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Homesteading Talk or ask questions about homesteading in general, your homestead, or any other related topic.

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  #1  
Old 09-15-2011, 09:17 PM
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Default Need someone familiar with making sorghum syrup

So I bought a sorghum mill and batch pan a couple years ago. This year I have a sorghum patch. I need to correspond with someone that is familiar with making old time sorghum syrup. Hope someone out there is learned enough to answer my questions.

My grandpa said my great grandfather had a mill years and years ago and all I know is what I remember my grandpa telliing me.
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Old 09-15-2011, 10:11 PM
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I've been growing it for 5 years or so. Still a lot I don't know, but I can probably help out a little. What questions do you have?
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Old 09-16-2011, 09:36 PM
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At what stage should the seeds be at when one presses the cane?

Should I boil the syrup, or just let it simmer? I know there's got to be a temp or something that's the magic temp when one should quit cooking and bottle. What is it, or do you test it like jelly?

Just stick it in a jar and cap and seal??

I'd really like to see what a skimmer looks like. From pictures on youtube it appears there's little holes in the skimmer. What size and how far apart should I make the holes?

Does it hurt if the sorghum freezes??

Can I cut one day and press and cook the next?

Can I press one day and cook the next?

We had a lite frost but the sorghum looks like it survived. Can it be cut and pressed too green or too ripe????

I got the batch pan that came with the outfit but it ain't been used in like fifty years. What kind of acid or what should be used to clean the pan out??

I got a zillion questions but that ought to suffice for the time being.
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Old 09-16-2011, 11:45 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by oldtimer View Post
At what stage should the seeds be at when one presses the cane?
There seems to be some debate on this. We harvest when the seeds are dry, but some folks recommend harvesting earlier, soft dough to hard dough stage. I think the syrup is sweeter when canes are cut later, but the flavor may be more mild if cut earlier.

Another thing I do, is cut a piece of cane stalk and chew it. When it gets right, it will start to taste really sweet, like candy. I've seen the sweetness of the canes change quite a lot in just a few days.

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Originally Posted by oldtimer View Post
Should I boil the syrup, or just let it simmer? I know there's got to be a temp or something that's the magic temp when one should quit cooking and bottle. What is it, or do you test it like jelly?
Boil. About 80% of the raw sap is water that needs to go. As the water content decreases, the sugar content will increase and the boiling point will rise. I can't tell you the exact optimum temp for sorghum, but maple syrup is about 219-220F. Sorghum is probably pretty close to that, maybe a little higher because it contains more sugar. You certainly could simmer it as well, but it will take a LONG time.

We use a continuous feed evaporator tray and use a wooden paddle to "stir" the syrup as it cooks to work it through the baffles as well as to keep it from sticking to the bottom. We tell "doneness" by how the paddles pull through the syrup. With experience, you learn to feel when the syrup has cooked down to the correct thickness.

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Just stick it in a jar and cap and seal??
That's how we do it. The temp will be high enough to seal the jars when it cools. You want to cool it to about 156-160F as quickly as possible, then bottle it at that temp. The cooling is important because it affects the color and flavor.

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I'd really like to see what a skimmer looks like. From pictures on youtube it appears there's little holes in the skimmer. What size and how far apart should I make the holes?
Skimmer, think aquarium netting. In fact, that's what we use, a shallow aquarium net, about 3" x 5". You could also make something of suitable shape and use cheese cloth or plastic screen mesh. I wouldn't personally use aluminum screen mesh though.

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Does it hurt if the sorghum freezes??
Not completely sure. If the leaves are still green and freeze/frost, they turn toxic, prussic acid, aka hydrogen cyanide. I think that affects the entire cane as well. However, once the leaves are removed, frost doesn't seem to matter. You can strip the leaves and leave the cane standing if you see a frost forecast.

A light frost that just nips the tips of the leaves probably won't hurt, but if it hits hard enough to kill the leaves, I don't think I'd take a chance on. The toxin may dissipate after a few/several days to the point of being safe. Do your own research and proceed accordingly. My grand-dad always told me once it's frosted, don't use it.

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Can I cut one day and press and cook the next?
Yes, but I don't recommend it unless you just have to. We usually let the canes lay and cure 3-5 days after they're cut before we press them. It reduces the amount of water that needs cooked off, and also seems to make a more mellow flavored syrup. My Amish friends generally cure theirs at least a week, and I've known of them to get occupied with other things, or have weather problems and have canes lay 2 weeks before they got pressed. It still makes good syrup.

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Can I press one day and cook the next?
Maybe. Unless you have really cool/cold weather, you need to cook the sap within a few hours of pressing. The sap will sour pretty quickly in warm temperature. Like anything above about 40F.

On that point, if you press in freezing weather, you can let the sap partially freeze, then discard the ice before you cook the rest. This distills the sap and reduces the amount of water that you have to boil off. Chipping off an inch or two of ice is probably faster and cheaper than boiling it away.

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We had a lite frost but the sorghum looks like it survived. Can it be cut and pressed too green or too ripe????
Again, the maturity of the plant determines the sugar content. Too early, and all you get is water that cooks away. I've never really found "too ripe," within reason. Missing the optimum certainly won't poison you, but it does affect the quality and quantity of the finished product.

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I got the batch pan that came with the outfit but it ain't been used in like fifty years. What kind of acid or what should be used to clean the pan out??
What's it made of? I'm assuming copper? NCLee or Patience would be better suited to answer questions re: cleaning metals than I am. I'd probably just clean with a scouring pad or something and use a good food grade disinfectant to wash it down. However, I'm sure there's a better way.

Keep in mind, the temperatures that it will be exposed to should take care of most organic nasties. That's not meant to be advice against a proper cleaning, just sayin.'
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I got a zillion questions but that ought to suffice for the time being.
Bring 'em on. I enjoy messing with sorghum. I'm glad to know there are others keeping the craft alive.
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  #5  
Old 09-17-2011, 12:21 AM
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Thank you for the prompt answer, i really appreciate it.

How about a skimmer to skim off the scum while cookin'?

On youtube it looks like a stainless steel pan shaped almost like dust pan on a long wooden handle and the pan has holes in it. Hiw bug should the holes be?

You fire with wood?? Should the furnace be back filled with dirt in the back part to direct the heat up to the bottom of the pan on the flue end?

How far apart should the rollers be set on the grinder?

Any idea what ratio of sap to syrup will be? Know it varies but ballpark so i'll know how many jars to get set up for.

The skimmins or foam from cookin. What do you do with it? Feed it to livestock? How about the spent canes?

That's all until I figure out the next set of questions. Thanks for letting me bother you.
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  #6  
Old 09-17-2011, 01:58 AM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by oldtimer View Post
Thank you for the prompt answer, i really appreciate it.
Glad to be able to help!

Quote:
Originally Posted by oldtimer View Post
How about a skimmer to skim off the scum while cookin'?

On youtube it looks like a stainless steel pan shaped almost like dust pan on a long wooden handle and the pan has holes in it. Hiw bug should the holes be?
That's the skimmer I was referring to. Almost anything will work; a strainer ladle, aquarium net, clean flyswatter, whatever. The holes can be pretty small, just enough to let liquid pass. The scum will stick to the mesh by surface tension.

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You fire with wood?? Should the furnace be back filled with dirt in the back part to direct the heat up to the bottom of the pan on the flue end?
Yes, it's wood fired. I don't think it's that critical. Ours has the firebox on the same end where the sap feeds in. The heat will naturally follow the top of the cavity to the flue, which means it will rise to the bottom of the pan. Our pan is about 10' long, and the hottest place on the pan is a couple of feet downwind of the actual fire. Filling partially with dirt to force more hot air higher up is probably a good idea.

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Originally Posted by oldtimer View Post
How far apart should the rollers be set on the grinder?
I can't give you a good answer on that one. The initial feed roller wants to be close enough to crack the cane pretty good, but not so close that you can't get canes started into it. Maybe 1/4-3/8" or so. The second roller is pretty close, probably 1/32" or so, since that's where most of the juice extraction takes place. It should squeeze the canes pretty good, enough that they come out almost feeling dry. The actual settings you'll want will probably vary a bit based on the size of your canes. I've helped with pressing several times, but I've never set up a press. My answers are based purely on observation.

Generally, you want to feed the canes big end first, and without leaves or seeds on them. The leaves have a tendency to carry off a lot of juice.

Quote:
Originally Posted by oldtimer View Post
Any idea what ratio of sap to syrup will be? Know it varies but ballpark so i'll know how many jars to get set up for.
Usually it cooks down about 4:1. That can vary a bit, but it's a pretty good rule of thumb. Last year, my patch only made about 65 gallons of sap, but cooked down to about 23 gallons of syrup (2.8:1), but that's pretty unusual.

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Originally Posted by oldtimer View Post
The skimmins or foam from cookin. What do you do with it? Feed it to livestock? How about the spent canes?
On the front end (green), we usually just toss it. The foam off the finish end (brown), the kids enjoy eating by the spoonful. I'm told it's also good on ice cream. The canes, animals love 'em. You could probably compost them with poultry litter as well, but they still have enough sweet in them that the animals will be upset if you don't share with them.

Quote:
Originally Posted by oldtimer View Post
That's all until I figure out the next set of questions. Thanks for letting me bother you.
No bother at all!

In the interest of full disclosure, I grow my own cane and an Amish friend actually has the equipment to press and cook it. However, I always make a point to be there when he runs mine (and usually a good bit of his too) and am actively involved. He has taught me most of the operation to the point that he'll leave me running things if he needs to step away for a break or something. Last year he had to deliver a calf while I was there, so I got to run the pan for a good bit. I've got a lot to learn compared to him, but I've learned enough that I could comfortably do my own whenever I get the rest of the equipment to do it. I've spent so much time there helping I kinda feel like I'm part of the operation.
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Old 09-17-2011, 02:24 AM
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I really want to thank you for the information.

My grandpa told me about his dad's outfit they had when he was a kid. I was a kid when grandpa told me and didn't pay a lot of attention to what all he'd said but was enuf interested that I've always wanted to try it so when I had the chance to buy a cane mill I jumped at it. Hope I won't be disappointed. I'll let you know what happens.

Wish Grandpa was still alive to ask but he died at 88 and would have been 100 next year if he was still a livin.
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Old 09-19-2011, 03:08 AM
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oldtimer,

Just curious, what variety of cane did you grow this year?

I grow Honey Drip. It's a really good flavored variety and yields well, but is terribly subject to lodging. If you haven't experienced that yet, well, you haven't really raised sorghum until you've had to pick up a quarter acre off the ground to cut it. That'll turn a big day of work into a week or more. Not many people I'd wish that curse on.

Another thought I should probably pass along, you can hardly filter your sap too much. You'll want a moderately coarse (window screen) at the press, then filter through something pretty fine (2 layers of cheesecloth or equiv.) before you cook it. We also filter it through a fine mesh while hot before bottling. Also, if you can let the sap settle before cooking, you'll get a better product. Not long, a half hour or so. Then when you draw off the sap, try not to disturb the collected sediment. It might cost you a pint or so of syrup, but it's worth the sacrifice.

I've been trying to think of other tips to pass along. Your questions have already addressed most of the big items, I'm sure there's other things that could help you out, but I'm struggling to think of much else that's noteworthy. If anythng else comes to mind, I'll post it for you.
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  #9  
Old 09-20-2011, 02:24 AM
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This is one of the things I really like about this forum One persons question could have impacts on a dozon or more people.
I too have a press and once I am home full time, plane to raise and make sourgum.
Krapgame
Your information have been very helpfull. Thank you
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Old 09-20-2011, 04:03 AM
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Glad to be of help Opsrto. Let us know when you get your cane underway and how it goes! If you have any questions along the way, please don't hesitate to ask. As I said, there's a lot that I don't know, but I know some people who likely will know if we get stumped and I'm sure others on here know more than I do but just haven't spoken up yet. I enjoy messing with it, hope you will too.
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Old 09-20-2011, 10:38 PM
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KG, I raised Dale as that is what I could get from Albert Lea Seedhouse. Thanks for mentioning the screen. I was thinking of using a clean gunny sack, never'd thought of the screen.

When you filter it before you put it in jars what do you use, sacking like flour sacks or cheesecloth?
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Old 09-21-2011, 12:04 AM
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oldtimer,

A couple of layers of cheesecloth will do fine. I wish I knew mesh sizes to give you for a reference. Think something about the coarseness of pantyhose, but that won't melt. Even hot, the syrup will be thick enough I don't think it would flow through a flour sack very well. For the initial screen, a gunny sack should do fine as well.

Next year I'm hoping to try a variety called Topper. It makes a really impressive cane, about 2" or more diameter at the base and grows about 12' tall. Most importantly, it seems to stand better than many varieties.

FYI, there is a variety called M81. I tried that a couple of years ago. Don't waste your time. It makes a nice cane, but the flavor isn't very sweet and it makes a really dark syrup. However, if you're ever interested in trying honey drip, let me know and I'll send you all the seed you want.
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Old 09-21-2011, 12:20 AM
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ty, kg, I may take you up on that. I prefer OP varieties. I know you can get seed from MS State U. They will send you a bag of cane seed, just tell em, it's like fifteen bucks for ten pounds, pp.

I tried theirs but never made it into syrup a couple years ago 'cause my cows got into it. It was a hybrid variety I believe.

Where do you get your topper seed? Sounds like a winner. I been growing mine before in a patch where I planted it late in June as I couldn't get anything else in there and Dale was suppose to be a quick grower but I can see my seed heads are never going to mature unless we'd get some real heat for a week or so.

Amazingly the sorghum didn't freeze here last week when everything else froze. Suppose it was the high sugar content?

The stalks are really juicy and sweet, but no color to the seed heads and the seed is barely filled. Do you think there's a danger of using it too green?

I'll let it go until the next threat of frost then reckon I better get something done. I'm having mill trouble but hope to get that ironed out in the next day or two if I can find someone who's good at welding cast as I'm not, if I'd weld it I'd be sure it would break.

I have a big horizontal mill that ways something fierce. I really would like to find some sort of a running gear to mount the whole thing on.

What's your Amish fellow have for a mill?

Right now I'm just hoping another surprise frost doesn't put me out of business; if so, I'm going to wish I'd have let the cows into it.
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Old 09-21-2011, 01:41 AM
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My Amish friends raise Topper. Been trying to get a seed start from them, but last year they had a really late crop and the seeds weren't mature enough to keep when they cut them. I'm going to go spend a couple of days with them in their patch this fall and see if I can't get seed for next year. If I score any, I'll share the wealth.

Refresh my memory, aren't you in one of the Dakotas? Just curious what your growing season is there. I'm southern Indiana and if we plant later than June 1 it's a gamble whether it will mature before first frost. Sorghum needs a pretty long season, 120-140 days. I'm guessing you need to get on it pretty early to get a crop before frost.

Congrats on the horizontal mill! There's some nice places for sale close by here if you'd like to move to Indiana and bring your mill with you. The Amish use a standard vertical mill and turned by horse. It's a really big one, but I don't recall ever looking at what model it is. In welding cast iron, PM Patience. If it can be welded, he can tell you how to go about it. Unfortunately, with the pressures involved in pressing cane and depending on where the crack is, you may have a hard time getting a fix on cast iron to hold up. I'll cross my fingers for you.

I'd give your cane as long as you can. Ideally, you'd like to at least see complete seed development before you cut, but if the weather is threatening to put you out of business I'd go ahead and cut and take your chances. If you're already tasting sugar in the canes, that's a good sign. It would probably cook out a good syrup but maybe less of it.
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Old 09-29-2011, 01:31 PM
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I would braze this particular part. The problem with welding cast iron is unequal shrinkage as the weld cools off--the welded area, having been so much hotter than the rest of the part, shrinks a lot more and causes the part to crack. Brazing is done at a lower temperature, so this lessens the problem.

Most of that problem can be solved by pre-heating the part to at LEAST 550 to 600 degrees F, or up to 1,000 F (dull red) before welding. For a really big, heavy part, I tend to heat it closer to a dull red, taking care to heat it evenly, let it "soak" in the heat for as long as it takes to assure that it is heated all the way through, not just on the surface. This can be done by the average person in the coals of a rather large campfire, having done your weld-prep work first, of grinding out a Vee in the crack where you will weld or braze.

While the part is hot, clean oxides from the heating out of the Vee and begin to weld/braze. For a large part/long crack, this needs to be done from the middle of the crack toward each end. If you are brazing, keep cleaning the Vee of oxides and immediately adding powdered flux (borax) to clean oxides from where the braze will be applied. After a few minutes, replace the part in the preheating fire and bring it back up to temp again before continuing. This can be done more handily with a propane weed burner torch. Horrible Freight sells those cheap that fit on a 20 lb. LP bottle, as used on gas grills. In fact, depending on the nature of the part and its' weight, a gas grill can be a good way to preheat.

Once the repair is complete, reheat it to dull red and then put it in a pile of DRY sand, lime, or kitty litter and cover it at least 6" thick. Let it cool slowly until the next day and it will be fine.

A brazed joint if properly done, is as strong as a weld. You can add strength to the brazed joint by making it thicker and wider, which will make it stronger than the rest of the part.

Last edited by patience; 09-29-2011 at 01:43 PM.
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Old 09-29-2011, 02:32 PM
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Years ago I have seen cast iron stoves and fire boxes brazed and put back into service. One of the tricks they used was to drill a small hole at the end of the crack to act as a stress relief. This reduces the stress concentration factor at the end of the crack to reduce the chance of crack propagating further. If the piece is broke off that is a different thing.

Last edited by J R Adams; 09-29-2011 at 02:40 PM.
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Old 10-11-2011, 10:16 PM
SevenCreeksSap SevenCreeksSap is offline
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This post is actually one of the reasons I signed up to post on BHM. I have some basic questions. This sounds very similar to making maple syrup and I've really started to get into that. There's already a lot here about sorghum but i don't know a lot about it. I need to read more.

It sounds like this is a fall crop. is it? Is crushing it in a mill the only way to get the sap? Finally for now, can you use the same set of pans as for syrup, or should I look at another pan.

I just put a chunk into a nice set of divided pans for Maple and don't want to mess them up.

Also FYI, because this sounds so similar, check out Maple trader forum. there's almost nothing on sorghum but a ton about setups and syrup production. you might get something out of it.
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Old 10-11-2011, 11:59 PM
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Sorghum is actually a grass like corn. It looks very much like corn when it's growing. You plant it in the spring and hope it's mature by fall.

The only way to extract the juice is to run it through a sorghum press. You watch "making sorghum syrup" on Youtube and you'll see how the machine works.

It is boiled in an evaporator just like maple syrup so you could use the same evaporator.

The thing is finding a cane press. I live in the midwest and they're not plentiful here like in the south. It only took me twenty years to locate one. Mine came with the evaporator pan, so I'll use it as long as it will work.

My press was in terrible shape. I had to use plenty of WD40 and elbow grease to get it freed up and cleaned up so it will work. Now all I have to do is learn how to boil down the syrup.
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Old 10-12-2011, 01:02 AM
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Welcome aboard, Sevencreeks!

Sorghum and maple syrup, I've been involved with making both. The cooking process is nearly identical. I just wish you could tap sorghum stalks and get your sap.. I can see no reason why you couldn't use the same pans for both. My Amish friends cook both in the same equipment.

"In theory" you might be able to boil some of the sap out of the canes, then reduce the resulting liquid, especially if you ran the canes through a limb chipper first. I think this would reduce the yield a lot, and the syrup probably wouldn't be very good quality. Definitely a press is the way to go.

I was recently able to finally score a corn binder for gathering my canes (YAY!!) and the guy I got it from still had some of his old sorghum processing equipment. For an evaporator, he used a trough with hardwood sides and a galvanized steel bottom, approximately 30" wide, 5' long and 8" deep. Said that's all he'd ever used. The big difference between sorghum and maple syrup is that you don't want to add to the sap with sorghum after you start the batch, so you need a big enough batch pan to hold a good amount of sap. Something to do with the carmelization of the sugar being consistent throughout the batch.
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Old 10-12-2011, 01:20 AM
Kyhome Kyhome is offline
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Default great info

This has been very interesting reading thanks to all that have posted.
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