- Kevin Godbee
- Mar 2, 2021
- 1 min read
Welcome to The Pipes Magazine Radio Show Episode 442! Our featured interview tonight is with Mike Couch. Mike is a part time pipe maker, and full time teacher at a private Christian school in north Idaho. He started smoking pipes in 2012, and in 2014 got serious about making pipes. Mike makes about 70-80 pipes a year. He makes standard shapes, and Danish-influenced freehand pipes. At the top of the show in the Pipe Parts segment, Brian will discuss two pipes you should own but never smoke. Sit back, relax with your pipe, and enjoy The Pipes Magazine Radio Show!
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The Pipes Magazine Radio Show features interviews with pipe makers, tobacco blenders, pipe and tobacco aficionados, collectors, and more. Episodes air every Tuesday.
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Mike Couch Interview
Written by Kevin Godbee
View all posts by: Kevin Godbee
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- October 1, 2022 Autumnal Comings and Goings
October is that deep-breath month we take when the sizzle of summer begins to fizzle and fades into the joys of autumn. The month always puts me in the mood for a walk in the mountains. With pipe, of course. Fall colors depend upon weather, shorter days, and cooler nights. These events limit sunlight, starving deciduous trees of chlorophyll, its sugary food. So, following the natural chemistry of deciduous trees leads us down a trail of transformative annual colors. Greens change clothes from green to reds, yellows, purples, and a painter’s palette of art-worthy other hues, showcasing special autumnal moments in the natural world. And no, the Pundit is not a arborist. He just thinks he is. Each fall deciduous trees in the mountains do their best to festoon hills and ridges with so much beauty. When the mists rise over the ridges, and lift away, beneath lie the changing hills and valleys. During this short, in-between season of nature in its rainbow of natural blush, it seems as if the slopes rust from tiptop to their root tips, in nature’s full kaleidoscopic fashion. Back in the Pundit’s flyfishing days on burbling mountain streams in fall, it was de rigueur to make sure pipe and tobacco pouch were firmly housed safely in flyfishing vest. On one of these precious long ago days, Pundit waded an Arkansas mountain stream, a beautiful four-mile stretch of water known as the Norfork. The river was a tailwater of the famed White River, a trout fisherman’s paradise. Here rainbow, brown, brook, and cutthroat trout frolic for a variety of watery bugs, such as hatching mayflies. I had just purchased a special German-made trout knife that hung around the Pundit’s neck for quick access. The shiny blade was housed in its nice leather pouch, sans button-down leather flap to hold it secure. Pitching a fly line into this water one fall day with knife—and a pipe clenched tightly—Pundit found a willing customer nibbling one of my special hand-made ties. Excited, I fought the big trout and watched it leap in attempting to dislodge the fly hooked in the trout’s hard upper lip. There was wild acrobatics swooshing up and out of the stream with more leaps and frantic tail flapping. And—as the Stoics warned, do not become attached to things, for they are not forever—I hastily leaned over to haul in the big boy with my net when suddenly, away into the wine-dark water flew my lovely knife vanishing ‘neath the billows like Odysseus’ Ino (Goddess of the Sea) veil. With sincere apologies to the ancient Greek poet Homer. Like our mortal hero lost at sea, I yelled expletives. So aghast I was, I believe I heard dark Poseidon himself reply, “Go! Go, rove your high seas if you must, and take your blows!,” for right then I lost my most precious pipe as “a wave suddenly took it and Nymphe Ino’s hands received it” away into the fast-running water. Dear reader, pause a moment if you will, and imagine my shock at the burbling, green-blue stream so immediately thieving away my treasures, along with the now dislodged trout as if for good measure. Just a moment earlier I was a placid hunter in the god-loved lands of the Phaeacians. Now I was a forlorn man. A complete loss! Total discombobulation. In addition to losing the big one that got away, Pundit lost a fine German-made trout knife and a very pricey pipe. Lesson one: Never purchase a German-made blade and hang it around your neck in an open leather pouch while flyfishing fast-moving trout waters. Lesson two: When flyfishing fast-moving trout tailwaters below power-producing rivers, smoke only inexpensive cobs—they’re the best smokers for the money. And if they drop into the “sucking ebb sheeting with foam” of our finest fast-moving trout waters, at least you haven’t lost expensive blade and pipe, which continue to float in the mists of dreams to this day! These days, Pundit is content to stroll about in the color sensation of the moment in mountains, pipe firmly in hand. Flyrod left at home. My enjoyment today sitting next to mountain cascades is watching others wade the streams, whilst I confidently puff and marvel at the splashy canopy of colors. Which reminds old Pundit of one of his favorite poems by one of his favorite poets, Robert Frost. A couple of lines if you please, maestro, will do here: From the poet’s autumnal poem, Nothing Gold Can Stay: “Nature’s first green is gold, Her hardest hue to hold.” If you are a poetry, buff, ahem, you can read the short poem at https://www.poetryfoundation.org/poems/148652/nothing-gold-can-stay-5c095cc5ab679 Now for a few more short takes. This time of year, I enjoy pure Virginias. Okay, call me flaky, that’s perfectly fine. I love Virginia flakes as well when ridge-chilled winds rush into the valleys. I am among those who bemoan the demise of the cherished McClelland blends, most especially the famed nonpareil 5100 Red Cake Virginia. And, of course, the much-lamented loss of McClelland’s annual Christmas Cheer of outstanding broken flake Virginias. I first found this fabulous blend in 1992. One more to whet the tobacco appetite is Iwan Ries IRC slices, another favorite this time of year. This is a fine Old Belt flue-cured Virginia flake with a dollop of perique. You can find its review at https://www.tobaccoreviews.com/blend/2725/iwan-ries-irc-slices Now, a couple of old pipe smokers of the past: Günter Grass, Nobel Prize winner in Literature and a prolific German author of novels, poems, plays, and graphic art. He was born, Oct. 16, 1927, and died April 13, 2015. And Evelyn Waugh, British journalist, novelist, and travel writer, was born Oct. 28, 1903, and died April 10, 1966. A parting quote from Waugh sums up the autumnal comings and goings: “Change is the only evidence of life”–Brideshead Revisited Photos by Fred Brown
- September 27, 2022 Pipes Magazine Radio Show Episode 524
Welcome to The Pipes Magazine Radio Show Episode 524! Our featured interview tonight is with Russ Hicks. Russ is a sketch artist and long-time pipe collector / smoker. Russ is a returning guest helping us kick off a new series of discussions regarding which current production pipe tobaccos he is aging. In Pipe Parts, Brian will discuss seasonal weather changes, and how they affect him, and his pipe smoking. Sit back, relax with your pipe, and enjoy The Pipes Magazine Radio Show!
- September 20, 2022 Pipes Magazine Radio Show Episode 523
Welcome to The Pipes Magazine Radio Show. Not only is it the 523rd episode, it is also the 10th anniversary of the show! We never thought we’d go this long. Our featured interview tonight is with Professor Kelly Jolley. Kelly is a Professor at Auburn University in the areas of religion and philosophy. These are certainly contemplative areas, so it is quite fitting that he smokes a pipe as well. He has four books that you can check out on Amazon. In Pipe Parts, Brian will have Part I of a review of a quite large pipe collection. Sit back, relax with your pipe, and enjoy The Pipes Magazine Radio Show!
- September 13, 2022 Pipes Magazine Radio Show Episode 522
Welcome to The Pipes Magazine Radio Show Episode 522! Our featured interview tonight is with pipe maker Jason Patrick. Jason is from the Chicago area, and he started making pipes in 2019. Some of his earliest memories are of his grandfather smoking a pipe. He started pipe smoking in his early 20’s, and soon decided that he wanted to make them. He started with standard shapes, and then branched out into Danish-style freehand designs. He likes to listen to our show while kayaking. In Pipe Parts, we will have an Ask the Tobacco Blender segment with Jeremy Reeves. Jeremy is the Head Blender at Cornell & Diehl, which is one of the most popular boutique pipe tobacco companies in the USA. Sit back, relax with your pipe, and enjoy The Pipes Magazine Radio Show!
- September 9, 2022 The Good Old Days?
It’s no secret that I love old pipes. Like a well broken-in pair of jeans, there’s something they bring with them that makes them sort of special. They carry an unspoken history with them; the places they’ve been, the tobaccos they’ve seen. Sometimes, this history is evidenced by the knocks and dings they show, or the aromas and tastes of tobaccos long since forgotten. Depending on how poorly it’s been treated, this can make an old pipe rather less than desirable, but a well cared for briar from eras past can be, or can become, a cherished favorite. Some collectors I’ve spoken with have insisted that old pipes are better than new ones. How often have we heard, “They just don’t make ‘em like they used to?” There may be some validity to this, but I’m not convinced this sort of universal statement is true, or even necessarily a positive one. Let’s look a little closer, first at pipes of olde, and see if we can make some informed speculations. At the zenith of the pipe’s history, at least with respect to popularity, pipes were made and sold by the millions. Manufacturers across all quality levels procured briar by the ton, not by the piece, and the best makers performed whatever magic they felt appropriate to ensure a good smoking result, always with an eye towards differentiating their pipes from those of their competitors. Some air dried their briar for long periods, others force-dried their briar more quickly in klins. The final processes of sorting, grading and finishing was sometimes a closely guarded secret amongst makers, with only the finest pieces finding their way down the line to being sold as top grade pipes. Additionally, various techniques were often employed after the pipe was machined, such as Dunhill’s famous “oil curing,” used as part of the finishing process for their legendary “Shell” sandblasts. Sasieni was said to “oven-cure” turned bowls, subjecting them to tortuous heat over a prolonged period; those that survived the ordeal were reputed to be very dry smokers. Of the more budget friendly brands, the Dr. Grabow “pre-smoked” pipe, employed what is likely the most dramatic “curing” method. Using a technique developed by Louis B. Linkman in 1933, finished pipes were filled with tobacco, smoked gently to the bottom by his Automated Smoking Machine, the process repeated several times. This was, if nothing else, a stroke of marketing genius. Inexpensive as they were, the briar used to make Dr. Grabows was arguably not especially consistent or well cured, which would result in at least some pipes tasting bad out of the gate. The smoking machine could mitigate the potential harshness of those early bowls without suffering the torment a human smoker would, allowing lesser quality briar to be made into acceptably good smoking pipes. One thing is certain. Of the millions of pipes made each of those golden years, some were certainly exquisite, many were likely dreadful, and the majority fell somewhere in between these extremes. Pipes then, especially those in lower price categories, were seen as tools, simple items to buy, use, and occasionally discard. It’s probable that the worst of them simply never survived to share their horror with us today. Even if a pipe was good and smoked heavily, it would eventually reach the end of its useful life, either through just being “smoked out,” or suffering a broken tenon or bitten through stem or other misfortune, and find itself cast aside. Only “special” pipes, the favorites, the best of the best, would be lavished with sufficient care to allow them to survive the decades in relatively good nick. So, when we find old pipes, at least those from the makers with good reputations, they are more likely to be accidentally curated specimens rather than overall representative examples. If we add to the equation the fact that old pipes, again, if well cared for, have already been thoroughly broken in, we are likely to find some true gems amongst the antiquities. So, are old pipes really “better?” What about today’s low volume pipe makers who operate in a rather different environment? Because today’s demand for briar is significantly lower, suppliers can be more careful in choosing and cutting burls. They’ll cut blocks to maximize their quality, or at least their grain consistency, rather than to achieve the burl’s greatest yield. Too, they can spend more time ensuring that the wood they sell is carefully boiled and dried sufficiently to deliver consistently good smoking. The pipe maker can then do whatever is in their bag of tricks to further increase the probability that the pipe they make is an exceptional one, lavishing great care on all the subtle details of its creation. Additionally, with today’s ease of information exchange, and perhaps somewhat less of a tendency towards competition, a lot of experimentation has been performed and shared, along with some pretty detailed analysis of what has worked in the past, and what may not have. The result is that more is probably known today than ever before about what makes a great pipe, and what doesn’t, which certainly benefits us as pipe smokers. In terms of artistry, witnessing the exploration some makers have taken in creating new shapes and forms can be a remarkable adventure in its own right. And, there are more choices to be found for interesting stem materials, including improved vulcanite that is less resistant to oxidation than much of what was available in the past, and custom-cast acrylic that presents the smoker with more choices of color and style than ever before. Though probably not universally true, even amongst “high volume” manufacturers, today’s lower demand can result in greater care in briar selection, with advances in technology arguably creating increased consistency in construction. There are many factory pipes at affordable prices that rival the best the past had to offer. I’ve got a lot of beautiful old pieces in my collection that are brilliant smokers, including the one I’m puffing […]
- September 6, 2022 Pipes Magazine Radio Show Episode 521
Welcome to The Pipes Magazine Radio Show Episode 521! On tonight’s show we have a new episode of an ongoing segment of what Brian likes to call “Inside Fred’s Head” with Fred Hanna. Fred is a well-known pipe collector, author, and speaker at pipe shows. He has a PhD. in psychology and teaches the same at the Chicago Campus at Adler University. He is also author of the book, “The Perfect Smoke”. This is the 11th in the series with a long form discussion of pipe and tobacco questions sent in by our listeners. In the opening “Pipe Parts” segment, Brian will get caught up on some of the longer answers from questions mailed in. Many of these are great tips for newbies, and a good refresher for the rest of us. Sit back, relax with your pipe, and enjoy The Pipes Magazine Radio Show!