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Discussion Starter · #1 ·
It's Old, it's Ugly, and it Stinks!:

Before I begin, let me give you a bit of back story. I own a 5-acre lot in the Denver metro area and I've been doing a ton of work to the house that sits on that lot. Just about every weekend, I hitch up the trailer to my Isuzu Rodeo Sport and drag it down to the local lumber yard. When I want to make a quick run, though, lugging the trailer along becomes inconvenient. I've been looking for a pickup that I can use for those weekend runs but around here, everything is expensive. Even with 200k miles on the clock, finding a 4WD truck for under $4k is tough.

Toyota's and Nissan's hold their values too well, Rangers and S10's seem to be few and far between, and I didn't want a full size truck. The Dodge Dakota, on the other hand, seemed readily available and much less expensive than it's Japanese counterparts. I've always been a fan of the styling and I like that i can get it with a V8.

While running through my usual list of searches on Craigslist and eBay, I found this truck. It was close enough to pique my interest but the auction wasn't very thorough and the pictures blurry. I let the auction run its course. A few days later, it popped up again for a bit less. I asked the seller a few questions but didn't get enough info to feel it was worth the risk. That auction lapsed and it was reposted again. Finally, I asked the seller to include a Make Offer button and I sent along an offer for $400.

I knew the truck was rough by what I could see in the auction photos. When I went to pick it up I discovered it was even worse. I talked with the guy while we waited for a tow truck to come get the Dakota. I then had it towed back to my workshop. The 30-some-odd tow set me back about $140.

So here we are. This is Jack. He's a 1999 Dodge Dokota SLT 4x4 with the 5.2 liter V8. He's had a rough life.



What Did I Get Myself into?:

Now that the truck is in my workshop and I've had a good look at it, here are some notes on what I got. First, cosmetics. Every panel on the truck has some sort of damage with the most notable areas being the damage to the front (hood, grille and bumper) and the passenger side (door and cab). There is also damage to the driver side cab corner including a tear and puncture. The box is really beat up, especially its bulkhead.

Miscellaneous items are missing including the wheel well liners, the fasteners for the cowls and the passenger side fender flare.









Up front, the headlights are yellowed and each has some broken mounts. The driver side headlamp fits poorly. The fog lights are gone though their torn brackets are still bolted to the bumper. The foglight wiring hangs down from beneath the radiator.



Taking a look at the suspension, it is tired and needs some maintenance. All of the rubber on the suspension is dry rotted. The passenger side axle boot is torn and the axle rusted. The passenger side front shock somehow disconnected itself from the lower control arm. I don't think either the axle or the control arm are salvageable.



Looking at the driver side of the truck, the rear wheel isn't centered in the wheel arch. A closer look shows that the axle block is shifted forward with its alignment pin sheared off and the u-bolts are bent rearward.



Before I talk about how it runs or how the interior looks, there is a little back story that I ought to mention. For an unknown reason, about a decade ago, the truck was parked in a field and left to sit. In that time, generation upon generation of mice moved in, pissing and crapping all over every last bit of interior. Those mice ate the seat foam, the carpet insulation and the wiring. Sometime in that span, rabbits crawled onto the engine and ate as much wiring as they could find.

The smell inside the cabin is nauseating. As I'd say when I was younger, it gives you the spits. It's the overpowering stench of years of mouse urine. On top of that, the previous owners smoked it in pretty heavily. So you're left with this smokey mouse urine smell which punches you in the face. Consider yourselves lucky that the internet isn't scratch-and-sniff.



Those little critters chewed and chewed and chewed. They ate all the wiring to the #2 and #4 fuel injectors. Still hungry, they then ate all the wiring to the intake air temp sensor. Insatiable, they continued to eat wiring. They devoured the wiring to the alternator, they chomped the wiring to the headlights, they even found the underhood light and lobbed it's electrical connections in half. No wiring, no circuit was safe. Now oddly enough, when I went to pick it up, the guy started it for me and it ran surprisingly well. Especially well given what was disconnected.

Here's what's left of the wiring to the injectors, intake air temperature sensor and alternator field coils:





The headlight harness was also chewed with the passenger side being much more damaged than the driver's side. I suspect this was due to the proximity to the airbox. Criters had used that airbox as a nesting site. In the headlight harness, there is a ground with 2 wires. I'm not sure what it grounds but it's completely gone. Of all the lights on the front corner, only one wire was left connected:





Same thing goes for the under hood light. Just about every wire has some sort of chew damage.



I was able to get the truck to start and idle. It sounds surprisingly good given the damaged to the wiring noted above. Unsurprisingly, the Check Engine light is on.

Additionally, the truck also has some notable mechanical problems. When running, the power steering pump whines loudly. When driving around the yard, the transmission pops out of gear when the throttle is pressed. And the radiator is nearly empty.

With all of these problems, you have to ask yourself: "Is it worth saving?" and that's a fair question. But honestly, what the hell else am I going to do?

So is there anything good going on with this truck? Well, first, it is the SLT model so it is well optioned. Now those options don't work because they've been chewed, but they are there. Second, it has a receiver hitch already installed. Third, the rear window is the sliding type window. And last, it has the wider wheels with 31x10.5 tires on them.
 

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Discussion Starter · #2 ·
Bringing it back to life:

First order of business was to clean up the engine bay and undercarriage as best I could. I spent hours with the power washer, blowing grime off of every part I could hit.

I then took to sorting out the wiring and get it running well enough I could pull it in and out of my shop. I began by disconnecting and rewiring the passenger side injector harness. I was able to reuse the stock connectors by carefully disconnecting them and soldering the wires directly to the pins. I soldered a short length of wiring to those connectors and then soldered them to the harness, on the truck. Here's that injector connector with new wires.



I repeated that process for the remaining injectors, cutting and soldering in new wires, even to the ones that only had insulation damage. I did the same for the intake temperature sensor and the alternator. The intake temp sensor gave me some grief but I got there in the end.



Here's the passenger side harness all buttoned up.



For the headlight harness, I had to remove the headlights, bumper and valance to get access. Turns out both headlight harnesses were chewed.



I cut out all of the wires and soldered in new lengths. I revised the connection to the ground and used a single 12 gauge wire instead of the original pair of 16 gauge wires.



While I had the front end apart, I scrubbed up the areas I could reach with a scotchbrite pad and gave them a coat of suspension paint.



After that, the truck fired right up and the check-engine light was off. I took a look at the fuel trim, temperature and pressure sensors and O2 readings using my OBD2 software and all looked fine. More importantly, the truck idled well. I then pulled the truck into the workshop and performed some maintenance. This included an oil and filter change, new spark plugs and wires, a new air filter and a new PCV valve. I also topped off a very-low power steering reservoir and added a quart of transmission fluid to the transmission. Eventually, I'll diagnose the power steering leak and perform maintenance on the transmission.

This is where I left the truck. I decided not to bolt on the old busted headlight, bumper or valance. I ordered some aftermarket replacements for right at $200 and will install those when they get here. More to come.

 

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Great job bringing it back to life. I might have passed just because of the chewed up wiring... but I can't solder for ****. My soldering jobs would need heavy polishing. 15 gloss units, tops.

It's been pre-dented, pre-smoked, pre-chewed and then urinated on. Nowhere to go but up!

What's the deal on the tweaked rear axle? Somebody tie off to the axle with a chain and do some yanking? I recently saw an axle tweaked like that on a late model F250. Somebody had put a lift kit on it and didn't tighten up the U bolts on the axle...
 

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Discussion Starter · #4 ·
Von said:
What's the deal on the tweaked rear axle? Somebody tie off to the axle with a chain and do some yanking? I recently saw an axle tweaked like that on a late model F250. Somebody had put a lift kit on it and didn't tighten up the U bolts on the axle...
I have no idea. I climbed under and took a look. It has a 2" aluminum block between the axle and the spring. That block seems to have sheared its alignment pin and is slid rearward with a notable bend in the U-bolts. I can't find any information on whether that block is OE or an aftermarket lift kit and I'm not familiar enough with the Dakota to know. Either way, I need to find some new blocks and u-bolts to put that back together.

There's also a notable bang when shifting into reverse. The driveshaft u-joints are tight so I'm thinking its either in the transmission or in the rear end. More on that, I hope, later.
 

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Discussion Starter · #5 ·
Sorting the Engine Bay: Valve Covers:

Last night, I stayed up way too late and worked on the Dodge's valve covers. I used gasket replacement as an excuse to paint the valve covers. The original gaskets weren't leaking but the valve covers looked so ratty that I wanted to repaint them.

I started with the passenger side valve cover since it has less stuff to remove. For ease of access, I removed the airbox and intake hose, disconnected and removed the cruise control actuator, and disconnected the wire loom and plug wires. I then pushed each out of the way.

Removing the valve cover was easy. 10 bolts using an 11-mm deep well socket. All but three of the bolts are the stud type with the stud used for mounting the looms and such.

The valve cover popped right off once unbolted. Given how long this truck sat in the weeds and how bad the oil looked that I drained out, I was pleased to see that the inside is clean.



I had a can of Duplicolor's New Ford Grey on hand and decided to use it on the valve covers. I'd originally bought it for a Jeep 4.0 project that I never finished.

Prep was easy. I degreased the valve cover inside and out using brake cleaner. I then sanded the rust spots using 220 grit wet or dry and finished by scuffing the entire cover with a ScotchBrite pad.

I then sprayed on two good coats of the Ford Grey engine enamel.



The original hardware was in pretty bad shape, both extremely rusty and covered in silicone sealant from some previous valve cover.



To clean up the hardware, I soaked the bolts and studs in phosphoric acid in a baby-jar I had laying around. I left them in about half hour. This removed all rust and left bare metal. I then cleaned them with a wire brush to remove the silicone sealant.



Because the phosphoric acid removes all coating, the hardware would rust in short order if left as is. I painted them, as I've done many times before, using low gloss black engine enamel. I then heated each up using a blow torch to cure the enamel. The resulting finish is surprisingly durable.



Once the valve cover had dried to the touch, I cured the paint using a heat gun (like you'd buy at Home Depot). I heated it evenly until the whole thing was hot. When doing this, keep the gun moving as not to overheat the paint in one spot.



Finally, I installed a new FelPro blue gasket, greased the bolts and bolted the valve cover back in place.



I destroyed the PCV grommet and PCV hose during removal so I've ordered new parts from Mopar and will install when done.

I expect I'll tackle the driver-side valve cover tonight. Its a bit more involved as it has more wiring and part of the evaporative system in the way. But more on that later.
 

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If you picked up that truck for 400.00, it was a steal - even with the rodent damage (and smell). Honestly, from the pictures, even with all the little dings here and there, it still makes a good work truck. I've seen MUCH WORSE selling for much more down here. Don't know what there are for boneyards out your way, but down here, replacing the complete interior wouldn't be all that expensive - especially with one of the 40% off sales like the locals just had. Dennis
 

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Discussion Starter · #7 ·
It's been a while since I've updated and I've made lots of progress on the truck.

First, I decided to hit the front fenders with compound to see if I could bring their gloss back. They turned out well.

Driver side, before:



Driver side, after:


Passenger side, before:



Passenger side, after:


After that, I took on the battery terminals. Original ones were rusted and split which prevented them from tightening down.





I ordered some crimp-on replacements from AC Delco. I cut off the rusted ends, crimped the new ends on using my vise and then soldered them with some tinning flux and a torch. The end results worked out well.



I finished with some 1" heat shrink which should provide good protection. While I was at it, I also swapped the battery. The PO installed one that was too big and it just didn't sit right. It would move all around and I wanted it to be secure.



While I was at it, I did some general underhood cleanup. I still haven't painted the driver side valve cover, though, as I'm waiting on a new breather o-ring before I do it. Generally, just wiping down underhood components and looking for chew damage.



While working on the front end wiring a while back, I noticed coolant dripping from the water pump. I decided to investigate and found a leaking o-ring where the heater tub goes into the water pump body. I pulled it out and found the o-ring deteriorated. So I painted the tube and went in search of an o-ring. The one Advance Auto sold me was too big (see below). I ultimately found that a #35 o-ring worked well enough and this was in the faucet section of my local Lowes hardware store.



While cleaning up the workshop, I decided to flush the brake lines. I used the gravity approach which works well. Essentially, you hook a hose to the bleeder and place the other end of that hose in a bottle with clean brake fluid. You then open the bleeder and gravity pushes the fluid out, slowly. While I had the cap off, I cleaned it up with a magic eraser and touched up the lettering with a paint pen.



I let each brake caliper/cylinder bleed until the fluid came out clear.



Here's what I got out of the back two cylinders:



I'm really fortunate to have a dedicated workshop. Here's the view I had while bleeding the brakes:



This past Saturday, the kid and I went out to a local yard and brought home a hood, grille and passenger door.



The hood had more hail damage than I expected but I installed it anyway. The grille is cracked on the upper edge and is blue. I'll have to fix that. And the passenger door was in much better shape than my door but took a long time to get adjusted. But more on that later.
 

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Just looked through, looks nice so far. I admire your ability to work through the chewed up wires, most folks would of walked away.
Should be a good truck when you are done, if you ever get it done! There is always something!
 

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Discussion Starter · #9 ·
I'm going to start really cleaning up the interior tomorrow. Here are some before photos for comparison when the time comes. The worst of the activity seems to have been the back seat and under the dash. That stuff you see in the back seat tray is years and years of dried up mouse piss. Yuck.



































 

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Discussion Starter · #10 ·
Operation Mouse Trap is in progress. Day 1.

Yesterday afternoon, I started the mouse cleanup. The first thing I did was hit my local Lowes for some fresh respirator cartridges and a Tyvek suit. The cartridges are P100 and should protect me from breathing in anything, either mouse debris or cleaning chemicals.



I'll admit, I hate wearing gear. Tyvek suits are hot. Chemical goggles fog up constantly and the mask hurts my nose. But in this case, it's not worth the risk. The mask is necessary to keep me from breathing in dropping dust which could have hantavirus in it. The chemical goggles are necessary because the cleaning agent I'm using, OdoBan, causes irreversible eye damage. And the Tyvek suit is there to protect my clothing and keep me from carrying anything into the house when I use the laundry. So I gotta wear it.



I began with what is likely a bad idea. I filled my wet extractor with a solution of 5:1 solution of OdoBan and sprayed every surface I could find. OdoBan needs wet contact with surfaces for 10 minutes to work as a disinfectant so I applied the solution a few times to keep the interior wet. I sprayed every inch I could get to. The thought being that starting with disinfectant would reduce the risk of a viral infection when I vacuumed up the debris. Here are some shots of the truck after the 10 minute contact time. Note that the rear tray is particularly disgusting as I've created a mouse urine tea.











Since I had my extractor and because the interior and seats were wet, I decided to vacuum out some of the water on the passenger front seat, just to see what it looked like. Here's what I got out of that seat in a few minute pass:



I rolled down all windows and left the truck to dry out on its own.

I then went into the workshop and started on the interior pieces that I'd already removed. The driver side door panel looks particularly worn so I went after it first. Here's what it looked like:



The mice nested in the pocket in the door panel and since it's not sealed on the bottom, their droppings and urine ran down and collected on the bottom edge of the door panel. What looks like dust here is actually dried up mouse urine.



As with the truck, I began by saturating the backside of the door panel with the OdoBan solution. I sat a 10 minute timer and kept it wet for that duration.



I'm not going to reuse any of the jute insulation so after the 10 minutes, I removed the jute from the door panel. I sat it aside as I need to use it for a pattern. I found replacement 1/2" jute on Amazon for $15 a yard and bought enough to replace all of it in the truck:



Mouse droppings stick to the jute insulation incredibly well and its really difficult to clean. I saturated the jute again with more OdoBan and let it dry out. I plan to pull remaining droppings off using masking tape to grab it. Once done and once dry, I can then use this as a pattern for the new insulation on both door panels.



I sprayed the backside of the panel with more OdoBan and gave it another 10 minute contact time to ensure that I'd disinfected all of the surface.



After that time, I wiped the panel down with a microfiber cloth and some clean OdoBan solution in a bucket. On the backside of the panel, a paintbrush worked well to clean in all the crevices. I



I then flipped the panel over and did the same thing. Two 10 minute contacts of OdoBan followed by a good wipe-down.

I let the door panel dry completely. I then switched over to Meguiars All Purpose Cleaner (APC) and scrubbed the hard plastic surfaces of the door. This was used to remove any dirt/oil/nastiness that the OdoBan didn't remove.



For the fabric portion of the door panel, I filled my wet extractor with hot rinse water and rinsed it thoroughly to remove the OdoBan. I then used Chemical Brothers Fabric Clean, 10:1, and sprayed it liberally.



I finished cleaning the fabric by scrubbing with an upholstery brush and then extracting the water. I gave the fabric two scrubs with Fabric Clean and then rinsed it several times to remove any remaining cleaner.

I finished the door panel with another wipe-down of APC. I left the whole panel to dry overnight.

Here's the before and after of the results for the door panel.

Before:


After:
 

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Discussion Starter · #11 ·
Operation Mouse Trap Day 2, Morale is Low!

Today started off well enough. I cleaned up the workshop and organized it better for cleaning interior parts. That went well. Then I cleaned up the passenger door panel. It turned out quite nice. Here's the before and after for that one:

Before:



After:



I then took on the disgusting task of cleaning out the cab of the truck. First thing I did was tackle the nasty mess in the back seat area. Here's where it started:



I used a bucket and microfiber to wipe it up. It took many rinses and washes to get the grime up but I was able to clean it up well enough I could access the bolt heads:



I've cleaned up a lot of mouse poop over the years and I had some expectations as to what I'd find beneath the seats. When I pulled out the seats, my expectations were exceeded. The droppings were 3/4" thick in some places and in many areas, urine had mixed with droppings to create a sorta gummy mouse poop pile. Thank fully, I can't tell you what it smells like because I had a mask on the whole time.








After I got the seats out, I went after the a-pillar trim and headliner. There were droppings on top of the headliner, droppings and urine in the overhead console and even droppings in the a-pillar trim. Looks like they used it as a little mouse highway to the observation deck.



While pulling out the radio and HVAC controls, I found a dead one. It found its way up behind the HVAC knobs and died there. It actually startled me when I pulled the controls outward. Sadly, it IS a deer mouse, the species which carries hantavirus.



I did get most of the dash pulled out. Behind the dash is even worse than what I found under the seats. They nested all over the backside of the dash including in and on the heater box.





Most of the dash is now out:



As is most of the interior:





I plan to remove the steering column, heater box and dash insulation before I call that done. I need to have the R134 freon evacuated before I pull the box. I plan to replace the heater core and evaporator while I'm in there so I don't have to pull this dash again.

I need to have all of the interior, all soft insulation, and any removal wire harnesses out of the truck before I use the ozone generator.



Here's where it sits right now. After doing this all day in coveralls and that tyvek suit, I was spent and couldn't go any longer by 6:30.



Tomorrow I'm going to try and get the rest of the dash out right to the bulkhead and disassemble the dashboard.
 

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Wow. That's a serious cleanup.

mmm... mouse urine tea.
 

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I'm impressed and I've cleaned out more than a few nasty vehicles! This one might be the worst I've ever seen.

My Dodge D 150 Ram was nasty but not in the same league as this one. Bought it for the same reason you did and it was also cheap. A lot to love when you find any truck with an 8 foot bed for under 2K.

Great work!
 

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Discussion Starter · #14 ·
Operation Mouse Trap, Day 3, Morale Improves, Slightly

Today's task simply included removing the heater box. Here's the hurdle I had to overcome to get motivated today:



The bolts that hold the heater box in are accessible from the engine bay. I removed the column, pedal box and a bunch of little miscellaneous stuff before removing those bolts for the box. I then drained the cooling system so I could unhook the heater core and evacuated the A/C system so I could disconnect the evaporator. There wasn't any pressure in the A/C system so I'll have to dig into leak repair on it later.

The heater box isn't in fantastic shape. Most of the metal is rusted from urine and the seals are chewed up. I may restore it or I may replace it with a junkyard unit. We shall see.

The last thing I did on the firewall was to remove the factory insulation since it was piss-soaked. When that insulation came down, it gave me good access to the rubber panels which protect the footwell areas. I pulled off the driverside with no surprise. The passenger side, however, had a nest in it. I was able to pull the nest out in pieces using the crevice tool on the vacuum. And then eventually, I pulled out this mummified mouse too. He was tough because he barely fit through the hole. Surprisingly, as gross as it looks in photos, it wasn't that bad to suck him out, in person. I suppose it pales in comparison to all the other things I've cleaned up on this truck so far . . .





The remainder of the day included ratcheting, vacuuming up mouse poop, more ratcheting, more vacuuming up of mouse poop, and so on until everything was pretty much out. Here's where I left things tonight:











I am thinking about popping out the body plugs in the truck's sills and putting the garden hose down on the floor and letting the water run through to flush out anything in those sills I've missed. Does that sound like a bad idea to anyone?
 

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Interesting article Harry. One more reason to buy and drive "old stuff". Man, you're really putting a lot into this truck, but it's really coming out nice and you will be rewarded with a nice vehicle for cheap. All the mouse stuff reminds me of the Yamaha cycle I did a couple of years back. Rats had taken up residence in it as well (much smaller scale than you are dealing with, but the same smells). Keep posting the project. Dennis
 

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radare said:
I am thinking about popping out the body plugs in the truck's sills and putting the garden hose down on the floor and letting the water run through to flush out anything in those sills I've missed. Does that sound like a bad idea to anyone?
Might as well, since you're already there. What's the worst that could happen?

But you now wear the crown of King of Cleanup, so...

Several years ago I had to replace a heater core in a 97 F-150. had to take the dash out down to the firewall like you did. It sucked. Bad.
 

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Discussion Starter · #18 ·
Following through on what may possibly be a bad idea, I pulled out the body plugs and put the garden hose inside the cab corners and then the sills. Lots of pee-colored water rinsed out. Kept going until the water came out clean. Did the same thing with the doors. The driver side pushed out some droppings. The passenger side, mostly pee. I'm going to spray some disinfectant into those areas, as best I can, and let it sit for several minutes before rinsing them out again.







 

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Discussion Starter · #19 ·
I ended up continuing with that approach and sprayed down the entirety of the inside of the cab. This included running a stream of water through all of the bodywork channels and passages. I drilled six 1/2" holes in the floorboards to let the water drain out. I'll plug these with body plugs when the truck's interior is clean. I found enough droppings inside the a-pillars and footwells to fill a coffee can.
 

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Discussion Starter · #20 ·
I rented an ozone machine at a rent-all in Arvada and gave the truck an hour's worth of ozone, 15 minutes at a time with 15 minutes of air out between treatments. Rental cost me $35 for 24 hours. I then soaked the living crap out of the cab with OdoBan and mopped every surface I could access. I found more poop in the passenger rear cab corner and cleaned it out. I then gave it another hours worth of ozone. I have an inspection camera that I'm going to snake through all of the channels to check for additional mouse debris before I call it done.





Next step is going to be a thorough scrub with APC and then a Meguiars refresher. Then onto rebuilding the heater box. I ordered a new heater core and evaporator for the box as well as a new blower motor resistor pack. Might as well replace all the parts that wear out while I have the dash apart as tearing it out again would suck bad.
 
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