Tackling the heel

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Ggilmore

Tackling the heel

#1 Post by Ggilmore » Fri Feb 12, 1999 4:56 am

While nailing a prestacked heel on to a brogan (bootee, ankle high shoe worn during the Civil War),the thought occured to me that maybe this
isn't the "Correct" way of doing it. When I asked myself what the "correct" way was, there was no answer. The silence doesn't sit well with me so I will throw the question to the "shoe gods", and any others, in the hope that they can enlighten me. In other words, how were heels attached in the mid 1800's? Were they pegged? Glued? Nailed on with iron heel nails? Sewn?
Were they put on in a lump or one layer at a time? Were heel plates common?

DWFII

Re: Tackling the heel

#2 Post by DWFII » Fri Feb 12, 1999 9:47 pm

Gary,

I guess I just couldn't let this one sit unanswered...

I don't claim any legitimate insights into your question. Certainly there are several who lurk in the shadows who have a better perspective to address this issue than I--see 'em over there behind the shrubbery? Nee! Nee!

Seriously, I doubt very much that pre-stacked heels were in use in the mid 19th century. And especially for "ordinary" goods, nails could have been used, I suppose. One sees a lot of historical stuff that have nails in the top lift if nowhere else. But a bit of logic may serve here (or not, again I am not an authority)--Americans invented the pegging machine. It was used to peg the whole sole and a clump sole as well. In many instances, no nails or stitching was used at all. So it follows that the same machine could have been used to attach heels, especially if the stack was short enough.

I make western boots (cowboy boots) which have some legitimate claim to being the direct living descendants of both the bespoke bootmaking trade and the early mass manufactured boots that were so prevalent out West.

I stack and level lifts one at a time. I use all-purpose glue but know that at one time dextrine was used. After each lift is leveled and trimmed, I peg that layer with a long and stout peg. A peg that will go through three and even four layers of 10-12 iron soling leather. I can stack up to two and a quarter inches and, in twenty-five years of making, have only had one customer who lost a heel--and he had a wreck with his favorite cow pony and got his foot caught in the stirrup (broke his leg, too).

I don't know how "historically correct" (not PC but HC) this method is--although it seems to me I learned it from my teacher--but it makes a solid heel and there are no nails to rot out the insole. That alone is good enough recommendation for me.

DR OBUV

Re: Tackling the heel

#3 Post by DR OBUV » Sat Feb 13, 1999 8:05 am

Gary--First I would suggest you order copies of Rees and Devlin from the HCC Reprint list to get the lengthy written instructions on the self-same sewn-heel variations used in the US for better grades of boots and shoes. As to mid-19th c. American footwear in particular, you have choices that are not in these books, and DWF has touched on it. Pegging of soles was far more popular in America than Britain, but pegging heels was almost as common on either side of the Atlantic. 99% of all the surviving US men's common boots and bootees/brogans I've examined had the heels layered-up one lift at a time, and pegged [by hand usually]. The top-piece was then added-on with square-section cut nails to protect it from wear. Interestingly, the US Army bootees from the Civil War [and before], were largely sewn and stitched--pegging, nailing, [and machine-stitched with MacKay's 1857 patent chain-stitcher by 1860's] to attach the soles, were accepted alternatives for war-time Army contractors, but not as preferable and good old hand-sewn welted with sewn heels. This is the same construction which is outlined in Rees in 1813, and the way most men's shoes had been made since roughly 1650. The sole was welted, and the heel-seat built with what was called a "blind rand", sewn in place. The outsole and first lift or two of the heel were sewn to the "blind rand". Pegs were added to subsequent lifts, and the top-piece nailed-on, so these heels are really built by a combination of sewing, pegging, and nailing, but still one layer at a time Hope this helps..

dw

Re: Tackling the heel

#4 Post by dw » Sat Feb 13, 1999 8:29 am

Doc and Gary,

I just wanted to add that I've seen Meister Al Saguto actually do this. Al visited my shop last year about this time and I watched (like a mesmerized chipmunk) him sew welt and a blind rand heel seat. He then sewed the first lift to the heel seat. It was amazing.

I, personally, have never seen an example of this construction out here in the left hand section of the country, however. Neither in the post Civil War goods nor in the turn of the century stuff. And by the time we get to early 1900's--when the cowboy boot really assumes it's modern form--sewn seats are almost (if not in fact) unknown among "indigenous" bootmakers.

What Doc talks about when he says that various construction techniques were in common usage after the Civil War is detailed in Sydney Brinkerhoff's, Boots and Shoes of the Frontier Soldier, Arizona Historical Society, 1976.

Ggilmore

Re: Tackling the heel

#5 Post by Ggilmore » Sat Feb 13, 1999 8:15 pm

Looks like I'll be adding some books to my libary. Thanks for helping me narrow down the choices. Has anyone had time to examine the 4,000 shoes and boots found on the steamboat ARABIA? This boat sank in 1859 while steaming west with a load of goods. It got covered with silt which preserved it. For the whole story, look it up on the web under 1859.com or something like that. Any how, it would be interesting to see if anyone knowledgeable about shoes of that period has examined the loot and reported on it.

DR OBUV

Re: Tackling the heel

#6 Post by DR OBUV » Mon Feb 15, 1999 9:43 am

Gary--I don't know of any shoe-specialists off-hand who've actually handled the stuff from the ARABIA, since most of them have been clustered here on the East Coast. There's also a large cargo of mid-19th c. footwear that was recovered from the steam ship BERTRAND out West--Montana I recall. If this period is really your interest, maybe you should think of heading out West to study these objects first hand and tell us what you find.

Bruce Graham

Re: Tackling the heel

#7 Post by Bruce Graham » Fri May 07, 1999 6:36 pm

I have a friend who walks his counter down to the shape of a clog during the first 2 weeks of wearing it. In fact, a clog would be the shoe of choice for him. The problem is, he lacks the judgement to know not to rear them in the snow and rain. The question I have is, what should I use for a counter that will not be walked down? Where can I buy cast iron counters?
Anyone have any ideas?
Thanks,

Bruce

fEisele's Custom Boots

Re: Tackling the heel

#8 Post by fEisele's Custom Boots » Fri May 07, 1999 6:48 pm

Bruce
I was once told to strengthen a counter, you should coat it inside (after pulling the last) with white varnish. At the time I thought he was a little off in the head, but maybe there's something to it.

Kevin

John Bedford Leno

Re: Tackling the heel

#9 Post by John Bedford Leno » Sat May 08, 1999 8:07 am

Bruce,

Perhaps the biggest thing would be to use a heavier counter. I use 10 1/2 to 11 (even 12) iron prime cut soling leather for my counters. I have never had any of my counters walk out. Of course, I make western boots, not refined ladies pumps so that may not be a universal answer. But I do know that certain pit tanned leathers even as thin as 6 iron have this amazing characteristic of being hard as a rock while dry, and very moldable when wet or tempered. A friend of mine in the orthopedic end of the Trade once sent me a sample piece, but I've since lost track of him. So obviously the quality of the leather can make a big difference, too. Just as an aside, I have examined a fair number of 19th century boots and shoes, and I never cease to be amazed at how hard the counters are...whether this is just due to the age of the shoe or whether it is because of the character of the leather produced then (it was ALL pit tanned), I can't say.

If necessary seal off the counter cover, ie. liberally spread a swath of all purpose on the back of the counter cover and let it dry good. Then just before lasting place a goodly amount of fresh all purpose between the counter cover and the counter. This will prevent the rain and mountain dew from penetrating and softening the counter. Also educate your friend to NEVER, NEVER, NEVER kick one shoe off with the toe of the other.

Hans-Peter

Re: Tackling the heel

#10 Post by Hans-Peter » Mon Jan 31, 2000 6:39 am

Re: sewn heel seat:

In a posting of February 13, 1999, the "sewn blind rand heel seat" was mentioned.

Could somebody explain in a few words how that is done?

And if the the outside is sewn to the blind rand, how does it compare to a full welt (all the way around the shoe/boot)?

Hans-Peter Hormann

D. A. SAGUTO

Re: Tackling the heel

#11 Post by D. A. SAGUTO » Mon Jan 31, 2000 9:46 am

Hans-Peter,

Since It was me who mentioned it, I guess I have the task of trying to describe it without pictures, which will be hard, but I'll try.

Position the insole on the last as usual for a welted shoe. Make the "feather" [beveled edge on the flesh side] and "holdfast" [the rib the inseam sews through] around the forepart as usual; but around the heel-seat of the insole make a very narrow feather or bevel at the edge [sometimes none at all]. "Hole" the insole all around, that is make the awl holes in the "holdfast" of the insole ahead of time before you get to sewing the inseam. Then last the uppers and sew the welt around the forepart as usual. Now make the "rand" out of stout uppers leather [I prefer firm vegetable tanned leather about 1.60-2.00 mm] about twice as wide as the welt. Lay it around the seat so it butts up to the ends of the forepart welt at both sides, and put the flesh [or grain for very light shoes] side flat against the quarters, and secure it with a tack at each end. It should now look like a very wide, thinner, "welt".

Sew the "rand" around the heel-seat just like a welt would be sewn around the forepart, but with the sewing stitches spaced a bit further apart, say 2 1/2 to 3 stitches per inch. Trim the seam down square, "bed the stitch" [see my description under 'Welts'], and tap the sewing stitches flat around the outside too. Dampen or wet the rand and gently pull it down and roll it under the shoe or boot, leaving it somewhat loose. It will not lay perfectly flat against the insole either, so small "V" notches or easements have to be made around the back curve to ease it down, but these must not show on the rolled edge. Basically it is like a welt now, but rolled underneath so all that shows around the base of the quarters is a rolled edge. While still damp beat it up square at the base of the quarters with the hammer--it must not stick out or be wider than the surface of the quarters. I have made a small wooden burnishing stick to rub the roll into a square corner, which helps.

Once it is basically in position and squared-up all around, the loose edges of the rand underneath need to be "braced", or loosely sewed down. There are two ways of doing this. For a heavy rand as I'm describing here, the best way is to "brace" it across with a left over piece of thread. Like lacing-up a boot. The thread goes zig-zagging from the edge of the rand on one side through the air to the other side opposite the same spot. Do not draw these bracing stitches too tight, or the rand will gap away from the base of the quarters on top, and grin open showing the inseam stitches--not a god thing. At the very back the bracing must be sort of sloppy-looking to get the sections inbetween each "V" notch or easement to pull under with equal tension, but it doesn't show and is only there to keep the rand in position, not actually hold the shoe or boot together.

With the rand sewn, braced, and the rolled edge of it beat up nice and square, you then put on the outsole and "piece-seat" [the short section of inferior leather that makes up the length of the outsole at the back]. Channel, welt-stitch, and edge-trim as usual, the channel ending where it usually does just under where the heel-breast will end. The piece-seat at this point is trimmed up square to the rolled edge of the rand, but is only held by a few tacks and paste.

Now you undo some of the good work you did before by inserting a short-bladed dull tool such as a "channel opener" between the rolled edge of the rand and the base of the quarters, and pry this area [still damp] open until you can see the inseam stitches grinning easily. Make a heavy thread for the sewing down the heel, and decide whether you want to merely sew the outsole and piece-seat to the rand, or include the "split-lift" [first or hollowed-out layer of the heel], or even the whole heel. Assuming we only want to sew the outsole, piece-seat, and the split-lift, run a large curved sewing awl [there used to be special heel-awls, curved, but not as curved as an inseaming awl] down into the pried-open crevice of the rand at the base of the quarters so your heel-sewing stitch will jump over and interlock with each of the seat-sewing stitches seen grinning in the crevice. This is could be described as making a link-stitch [a term I just invented].

Make your first stitch to link over the first seat-sewing stitch exposed between the base of the quarters and the rand, and so it will emerge on the surface of the split-lift. You will note that because of the curvature of the awl, and the thickness of the materials, the exit hole will tend to want to fall further in from the edge than usual. This is inherent in this operation, and not a problem. The exit holes will also sometimes tend to wander around on the split-lift and not look so nice. Again, this is just part of the operation.

Sew around the entire seat, linking over each inseam stitch as described, and end with a "whole-cast" stitch to knot the thread. If the rand and seat have dried out, rewet them. With the face of the hammer beat the bottom of the split-lift up to the last very well to bed those stitches and force the rand back up into position more or less. When the seat is beat back to where it should be, carefully, using the "pane" of the hammer parallel to the rand, tap the rolled portion of the rand back up to its square configuration so it hides any evidence of the sewing concealed behind it--whence "blind" rand. Then rub it back to a neat, square, shape with the burnishing stick This can be tricky at first, for if you do not leave the roll of the rand loose enough during bracing in the beginning, there's not enough material now to hide the sewing.

After it's all sewed and knocked back into shape, build the rest of the heel with wooden pegs. During heel-trimming and edge-finishing, with this type of rand [flesh-out], rasp and file the rolled edge of the rand too, so it looks square, like just another layer of the sole, and butts "invisibly" up to the welt at both ends. If you selected the rand leather carefully, once folded and made up, it should now be just about the same thickness as the welt [1/3rd-1/2 the thickness of the outsole], so as to blend invisibly. Ink the rand, rub it, etc., as though it was just part of the sole and there you are. Fini

Ken Irvin

Re: Tackling the heel

#12 Post by Ken Irvin » Tue Feb 01, 2000 9:27 pm

Al,

You have again impressed the hell out of a beginner.I know some would say that doesn't take much, but take it at face value. I was always curious about the mention in Peterkins article on the brogan. The heel was sewn with a blind rand. I had no idea what that was and was not ready to think it through.

Since I plan on trying my first pair soon, I am more interested in pegging. But your short essay on how to do the blind rand was excellent. Do you think you could get a digital camera and photograph some of the things you are explaining. That or get one of those fancy graphics programs that DW has. It sure would help.

What kind of inseaming awl would I be looking for for this project? Any idea where I could get one?

Thanks Ken

D. A. SAGUTO

Re: Tackling the heel

#13 Post by D. A. SAGUTO » Wed Feb 02, 2000 1:11 pm

Ken,

Aw pishaw... I'll show you my very fist shoe sometime. I keep it handy to remind myself and my students that there's nowhere to go but up from there. Glad what I wrote was useful to you in all events. The old "bind rand" was, going by surviving shoes, used for almost 85% [off the top of my head] of all men's shoes in USA and England through the 18th c. and well into the 19th, and is an "easy" method, relatively speaking, compared to the "stitched rand", also known as a "boot rand" when done on men's stuff. That one is a real bugger.

Personally, the biggest draw back here for me is exactly this lack of graphic capability on my end. I live by sketches on paper napkins when trying to show people things like this, so you can imagine how tedious it is to try and write it without pictures. I have a digital camera, but as DW will verify it isn't quite the deal. I could do some sketches on paper and mail them to you, if that's not too stone age.

As to the awls: for inseaming just use your regular sewing awl--whatever size fits with the weight of work you're doing. For sewing the heel to the rand, you might want to try one with as little curvature as you can find. Not straight now, but not really hooked either. The old heel-awls were designed just for this, and if you look at heel-awls in the Barnsley catalogue plates reproduced in Salaman's book, you might be able to modify something to approximate the shape. I gloat. I have a stash of old heel awls myself, but my staff get fine results just using not-so-curved sewing blades. Maybe some of the modern hand-sewn makers know of a source for heel-awls?

Lisa Sorrell

Re: Tackling the heel

#14 Post by Lisa Sorrell » Wed Apr 03, 2002 7:43 am

I'm thinking of trying a Cuban heel. I've never done one before and thought it might be fun. I'm thinking I can just shape it with my finisher like I do regular heels. Is that a naive assumption--do I need any special tools or knowledge?

Lisa

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Re: Tackling the heel

#15 Post by jake » Wed Apr 03, 2002 8:15 am

Lisa,

I've never seen any better than those done by our very own D.W. Frommer.

It worked once, maybe it will again. While holding a four leaf clover, click your heels three times, and say, "There's no place like Redmond; There's no place like Redmond....."

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Re: Tackling the heel

#16 Post by dw » Wed Apr 03, 2002 8:46 am

Lisa, Jake

Top O' the Mornin' to ya.

Gosh, I'm no expert with Cuban heels...but there's really nothing to them. The only things you need to remember is that they are shorter--from front to back--than regular cowboy heels. Your "eye" will guide you on this but if you're thinking of doing them on ladies lace-ups, they ought to be shorter still to preserve the "traditional" look. The angle of undercut is a little less than on standard cowboy heels as well.

Originally, that tool known as a "heel shave" was used to shape this kind of heel, with varying "sweeps" for different styles, but I use a finisher to shape them--just reload your "B" wheel and have at it. If you have a drag knife or one of those fancy curved "micro planes" you can rough shape the heel before you get it any where near the finisher...and that's always a good thing.

Beyond that, the only other advice I can think of is to simply study old shoe and boot catalogues and try to get a feel of what the originals looked like--when this heel was real popular.

But really, it should be no problem.

Tight Stitches
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fjones

Re: Tackling the heel

#17 Post by fjones » Wed Apr 03, 2002 5:21 pm

Lisa

Regarding the cuban heel, I would support everything that DW has said. As you know, I am not a western bootmaker but I did start my career like Tex in my father’s workshop. This was mostly commercial repairs but Dad also made welted boots and shoes on a small scale.

In the late 1940’s when I was still at school, I used to help on Saturday’s. I can just remember working with built heels on ladies fashion shoes. Some of these were of the cuban shape which was popular before the Second World War. DW mentions the “B” wheel on the finisher. I am not sure but I think he means the bevel scouring wheel. Until the mid 1960’s all European repair finishing machines came with a flat scouring wheel and a bevel one. The bevel wheel needs special moulded abrasive which has become much harder to buy in England over the last few years. This wheel was specifically designed for working on built cuban heels. If you have a finishing machine which is quite old, you probably have a bevel wheel. Machines made after the late 1960’s often only have flat wheels.

I remember seeing one or two older shoemakers who had heel shaves in their tool kit. However, I never saw anybody actually using one. I was told that was because the cuban heel had gone out of fashion. They were of course talking about ladies shoes not western boots. The heel shave looks rather like the “spoke-shave” used by traditional wheelwrights when making wooden-spoked cart or carriage wheels. Both are used rather like a two-handled plane. The main difference is that the spoke-shave normally has a flat blade whereas the heel-plane has a curved blade. This is what I think DW is talking about because they come in different curves or “sweeps” to match the profile of the heel.

I hope these ramblings from “one of the older guys” helps a little. Again to echo DW’s comments - go for it, but do let us know how you get on.

Frank Jones
frank.jones@shoemaking.com

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Re: Tackling the heel

#18 Post by dw » Wed Apr 03, 2002 5:49 pm

Frank,

I bought a heel shave from Barnsley when I was first starting out...what I ever imagined I might need it for, is lost tot he mists of time and youth. The first thing I discovered about it when I got it was that it was a dickens to sharpen (of course I was a lot more inept at sharpening in those days); and the second thing I found was that it was not so easy to use. Then I decided that the "B" wheel (the beveled wheel you speak of) would do everything the heel shave would do and far more easily. I've never looked back and even though I have had several opportunities to buy good, old heel shaves--several steps up from even a 1970's Barnsley--I've always sort of sniffed and passed them by...they aren't in my repertoire.

Tight Stitches
DWFII--Member HCC

Lisa Sorrell

Re: Tackling the heel

#19 Post by Lisa Sorrell » Thu Apr 04, 2002 7:39 am

Frank, D.W.,
I sell old tools for Russ Bigelow every year or so at the Boot and Saddlemakers Roundup. He always sends me several old heel shaves. So I've seen them, but I've never bought or used one. I just figured that's what the finisher is for!

If I decide to try a Cuban heel, I'll let you know how I did with it.

Lisa

jonathon

Re: Tackling the heel

#20 Post by jonathon » Sun Apr 07, 2002 7:46 am

One of the more amazing things I watched my late master do was shaping cuban heels with only the barest of tools. Knife, Rasp, Glass & sandpaper. Amazing to watch.
12 years down the track and I'm just starting to break glass in the correct manner.

Cheers.
Jon.

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Re: Tackling the heel

#21 Post by dw » Sun Apr 07, 2002 9:19 am

Jonathon,

Please talk more about breaking glass--what kind of glass do you need, how do you break it properly, what are you looking for when it's broken, how do you use it and how long will it last?

I've been fiddling with glass for about two years now but I really don't know what I'm doing. I like it for some things, I don't think it lives up to its reputation on most jobs, and I'm surprised at how short a life the edge has.

I never had any training with glass and never saw anyone actually using it...so I'd appreciate it if you could fill me in.

Tight Stitches
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Re: Tackling the heel

#22 Post by dmcharg » Tue Apr 09, 2002 9:32 pm

G'day DW,
I also use glass for shapeing, smoothing and skiving various parts of my footware.
Down the back of the yard is a broken window (probably 1/8"-5/32" thick or thereabouts.I don't have it here) and I take a glasscutter and a sutable chunk and score so there is approx. equal amounts of glass on either side. Lay the handle of the cutter on a firm surface with the scored mark faceing up, over and in line with the handle. Then press down on either side with your thumbs. Wear Goggles to be on the safe side.
Reduce the piece of glass 1/2 by 1/2 by 1/2 until it's the size required (quite small,maybe 1 1/2" square). These breaks can be made with curves, wich are very nice to use.

I've run out of time at the library so I'll have to flesh out my use of them next week, unless Jon gets in first Image
Cheers Duncan

jonathon

Re: Tackling the heel

#23 Post by jonathon » Wed Apr 10, 2002 7:57 am

D.W.
This is one of those things that will be difficult to describe. You really need to see it, and even then it takes alot of practice, practice, practice. However I'll do my best to describe it to you.
Choosing the best glass to use is a big help. 3mm picture framing glass is Ideal (not to thick and easy to come by.) Take a 3 corner file and score the edge of the glass at roughly a 60 degree angle to the edge. Now turn your glass such that the scored mark in your glass is at roughly a 40 degree angle to the edge of your bench. Place your thumb on top of the glass just to the right of your scored edge and place your forefinger dirictly underneath. Your thumb should be in a position so that your "thumb print" faces down, your forefinger however should be in a "curled" position. Now cock the piece of glass so that the edge furthest away from you raises about 45 degrees from the surface of your bench. Okay, now the fun part! Push down with your thumb and at the same time twist to the left slightly with you forefinger. Voila!
The result we are hoping, no, praying for is a piece of glass with a curved edge. If you run that edge along a piece of leather you will notice that one edge will be blunt, the other edge quite sharp.When using glass the leather should be slightly moist, but not wet.
I do the bulk of my trimming on the finisher of course but I always refine that finish with glass and hand sanding.
With care you can break a piece with 2 curved edges, thus making a "spear" shape. This piece is very usefull for doing the breast of heels without the risk of marking the sole.
Other uses are refining the skive on toe puffs and stiffners,(counters)and de-glazing the surface of insoles and soles.
As the saying go's......Its a fine art, and an art worth your learning.

Hope this helps in some way.
Cheers.
Jon.

Judy

Re: Tackling the heel

#24 Post by Judy » Wed Apr 10, 2002 5:14 pm

A small mention on use of glass... only moisten edge of leather slightly(soggy is counterproductive) and the correct action is away from yourself,only with the one sharp side of the broken glass, and be prepared with several pieces, as it seems to lose its edge rapidly (I must admit I tackle any scrap of flat thin glass with a hammer, and then pick out the best pieces)

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Re: Tackling the heel

#25 Post by dw » Wed Apr 10, 2002 7:55 pm

Johnathon, Duncan,

Thanks for the input. I have never gone to the trouble to break glass with the precision you describe--I've always relied on a large rock dropped from about shoulder height. The results are never predictable but I usually end up with a number of pieces that I can use. I have also used the scrapers that Barnsely sells. They work the same way--slightly damp leather, holding the scraper at a ninety degree angle to the surface of the leather-- but are re-sharpenable. I'm not too good at sharpening these (they're not really sharpened like a knife, although the initial procedure is the same) and I've always liked the results with the glass, a bit better. But as I say the glass seems to dull up on me pretty quick and when you're scavenging among fragments, it just seems like a big hassle. I'll have to try being a bit more scientific about it.

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