Aston Martin vs. Ford Model T on the Lincoln Highway


On August 5, 2017, I pointed the intrepid 2007 Aston Martin V8 Vantage in the direction of the famous Lincoln Highway. I found the historical thoroughfare I was expecting—along with the tragic story of Wesley, Jack, and Ginnie, plus a fun lesson regarding 89 years of automotive progress.

The Lincoln Highway

It was a beautiful day, with temperatures in the mid-70s and no likelihood of rain. The Aston somehow seems even more stunning each time I look at it. Unfortunately, it is now plagued with the front license plate that is compulsory in Maryland. (Time to look into those nifty “show and go” mounts where the plate disappears under the front valance.)

Photo by Jordon Strait, StraitUpPhotography

The Lincoln Highway was the first road to traverse the entire United States, running from Times Square in New York City to Lincoln Park in San Francisco. My tour started in New Oxford, Pennsylvania. Unlike most of the towns along the Lincoln Highway, New Oxford doesn’t have a town square. But it does have a very nice town circle.

Officially, the Highway was dedicated on October 31, 1913. In practice, a lot of the route followed existing roads that, themselves, began as American Indian trails long before Christopher Columbus stumbled upon the New World. The goal of the Lincoln Highway was to provide a reliable gravel or rock road clear across the country, thereby greatly improving travel opportunities and commerce in general. Before the Lincoln Highway, the U.S. had a total of only 200 miles of paved roads, and travel by automobile was an iffy proposition.

Along the road there are numerous businesses that catered to early travellers (and sometimes still do). This is the Park Hotel in New Oxford, originally known as the Eagle House. It was built in 1856 and has been expanded several times over the years.

An early motorhead named Carl Fisher (1874-1939) conceived of a cross-country highway and began promoting the idea in 1912. A former bicycle and automobile racer, 8 years earlier he had started production of acetylene headlights for the fledgling automobile industry, cornering the market and amassing a fortune. By 1909, he and several business partners had built the Indianapolis Motor Speedway and held the first race there. (Due to the gravel, limestone, and oil track surface, the race was a disaster. It prompted Fisher to reconstruct the racetrack using bricks, with the rest being history.)

When Carl Fisher conceived of the Lincoln Highway, cars were very rudimentary. If he returned today and spotted an Aston Martin parked along his road, we can only guess at the level of his amazement.

In Search of Wesley, Jack, and Ginnie

Traveling westward from New Oxford, I soon arrived at Gettysburg. I first visited this famous Civil War battlefield when I was only 6 or 7 years old and have been there many times since. On this day, I was interested in tracking down the tragic tale of Wesley, Jack, and Ginnie.

Driving toward Culp’s Hill, I recognized Spangler’s Spring and stopped for a photo. The diminutive fount is well-known for two reasons: First, following 2 days of horrific fighting at and around the spring, Union and Confederate soldiers called a temporary truce and met peacefully together to drink and fill their canteens from the spring. And second, many people consider Spangler’s Spring to be the most haunted place in Gettysburg (which might be saying a lot). There are many accounts of people seeing a Woman in White, who glides along, often bending down to examine something on the ground. She is said to have been a jilted lover who took her own life at the spring, when her beloved revealed that he was already married.

Gettysburg has more monuments per square battlefield than any other place on earth. This one honors General George Sears Greene (1801-1899), who led the successful defense of the Union right flank at Culp’s Hill. He had graduated second in his class at West Point and served valiantly in the Army as a young man. At the age of 60, he rejoined to support the North during the Civil War. After the war ended, he returned to his work as a civil engineer and lived to be 98. Greene’s engineering skills proved to be the decisive factor at Gettysburg, as his single brigade of 1,350 men were protected by log and stone breastworks that he had insisted upon building and defended Culp’s Hill from repeated attacks by an entire division of 4,700 Confederates.

In addition to the statues, it’s not uncommon to see live Union or Confederate “reenactors,” who portray soldiers from the battle. These two fellows had camped overnight in a rudimentary tent at Spangler’s Spring and were just finishing up their breakfast. A midnight thunderstorm had left them soaked, but they said at least it was warm. It was fun to talk with them and to admire the detailed authenticity of their uniforms, rifles, and other equipment. For the record, they have camped here at the Spring many times and have yet to see the Woman in White.

Culp’s Hill was named for Henry Culp, who owned the surrounding land and this farm on the outskirts of Gettysburg. His nephew, Wesley Culp, and Wesley’s best friend Jack Skelly grew up together in the town and roamed the Culp property on many occasions, exploring, hunting, and so forth. By the time the Civil War broke out, Wesley was living and working in Shepherdstown, Virginia (now West Virginia), and he joined a local unit of the Confederate Army. Back in Gettysburg, his friend Jack signed on with the Union. (Photos of Culp, on left, and Skelly courtesy of Find A Grave.)

At the Second Battle of Winchester (Virginia), Jack Skelly was severely wounded and ended up in a Confederate prisoner-of-war hospital. Wesley Culp’s unit was passing through, and he managed to visit his boyhood friend at the hospital. Jack, knowing he was dying, asked his friend to give a letter to his girlfriend, Mary Virginia Wade, who also lived in Gettysburg. Wesley knew Ginnie, and he readily agreed to help Jack. The two friends parted, knowing they would never see each other again, and Wesley soon found himself marching with the famed Stonewall Brigade toward Gettysburg.

Ginnie Wade had lived in Gettysburg all her life. Her father suffered from mental illness and was in an asylum, while she and her mother worked as seamstresses while also caring for the younger children in the family. Among other work, they sewed repairs to the uniforms of Union soldiers stationed in Gettysburg and also baked bread for the troops and gave them water from their well.

When Wesley Culp’s unit arrived in Gettysburg on July 1, 1863, he soon found himself on familiar ground: his uncle’s property at Culp’s Hill. From the hill, he could easily see Gettysburg, but there was no chance to try to find Ginnie in town, as the Stonewall Brigade was immediately engaged in attacking the Union right flank.

As noted, Gen. Greene’s breastworks were instrumental in defending against the Confederate attacks. On July 3, Wesley Culp was shot and killed during the attack, Jack Skelly’s letter still in his pocket. It would never reach Ginnie.

In the saddest of ironies, Ginnie Wade was at her sister’s house on July 3, baking more bread for the Union soldiers, when a stray Minié ball hit the side door of the house, passed through that door and another, inside the house, and finally directly through poor Ginnie’s heart. She died instantly, never knowing the fate of her beau Jack Skelly in Winchester or her friend Wesley Culp, less than a mile away. A photograph of Jack was found in the pocket of her dress. Jack lingered for another 9 days before dying of his wounds, unaware of what had happened to Wesley and Ginnie. (Historical photo courtesy of [i]The True Story of Jennie Wade[/i] by J.W. Johnston.)

Wesley is believed to have been buried on Culp’s Hill, although no one knows where. But I was determined to find the graves of Jack Skelly and Ginnie Wade, both of whom were interred in Gettysburg’s Evergreen Cemetery. I had seen the cemetery from Culp’s Hill, but I knew it would take some searching.

Jack’s full name was Johnston Hastings Skelly, Jr. Sixteen months after his death in Winchester, his brother brought his body back to Gettysburg, and he was buried here alongside other members of his family.

Ginnie’s monument was much easier to find. There are only two women in the country to be honored by a perpetual United States flag at their graves, and she is one of them. Although her actual nickname was “Ginnie,” as a result of a newspaper error history has bestowed upon her the name “Jennie.” She was the only civilian killed at the Battle of Gettysburg. The U.S. government recognized her service to the Union Army and awarded a pension to her mother.

With thoughts of the three unfortunate young men and woman in mind, it was time to rejoin the patient Vantage and continue my trip.

The White Woman of the Genesee

Along the way I spotted this vintage Gettysburg tour bus, which is operated by the Historic Tour Company. I’m told that it once carried Civil War veterans to various sites during an anniversary of the battle.

I had one more stop to make in Gettysburg before continuing west on the Lincoln Highway. With the advent of automobile traffic, many businesses sprang up to meet the needs of drivers. This was the 1916 beaux arts Eberhart Garage, intended originally as a theatre but instead used as a parking garage, gas station, and repair facility. (Postcard courtesy of the Lincoln Highway Association, PA Chapter.)

The Cashtown Inn was built in 1797, predating the Lincoln Highway by almost 120 years. Cashtown got its name because the inn’s first proprietor would only accept cash. A 1921 tour brochure describes the town as famous for its “big red apples, pretty girls, and hard cider.” (Historical photo courtesy of The Lincoln Highway by Brian Butko.)

In 1743, Mary Jemison was born aboard the ship William and Mary as her parents were emigrating from Ireland to America. They happily settled in a wilderness area northwest of what is now Cashtown and apparently didn’t care too much that the land was off limits, belonging to the Iroquois Confederacy… They weren’t the only such settlers, and by the time the French and Indian War broke out, the Native Americans were well and truly peeved by all the incursions. When Mary was 13, Shawnee Indians raided their cabin, captured Mary, her parents, her older sister, 2 older brothers, and a neighbor woman and her 3 children. All of them, save Mary and the neighbor’s youngest son, were killed and scalped along the trail to Fort Duquesne (now Pittsburgh). There, Mary was given to the Seneca tribe and adopted by a family that had just lost a son.

Mary was renamed Deh-he-wä-mis (“a pretty girl”) and chose to live with the Senecas for the rest of her life, marrying twice and bearing 7 children. In her eighties, Deh-he-wä-mis gave an extensive oral history of her life to the Reverend James Seaver, who transcribed it into the book Life of Mary Jemison. It makes for very interesting—and often blood-curdling—reading, if you’re so inclined. She passed away at age 90 in Erie County, New York. Her remarkable life is commemorated by this statue, near the place of her childhood home.

Vengeance Begets More Vengeance

There were many other Irish immigrants besides the unfortunate Jemison family. William Gass came to America in about 1700 and built this stone farmhouse in 1760. His nephew Patrick Gass (1771-1870) subsequently inherited the house. Patrick was an intriguing character, having served in the U.S. Army during the Indian Wars of the late 1700s and the War of 1812. He was instrumental to the success of the Lewis and Clark Expedition of 1803-1806 and wrote the first account of the trip. At age 60 he married the 20-year-old Maria Hamilton, and they had 7 children together. When Patrick was 91, he had to be forcibly removed from a Union Army recruiting center when he insisted upon joining up to fight in the Civil War. (They don’t make ’em like they used to!) The Gass house was used as an almshouse for many years and is now owned by the Chambersburg extension of Penn State University.

I found a quiet spot to park the Aston Martin in Chambersburg, and ventured off in pursuit of a few other historical spots. (Is it my imagination, or is that irksome license plate getting bigger?)

This memorial fountain has graced the town square since 1878, although the old cannon are no longer present. The statue of the Union soldier is looking South, the direction from which Confederate armies approached Chambersburg on three different occasions during the Civil War.

Although Chambersburg dates back to 1730, most of its current buildings were constructed after 1864. That’s because during the third invasion, Confederate General Jubal Early demanded a ransom of $500,000 from the town. He was incensed at the actions of Union General David Hunter, whose troops had invaded Virginia and burned many houses, farms, and businesses. Chambersburg had been occupied by Confederate forces twice before, with the Southern soldiers behaving responsibly, so residents did not believe that Gen. Early would carry out his threat to burn the city if the ransom was not paid. They were wrong. After the townspeople refused to pay, Early ordered the burning of Chambersburg, destroying more than 500 of the city’s 800 buildings. It was the only city in the North to suffer this fate, and within months the act led to the Union forces burning virtually every farm and mill throughout the Shenandoah Valley in Virginia, as well as the entire city of Atlanta, Georgia.

This photo shows the stately Central Presbyterian Church, built in 1871 on the Chambersburg town square. Its spire is 186 feet tall.

Martin Delaney (1812-1885) was born in Charles Town, Virginia (now West Virginia) to a free African American woman and her enslaved husband. When it was discovered that his mother was teaching Martin to read, they had to flee Virginia (where such practice was illegal). They settled in this neighborhood in Chambersburg. Martin went on to become a prominent doctor, author, and newspaper publisher, co-editing the North Star with Frederick Douglass. He also served as a major in the Union Army during the Civil War, the highest rank of any African American at that time. He was one of the first 3 African Americans admitted to Harvard Medical School, but they were all expelled after white medical students complained. (In a display of hypocrisy that was remarkable even for the time, the white students wrote “we have no objection to the education and elevation of blacks but do decidedly remonstrate against their presence in College with us.”) Although Martin Delaney has been largely lost to history, he is recognized as the Father of Black Nationalism. (Historical photo courtesy of Explore PA History.)

89 Years of Automotive Progress

Back on the road, I reveled in the Aston’s ability to cover ground quickly and effortlessly. But then I had to stop at a tollhouse… Well, I didn’t really have to stop—the Lincoln Highway was toll-free throughout its distance across the country—it’s just that I’m incapable of passing up a good photo. This 1818 tollhouse was a holdover from the earlier Chambersburg and Bedford Turnpike.

The earlier roads were used during the 1700s as the principal means of traveling to the western parts of Pennsylvania. With the outbreak of the French and Indian War in 1755, the British government ordered the construction of a series of forts along the route for the protection of settlers and as staging areas for the British Army. One of these was Fort Loudon, near what is now McConnellsburg, PA. The stockade fort was recreated in 1993—and imagine my surprise when I pulled up and found an original, unrestored, 1918 Ford Model T parked in the entrance!

It turned out that Jordon Strait, a talented young photographer, was doing a photo shoot of his grandfather Raymond’s Model T. His cousin Hayden also joined in the fun, as official riding mechanic. I had a great time talking with them, and I learned a lot about Model T’s and photography in the process. You can find Jordon’s pictures from this day (including a familiar-looking Aston Martin) at StraitUpPhotography on flickr. If you’d like to talk to him about a photo shoot for your car, he’s available at Straitupphotography17201 [at] gmail [dot] com.

Raymond’s T has not been fitted with an electric starter. Fortunately, Hayden has gotten very good at cranking the engine over by hand. Here, he started it on the first try with a single upward tug on the handle. (I converted this photo to black and white, in an effort to capture the vintage vibe, but I like Jordon’s sepia version better.)

Photo by Jordon Strait, StraitUpPhotography

Yr Fthfl Srvnt is a tight fit in a Model T, but I correctly remembered what the three pedals do. (From left to right, there is the transmission pedal, reverse pedal, and brake pedal. A lever on the steering wheel controls the speed of the car, with another for the spark advance.) Amazingly, that’s the original 1918 canvas top.

I can see why Jordan likes to use the Fort Loudon setting for photography. That’s Parnell Knob in the background; it rises about 1,400 feet above the plain (making it 2,021 feet above sea level).

The Fort Loudon stockade is used for periodic reenactments and festivals. In this photo (courtesy of Fort Loudon), as best I can tell the British soldiers are firing at an innocent townsperson who is bent on filming the goings-on with her colonial cell phone…

A comparison of a 1918 Ford Model T runabout and a 2007 Aston Martin V8 Vantage might seem a bit odd, but it does says a lot about the progress of automotive technology over a period of 89 years. It’s no contest when it comes to performance, as expected, but the Model T gets slightly better gas mileage than the Aston. (I guess I should be at least a little embarrassed by that!)

Photos by Jordon Strait, StraitUpPhotography

Empty Streets and a Rambling Manor House

I could have compared classic car thoughts and photography tips with these guys all afternoon, but I had many more sights to see. Also, Raymond and Hayden needed to get the Model T home before dark—otherwise, they would have to light up the kerosene running lamps! Next up on my itinerary was the Widow Donaldson Place, built in 1775 by Hugh and William Donaldson for their mother. It survived an upstairs fire sometime along the way, sat vacant and deteriorating during 1970-1986, but was then expertly renovated using the original materials whenever possible.

Up to this point, the Lincoln Highway had generally proceeded in long, straight sections. From Fort Loudon on, however, it crossed one mountain after another and provided a great opportunity to exercise the Aston’s acceleration, braking, and cornering abilities. I’ve had some outstanding-handling cars (e.g., Porsche 944, BMW Z4 and 335i MSports), but the Vantage is the best one yet by a clear margin. The Gayden guys and gals really got this one right.

Unlike most of today’s Interstates, the Lincoln Highway runs directly through all the towns along its route. Towns prospered from their support of travellers, initially pioneers on foot, horse, and wagon, and later automobile drivers and their families. In an 1835 assessment of McConnellsburg, PA, nearly half of all workers were blacksmiths, stagecoach drivers, wagon makers, tavern or innkeepers, saddlers, drovers, wheelwrights, or other turnpike-related occupations. In the early 1900s, the businesses evolved to support automobile travel.

These days, however, many of the streets are virtually empty of pedestrians and shoppers. This is McConnellsburg, with a wildly eclectic mix of houses, all of them charming. I didn’t see anyone on this Saturday afternoon, and most of the stores were closed or vacant.  The log building in the foreground was built in about 1765 by Daniel McConnell, the founder of the town, and used as a tavern. The fourth building shown, made of brick, was his residence from 1790 on.

The Fulton House began serving travellers in 1793, initially with just the 3-bay section on the right in this photo. The western 5 bays were added in 1820, and over the years the hotel hosted Presidents John Quincy Adams, William Henry Harrison, Zachary Taylor, and James Buchanan, along with First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt.

There are murals all along the Lincoln Highway, celebrating its history. This one reminded me of my SCCA racing days, when my Chevrolet Malibu station wagon would routinely overheat as it towed my race car up the steep hills on the way to Watkins Glen or Nelson Ledges. Of course, on my Lincoln Highway trip I also found myself frequently parking the Aston Martin—but for the purpose of taking yet more photos, rather than cooling the engine.

Roughly 3,000 markers like this one were placed along the Lincoln Highway, helping to keep travellers on the right path and reminding them of the road’s historical significance. Today, only about 20 are still in place.

I’d seen signs for Everett many times while driving along the Pennsylvania Turnpike, but I don’t think I’d ever gone through here before. Like McConnellsburg, it was very pretty—and very empty.

Everett was originally known as Bloody Run, named for the stream that flows southward through town to the Raystown Branch of the Juniata River. The stream was not the least bit photogenic, although the river qualified.

A fellow with the unlikely name of Michael Barndollar founded Bloody Run and built the Union Hotel here in 1808. At the time it was considered one of the finest hotels in Pennsylvania, with posh rooms and excellent food. It survived the devastating flood of 1936, when the Juniata covered more than half of the first story.

This building also survived the flood and now features another of the Lincoln Highway murals.

Outside of town, I found what was left of the 1874 Everett Iron Company. This was the company office, which looked down on the furnaces and other buildings.

Did you notice the ramshackle gate in the first photo above? I was all set to sneak through it to get a photo from the front of the building, like the Library of Congress one below. I knew that the Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission now uses the iron company site as a highway maintenance facility, but it was Saturday and no one was around. But then I heard a dispatch call over a loudspeaker, sending a patrol car to Breezewood—and I realized that the other modern building here was a Pennsylvania Highway Patrol station. Not the best place to go sneaking around. Dang!

The iron company had a locomotive building, for maintaining the engines used to haul iron ore from outlying quarries. This building, and the blacksmith shop next to it, are still used by the Turnpike Commission.

Joseph Thropp owned the iron company, and it was sufficiently profitable to enable him to build this 16-room mansion farther up the hill from the furnaces. It’s still a private residence today.

When you see a sign for “Mill Ridge Road,” you have to go investigate, right? In this case, I found the handsome Juniata Woolen Mill, which operated from 1805 to about 1920. It was heavily damaged by the same flood of 1936 that devastated Everett, but it has been beautifully renovated.

There is also a rambling manor house across the road from the mill. It started as the 2-story log home seen in the background of this photo, built in 1780 by John Miller. His daughter, Rosanna, married John Lutz, and they added the large stone portion of the manor in 1803.

Then in 1858, for good measure, John and Rosanna’s son Michael built the brick addition shown here. Various other Lutz descendants added porches, balconies, a carport or two, as well as a separate museum building with numerous artifacts. I strongly suspect that it was a common occurrence for the Lutzs to get lost within their own manor!

Remember the Chalybeate Springs Hotel in Strasburg, Virginia, from my last report? Well, I stumbled across another one, with the exact same name, this time just off the Lincoln Highway in Pennsylvania. There are actually three different springs in the immediate area, specifically the chalybeate (iron) one, a “pure” (nonmineral) spring, and a limestone spring. They were originally known as the Funk Springs, not because of funky-tasting water but because they were owned by George Funk. Anyway, the resort hotel thrived during 1867-1912, and hosted a number of Vanderbilts, Greelys, and Goulds, not to mention Presidents James K. Polk, James Garfield, Benjamin Harrison, and Rutherford B. Hayes. (President James Buchanan chose to stay at the nearby Bedford Springs Hotel, as chronicled in Sometimes They Come back to Life…). The 56 rooms of the Chalybeate Springs Hotel were later divided up into 13 apartments, and today it is home to the Chalybeate Springs Ministries. (I’m told that the periodic hoedowns in the old formal ballroom are a lot of fun!)

Fort Bedford was another of the British forts built along what is now the Lincoln Highway. This modern recreation overlooks a low-head dam on the Raystown Branch of the Juniata River.

The Fort Bedford Museum has a fun and eclectic collection, including this model of the original fort…

…a large assortment of Native American artifacts…

…an original Conestoga wagon…

…a not-so-modern milk delivery wagon…

…and, my favorite, a tiny mail delivery sled for wintertime use. (Historical photo courtesy of the Door County Pulse[/url].)

The Whiskey Rebellion—and a Dancing Goat?

As usual, by now I was far behind schedule. With my wife Nancy away in London, I knew I would have hungry cats to feed by the time I returned home. Consequently, I made only a few more stops along the Lincoln Highway, with the first being at the 1770 Espy House in Bedford. It was the finest residence in the city during the late 1700s—with the result that President George Washington used it as his headquarters when he led a 13,000-strong militia to western Pennsylvania to quell the Whiskey Rebellion in 1794.

Prior to the adoption of the U.S. Constitution, the Federal government had no powers of taxation other than import tariffs. After ratification in 1789, the nation’s first “sin tax” was levied on distilled spirits, primarily whiskey produced by farmers from leftover rye, barley, and other grains. The farmers were none too happy about the new tax, with many of them having recently fought in the American Revolution in significant part over the issue of taxation. When a group of 500 such distillers attacked the (wisely) fortified house of a tax collector in 1794, Washington feared that any such armed insurrection could threaten the fragile new United States. As it happened, the rebellion was put down without confrontation—although the tax collectors still had limited success. Opposition to the tax continued, helping to elect Thomas Jefferson as the third President, and the tax was repealed in 1802.

Since it was near the Espy House, I had to check and see whether an old car dealership building still had an assortment of classic cars in the showroom. It did, although it’s not clear whether this is someone’s personal collection or a business.

West of Bedford, the Jean Bonnet Tavern has been serving the public off and on since about 1762. It was a staging point for the angry farmers of the Whiskey Rebellion, and soon after Washington’s troops camped here. On the day of my visit, its large parking lot was almost full. (Historical photo courtesy of the Jean Bonnet Tavern.)

Next to the tavern’s parking lot, two Boer nanny goats and I watched in wonder as this extroverted billy goat put on a display of tap dancing. Now I’ve seen everything

Pennsylvania has more covered bridges than anywhere else in the world. I skipped most of them on this trip, but I had to make an exception and detour over to Cuppett’s Bridge, which I hadn’t seen in about 10 years. It’s my favorite covered bridge, I suppose mostly because of its unusual design and original condition. I was very pleased to see that it’s still doing fine. (It would have looked even better with Raymond’s Model T parked on it.)

With so many Lincoln Highway businesses vying for attention, many owners went to extreme measures to stand out. One of the more flamboyant results was the Grand View Ship Hotel, finished in 1932 by a Dutchman named Herbert Paulson. The hotel (somehow) clung to the side of a cliff looking out over Pennsylvania and Maryland, with even Virginia visible in the distance. Business flourished, but only for a short time: by 1940, the new Pennsylvania Turnpike slashed travel times, and the heyday of the Lincoln Highway was over. The Grand View Ship Hotel continued in business until about 1987, closed its doors, and began to deteriorate rapidly. In 2001, it, uh, burned to the water line. The exceptional view remains, although now limited by trees. (Historical photos courtesy of The Lincoln Highway in Pennsylvania[/url] and Grand View Ship Hotel Tribute.)

With that, it was time to make a U-turn and unleash the Aston Martin back east. I followed the Lincoln Highway, in its US30 version to Breezewood, enjoying the scenery, the car, and life in general, pleased that it is still possible to drive anywhere you might like to go in the United States, in any sort of conveyance, and without having to meet anyone else’s timetable. All in all, a wonderful tour—and I still have another 3,300 miles to explore!

Rick F.

PS: Unless otherwise noted, all historical photos are from the Library of Congress or Wikipedia.


Written by Rick

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