Wednesday, 29 December 2010 10:05

Restoration of my Metaframe Aquarium

Written by  Randy Carey
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Author: Bob Kruse

My first aquarium was a five gallon tank that my parents bought with S & H Green Stamps. I recall my father and I driving to the stamp redemption center on Lake St. in Minneapolis sometime in 1967 and trading in a stack of stamp books for the tank. I soon outgrew this aquarium and asked for a 15 gallon tank for Christmas in 1968. My 15 gallon Metaframe aquarium was waiting for me under the tree that year, and I soon had it set up in my bedroom. Sometime thereafter I bought a matching stand and hood for my tank. I used it until I left for college in 1974. It stayed in my parents' basement until I resigned from the Navy in 1984 and moved back to Minneapolis. The aquarium ended up in the basement of my home in Bloomington, occasionally being used as a hamster cage. Both glass side panels eventually broke and the stand deteriorated from rust and neglect.

I always liked the look of the Metaframe tank, and in May of 2008 I decided to repair and renew the entire unit. I started with the stand, which was rusty and full of cobwebs hiding behind the furnace in my basement. I completely disassembled the stand, then bead blasted the legs down to bare steel. The original finish appeared to be a single coat of black sprayed-on paint. I then applied three coats of self-etching primer and three coats of Krylon Satin Black spray paint. As I was unable to separate the upper galvanized steel frame from its stainless steel trim band, I applied a rust neutralizing compound to the galvanized portion. I then polished the stainless band with metal polish. The lower shelf of the stand had a rung which had two broken spot welds, so I had a welding shop repair it. I then covered the weld spots with aluminum tape and polished the entire shelf. The stand was then reassembled with new stainless steel screws, lock washers and nuts. I used new chromed steel screws and Nyloc nuts to fasten the lower shelf. Finally, I replaced the missing original plastic feet at the bottom of the four legs. Amazingly, the exact same plastic feet were readily available at a hardware store.

The hood restoration came next. I disassembled the unit, and then removed the accumulated dirt and calcium deposits with Soft Scrub. I then polished the entire unit; cleaned and reassembled the wiring harness, replaced the missing cord plug, and cleaned and reinstalled the knob using its original brass fastening screw. I replaced the two missing incandescent bulbs with Coralife mini-fluorescent 10 watt bulbs. These "50/50" bulbs use two separate fluorescent elements - one a 10,000K daylight element, the other an Actinic 03 blue element. Finally, I applied window weatherstrip foam to the bottom of both sides of the hood to create a flat surface for the hood to rest on. I found the following on a tag (which I was unable to save) on the underside of the hood:

PEMCO Reflector Model 2

Watts 80   Volts 115   Cycles 60

Patt Eng & Mfg. Co  Gardena, Calif    Division of Mattel Inc.

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The tank itself presented the greatest challenge, as it had been badly damaged over the years. I first removed both broken side panels by heating the original tarry glass sealant with a hair dryer. I then cleaned all of the original sealant out of both bare tank sides in preparation for the installation of the new glass panels. The original front and rear glass panels, while scratched and worn, were left in place to retain the originality of the tank. I then bought two 12 x 12 inch, 1/8 inch thick (the same thickness as the original) glass panels from a hardware store. I cemented them in place with black silicone aquarium sealant, and then sealed the remainder of the tank seams with black silicone. When it had cured for two days, I filled the tank with water and found a small leak in the bottom which I repaired with Metalset A4 epoxy. The original slate bottom was in excellent condition and required only a good sanding with 400 grit sandpaper to clean up. Finally, I cleaned the entire unit with Soft Scrub, polished the two original glass panels with cerium oxide glass polishing compound, and polished the stainless steel frame with metal polish.

I built a new top for the hood to rest on by purchasing a 3/16 inch thick piece of edge polished window glass, and installed side and rear support strips that I cut myself.

When the entire unit was finished, I "prototyped" it by placing the tank on the stand in my workroom and filled it with water. I found that the stand didn't stand perfectly flat on the floor, so I cemented a birch wood shim which I painted black onto the left rear leg. I let the entire unit sit for two days to check for leaks, and there were none.

On May 30, 2008 I set the entire unit up in our basement family room. I used a 20 pound bag of Eco Complete as a planting substrate, and covered it with 1 inch of aquarium gravel. The tank is heated with a 50 watt Stealth heater. A Coralife power strip with integral timer powers the filter, heater and lights. Finally, I planted the tank, using a piece of Malaysia wood as a centerpiece. I also used my "favorite" rock, which I cleaned up with a wire brush. I found this rock in a gravel quarry by my house many years ago and used it in several tanks, including the 15 gallon Metaframe.  Several years back I got tired of seeing this dirty, cobweb covered rock in my basement, so I threw it into the swampy weeds behind my house. When I renewed my tank, I rescued it by fishing it out of the swamp where it had sat for a number of years.

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On May 31, 2008 I finally had fish back in my tank after a 34 year absence. Just before I set up the tank, I took a photo of it sitting in the same spot in my parents' living room in Edina MN where I found it on Christmas morning of 1968. My dad graciously agreed to pose with the tank, as he was the "Santa" who gave it to me almost 40 years earlier.