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The Monster


  1. The Monster: Reprise
    by (Patti Beadles) (Sat, 20 Mar 1993)
  2. REPOST: The Monster: Chapter 1
    by (Patti Beadles) (Sat, 20 Mar 1993)
  3. REPOST: The Monster: Chapter 4
    by (Patti Beadles) (Fri, 2 Apr 1993)

The Monster: Reprise

by (Patti Beadles)
Date: Sat, 20 Mar 1993

It's been two years since I wrote about the trials and tribulations of
setting up the 300 gallon reef aquarium called the Monster.  Since then
I've taken quite a few extension classes from the school of hard knocks,
learned a lot about aquarium keeping (especially as it pertains to big
tanks), talked to a lot of reef folks around the country (and the world,
come to think of it), and met quite a few interesting people.

I've also had quite a few changes in my life.  Foremost among them is
the breakup of a nearly ten-year marriage.  This is never an easy thing
to do, but in this case there was an added logistical difficulty...  I
would be moving.  By logical extension, the Monster would also be

As I write this, the tank has just been moved to my new residence.  All
of the livestock is in holding tanks.  Now I have a lot of work to do --
almost as much as when I first bought the tank.

The first time I things up, it was both exciting and scary.  Exciting
because it was a new adventure, but scary because the potential for
disaster was so high.  Fortunately, no major disasters ever happened.
(Forty gallons of dirty saltwater on the carpet doesn't constitute major
anymore.  :-)

This time it's different.  It's not quite as exciting, because I've
already been through it once, but it's good to have an easy chance to
correct some of the mistakes that I made the first time.  It's even
scarier than before, though.  This time I know what I'm getting myself
into.  I know how much work I have to do.  Experience may be on my side,
but Murphy never is.

Since it was so much fun the first time, I'll be adding chapters to
the saga called _The Monster_ as I go along.  I'll be reposting the
four originals over the next few days, so that people who weren't
around before will have an opportunity to see them.  I hope they're
still entertaining.
Patti Beadles  503/696-4358 | I don't speak for Intel, nor vice-versa. | | If it wasn't for the last minute,
or just yell, "Hey, Patti!" |             I'd never get anything done!

REPOST: The Monster: Chapter 1

by (Patti Beadles)
Date: Sat, 20 Mar 1993

[The story below is the first chapter in the ongoing chronicles of
the new reef tank that I'm setting up.  The tank is a 300-gallon
beast that I bought used, and am in the process of setting up.  (It
came home last night.)  I thought the net might enjoy the adventures
(and possibly misadventures, though I hope not) of the tank, so
once or twice a week I'll post a status report.  It's more or less
true, though quotes aren't necessarily direct quotes.  They do convey
the essence of the conversations, though.  -pb]

                        Chapter One: Conception

I've been an aquarium hobbyist for about the last seven years.  The
last three or so have been devoted more or less exclusively to keeping
a miniature reef tank.  First there was a ten gallon, then a 29, and
finally a 55.  My current show tank is a 55-gallon miniature reef stocked
with about a hundred pounds of assorted live rock, various fish, inverts,
and corals.  Lighting is via a 4-bulb fluorescent hood, and filtration is
a tower-type trickle filter which holds about seven gallons of plastic
filter media.  I put a lot of time, effort, and money into this tank, and
most of the time it looks pretty good, although I do tend to slack off

A few weeks ago, the big tank bug started biting me.  A little voice in
the back of my head kept saying, "You know, it'd be awfully fun to get
something about twice the size of what you've got."  Or, "You've got
plenty of space for it, and it would really be a showpiece."  And then
it got worse.  "Well, if you're going to buy a big tank, you should buy
a really humongous one.  Obscenely big.  The end all tank."

The bad thing about little voices like that is that once they show up, 
they don't go away very easily.  You must use force, and you must be 

OK, I know how to solve this.  Pick up the phone and call a fish shop.
Once you find out how much this little endeavour will cost you, that will
cure things right away.

"Hi, this is Patti.  I'd like to get a price on a really big plexi tank,
like a 180 or so."

"Well, I'll have to check on prices, but a 180 will run you about $900.
But let me tell you about what I have right now.  My distributor decided
to take down his 300 because he didn't have time for it.  It's a 300
gallon acrylic tank, with an oak hood and stand.  It's got the world's
most godawful overkill trickle filter.  It's a homebrew filter made out 
of glass, but it's got 40 gallons of Dupla bioballs in it.  And an Iwaki 
100 pump on it."

"How about lights?"

"He's got three 400 watt 5500K metal halides on it."

"Wow.  Umm, I'm afraid to ask, but how much?"

"I'm asking $2000 because I want to get rid of it."

"Hmm.  That sounds neat.  I'll get back to you.  Thanks."

Two grand?!?  That's one helluva lot of money.  Let's do a sanity check
and run it by hubby.

"Hi hon.  I called to get a price on tanks, and let me tell you what I
found."  I proceeded to tell him about the system, highlighting all of
the wonderful features.  

The nice thing about Jeff is that he's practical.  "How much?"

"Two grand.  Somewhat negotiable."

The other nice thing about Jeff is that he doesn't shock easily.  "Two
grand?!?  Holy shit!"

"Yeah, my thoughts too, but I wanted your opinion."

I tried to put it out of my mind and think about something smaller, but
that nagging little voice had changed his tactics.  "Well, you're going
to spend $900 on the tank.  The stand will be another who knows how much,
but you know you aren't good enough at woodworking to build it yourself,
so figure a grand.  A couple hundred for a pump.  Trickle filter will
cost a few hundred by the time you're done.  Lights, figure $600.  And
then you have to do all the work of building the filter and putting
everything together.  You're up to about three grand, and it's still a
smaller tank.  On the other hand, you may be able to talk him down a
couple of hundred bucks."  I hate it when the little voice gets practical.

Sanity check two, call Dave, a friend who is also heavily into reefs.
"Sounds like a screamin' deal.  I hope you bought it on the spot."

"Well, no.  I wanted to think about it.  It's a lot of money."

"Look, you'll spend more than that no matter what.  This way you're
just doing it in one lump sum, so it looks worse."

Dammit, I knew I shouldn't have called Dave.  He's a bad influence.

                End of chapter one.  Chapter cost:  $0
                                       Total cost:  $0


                Chapter Two: Birth and Homecoming

The little voice won; I wanted it.  Now to get it without breaking
the bank.  An idea comes to mind, and I find that the telephone is
in my hand before I know it.

"Hi.  It's Patti.  I'll offer you $1500 for the tank, and agree to
buy at least a hundred pounds of live rock from you over the course
of the next couple of months.  Subject, of course, to my actually
seeing the tank."

"Well, I can probably get two grand for it, but I'd like to get rid
of it and not have to mess with it anymore.  I'll think about it."

"Can I come down and look at it this evening?"

"No problem."

So, on our way to a play, Dave and I go over to view this beast.  [Side
note:  It's not fun bopping around a fish store in four inch heels.]
Everything looks to be in good condition, and seems to be reasonably
nice.  The stand is home built, and has power built into it, as well as
a built in light for under the stand.  Neat idea.

After a little discussion (that's spelled persuasion), he agreed to 
sell it for $1500, provided we would come down and move it all ourselves, 
because he didn't want to have to deal with it.  He also wanted to get 
rid of it as quickly as possible.  Normally that wouldn't be a problem, 
but this was Wednesday night, and I was leaving Friday morning for a trip 
to Reno.  Tuesday was the agreed upon day; I would provide all of the 
labor, and a cashier's check for $1500.

Bounce, bounce, bounce, off we went to the play.  I'm not sure who was
more excited, Dave or me.  The play we were seeing had been slammed by
the critics, but we couldn't have cared less.

I lined up four friends to help me move this thing, and then went off
to Reno to seek fame and fortune.  Fame was nowhere to be found, but
I came back with an extra $200 worth of fortune.  Having a tangible
target in mind makes it much easier to leave the $5/hand blackjack table
when you're losing and wander over toward the nickel slots.  Or quarter
slots, which were once kind enough to give me $90 on a $10 investment.

The appointed day came.  We arrived with five people, a 14-foot U-haul
truck, rope, tie down straps, blankets, and a big check.  Major discovery
number one for the day:  this beast is HEAVY!  Particularly the stand,
which is made of oak and weighs in at something like 400 lbs.  (Thank
you Jeff, Dave, Dave, and Spass.)  But we got everything loaded and
secured with no mishaps.

When we got home, I left the guys to unload while I made a pizza run.
When I got back, major discovery number two occurred.  This thing is
#^$%! huge!  I'd never seen it all together, so I didn't have a real
sense of size.  The tank, stand, and hood together are about seven
feet tall, and occupy about 90% of the wall of my family room.  Wow.

After dinner, we turned on the arcwelde..., umm, lights just to see
what they looked like.  There is one thing that I can say with absolute
certainty:  this tank will not be underlit.  In fact, the entire room
will not be underlit.  Nor will it be chilly in the winter, I'm sure.

Work to be done:  The tank needs to be cleaned.  The filter desperately
needs to be cleaned.  The stand needs to be cleaned and resealed in a
couple of places.  The plumbing all needs to be built, since they had
to cut all of the old plumbing to get it out.  The floor needs to be
reinforced, since I'm not willing to put two tons of water and equipment
on a standard house floor.  And there's some minor repair work to do on
the lights & stuff.  Plus more, I'm sure.

The worst part is that my old tank is sold, and I told the new owner that
I would be able to give it to him in a month or so.  So now I'm on a
deadline.  I s'pose it's time to get to work.

                End of chapter two.  Chapter cost:  $1500  tank
                                                       55  truck, etc.
                                                       45  beer, pizza
                                       Total cost:  $1600
[I've been putting off writing this chapter until I got things pretty
much in order, and I could think of a way to make plumbing and scrubbing
interesting and amusing.  Having failed in the latter, I'll just babble 
to bring everyone up to date.]

              Chapter Three: The Reconstruction Process

Ok, so I've got this monster.  It's mine, for better or for worse.
To love, honor, and spend lots of money on.  And the 'til death do
us part clause feels like it might be soon.  Yes folks, I've got a
bad case of buyers regret.  Actually, it comes and goes.  Mostly goes.

Every now and then something comes to mind that reminds me of the
scale of the thing that I have to deal with.  Like buying salt.  I'm
used to buying salt in $15 increments, and that lasts for a couple of
months.  So into the store I go.  As I'm driving over, it occurs to me
that it's going to take six (Omigod) 50-gallon-size bags of salt just
to do the initial fill.  $80.

Electricity.  Three 400-watt lights.  One pump which takes approximately
400 watts.  Heaters.  Air pumps.  Redox meter.  Ozone.  Y'know, I just
don't think this is going to just plug right into the wall.  Eeks.  I'm
going to have a whole circuit just dedicated to an AQUARIUM?  Excuse me
while I hyperventilate for a while.  Aahhh ... better now.

And then comes cleaning time.  It occurs to me that I'm going to need a
ladder just to reach into the tank.  (Holy $#!+, that sucker's big!)
Having acquired a ladder, I made the next amazing discovery, which is that
I also need longer arms.  Yup.  I can't reach the bottom of the tank.
Well, that's not quite true.  If I climb to the top of the ladder, bend over
the tank so that my head is inside, and balance just right, I can barely do
it.  But only when the hood is off.  And unless I wanted to drink saltwater,
it probably wouldn't work too well after it's up and running.

Tank tongs.  And good ones.  Those ones that Energy Savers' just came out
with look good.  That's two twenty-dollar bills that have just left my
pocket to live in a cash register.

Current status:  As of tonight, I have glued the last piece of plumbing
into place.  Everything has been cleaned.  The electricity is in.  The
floor is not yet reinforced, but I've already spent two evenings working
on it, and I have one left to go.  I need to test the plumbing, and then
I can move the tank back into place and start really setting it up.

And there's a pitcher of beer riding on whether my tank or Spass's is set up
first.  Everyone send mail to, and point out to him that 
he's going to owe me a pitcher of Terminator unless he gets it in gear.

Rather than write paragraphs about all the things I've done, I'm going to
follow with short bits of wisdom that have been acquired during this process.

- On buying PVC: It's astounding how much money can be spent on things which
are marked $.29 ea.  "It didn't look like $40!"

- The crawl space is so named because of the creepy crawlies that inhabit it.

- Industrial type plumbing can be found, but not at household plumbing
stores.  (Hard to believe it took me two weeks to figure this out.)

- Acrylic is not cheap.  In fact, it can be downright expensive.  But worth

- When the guys at the plumbing store ask you how the tank is when you walk
in, it tells you something.

- When the bartender asks, "The usual?" when you walk in, it also tells you

- A $40 check valve seems expensive, but 300 gallons of water on the carpet
would cost more.

- Buying a big tank makes you an instant expert.  People come out of the
woodwork looking for advice.  (It's OK folks, I don't mind.  Just flush 
the guppies, Sandy.)

- Wouldn't it be funny if the next people to buy the house looked in the
breaker box one day and saw "Fish Tank" next to a breaker?

- When plumbing starts to be interesting, you've been sniffing too much

- Yes, honey.  When there's smoke coming out of the drill, that means it's 
time to stop for the evening.

- No matter how carefully you plan the plumbing, you'll always wind up 
needing just one more elbow at a terribly inconvenient time.

- Dumping a bottle of PVC cement is not a smart thing to do.  Dumping it on
the carpet would have been downright stupid, though.

- If you buy big enough syringes, the pharmacist doesn't look at you funny.
Addicts only buy the smaller ones, because they don't hurt as much.  (Cut
it out ... I use them for acrylic cement.)

- A power sander is a gift from god.

- It's always going to cost you more than you expected.

                End of chapter two.  Chapter cost:   $150  acrylic
                                                      250  plumbing
                                                      100  floor reinforcement
                                                      100  electrical
                                                      125  new drill
                                                       40  tank tongs
                                                       20  ladder
                                                       80  salt
                                                       60  miscellaneous
                                       Total cost:  $2375

                        And mounting quickly!

REPOST: The Monster: Chapter 4

by (Patti Beadles)
Date: Fri, 2 Apr 1993

[This is one chapter in the story of the new tank.  Others have been
posted, and more will be posted in the future as things progress. -pb]

                Chapter Four: It's Alive!

There's really an astounding amount of plumbing under the tank.  There
are about 20 feet of 1" pipe, a couple of feet of 1/2", eight ball valves,
two check valves, four unions, and umpteen zillion elbows and tees and
adapters.  And none of it could be tested until it was all permanently
in place, where fixing it almost certainly would mean major rework.

I consider it a tribute to my plumbing skills that there was only one
small leak in the whole thing.  Amazingly enough, it was at the very last
joint that was installed.  I'm not surprised though; wrestling it into
place was something of a challenge.  Snip snip, glue glue, another $10
worth of plumbing, and it's fixed.  At this point, I don't even notice
it anymore if it's less than about $25.

The floor has been reinforced in the interim, so it's now time to fill
the whole tank and let it run for a day or so.  (Since I've already
written about the crawl space, I won't mention how much fun it is trying
to move a 10' long 4x8 through a 3' tall crawl space.)  Running with a
garden hose from the kitchen sink, it takes about an hour to fill.

The next discovery can be stated in the simple sentence, "There is a noise
problem."  Niagra falls in the family room would be a little bit more
descriptive.  With a jet engine driving it.  The Iwaki pump ads always state
that their pumps are quiet; don't believe them.  Over the splashing and
gurgling, though, it's not too bad.  This one still isn't solved, although
foam rubber across the back of the stand helps.

Having reassured myself that everything works, it's now time to drain the
tank and move it into it's final position.  (I don't use the word final
lightly, either.)  Move this sucker?  You've got to be kidding!  It's heavy
in pieces; altogether, it's darn near impossible.  Creativity pays off, 
though; it moved.  I decided that I wanted to leave enough room behind the
tank to walk; this has already paid off.

Now for the final fill.  Start the hose, and let it run for an hour or so.
Since there's very little excitement in watching the water level barely
move, I decided to leave the room for a while.  The scenario when I returned
went something like this:

Patti:  "Oh, $#!+!  Honey, please come here RIGHT NOW!  And bring towels."
I would guess that the tone of my voice conveyed the fact that I wasn't

The hose had fallen out of the tank, and was merrily watering the family
room carpet.  I suppose it thought it was a lawn; it is fairly close to the
same color as brown grass.  Hoses obviously are fairly low on the evolutionary
scale.  Right next to monster fishtank owners, I would guess.

Seven large towels later, the carpet was dry enough that the water didn't
squish up between your toes when you walked on it.  A box fan was left in
charge of completing the drying task.  After a leak from the existing tank
the next day, a wet/dry shop vac was added to my arsenal.  I'm not saying
I'll have more major spills, but I know which side I'd put _my_ money on.

Since this is a saltwater tank, I thought it might be wise to add salt
at some point during this process.  I noticed an interesting paradigm
shift:  My basic unit of measurement for salt used to be the cup.  Now it
is the bag.  Three bags:  the hydrometer doesn't even budge.  Four: it barely
moves.  Five: It's getting closer.  Six: 1.021.  Close enough for me, since
that's all the salt I bought.  Besides, the tank is only 65 degrees right

After the tank ran for a day or two, I realized that there was another
small problem.  I really didn't have a 300-gallon tank; it had decided to
become a very larger venturi protein skimmer.  There were zillions (I
counted) of small bubbles coming from the plumbing.  No amount of jigglig,
silicone grease, twisting, or pleading has been able to get rid of them
thus far.  And since I have been blessed with 1200W of metal halide lights, 
they show up quite well against the black background of the tank.  Ugly.
Since I've already spent several evenings looking for the problem, I'm
going to take the time-honored approach of ignoring the problem to see if
it goes away on it's own.

Currently the tank has about 75 lbs. of live rock in it, and there's
enough ammonia in the water to make Windex.  The fish in the existing tank
seem to be looking across the room going, "More space!  More space!"
I'm doing everything I can to make it cycle faster, but no luck so far.
(Patience, guys ... I did at least clean your tank finally.)

In the past, I've used a 12" section of clear plastic tubing attached to 
about 6' of 1/2" flexible tubing to siphon rocks and the bottom and stuff.
Since I have a 4' reach from the top of the hood to the bottom of the
tank, I had to modify my approach.  The new siphon is a 4' length of
1/2 PVC attached to 10' of 3/4" flexible hose.  

I start the siphon and then put the free end into the sump, covered with 
a nylon stocking to catch gunk.  This method has worked well for me for 
quite a while on my existing tank.  This also appeared to work fairly well 
on the new tank.  Then, suddenly, everything went dead!  No pump, no lights,
nothing.  "What?!?"

It's nice to know that the ground-fault interrupter works when it needs to.
The hose had decided to leave the sump and go wandering.  In the process,
it hosed a couple of outlets.  Oops!  At least this time I had a shop vac
to help clean up.  Too bad I couldn't find anyone to bet with me.

My life has definitely turned weird lately.  I had no idea that buying
this sucker (and writing about it) would make me a minor celbrity.  I've
had the following experiences in the last week (the last two in the same

(a) We ran into one of my husband's coworkers at a store.  After intros
    around, the coworker's wife said, "So, are you the one with the big
    fishtank?"  I had never even met the guy, let alone his wife.

(b) Multiple reports of people passing chapters around to coworkers.

(c) Multiple requests for a tankwarming party.  It will have to be multiple
    parties, given the number of requests.  I keep wondering if I can
    charge admission to pay for this sucker.

(d) Received email saying, "You should also know that I've heard your name
    from more than one Saltwater store in the area.  A legend in your own
    time ..."  (Yes, Karen, I'm quoting your mail in public.)

(e) I walked into a pet shop today to buy cat food.  The cashier said,
    You're setting up a big tank, aren't you?"  Now, I will SWEAR that I
    have never said anything about it to this person.  I only shop in
    this particular store infrequently.

I guess it's better to be known as a nutcase than an axe murderer or 

Work in progress is a protein skimmer, getting things moved from the old
tank to the new, cleaning up the mess I made everywhere, getting cables
and stuff organized, and figuring out what accesories I need.  And spending
money -- TONS of it.

                End of chapter four.  Chapter cost:  $200  live rock
                                                      100  test kits
                                                       50  plumbing
                                                       50  shop vac
                                                       50  skimmer parts
                                                       50  miscellaneous
                                       Total cost:  $2875

     Somebody remind me why I bought this thing.  I keep forgetting.
Patti Beadles  503/696-4358 | I don't speak for Intel, nor vice-versa. | | If it wasn't for the last minute,
or just yell, "Hey, Patti!" |             I'd never get anything done!

Up to Marine/Reefs <- The Krib This page was last updated 29 October 1998