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I did finally solve the problem with some help (including yours). After I lit the pilot, I never heard the "vrrrmpph" sound of the pilot lighting the burner like you mentioned. So I narrowed down that was the problem. But after I had lit the pilot, I had turned the temperature knob between warm and hot. But still no 'vrrmph". As it turns out, the outer knob, the one that graphically shows you what temperature you are choosing was not there - and all I was seeing and using was the metal underpiece - which did not accurately show you what temperature I was choosing (it was deceieving becuase it appeared to have a metal arrow on it).
Anyways, we rotated the temperature gage further to the left and sure enough, the burner lit and the water started to heat. My friends only concern was that the heater would not regulate the tempurature very well and would not turn off or the pressure valve would have to release. But everything appears to work OK.
My guess is that this water heater will have to be replaced soon. The date on the unit says 1982 - so its almost 20 years old. How long do these units generally last?
Thanks again - the hot shower was GREAT.