Home is where we are parked

Home is where we are parked
Home is where we are parked

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

FYI -- Modifications and Additions

 

QUESTION:  What is the number one regret for most full-time RV’ers?

ANSWER:  That they didn’t start sooner!

Our trailer is our home and our truck is the shed.  We made many modifications and additions to make things easier, optimize usage and space, and enhance functionality.  Below are some of those modifications…

NOTE:  We are not endorsing specific products.  Do your homework to make sure you find the best item for the best deal!   Beige colored text are web links.

And don’t get any ideas that I’m a “mister fix it” type!  If I can do this stuff, anyone can!

- Small wall shelf and coat rack…We needed a place to put wallets, sunglasses, keys, and hang coats, hats, dog’s leash, etc.  It looks nice and is very functional.  This should be standard in all trailers!

       

Pic on left:  Main entry way. Note hats in bottom left, coat rack in upper left, clock and temp display above door, window shade with pic of Arleen kayaking, and fire extinguisher in bottom right

- Large digital clock and weather sensor…We are both weather forecasters.  What kind of weather forecaster would be without weather data?!?  We found a weather sensor with a large display that mounted nicely above the door and can be seen from most of the living room.  UPDATE:  We wanted more weather data and upgraded to a Davis Weather Sensor.  It took a little creativity to mount it, but works great.  It displays and records and graphs all kinds of weather info.  These weather geeks are happy!

       

Pic on left:  Clock and temp display above the door  /  Pic in middle:  Davis Weather Sensor display under my window  /  Pic on right:  Davis Weather sensor mounted to ladder

- Ice chest bench/step stool/storage…We got a small ice chest to use as storage (shoes, hats, gloves, bottled beverages, etc.), a bench (to put on our shoes), a temporary place for frozen items when we defrost the freezer, and a step stool (so “shorty pants” can get to high things in the trailer).  After using it for a couple of months, I noticed the plastic top gradually getting softer.  To fix this, I cut a piece of 1/4 inch thick plywood and glued it to the top of the ice chest.  Then I tacked a piece of thin outside carpet to the wood.  Now the top is more firm to stand on, and comfortable to sit on.  The ice chest and the enhanced top have been extremely handy.  If I was going to submit one of those unique self-help suggestions to an RV magazine, this would be it.

- Fire extinguishers…Most trailers come with a single, small fire extinguisher.  I got another extinguisher that was twice the size of the original and mounted it by the front door.  I mounted the original small one by the bedroom door and put an additional small one in the truck. 

- Paper towel holder above kitchen sink…There was a towel rack but no convenient place for paper towels.  I moved the towel rack and added a paper towel holder.

- Residential kitchen faucet…The original kitchen faucet got loose with time.  After using it daily for a year, we decided it was time to upgrade.  We ordered a new faucet on-line from a popular hardware store and my dad helped me install it.  The new faucet looks nice, works great, and seems durable…it was a good upgrade!  See the picture above

- Garbage bag holder…We found one that holds plastic grocery store bags.  I mounted it inside the door to the kitchen sink cabinet.  Most trailers lack a good place for garbage.  This is a great solution that keeps the trash out of the way, but is easy to access. 

- Widened knife slots…Our trailer has handy slots along the wall behind the stove.  I altered two slots.  One slot was lengthened to accommodate a large knife.  The other slot was widened to accommodate kitchen scissors. 

- Plate/bowl “cushions”…We use the non-slip stuff in various sized shapes to put between plates, bowls, and other breakable items.  It prevents breakage during transport.

- Shelves in the pantry and cupboard…The pantry shelves are deep and initially there was a lot of vertical space being wasted.  Stuff was getting stacked and it was hard to organize and wasn’t efficient.  I added two shelves.  One is along the top for tea and the other was towards the bottom for baggies, plastic wrap, and aluminum foil.  These two shelves made a huge difference.  The same problem existed in our main kitchen cupboard so I added another shelf to help organize containers, bowls, and mugs.

       

Pic on left:  The upper half of the panty.  I added the top shelf.  /  Middle pic:  The lower half of the pantry.  I added the shelf  that has the baggies on it.  /  Pic on right:  Cupboard above kitchen window with the added the top shelf. 

- Cleaning stuff in closet…We needed a place for a small vacuum, broom, and dust pan.  We have a good sized coat closet so I put hooks on one of the walls for the broom and dust pan and then screwed the vacuum mount/charger to the back wall.  They are secure, out of the way, and easily accessible. 

Coat closet.  Shoe organizer on the right side.  Vacuum is mounted in back left.  Broom and dust pan hanging on the left.

- Braces for refrigerator, shelves, medicine cabinet…You can buy these in many stores.  They are spring mounted bars that are put across shelves and in the refrigerator to keep things from moving too much during transport.  You learn pretty quickly to open all doors slowly after moving to a new location.  Without these bars, things will certainly attack you when you open the refrigerator and cabinets!

We have about 15 of these in various shapes and sizes

- Living room furniture…This trailer normally comes with a dining table and chairs, a couch, and a chair with a stool.  We ordered ours with none of these things.  Instead we got two comfortable recliners, two end tables, a small corner desk and chair, and a small file cabinet.  We use bean bag lap trays when eating inside or using the laptop computer. 

    Sprague Lake WA1 - 5 Jun 2011

Pic on left:  My “command center”.  TV remote is on the front of the end table.  Phone is plugged in and charging.  Cell phone signal booster cradle is above the end table on the left.  Weather sensor display is centered under the window.  Cell phone signal booster antenna is suction-cupped to the top of the window.  And difficult to see, but extremely functional, is the lap tray on the right side of the end table.  /  Pic on right:  Possibly the only picture of the three of us inside the trailer.  Taken by Arleen’s mom, Ellen, less than two months after we got the trailer in early June 2011.

- Removed light near desk…The nice light fixture that would have been right above the dining table, hung down 5 or 6 inches from the 5 foot 8 inch ceiling in the slide-out near the desk.  Additionally, the light had a nice sharp point at the bottom.  I knew it was a death trap.  Sure enough, it nearly gouged a hole in my head.  I removed that sucker immediately!  We put in a small, recessed light.

- Velcro desk to wall…The corner desk fell the first time we transported it in the trailer.  I velcroed it to the wall in six places and it hasn’t fallen since.

- Shelf and tray in end tables…We have two end tables that have a large cabinet inside of them.  This space was like the pantry.  There was a lot of vertical space and everything was stacked.  Each time we moved, things became a mess.  I added a shelf near the top of each one.  We bought small wooden trays for each shelf and added little rubber stoppers to the corners of the trays to make it harder for them to slide.  The trays hold things like reading glasses, remote controls, hand lotion, lip balm, coasters, pens, etc.

Inside my end table.  Fly-fishing magazines and travel related stuff.  I added the shelf and small wood tray near the top.

- Shelf lining…Arleen lined all the shelves and drawers with that non-slip padding stuff to keep things from moving around too much.  Things can still move, but not nearly as much as they did without the lining.

- Drawer organizers…We have a couple of long sliding drawers.  We bought trays that have various sized sections to keep things organized.  Now things like batteries, spare keys, screw drivers, tape, glue, remotes, pens, change, etc have a home. 

- Rugs for exercising…Sometimes we do calisthenics in the trailer.  We got small, thick bath rugs to use as workout mats.  The rugs are also used to secure things during transport.  Note: We had removed the carpet on the main floor (slide rides up on when retracted).  It started buckling when retracting slide.  UPDATE:  For the winter, we got a nice piece of thick carpet that covers most of the living area.  The carpet acts as insulation and made the exercise rugs unnecessary.  We can roll it up for transport.

- Space saving hangers…We found clothes hangers that have little hooks on them that allow them to be hung vertically.  We can hang three items on three different hangers in one slot. 

- Closet shoe organizer…Our shoes were just piled in a closet.  We found a narrow rack that hangs vertically in a closet.  It’s got 10 spaces and made it much easier to organize our shoes.

Shoe organizer is on the right

- Magazine rack in bathroom…One of my favorite additions…I mounted the small magazine rack on the wall in front of the toilet.  The magazine rack is usually filled with brochures and magazines loaded with info about the area we’re in.  Good reading material makes it easy to linger on the pot for awhile.

- Shower soap tray, corner shelf, squeegee, and hook…The shower stall has one small shelf for a bar of soap.  That wasn’t going to cut it so I added a few things.  The challenge was how to mount them.  The shower stall walls are too rough for suction cups and I didn’t want to drill holes to install stuff.  My solution was to glue pieces of plexiglass to the walls and get good suction cup items to attach to the smooth plexiglass.  I cut various sized pieces of plexiglass and used liberal amounts of glue to attach them to the shower walls.  The soap tray, corner shelf, squeegee, and hook have all worked very well.

A good view of the soap and shampoo trays in the shower.  You can see the plexiglass glued to the walls.

- Toothbrush hook…Same story here…I cut a piece of plexiglass and glued it to the wall.  The suction-cupped toothbrush holder is great.

- Laundry basket…Most trailers this size and style do not have a place to put dirty clothes.  Initially we put them under the bathroom sink and it worked ok, but Arleen got a laundry basket that is much better.  It stays in the shower while we are camping and folds up for transport.  The handles make it easy to tote back and forth to the laundry room.

Our shower.  The collapsible laundry bag.  Note the little shelf just above it, the squeegee on the left, and the two trays in the upper right.

- Shower head…Between the poor water pressure and a sad shower head, our showers were quite unsatisfactory.  We had better showers while deployed in Iraq and Afghanistan!  With the new shower head and better water pressure regulator, our showers are more enjoyable…outstanding investments!

- Foam pad in vent above bed…There is a nice sky-light/vent above our bed.  Unfortunately, it’s like a spot light when the sun comes up each summer morning.  Now there is a foam pad wedged in there that blocks the light and provides insulation.

- Window shades for both doors…The two outside doors on the trailer have fairly large windows.  The light was welcomed sometimes and was the enemy during other times.  We got window insulating screens that velcro to the door to block the light.  If we want light, we just open the screen door and all is good.  Not only do we get good fresh air this way, but our dog sits at the door on squirrel patrol and is very happy.

SEE PICTURES IN NEXT SECTION

- Pictures to cover the window shades…We got tired of looking at the silver, bubbly pattern of the window shades on the doors.  We had some of our favorite pictures blown up and laminated and then attached them to the window shades.  Now instead of an annoying foil look, we are reminded of some great memories.

                             

Pic on left:  Window screen covered with a picture of Arleen kayaking Canyon Ferry Lake in Montana  /  Pic on right:  Window screen covered with a picture of me sitting on the edge of Kootenai Falls in Montana

- Collage…Many hours of work went into this one.  Wall space is limited in trailers so there isn’t much room to hang things.  We decided to make a large collage to put on the door between the living room and the bathroom. We spent hours trying to whittle thousands of pictures down to 200 or 300 of our favorite memories.  I edited the pictures and made ten 8.5 X 11 collage “panels” using Photo Shop.  Each panel has 20-30 pictures and captures a part of our life.  We printed the panels and glued them to a large piece of poster board.  Next, we took it Fed Ex/Kinkos and had them laminate it.  We ended up with a lightweight, durable, collage that we mounted to the door with velcro.  It provides us with great memories and is a good conversation starter.  It’s one of our favorite additions.

- TV in bedroom…We could have ordered the trailer with a TV mounted in the bedroom but it would have cost over $600.  Instead I bought a flat-screen TV with a DVD player for less than $300 and a mounting arm for $30 and installed them myself.  They have worked perfectly.

I mounted the TV inside this bedroom cupboard.  I also made the small shelf on which sits the satellite box.  Under the shelf is a 300 watt power inverter and a few odds and ends.

- Sleep Number  RV Bed…RV beds are known to be mediocre at best.  Plus, they breakdown quickly and become less than mediocre with usage.  This process accelerates when you sleep on it every day.  First, we got a memory foam topper which made the bed more comfortable for awhile, but around the 14 month point, we decided to splurge on a Sleep Number bed.  We have been comfortable ever since!  Time will tell if it was worth the lofty price, but so far we have been happy.

- Heated mattress cover…Our trailer’s only outside accessible storage is under the bed.  Often the bed seemed like an ice block.  A heated mattress pad solved that problem!  We turn it on and crank it up a couple of hours before bedtime.  After we tuck ourselves into the toasty bed, we turn the temperature down and sleep comfortably all night.  We love crawling into our warm, cocoon-like bed every night!

- Solar kit…After much research, we went with a system from AM Solar who specializes in RV solar kits.  Our kit includes four 100 watt panels mounted to the roof of the trailer, thicker gage wiring, two deep cycle 6 volt AGM batteries, and a nice charging regulator and system monitor.  Initially we paid very close attention to how much power we drew from the batteries but have learned that during the long days of summer we can use most things as much as we want and have power to spare.  However, after three days of limited sunshine the batteries start to struggle.  Thankfully, 30 minutes of charging by the truck powers them sufficiently.  The 300 watt inverters (see next item) and the 7.5 amp fuse are the primary limitations.  Our system isn’t robust enough to use a microwave, air conditioner, or other things that draw too much power.  However we can use the computer, lights, TV, radio, fans, and anything else that uses average power as much as we want.  Without this solar kit, we’d need a generator.  We aren’t fans of generators for multiple reasons, but mainly, we really dislike the noise.

       

Pic on left:  Four 100 watt solar panels.  /  Pic in middle:  Two deep cycle, 6-volt, AGM batteries.  /  Pic on right:  The charger controller mounted above the stereo

- Two 300 watt power inverters…Power from the batteries and solar kit is 12 volt.  The 12 volt power has to be converted to 120 volt in order to use things like the computer, TV, and charge electronics.  300 watt inverters are the largest that can plug into an ordinary cigarette lighter type outlet.  We’ve blown a lot of fuses learning how far we can push the 300 watt inverters and our 12 volt outlets with 7.5 amp fuses (the primary limitation).  Through trial and error, we figured it out.  UPDATE:  We upgraded to a 1000 watt inverter.  To do this, the inverter had to be wired directly to the batteries.  The more robust 1000 watt inverter will allow us to run everything except power hogs like the microwave and air conditioner. 

1000 watt inverter in the lower center part of picture.  The wiring is all beneath the refrigerator.

- IPhone “hotspot” for internet…After much research, I thought using a smart phone’s “hotspot” or tethering capability would be the best way for us to get internet.  So far we have been quite happy with it.  There have been multiple times we were “in the middle of nowhere” and with a cell phone signal, Arleen and I were both able to surf the web at the same time.  Though it’s a bit expensive and we are allowed limited data each month, it compares favorably to similar alternatives.  We’ve learned a few lessons to help us stay under our data limit.  We discovered the hard way that computer updates (i.e. Microsoft, Adobe, Apple, anti-virus, etc) were sucking up a lot of our data usage.  To fix this, I disabled auto-updates from the laptop and computer.  Now we do updates only when we have wi-fi.  Speaking of wi-fi, we love campgrounds, Starbucks, McDonald’s, and other businesses that provide it…Thanks!

-- Useful apps:  Camp & RV / RV Park Finder / Google Maps / Dish Pointer / Trip Advisor / MotionX-GPS / Geocaching / Skype / Pulse / Kindle / Aero Weather / Radar Scope / Weather Alert USA

We have many more apps, but the ones above really enhance our nomadic lifestyle.  It’s amazing to have this information in our pocket!

- Cell phone signal booster…Wilson Electronics makes a decent one that is portable and has multiple mounting options.  I attached it to the wall next to my recliner.  The IPhone sits in the cradle and is easy to get to.  The booster works as advertised.  It often takes one bar and turns it into three, but it must have a signal to work.  It’s turned something unreliable into something reliable many times for us.  Because we live in our trailer, we’d prefer to have phone and internet access.  The cell phone signal booster was a good investment.

Cell phone signal booster cradle is on the left.  The antenna is suction-cupped to the top of the window.

- Wi-Fi signal booster…This was suggested by my good friend, Steve.  Wi-Fi quality and strength varies significantly between campgrounds and is highly variable due to usage.  One or two people downloading video can bring a campground’s system to a crawl.  Obviously, being closer to the campground’s transmitter helps, but we like the quiet spots usually along the edges.  The Wi-Fi signal booster works as advertised.  Our signal is stronger and we usually stay connected more consistently.  I recommend a small, portable antenna, that plugs into and is powered via USB.  The ones in the $25-$40 range work fine, though you can spend three times that much.

- Satellite for TV mounted to ladder (two web links)…I wanted a satellite dish that could mount somewhere on the roof but was still portable.  It’s a bit of a pain to take it off the ladder, but it has allowed us to move the dish to a clearing to get reception. 

   

- BBQ grill…Arleen insisted on getting this and I’m glad she did!  It stores nicely in a canvas bag and is easy to attach to the outside of the trailer.  It runs off the trailer’s propane tanks.  I also added a small shelf to the grill brace.  The shelf can hold things like the lighter, scraper, spatula, and tongs.  Arleen can cook nearly anything on the grill…we love it!

Naches27 - 24 Aug 2011

- Outside chairs and table…We got full-sized, folding, reclining chairs so we can lounge outside.  They fit under our bed when not being used.  We also have a small folding table.  The table often has reading stuff and drinks on it while we relax in our chairs in the great outdoors.

- Drill extender and socket for stabilizers…Instead of the hand crank, I use my battery powered hand drill to raise and lower the stabilizers.  It’s fast and is much easier on my back.  Make sure you either have two drill batteries or you hold onto the hand crank!

- Leveling blocks and jack pads…The trailer has to be level and stable.  We got levelers that are like building blocks and can be stacked as needed to level the trailer.  Many people use various pieces of wood, but we wanted something that didn’t take up much space and is easy to keep tidy.  We have 16 and there have been times when we used nearly all of them.  In addition to leveling the trailer, we sometimes use them to adequately slope the gray/black water hose.

- Surge protector…This investment protects the trailer’s electric system from power problems.  Campgrounds are notorious for power issues.  Some of these issues can destroy the trailer’s entire electric system causing thousands of dollars of damage.

- Extra 30 amp power cord and various adapters…The trailer has a 30 foot, 30 amp power cord.  There may be times when that isn’t long enough so we got an additional 30 foot, 30 amp cord.  We also bought adapters to allow our 30 amp cord to plug into 15 amp or 50 amp power sources.

- Two water hoses, water filters, pressure regulator, water thief…We have two 25 foot water hoses.  9 times out of 10, one 25 footer is enough, but having the extra one pays off on that tenth time.  We also attach a water filter to the hose to help purify the water.  A pressure regulator is needed to protect the trailer’s plumbing from too much water pressure.  The water pressure was pitiful with our first regulator, so we found one that promised 20-25% higher water pressure…it worked!  Many Forest Service and BLM campgrounds have non-threaded water pumps that you can’t attach a hose to.  The water thief slips over the non-threaded spigot and allows you to attach a hose.

- Multiple bins…For awhile I was obsessed with bins.  I tried to determine what needed to go where and the best way to make everything fit while keeping it all safe from being jostled during transport.  In many cases the answer was to put stuff in bins.  I measured cabinets, drawers, and spaces and hit all of the stores searching for bins of various shapes and sizes.  There are now 8-10 bins in the trailer and another 8-10 in the truck.  Things are organized, labeled, and fairly secure.

   

Just a couple of the bins

- Electric heater…An electric heater helps reduce propane usage.  Be aware that some campgrounds don’t allow them because of the huge electric draw.  And many private campgrounds have you pay for electric when you stay a month or longer.  In spite of this, every RV’er should have an electric heater!  We got a medium sized one that uses about 12 amps and is rated around 1000 watts.  Anything bigger would trip the circuit.  When it’s sunny and the temp is mid-20s or higher, the electric heater is all we need. 

- RV skirt…This was a big investment, but necessary for winter camping.  With no added heat sources under our trailer, the temperature difference averages 10 degrees.  The colder the outside temp, the bigger the difference.  We have experienced 20-25 degree temp differences when the outside temperature is below zero!

- Bathroom vent and A/C covers…We got these primarily for winter.  Ventilation is imperative in controlling condensation when it’s cold.  In order to keep one of our ceiling vents open all the time, we had to get a vent cover.  The cover doesn’t allow rain or snow in and minimizes drafty winds.  It was a brilliant decision!  The A/C cover was a $15 investment to protect the A/C during the harsh winter and eliminate the possibility of more intruding drafty air.

Bathroom vent on left and A/C cover on the right

- Kayak racks…A lot of research went into this.  We had to consider the weight rating of the truck cap, the weight and size of the kayaks, and the weight and dimensions of the racks.  We are very happy with the racks we got.

   

- Wheel step for kayaks…This was Arleen’s idea…another great one!  Our kayak racks are about eight feet off the ground.  The top of the kayaks are about nine feet high when on the racks.  Instead of dragging around a step ladder to help with securing the kayaks, we got a small step that drapes over the wheels of the truck.  We would not be able to load the kayaks without this genius product.

Standing on the wheel step

- Truck vault…This was one of our biggest investments and it was worth it.  I searched for a custom built shelf/drawer system to go in the back of the truck to store fishing poles, snowboard, skis, kayak paddles, etc.  I provided measurements to the company I found online.  They built it, shipped it, and I installed it.  It keeps the expensive toys secure and maximizes the space in the back of the truck. 

   

Pic on left:  Vault drawers closed.  Life jackets in net above.  Snowshoes, skis, poles, snowboard are along the sides where the bikes usually are.  We hang our fishing waders on the bar across the top…see the hangers on each side?  /  Pic on right:  Vault drawers open.  Ski and snowboard gear are usually in the left drawer.  The right drawer has kayak paddles and 10-12 fishing poles.

- Hooks and bungees to secure bikes…I added hooks to the rails of the bed of the truck.  A bike goes on each side of the truck bed between the truck vault and truck bed.  Then we bungee the bike to the bed rails.  It works quite well.  (Note…You can see the two hooks and purple bungee on the right side of the left picture above.)

- Nonslip pad for our dog’s bed in the truck…Our four-legged friend’s bed was sliding in the cab of the truck and freaking him out.  We used a large piece of the non-slip stuff to keep it from moving.  He is much happier now.

- Dog’s tether for outside…I wanted one of a specific length and I wanted a carabineer on each end so I made one with laundry line.  It attaches easily to our outside door handle.  It is quite handy.

- Heated tanks and double pane windows…Arctic Fox is touted for making a “true four season trailer” with higher quality insulation and good engineering.  We asked for heated holding tanks and double pane windows to help us endure cold weather camping.  The heated tanks can run off either 120 volt or 12 volt electricity and help prevent the tanks and under belly plumbing from freezing.  Double pane windows provide better insulation, but just as important, they help control condensation.  Once a trailer starts getting condensation during cold weather, there’s not much that can be done to stop it.

- Gallon jugs of water in bathroom…My dad suggested that we put a couple of one gallon milk jugs filled with water in the bathroom.  We use this water to “flush” the toilet while on the road.  It works great!  That water has also come in handy for a couple of emergencies.

- Fitbits…These little gadgets help motivate us to stay in good physical shape.  They track steps taken, floors climbed, and distance walked.  The interaction on the web page allows you to track all kinds of stuff.  We even get emails listing our achievements.  It’s encouraging to know how far and how high we have walked, but it also pushes us to the next threshold.  Example:  If we’re at 9.5 miles at the end of the day, we will walk our four-legged friend another half mile to reach 10 miles.  They also allow us to set weekly and monthly goals, and to compete against each other.  It’s fun and healthy!

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The two fitness trackers and two example emails of encouragement after a tough day of hiking

- Wish list items…

* Some way to lock our costly, unusual sized, 6-volt deep cycle batteries.  It would take creativity and something fabricated from metal which is well beyond my means.

*  Two more 6-volt deep cycle batteries.  Unfortunately this is nearly impossible because there is no space!

* Front grill for truck.  It will minimize damage if/when we hit a big critter.  We’ve come close a few times.

* Maybe vehicle modifications to improve performance and fuel efficiency.  I’ve been happy with our mighty Dodge Ram, but conversations with gear heads have made me consider this.

We are pretty content.  We have what we need and want.  There are very few things we’d do differently.

All of this may seem like a lot, but its has taken us a year and a half to get to this point.  Besides, instead of trying to fill and maintain a house and yard, we only worry about our truck and 300 square foot trailer!

Arleen and I had very little experience trailer camping until we got this trailer.  We did a bunch of research and got good info from friends and family.  Some of the best sources of information were general online RV forums, or better yet, a specific RV manufacturer’s forum.  These forums are very active with a lot of folks that are passionate and knowledgeable.  95% of the time, someone already posted the same questions I had, and already had a host of answers and solutions.  I would just do a search on the forum for the primary subject of my question, and I’d find all kinds of informative reading material.  Though we’ve learned a few things the hard way, our research and most of our decisions have paid off.  

If you’d like more info, send us an email or hit us on Facebook.  We always keep our ears open for suggestions so if you’ve got any…bring it!!

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