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.
Nestled in west-central Indiana, the city of Cloverdale has a population of 2,172. It hosts a single McDonalds, an Econo-Lodge and a beautiful natural attraction called Cataract Falls along Mill Creek. Cataract Falls is the largest waterfall in Indiana with a drop of over 80 feet cascading over a set of double waterfalls. The epitome of small town America, Cloverdale has a proud heritage going back nearly 150 years, and looks like a community right out of a Normal Rockwell painting.
When I was young, I was a little different than the other kids. I suffered from Juvenile Rheumatoid Arthritis that was diagnosed at the age of five. Because of the growth variables and bone and joint weakness caused by this disease, from age five to eight, my activities were seriously curtailed. To this day I distinctly remember the doctor say that I needed to rest, and not get involved in any strenuous activity or sports in order to ensure a somewhat “normal future”. That line stuck with me.
With that said, my dreams as a young man are what really made me different. My dreams were simply to walk without pain. For me walking more than ten or twenty feet was a triumph at times. While most kids my age dreamed of professional sports or vacations in the Caribbean, I dreamed of walking – long hikes through the woods at home, backpacking through Europe, seeing the lands of my ancestors in Germany and Poland, and walking the same beautiful hills that the Von Trapp Family did in “The Sound of Music”. That’s what I dreamed of.
As pipe smokers and collectors, we are always looking for our next favorite pipe, or our next favorite tobacco blend. Typically, we don’t have to wait too long until a pipe or blend comes along that piques our interests and gets our heart pumping to get our hands on it and give it a try.
Like a golfer that has a perfectly good sand wedge that has served him well for years, something new that looks cool and feels good in your hands comes along, and you grab it up. Most of us do the same thing with pipes, lighters, tobaccos etc. The problem is that more often than not, that sand wedge is no better than the one you had before, and while it certainly does the job, your scores don’t change and the whole proposition ends up being a big let-down that cost you $150.00.
How a shape appears to a pipe-carver as they sit and stare at a raw block of briar is a mystery to many of us who are collectors and smokers. Perhaps not so much to the artisans that are actually doing the carving, but as for me, I’d be lost. Some people though, much like I have read about Michelangelo, see the finished product in the raw material before a hammer, file or chisel is set to the material. Michelangelo is quoted as having said to a contemporary, that it is not that he has to carve the figure out of the marble that stands before him, as much as it is to simply take off the material that he knows does not belong there.
In last month’s review we looked at the first of two pieces that Rhode Island craftsman Kurt Huhn made and submitted to be scrutinized under my malevolent elucidation (insert your best evil laugh here). But seriously, looking closely at the Chubby Billiard he sent (see previous review), and seeing the fine craftsmanship applied in what is essentially a theme on a classic pipe, I was not sure what to expect from the other sample, a squat Brandy.
Well, Brandy, she’s a fine Girl. What a good wife she would be… I digress, and must apologize for the uncalled for Looking Glass song reference. That being said, it does remind me a bit of the past. My past.
As a freelance journalist and photographer for the local newspapers in my late teens, I remember the first photo I ever had published. That picture of the flaming Chrysler K-Car paid me $30.00 and made the front page of the local paper, with no by-line. As a reward, my photography mentor, the husband of my again Journalism instructor in High School, invited me to his home and presented me with a fine glass of peach brandy - in the proper glass of course. It just so happened that he was a pipe smoker as well from the hills of West ‘Verginny’ (as he pronounced it in long, drawn-out form) and knew full well how to relax and celebrate. As we sat and sipped, he smoked his pipe. This was not my first exposure to pipe smoking, and sad to say, not my first exposure to brandy either, but it was my first exposure to a proper brandy glass and a brandy shaped pipe.
What is so extraordinary about Luciano Pipes is that they devised a way to provide a very high quality Italian pipe at a kind-of "artificially" low price. They are "Hand-Finished" Italian pipes. This means that part of the process is machine-assisted, but the most important parts, like drilling the holes, are done by hand.
This allows for some economies allowing the pipes to be high quality, but sell for much less than others of the same quality. Actually, several of the Luciano samples I saw were better quality than a 100% hand-made Italian pipe that I have, which shall remain nameless.
Here’s some more information in an article from Bob Tate: Luciano Pipes - A Brief History and Review
Luciano Pipe Shape Chart
There is a new shape chart which will come in handy for identifying different pipes shapes that are available. This is a useful reference tool available for download here - Luciano Pipe Shape Chart
I grew up in western Pennsylvania. As kids, my parents had taken us on several trips to the homes of friends of the family that lived in Kentucky. I remember much about those trips in spite of the fact that I was only about 7 or 8 years old, and thought the heat to be stifling. I remember swimming in TVA lakes where the water was so warm it felt like taking a bath.
What I remember most however, was my father stopping at several farms on the way home. He was fascinated by the long flowing fields of tobacco. It was a Sunday afternoon, and we stopped at farm after farm that day. Inevitably, someone was sitting on the porch, or resting under a shade tree in the front yard. My Dad would walk up to the gentleman of the house who would always rise to meet the man driving the car with Pennsylvania license plates coming their way (whether out of Southern grace or Yankee suspicion, to this day I do not know). They’d trade their greetings, exchange a few sentences, shake hands, and my Dad would just walk back to the car—empty handed. What was Dad doing? What did he want? Just one stalk of tobacco from the field?
Finally Dad found a couple sitting in the front yard under what I remember to be a weeping willow tree. The wife was snapping beans, the old farmer smoking his pipe. Dad called us all over, at which point Mom and we five kids started snapping beans to help the woman of the house. Dad and the farmer walked off towards the field, around a barn, and out of sight. We snapped beans, laughed, had some sweet tea and snapped a bushel or two of green beans before the two men came back, this time with Dad holding a prized possession. Two tobacco stalks.
One of the benefits to being employed by a major firearms manufacturer by day is the occasional business trip that might take you to exotic locales, both foreign and domestic. Of those benefits, one of the better is the very occasional ‘down time’. This is just one such event. I arrived in sunny Las Vegas, having left an icy cold and snow covered Seattle this morning at about 11:30 AM. Having been informed that my tertiary services on the convention floor would not be needed the rest of this day, I decided to do what any self respecting man with a little time on his hands in Las Vegas would do; review a quality pipe!
I know the title to this review may have thrown you off a bit. This IS about a tobacco smoking pipe, and not a streaking Irishman. But the pipe however is aptly named by its creator, and worthy of a closer look.
As always, each new pipe that is sent for review is anticipated with great excitement. This one was no different. With the pipe crafter coming with high compliments and recommendations as an ‘up-and-comer’ in this industry, I was anticipating its arrival all the more. That being the case, when the pipe arrived, alas, I was not home. When I finally did see the pipe in person later that same day, my first impression was good. This pipe has appeal.