Baker NV and Transit to Austin NV

With our work in Delta UT complete…and with only 94 miles to go to our next stop…we didn’t pull out of the campground until past 1030 to continue heading west…next stop Baker NV, about 10 miles across the state line and the location of the visitor centers and entrance to Great Basin National Park.

If you’ll recall from the other day…I wrote about roads that are “god-forsaken ass end of the middle of nowhere”…and surely enough, continuing west out of Delta was more of that sort of road.

Immediately as we left the city limits…right past the sign that said Speed Limit 65…we passed the one that said “Next Services 80 miles”.

Yes indeed…it was that kinda road…again.

Here’s a shot Neil took through the windshield of Big Red as we drove. Good thing we didn’t need to pee because there wasn’t even a spot where we coulda done so if we needed to…although I guess we could pulled into one of the gravel/dirt roads that very occasionally departed the highway on the way to some ranch or other. Of course…that would have required backing the rig back out onto the highway…and although normally we’re quite fine about that backing out into a 65 mph speed limit highway isn’t something we routinely accomplish. Of course…there weren’t any cars so in all likelihood it woulda been perfectly fine. We saw maybe 10 vehicles going the other way in 94 miles…and almost all of them were RVs of one sort or another…and saw exactly one car going west as he passed us. Predictably…despite the numerous long stretches of highway that were ruler straight and you could see at least 3 miles in front of us…that idiot passed us…well Big Red anyway…on a no passing zone marked curve.

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We arrived 94 miles later in Baker and pulled into our campground…Whispering Elms…and I gotta tell ya it’s appearance makes most Alaskan campgrounds look like resorts. Gravel sites, doesn’t look like they ever mow the grass around the utility pedestals, and an owner who should be named Mr. Grumpy to boot.

We backed into our site 21…difficult as Mr. Grumpy led us to the site from the wrong direction which meant essentially no room to back into the site. He left and we turned around in the narrow cul-de-sac and backed in…only to find out that the power wasn’t working. 

Neil checked with our tester and a voltmeter…the 50 amp circuit which we would definitely need for running A/C units…had 120 volts on one side and 0 volts on the other side. He checked the adjacent site…it worked…and wandered up to the office to see what they wanted us to know. At this point…Mr. Grumpy asked us what the heck we were doing troubleshooting his power pedestals…and that he could do that himself. He also said that he had a 50 amp unit in there the night before and it was working fine. Neil told him it wasn’t working fine now…at that point the guy got pissed, left, and sent his wife out to deal with it. The easy to back in site next to us on one side was already reserved for the night and the site on our other side was too short. She asked if we had an extension cord…we do…and told us to just plug into the short site power pedestal and they wouldn’t put anybody there.

I don’t know about that guy…a little later he was friendly and actually only charged us 2 nights instead of the 3 we reserved since there was a power issue…but then we went up the next day to see why the campground wifi quit working and he was grumpy again.

So…long story short…if you want to visit Great Basin National Park you’ll either have to put up with him…or not visit…there were two other “campgrounds” in town but they looked even rougher.

So…getting on to the only reason we stopped here…if it had not been to visit the park we would have just skipped here, overnighted farther west, and then continued on to Carson City where we’ll be Friday evening.

We have mixed feelings about this park…we’re glad we came because it’s another one checked off the list and the views were decent as well as the visitor center and movies…but on the other hand there’s really not much to do here. There are two visitor centers…one for the park as a whole and one for the cave section. We visited both but had zero interest in going into the cave…all of the tours were already full anyway but that made no difference to us.

Other than the visitor centers and the caves…there is a 12 mile scenic drive up to 10,000+ feet on the flank of 13,063 Wheeler Peak. However, the road turned out to be closed at about the 6 mile point at 8,500 feet…here it is June 11 and the road is still blocked by ice and snow. Nuts I tellya.

We did learn something interesting about the park at the visitor center…prior to our visit we all thought that the Great Basin was essentially a large depression…albeit it at fairly high elevation…surrounded on all sides by mountains…the Cascades and Sierra to the west and Rockies to the east. However…turns out that it is a basin surrounded by higher mountains…but it is full of mountains on its own with valleys between them. However…since the surrounding peaks are higher on all sides…none of the streams or rivers in the basin drain to the ocean…they all end up in lakes contained within the basin.

Here’s a 10,000 mile view of the entire basin…as you can see it’s bounded by the Cascades and Sierras to the west and the ranges of UT and western CO on the east…but there are numerous north/south running ranges with lower maximum peaks throughout the basin.

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Before we got to the visitor center…we stopped by the Baker Archeological site right outside the park. There was a dig there of an old Indian village but it was completely reburied after the dig was complete. There’s a path through the village with information signs…but all you can see is flat ground so we skipped it.

We did spot this Horned Lark…we’re pretty sure…sitting on the fence at the site though. Took us awhile to figure out what it was…until finally we looked at the second head on photo and could see the yellow throat…until then we had discounted the Hooded Lark as being the species since we couldn’t see the yellow even though the rest of the head/chest and back markings steered us towards it.

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Kind of a funky direct on pose with the wind ruffling his feathers…but you can easily see the horn like feathers that give it the name as well as the yellow throat, black whiskers, white eye band, and black stripe across the upper chest.

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View from slightly behind him…the horn feather shows up in this one a little better as well.

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And Neil got a panorama of the mountains in this region of the park…the peaks are about 7,000 feet higher than the elevation in the valley where Baker is located.

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As well as a closeup of either Wheeler Peak or it’s slightly shorter 12,771 foot Jeff Davis Peak…from the visitor center Wheeler isn’t visible as it’s behind Jeff Davis but from the location about 3 miles NW of the visitor center we weren’t sure if we could see past Jeff Davis or not…but based on the profile we don’t think so.

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This is the Forgotten Winchester…as you can see in 1914 it was found leaning against a juniper tree in a remote section of the park…having survived over100 years of exposure to the weather. There was no indication what happened to the owner. Neil had heard this story before but didn’t realize it was at Great Basin.

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After entering the park proper…

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We stopped by the cave visitor center…the main one was outside the park in town…the only thing there worth seeing was the Rhodes Cabin…we have no idea what this is as there was no informational sign nearby…obviously something from the early settler days.

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The scenic drive was nice…at least the half of it we got to go on…and the views were also pretty nice but there were no pullouts for photo taking except at the location where road was closed to traffic.

Taken from the top…this is Jeff Davis Peak and/or Wheeler Peak…again, no informational sign available.

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About 1000 feet down from the top…we found a pullout we had missed and got a shot of the valley. Baker is right in the center of the photo.

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And a close up of the entire town of Baker…yep, that’s it. Toldya it was in the middle of nowhere…67 full-time residents according to Mr. Grumpy with maybe 150 if you include summer only residents.

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Connie grabbed this shot from Li’l Red as we drove back into town…a bustling metropolis…two bars, two motels and one place to eat…good thing we were planning on cooking and drinking at home anyway.

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After dinner…beanie-triple wienie with 3 kinds of sausage in it…we wandered up to the bar in the campground for a beer. The good news was that they had Alaskan Amber Ale on tap…the bad news was that Mr. Grumpy…who we learned is actually named Chuck…was the bartender. We were the only customers at the bar…he sold 5 different locals their afternoon take out brews and he was much friendlier to the locals than his paying customers. Seems kinda wrong to me…but then that’s just me.

Wednesday after breakfast…we headed out about 0800 for a 60 mile trip west to Ely NV…pronounced Ellie as in Elly May Clampett and not as a long “eye” sound as in Elijah. That is the place you can pickup your Loneliest Road in America passport…it chronicles your drive across US-50 in Nevada and I gotta agree that from what we done seen so far it’s aptly named. We will need to get a total of 5 different stamps as we drive across…then we turn in the passport for a certificate that we survived the Loneliest Road in America. 

Since I mentioned it…a couple of Beverly Hillbilly tidbits. Only 3 characters appeared in all 274 episodes…Jed, Granny, and and Elly May. Jethro (Max Baer, Jr) who appears in 272 episodes is the only cast member still alive at age 81 as of June 2019. His fifth grade education was an inside joke for the cast as he actually has a degree in Business Administration with a minor in Philosophy from Santa Clara University.

I toldya the road was famous…even the GPS in Li’l Red knows about it.

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We stopped for about 20 minutes for road construction…they’re doing chip and seal repaving across the pass through the mountains directly west of Baker and Great Basin National Park…as I said before there are a series of north/south mountain ranges separating lower valleys throughout the Great Basin…the passes are all about 7,500 to 8,000 feet high with the mountains another 1,000 or so higher than that…the valleys are down in the 4,500 to 6,000 feet range. 

While we were stopped at the construction flagman…Neil got these pano shots looking both ways from the side of the road…it kinda illustrates the mountain rows separated by valleys I was talking about…well actually he took these as we came back when we stopped at the other side of the repaving flagman, but I digress…they fit better here. These are just about 180 degree views…we continue to be impressed by the deep blue sky color you see out here in the west…and the ridges are 8-10 miles distant.

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On arrival in Ely…we stopped by the Bristlecone Pine Convention Center and Chamber of Commerce, picked up our Loneliest Road passports, and chatted for a bit with a nice young fella there who grew up in Jacksonville before moving to Ely…his goal is to ski down the backside of Wheeler Peak in Great Basin National Park on July 4th…with the amount of snow left on the peaks we’ve seen that’s a highly likely outcome. After that…we headed off to our other destination in Ely…the Nevada Norther Railway National Historic Landmark.

It turns out that back in 1905…a copper deposit of about 13 square miles was discovered just west of Ely NV…and at 1% copper in the ore it’s one of the richest copper veins in the US. It was mined from 1906 to 1983 when it shut down due to low copper prices…started back up in the mid 90s for 3 or 4 years…shut down again, and opened again in 2004 and remains open today…as long as the price of copper stays above $2 a pound they can make a profit. The Northern Nevada Railroad was established to move the copper from the mines to customers on the main railroad lines…it originally transported the raw ore but later on in the first incarnation of the mine a smelter  was built at the mine and the railroad transported finished copper. When the mine was reopened in the 1990s…the smelter was not used any longer as a chemical process was used at the mine instead…this increases the copper percentage in the output to about 50% using about 10% of the energy of either the smelting or electroplating copper extraction process and about 10% of the workforce for either of those methods. By that time…better roads and trucks made moving the semi-finished copper by road more economical.

The railroad itself closed in 1983…but when they originally closed they told the workers that they were being laid off…not that the company would be closed. This meant that none of the workers appropriated any tools or equipment since they anticipated they would be back to work in a few weeks…but the layoff never ended. This meant that the entire railroad yard was essentially abandoned in place with tools, paperwork, forms, and everything else needed to run a railroad left on the shelves…which in turn allowed the museum to be almost a perfect replica of the original depot since it was in fact the original depot.

On the grounds there is the museum…which consists of the depot buildings and the still in use engine house which is used for maintaining the rolling stock of the Nevada Northern Railroad…this stock includes both early 1900 steam locomotives as well as modern diesel-electric ones as well as original passenger and hopper cars from 1910. An affiliated for-profit company runs a variety of train tours out of the depot out to the mines and back. These tours range from the $35 a person ride very similar to what we did at Royal Gorge all the way through the $3,766 Supreme Package…which gives you 2 rides, one on a steam engine and one diesel-electric pulling actual trains of the $35 each riders and in which you get to actually be the engine with your hands on the throttle. There’s also a Railroad Reality Week…which for a mere $1,156 gives you a week of living in the caboose, eating railroad food, working on tracks and doing maintenance on the stock…and for a miserly $719 add on price you can get the same Engineer experience…such a deal.

We passed on all of that and selected the $8 each self guided walking tour around the depot…that was plenty of train for us.

Early 1900s passenger car.

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One of the administrative offices of the railroad…the supply room we think as it’s still full of all the original pads, pens, and forms needed to run the railroad.

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1939 mimeograph machine…hand cranked. It brings back old memories of Connie and Neil’s first semester in college…they were both in the marching band and took over the publishing of the band newsletter named “The Windy Chord”…it was produced for distribution on a hand cranked mimeo machine that while not identical to this one…use the same operating principles and power to produce mimeo newsletters…we can still recall the smell of the mimeo fluid that was used.

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Today…they have these superwhamperdyne snow blowers that are bolted to the front of a locomotive…they drive down the track and this huge fan thing on the front sucks the snow in and blasts it 200 or 250 feet to the side. Back in the day…before the superwhamperdyne blower thing was invented they used a basic old snowplow that was pushed by a locomotive.

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Coal and water towers used for stocking up the steam locomotives for the run out to the mine and back.

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1910 era boxcars…at least according to the Built in stencils on the side.

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Old time log carrier.

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The old #93 steam locomotive…built in 1909 at a cost of $17,610…used until 1961 when it was retired and donated to the White Pine Public Museum in Ely where it was a static display until 1990. Towed back to the depot then…and completely refurbished and returned service in 1993…still in use today after another rebuild and boiler inspection in 2017…another will not be needed until 2032. As part of this rebuild…axle #2 was discovered to have cracks…calls to the warranty department at the American Locomotive Company went unanswered…so they had to weld build up and then turn down both it and the remaining axles to eliminate cracks.

The photo even has engineers looking at something on the locomotive.

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Neil spotted this strange car with the auger on the front of it…no idea what it’s for…looks more like a post hole digging sort of auger than a stone drilling sort of auger though.

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Connie was really enamored with the two engineers looking at #93.

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Looking from the engine house back through the depot.

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And here comes the return of the daily excursion train. It comes back from its 7 mile outbound trip heading behind the gray building on the left from the lower left out of frame to top center out of view down the hill in the shot above. From there it reverses direction to back through the depot, past the engine house, then reverses direction again and proceeds into the depot for debarking. I presume that it departs the same way…although that would require backing up the whole 7 mile outbound leg…which seems unlikely so there’s got to be a turn around down on the other side of the depot somewhere to allow it to proceed ahead out of the depot then curve around to the left to head out. That would also require some sort of turn around at the far end as well as when we spotted it coming back it was going ahead and not in reverse.  

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Just about to pass the engine house where we were waiting on it.

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Neil tried to get Connie to “make like a hobo” and hop a freight…but she wasn’t interested. ‘Sides…the railroad guys standing nearby woulda stopped us I guess.

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After the train had backed about 20 yards past where Neil is standing in the shot above…and past the switch…an action shot as the engineer climbed down and switched the switch the other way so that he could pull ahead into the depot.

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Then he proceed ahead and stopped to debark his sightseers in front of the white building past the red cargo warehouse.

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Heading into the engine house…here’s a set of refurbished steam locomotive wheels…you can see the attachments points for the rods coming from the piston and connecting to the wheels. I think this is a set for #93…it’s a 2-8-0 locomotive which means it has 2 wheels at the front to help guide it around curves, 8 powered wheels, and no trailing wheels.

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This says it’s a foundry pattern…and it might be that just in case the railroad had to have new wheels cast…but it’s sitting on an old milling machine which is used to help re-manufacture the single piece axles to eliminate cracking. The cracks are ground out and then weld filled to build up new material…then the milling machine turns them to be circular again and apply the correct finish and angle.

Interesting thing about train wheels. One might think from looking at the axle that there’s the lip which rides on the inside of the rail…and that the outer portion of the wheel that rides on top of the rail is cylindrical in shape…but it is actually conical in shape.

Think about it…when the train goes around a curve…the inside edge of the outer rail is longer than the inside edge of the inner rail as it’s on the outside of the curve. This means that the rolling distance is farther around the outside rail than the inside. However…the axle is one piece and the inner and outer wheels turn the exact same number of revolutions as it goes around the curve. So…how to account for the longer travel distance on the outside rail? Simple really…the portion of the wheel that rides on top of the rail is conical in cross section with the outside edge being smaller in diameter than the inner. So…as the train goes ‘round the curve…the entire axle shifts to the outside so that the diameter of the outside wheel where it sits on the rail is larger than the corresponding diameter on the inside wheel…hence for one wheel revolution the outside wheel actually travels farther as it’s circumference is larger where it sits on the rail.

We never knew that…until it was ‘splained to us at one of the train museums we visited in our past travels…but it makes perfect sense once you realize how it works…but I digress into minutia again, sorry ‘bout that…but I canna help m’self…I do likes me a good rathole to go down.

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Old #93 is getting some maintenance done on it right now…you might have wondered how broke locomotives got moved ‘round the railroad yard to the repair shop and back to the storage area…now you know as hooked up to the back of it is the railroad equivalent of a tow truck. It was built for the Kennecott Mining Company and obviously bought from them sometime after they closed their Nevada operations.

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Another old steam locomotive…but there was no indication whether #40 is getting repaired/rebuilt to just a static display.

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Ever wonder what the inside of a steam locomotive boiler looks like? Well…wonder no more…here’s the inside of another locomotive…again no idea whether this is a static display or an ongoing restoration. Since getting #93 running again back in 2016 cost a half million bucks…maybe this is a long term project that is waiting on funding for rebuild.

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Another shot of #40 with an older diesel-electric #109 in the background. There were a total of about 8 or 9 locomotives in the engine house.

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Close up of the front of #93…obviously undergoing some sort of boiler maintenance…this may be just an access plate to the front of the builder as (a) it’s not due for another boiler inspection until 2032 and (b) there’s no series of bolts that hold the boiler end cap on visible. My guess is that juts allows access to the forward end of the boiler cap and other related machinery.

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This is how you keep locomotives…or other rolling stock…from rolling away. There are brakes on the wheels of non-locomotive cars and on the coal tender car…but we did not see any on the locomotive itself. Brakes are air operated today with air being needed to hold them off the wheels…so they fail to stop the car without air…and there is also a hand crank on each car to manually hold them engaged to the wheels. Back in the days before air brakes…the train was stopped by the brakeman manually engaging the hand wheels…but mostly by reversing the flow of steam to the wheels and letting compression in the cylinders help slow the drive wheels on the locomotive. However…with no actual brake shoes on the locomotive…these little chock things lock to the track to hold a stopped locomotive in place. Modern diesel-electric locomotives just apply reverse polarity voltage to the drive motors attached to each wheel to stop the train in addition the air powered brakes on each car.

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Kennecott caboose #22. Four of these were built in the mid 1950s for their Nevada operations…two remain as of 2019…this one and another one owned by the Heber Valley Railroad and used for sightseeing trains in and around Deer Creek Reservoir in Heber City UT southeast of the Great Salt Lake.

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We stopped at the Golden Arches for some lunch and headed back…after stopping at the Great Basin Heritage Center…conveniently located right next to the driveway to Whispering Elms…we now have 2 of the required 5 stamps in our passports that are needed for the”I survived” certificate…ya know it’s the little things that count in life…doncha?

Close up view of one of the ridges from the panorama shot way back towards the beginning of this section of the post. This was taken at the construction stop which was about 8 miles long on the western side approach to the first ridge west of Baker. 

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Thursday we started underway preps about 0800 for our 209 mile drive to Austin NV…basically it is the closest town to the halfway point between Baker and Carson City. We were out of the park about 0925, stopped briefly in Ely for DEF for Big Red and gas for Li’l Red…diesel was fine…and again briefly in Eureka for lunch before continuing on to Austin…and I can definitely confirm that “The Loneliest Road in America” is an apropos name. The last pass over into Austin was a real bear…6% uphill and curvy on the eastern side to about 7,700 feet then 7% down and really, really curvy heading down…and did I mention it was raining by that time. The speed limit was only 25 heading downhill and Neil had Big Red in 2nd gear all the way down to Austin…population 192. We pulled into the Pony Express RV right after entering town from the east…a gravel parking lot but it has 7 pull through sites and we quickly grabbed #6. We put on power, de-aired the hitch on Big Red and grounded the front jacks after putting out the slides…and we’re camping.

Dinner was a burger and a BLT and beer at a local joint…and we’ll head out the last 175 miles to Carson City tomorrow…where we’ll stay for 8 nights as we need groceries and laundry in addition to our Fun Stuff©…and we worked a couple of rest days into the schedule as we’re pretty tired after the last few weeks of 2-3 night stops. We ate at the International Bar and Cafe which used to be the Last Chance Saloon but it went bust. Before we knew that our second choice and now first choice was the Silver State Bar and Grill. It it went bust too so it was back to the new and improved International. We passed on the Owl Club.

Sorry…no interesting stuff found on the net this time either…internet connectivity and spare time in Baker was very limited so I didn’t have time to find any. I’ll try to do better. This is all I got for ya.



About Gunther

The full time RV travels and experiences of Gunther the Bear and Kara the Dog…along with their human staff neil and Connie.
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2 Responses to Baker NV and Transit to Austin NV

  1. Ruth says:

    Carson City is a fun place to visit. If you have time, the town of Genoa has a lot of history and is a fun little town. And Red’s old 395 Grill is a fun place to enjoy some tasty ribs!

    • Neil Laubenthal says:

      We arrived in Carson City today for a week…looking forward to a lot of interesting sights. Reds is on our list already…they have lobster ravioli.


      The three kinds of stress…nuclear, cooking and a&&hole. Jello is the key to the relationship.


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