United Pipe Clubs of America (UPCA) Annual Meeting

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By Bob Tate

upca-logoDuring our time at the 2010 Chicago Pipe Show, we sat in on the annual meeting of the United Pipe Clubs of America (UPCA). The meeting is not open to the public, only of the representatives of Pipe Clubs can attend. We were invited to the meeting by Michael “Doc” Garr (Docgarr), Vice President of UPCA, so that we could cover and report on it. Here is a little bit about the UPCA, who they are, and what they do. [From their website]:


The United Pipe Clubs of America (UPCA) was organized in 2002 as a national federation of pipe clubs in the United States. Its purpose is to promote and protect the interests of the American pipe smoking community by encouraging and assisting in the formation of local pipe clubs and actively supporting their activities, including pipe shows and pipe smoking competitions.

UPCA’s broader goals are to bring American pipe smokers together by serving as a liaison to facilitate the sharing of information and ideas between its member clubs and to maintain smokers’ enthusiasm for the hobby by presenting a positive public image of the culture and traditions of pipe smoking and collecting.

The original impetus for the formation of UPCA was a desire to bring the United States into the International Committee of Pipe Clubs (ICPC) and to organize slow smoking competitions in this country. It thus organizes the U.S. National Championship at the Chicago Show each year, as well as regional competitions. While sponsorship of such events will continue to be an important activity for UPCA, it has become clear that they are not sufficient in this era of ever-stricter restrictions on smoking.

UPCA has recognized that in order to remain relevant and provide benefit to its member clubs in the current hostile environment, it must play a greater role in defending the traditions and culture of pipe smoking, pipe clubs and pipe shows. Consistent with the purposes set forth in its charter, UPCA therefore is taking steps (including the revitalization and expansion of our website) to establish itself as the voice of the American pipe-smoking community.

The idea is simple: Faced with unreasonable smoking bans, pipe smokers must come together to promote and protect their interests. There is a need to present a positive image of pipe smoking to influence the public and to maintain our own enthusiasm for the hobby. As a federation of 20 or more pipe clubs around the country, UPCA is well positioned for this mission.

In short, UPCA’s primary purpose is to bring pipe smokers together and to protect and promote the interests of its member clubs and all pipe smokers. We seek your help in that regard and invite you to tell us what we can do to be of maximum assistance.


Vernon Vig (President) & David Bull (Secretary/Treasurer)
Vernon Vig (President) & David Bull (Secretary/Treasurer)

The president of the UPCA, Vernon Vig, called the meeting to order and proceeded with the 2010 agenda. There were a lot of things talked about at the meeting. During the meeting, Paul Creasy of Altadis, USA, spoke at length about anti-tobacco legislation and what is being done, has been done, and can be done to combat it.

Pipe Club Representatives (Including Following Photos)
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Vernon Vig Presents Frank Burla with Certificate of Appreciation
Vernon Vig Presents Frank Burla with Certificate of Appreciation

During the meeting, Vernon Vig awarded Frank Burla of the Chicagoland Pipe Collectors Club (CPCC) with a Certificate of Appreciation plaque for all of his years as the Chicago Show director.
Here is Frank’s acceptance speech and very entertaining story:

Frank Burla: Out of all my years in the FBI and all of the people that I have arrested, I have never had to arrest a pipe smoker. [Laughter]

At a pipe show or pipe club meeting, they are just two guys or three guys or a group of men and women who just enjoy the hobby, enjoy the smoking, the BS stories, whose is bigger, whose is longer, [Laughter] who can smoke it longer, you know, things like that.

But over the years, this is my 44th pipe show.  My first show was thrown in an FBI sub-office.  I had six FBI agents who were pipe smokers and wanted to learn.  They all gave me their pipes, I cleaned them up, did a pretty decent job, and they all wound up with their new pipes.  The special agent in charge said, “What are you using our sub-office for?”  I said, “Well, we needed it.”  It turned out his last name was the same name as a pipe name.  So, we gave him a pipe with his last name, he took it home to his wife, and he forgot all about the incident. [Laughter]

Behind every individual who does something, there are a hell of a lot of people who work.  I get a lot of credit for these shows and, believe me, I don’t deserve it.  I have probably the greatest group of guys who work and they put up with BS.  I’m not the easiest guy in the world to get along with.  I expect the same out of people that I expect out of myself.

Give you an idea, this morning the first roll call came in at 5:40, the second one came in at 6:50 and our guys were ready on the radio.  You know, we carry these little radios. The bigger the show, the less you want to walk.  Have you tried walking from the gallery hall down to the tent?  It’s about a four and a half block walk each way.  And we don’t walk it once a day.  We start early in the morning and walk it all day.  It wouldn’t be bad if you walked it directly, but you’ll constantly see our people being pulled to the left, to the right answering questions.

The pipe people in this world are, I think, the greatest individuals.  When I worked for the FBI, I worked a few projects in foreign counter intelligence and during one of them came in at the right place at the right time.  I had the honor to handle a defector from one of the [inaudible] countries.  And during our debriefings, he was telling me about KGB 101.  For those who don’t know the KGB, that’s the former name of its intelligence organization.  And during the debriefing, he said part of his 101 training was a method to secure a confidence level that he must have to gain people’s trust in becoming, I’ll use the word traitors, or working for a foreign government instead of your own in the country.

And he said, “Once you co-opted somebody to work for you, you became his priest, his brother, his father.”  He had all the answers and the worst thing is to have somebody come up to you, ask you a question and you’re supposed to know everything, and you can’t come up with the answer.

So, in KGB 101 they have a program, which is true because all the defectors have said it, where you need between seven and twelve seconds to come up with an answer to the most difficult question, or at least BS the answer.  The best way to do it they learned, and we learned also, was that the hesitations have to be not noticed by the individual asking the question.  You ever pick up a pipe with the tobacco in it, get it ready to light…people sort of expect it because they know the process and that seven to twelve seconds helps.  And the guy from the KGB 101 showed us the method.

The pipes they used were the cheapest pipes in the world; the cheapest pipes in the world.  You ever see the old pipes with the varnish covering on it? [Laughter] You ever tried to smoke one of those? [More Laughter] The cheapest in the world, but I’ll make this story short.

The gentleman, who I had the pleasure of debriefing, wound up in Chicago and he had to leave kind of rapidly and didn’t have a pipe so I took him down to a shop called Iwan Ries.  A gentleman friend of mine at that time, Stan Levi; Good old Stan and Elaine …  Stan was there and he had some idea what I did and I said, “Stan, I’ve got to buy the pipe.  He had to leave rapidly.”  Stan said, “Frank, it’s my honor.”

He gave the guy a pipe, packed the tobacco, and then we went back and finished our debriefing of all places, a McDonald’s.  McDonald’s was the safest place in the world for the debriefing.  We finished the debriefing, he and Stan Levi communicated back and forth, and he continued buying pipes.  But that’s just a side story.

I really don’t deserve this because most of you people work harder than I do in what you do.  I have a great staff.  I want to thank you for this and this will go in the museum.  And you’re all welcome to visit our little, humble museum if you’re in town.  It was my mother’s condo; she died.  I was an only child.  I had pipes in three or four garages and I had to pack and move them someplace so I’ve got the museum.

I still have pipes in two garages [inaudible due to laughter] plus five rooms in the museums with 30,000 items.  And my wife always threatens me, she did this morning because she heard one of our friends talk about cleaning out the garage.  She always says, “1-800-JUNK.”  [Laughter] And she’s probably serious.

But, listen, you all have important matters to discuss.  The Chicago Show is going on.  The only thing I want to say is the results surprised us; in this economy we sold out.  It took a little longer, but we sold out.  We lost six tables in the last few days and we gained five of those six with the people on the waiting list.  We have one left and we have three people wanting to get it.  All they have to do is find me.  I try to hide. [Laughter]

So, again, I thank you for all of this.  I hope you enjoy the show.  Keep in mind that this year is unique.  We have a lot of visitors from the Orient this year who are coming to buy.  Pierre knows most of them, but they’re buying from China.  We had to send letters of invitation to get them here.  People coming from Russia, Vietnam, but the biggest thing is we have people coming from Palestine, Israel, Iran, Iraq, one from Saudi Arabia and this could be a small United Nations so be careful.

Again, I want to thank you.  I’ll let you get back to your meeting.  Have a great meeting.  It’s a great club.  I’ve known Vernon for many years.  If you need anything, Craig Cobine is here with us or see me.  The show is Saturday and Sunday with dinner tonight.

Then we also have tonight at 5:30 a fantastic presentation.  And unfortunately he’s here, I can’t talk about him behind his back – Mark Ryan, as you know who bought the St. James Parish Perique, is going to give a presentation at 5:30 tonight in the Turquoise room on the Mystique of Perique, is that correct?

Mark Ryan: Yes.

Frank Burla: So, gentlemen, I was going to say ladies and gentlemen; gentlemen, thank you for this honor.  I’m going to run right back to our unit.

Vernon Vig: I would like to tell you one additional thing on that Frank.  That was created by a fellow pipe person, Michael Sull of the Greater Kansas City Pipe Club, and he’s a master penman and he did that.

Frank Burla: Beautiful. I am touched and I don’t want to start crying.  Boys don’t cry.  Again, thank you all and have a great day. [Applause]




The meeting was very informative. We at PipesMagazine.com agree 110% with the UPCA about the importance of pipe clubs and support them in their efforts to grow the pipe clubs of America. Pipe clubs are a very important thing to pipe smokers. If you are not a member of one, become a member of a local club. If there are no local clubs, get a few of your pipe smoking friends and start one. If you are a member of a club and the club is not a member of the UPCA, get them to become a member.

We can not stress enough the importance of pipe clubs to pipe smokers, pipe collectors, pipe makers, and pipe tobacco manufacturers and retailers. Pipe clubs are a vital part in keeping this hobby and past time that we love so much alive. You don’t have to be huge pipe club. Start off small as a group of friends and build it up to become as large as some of the bigger clubs. Accept all pipe smokers in your area and allow them to become a member. It takes time and effort, but it is well worth it. Without pipe clubs and organizations like the UPCA, our hobby will eventually die out. We need to band together and fight for our rights to enjoy pipes and pipe tobacco and pipe clubs are the perfect way to do this.

Pipe clubs are a lot of fun. Have your members donate money and save it for special events such as slow smoking contests, dinners, trips to pipe shows, etc. Join a club or start a club to help and ensure that you and other pipe smokers have plenty of years of happy puffing ahead!


For more of our coverage of the 2010 Chicago Pipe Show, Click on the following links:

Chicago Pipe Show 2010 Pre-Show

2010 Chicago Pipe Show – Pre-Show Part 2

Chicago Pipe Show 2010 Day 1 Update

Chicago Show “Hands On” Pipe Making Seminar

Artisan Pipe Maker Bob Gilbert Interview

Report on the Chicago Pipe Show

2010 Doctor of Pipes Award Dinner

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