed.




 A white-knight appeared named Allan Affeldt who wanted to save the old hotel. The Santa Fe Railroad was not very cooperative but he finally purchased the relic in 1997. It was a mess. Besides the awful office conversion and auction and general deterioration, the walls were plastered with asbestos; apparently something that was in vogue in 1930.



It is a spacious place and it’s enjoyable just wandering around. They have an indoor walking tour that points out some of the original details.  There are also several gardens that greet the visitor but since I was visiting in December I didn’t investigate. There was a little bar — the Martini Room — that I did investigate. .There is an unusual amount of public space — lounges, galleries and sitting rooms — where a guest can find a cozy spot to read a book. The registration desk/counter is at the back of a large gift shop. Many of the public rooms have been repurposed because the hotel originally opened toward the tracks but now is geared more toward the street. 


The guest rooms are very nicely decorated and researched. I stayed in the Victor Mature room, across the hall from the Bob Hope room and down the hall from the Gene Autry room. It’s not all guys…I think Mary Pickford and Dorothy Lamour rooms are close by as is Shirley Temple. These were pretty standard rooms but there is a Howard Hughes Hideaway suite and a nice Diane Keaton room and a Harry Truman room. Hughes stayed here quite often as the head of TWA, which had eight daily flights into Winslow. He could get here pretty easily. Some rooms have balconies and some have fireplaces.




OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAMy room, and I guess others as well, had a stocked library with about fifty books. I like that but you don’t see it very often. Based only on the size of the bed I have to assume Victor Mature was a really big guy. The bathroom was refurbished in a 1930s style black and white tile. They have Wi-Fi and almost everything else you need. The person checking in before me requested a refrigerator and they said they would bring one to her room. I don’t have one.  This is a railroad hotel which means the trains go by all the time.  Even though there were plenty of guests it is very quiet in the rooms. I brought ear plugs just in case and you should too if you are a light sleeper. The place is big and sturdy but you still know a train is going by. Like a lot of older hotels, you might be hard pressed to find enough electrical outlets for all of your electronic devices.  We bring a lot of stuff with us now.


I did eat in the Turquoise Room Restaurant and I can recommend it. Bring your credit card but the food is worth it. I had pan-seared Redfish with capers and Meyer lemon sauce, steamed vegetables and fingerling potatoes with an ample supply of bread. I passed on the salad and soup but had a small desert of dark chocolate gelato with raspberries and cream in a crepe bowl. The crepe bowl would have sufficed for desert by itself.   Repent!! Repent!! You glutton!

Well — I won’t have much for breakfast.

When I waddled down the hall and up the spiral staircase to Victor’s room there was a guy playing some nice classical guitar in the sitting area.

They have complementary coffee and hot chocolate in the morning with some fruit. If you are still hungry…somehow…they also serve breakfast in the restaurant. I won’t be hungry.


   *   *   *


OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAPainted Desert Inn (Petrified Forest National Park) — You can’t stay here but you can look. Years ago, back when there were Packard touring cars driving visitors through the Painted Desert, there was also a mom and pop privately operated “inn” perched up on one of the prime vantage spots in the Painted Desert.

 The original place, known as the Stone Tree House, was made of petrified wood stones and operated from 1924 until around 1935 when the park bought the property. There are apparently parts of the original building inside the pueblo revival structure that you see today. 


As the place converted over to being a national park the old inn was  rebuilt by CCC (Civilian Conservation Corps) workers and became the Painted Desert Inn. The place is still there as sort of a relic with a few displays of what it was like back in the day and a Ranger answering questions. The CCC workers did a wonderful job and created almost everything you see including the furniture and light fixtures. It is a sturdy little place and stands as testament of what they were able to do.


I’m not sure how many of today’s visitors appreciate what this was and how it came to be. It was never very big but there were not many people who would forego the convenience and comfort of the Harvey Hotels… or they maybe were of the other, hardier extreme — camping in canvas tents along the highway. The dust bowl and the depression hit people very hard and the CCC put a lot of young men to work and a portion of their pay went to their families back home. I had an uncle who worked in a CCC crew.

Today there is an Artist in Residence program at the park and you will possibly meet him or her at the Inn. You may also see local artisans displaying and selling their creations. When I visited on a inhospitable day in the snow there were two local people — a jewelry maker and a weaver.

I’ve been here a few times now — in the heat of summer and on this cold and snowy day and I enjoy the chance to get out and see what’s what. Usually there is a different exhibit downstairs in what used to be the taproom. The Rangers are chatty and full of information.



 The Painted Desert in snow – view from the Painted Desert Inn




Recent Comments
Rosy Cole
Wow! An impressive post, hot off the tourist trail and nicely queued for #TravelTuesday. There's a wealth of fascinating informati... Read More
Tuesday, 15 December 2015 12:19
Stephen Evans
if you mapped all these places out and connected the dots, I wonder what it would look like...
Wednesday, 16 December 2015 03:30
Ken Hartke
It would be a mess. I haven't been along the west coast much. Mostly along Rt. 66, Rockies and the east. I'm at Bright Angel Lo... Read More
Wednesday, 16 December 2015 04:14
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Latest Comments

Ken Hartke Sofia's Bakery
20 May 2018
Thanks, Rosy, -- glad you liked it.
Ken Hartke I Promise
20 May 2018
I am so looking forward to your return -- I love your writing and wish you well. From my youth I've...
Stephen Evans I Promise
20 May 2018
Sometimes when I am dealing with deep anxiety I find that work (by which I mean writing), and the f...
Rosy Cole Sofia's Bakery
20 May 2018
I just love this, Ken. As appealing to the senses as a painting. Thanks :-)

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