A week ago, through some unusual circumstances, I had an opportunity to make a pilgrimage to Pipe Mecca—Low Country Pipe and Cigar and the headquarters of SmokingPipes.com. For some pipe smokers with amazing brick and mortar shops nearby their homes, this might not have held the same significance as it did for me. As someone who lives in China, however, I get excited and press my face to the window when I pass a wine store with a single tin of MacBaren Mixture Flake on display for $30. This was essentially my first time in a real pipe shop since I was in college, and there were more pipes on the wall than I imagined possible. There were displays of tins and jars of tobacco in every direction I turned, and I literally giggled as I walked in circles trying to hold myself back. Eventually I made my way to a big leather couch to try to regain my composure, only to find there were more tins available on the coffee table for free sampling than I have open in my own collection.
When I was at a recent pipe show I noticed a guy walking around with a messenger bag that looked really nice. I asked him if it carried pipes, and he opened it. The front pocket had room for a tablet and the back pocket had 8 pipes tucked away in individual pouches and all his accessories. I was so impressed that I asked where he got it and he gladly gave me the information and website.
A few months ago a friend of mine took a look at my pipe collection and furled his brow slightly. "You know," he said, "You wouldn’t burn the rim of your pipes so badly if you loaded them less full, smoked inside, and altogether avoided the wind."
True. And my nicer briars would prefer I stuck to those rules. However, I’m the kind of guy who hates to feel owned by the things I own. I almost exclusively smoke outdoors and I don’t ever want to say no to a bowl just because it’s windy. And while these reasons are certainly all good reasons to smoke primarily cobs, I smoke corn cob pipes because nothing, in my opinion, offers as consistently good of a smoke. My cobs never gargle, stay clean almost by themselves, and forgive me when I drop them on the road. Every time I see a friend take out a pipe cleaner and use it to clean out moisture mid-smoke, I remember why I love my cobs so much. You can therefore imagine my excitement when Missouri Meerschaum recently released new pipes.
I had first heard about some of Rik’s custom tampers after seeing a tamper that looked very much like a cigar, ash and all. Doing a double take I had asked where did that come from and I was pointed to Etsy to a new pipe smoker and new carver who has a unique talent for making exquisite tampers, many of which are one of a kind.
Recently I had a chance to sit down with Rik and interview him about how he got into making tampers and pipe smoking and thought I’d share with you, so here we go:
If you’re anything like me, you spent at least one bowl this last week wishing you were in Chicago and enjoying the glory of shiny pipes and tobacco samplers. I like to imagine it’s a place where flake tobaccos pave the roads, rope tobaccos hang from trees like willows, and ribbon-cut tobacco covers the ground like moss. Tins of glory are everywhere for the taking and pipes grow as the flower of the briar tree, free for the picking.
Impossible as it seems, it’s been a year since the Chicagoland International Pipe and Tobacciana Show, and the date for this year’s extravaganza is fast approaching. Last year’s show was my first, and you can read all about my experiences right here at PipesMagazine.com, as well as other exclusive reports from Chris Stout and John Winton: just navigate over to the left side of the home page and click on the Categories sub-header, Pipe Shows. To say the event was memorable is to do it great disservice; it was a life-changing experience, and I came away from it with much more than some pipes and tobaccos—I made some friendships there that will last a lifetime. It was at the show that I had the good fortune to become acquainted with two extraordinary up-and-coming talents in the pipe-carving world, namely Kostas Gourvelos and Konstantinos Anastasopoulos.
Since cave men discovered fire (if that’s the history you choose to believe in…) people have been burning things for a number of reasons. Used for all sorts of purposes ranging from keeping warm, to cooking and eventually as a weapon, fire has produced all sorts of tangible results. But when you hear people say, ‘where there is smoke, there is fire’, the opposite is actually more true. I’ve seen smoke where no fire has ever resulted. But 100% of the time, where there is fire, there is smoke.
At some point, some man discovered that if I set this herb, plant, bush or whatever on fire, it produces a savory smell that I enjoy. Later discoveries included some medicinal purposes of smoke, and smokes curing factor on meats and food stores. But as man refined the use of smoke, and in the process refined himself, smoking plants quickly became a source of relaxation, fun, and just a pastime enjoyed by many still today.
I grew up in the Pittsburgh, PA area playing the drums, and had some rather successful years in the music industry playing, writing and recording. Some of my work can be heard on records/CD’s to this day, but clearly not something that you would have remembered, or I would not be the struggling journalist I am today. As a drummer, I studied drummers and had the great pleasure of seeing some of my all-time heroes play live. Buddy Rich put on one heck of a show, and Ed Shaughnessy always gave him a run for his money. Steve Smith is best known for his years with the band Journey, but his best work by far is with his jazz band called Vital Information. I attended sessions with Kevin Valentine and Carmine Appice, and currently play a kit previously owned by the great Billy Cobham.
One drummer I studied, loved his style and never got to see play was Jeff Porcaro. A fantastic and innovative studio drummer who was a founding member of the band Toto, Jeff played with them from 1977 until his untimely death on my birthday in 1992. His rhythmic shuffle in the song Rosanna is immediately recognizable. Toto has recorded 17 albums sold over 35 million records, and is perhaps best known for its song Africa from the LP Toto IV released in 1982. Who can forget the clutching harmonies of, “God bless the rains down in Africa”? One man for whom the rains of Africa, South Africa in particular, are very important is, Charl Goussard. Charl is the artist behind this review.
It seems there is always one ‘thing’ about a pipecrafter’s style that draws my attention. There is always one sort of standout characteristic that tells me, "You need to get to know this guy!" Things like Bruce Weaver’s blasting techniques, the finishes of Dotter pipes, the classic ‘tough guy’ poker shapes from Mark Balkovec (who can do much more than a classic poker I assure you …), etc. You get the picture.
In 1989 I went through Infantry Basic Training at Ft. Jackson, SC. I was sworn in 7 September, and left basic training 14 December and was assigned to Ft. Lewis, near Tacoma, Washington. Basic Training is designed to mold a young man into a soldier. Training is drilled into you by a succession of skilled, task-oriented Drill Sergeants. Each task repeated over and over and over until that one task becomes a response of nature, rather than a ’skill’ you have to stop and remember. If you have to take the time to stop and think, it will be too late, and you’ll become a battlefield statistic.
I remember a lot of my days in basic training; the heat, the cold, the commitment, the hard work, and the brothers that were made there. But something else really stands out from those days in basic. The only day off I had was Thanksgiving Day. That was the only day we were granted the privilege of leaving post with a 24 hour Pass. On that day, I sat in the living room of the home of a high school friend of mine, and watched the beginnings of the fall of communism in Eastern Europe. That day CNN was filed with images of the Berlin Wall being crushed, torn asunder, and family members who had been stuck on opposite sides of that wall, emotionally embracing each other after having been separated for nearly 50 years.