It’s Cobbin’ Time!

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In previous blog posts, I’ve discussed the perceptions people have of pipe smokers. When people think of pipe smokers, they think of the generic 1950’s father figure, the tweedy professor, the glasses wearing bookstore owner, the gruff sea captain, and of course, the hipster. The briar pipe has an air of thoughtfulness and wisdom, or rugged determination. Unless you’re one of those anti-smoking types, the pipe generally has a positive reputation associated with it.

The same, however, cannot be said of every tobacco pipe. That unfortunate victim is Washington, Missouri’s very own corncob pipe. The corncob pipe drudges up images of backwoods hillbillies, redneck farmers, and Huckleberry Finn. In cartoons, the cob is associated with Popeye, Frosty the Snowman, and the Hillbilly Bears. At best, the cob brings forth images of General Douglas MacArthur scowling with his gargantuan cob, or Mark Twain. More often than not, when you see a corncob pipe in art, the smoker is more often than not paired with an overalls wearing Appalachian dweller, with a bushy unkempt beard, straw hat, and a jug of moonshine sitting by his banjo.

Not exactly the most favorable of stereotypes, wouldn’t you agree?

Even amongst pipe smokers, there’s a general schism over the ol’ cob. Some pipe smokers think corncob pipes are an eyesore, worthy of mockery and derision. For them, a simple corncob pipe can’t compare to the beauty and craftsmanship of a briar pipe. If given a choice, these pipers would gladly take a generic drugstore Dr. Grabow before ever letting the amber plastic stem of a cob sully their lips.

Yet there’s another group of pipers who not only smoke corncob pipes, they’re crazy for them. They dismiss the general stigma that comes from smoking a corncob pipe, and proudly puff away on their Missouri Meerschaums. Some even smoke corncob pipes exclusively, espousing the benefits of a well-seasoned cob and ignore all briar pipes. These aren’t people from deepest, darkest Kentucky either, but pipers from all over the world.

As for me? I’m a corncob pipe fan, though I dearly love my many briars. I wouldn’t sell off my briars and replace them with cobs, but they’re an important part of my pipe rotation. However, I didn’t exactly run out and buy a cob once I took up the pipe. Rather, I purchased my first corncob pipe on a whim after I had a couple of briars.

Back when I first stumbled upon the pipe web in the late 90’s and searched around pipes.org, I read an article explaining the world of pipe smoking for beginners. This was way before the advent of youtube, so to get information on pipes; you had to find articles instead of watching a helpful how-to video that explained everything. The author gave two different routes a person could go based on their budget: the cheap way and the not so cheap way. For the cheap route, the author suggested a corncob pipe with a classic codger blend like Prince Albert and Captain Black. I remember thinking that if I was going to buy a pipe; I’d rather start out with a briar, since all the pipes that drew me towards the hobby were the classic billiard briars. A corncob pipe didn’t seem cool to a young whippersnapper like myself.

Fast-forward to the 2010’s, about a year after taking the pipe plunge, I was shopping online for some new blends to try on pipesandcigars.com. After filling my cart with a few tins, I decided I’d take a glance at their selections for corncob pipes. Having spent many hours reading pipe forums, I was well acquainted with the pros and cons of corncobs. From reading the various back and forth debates on cobs, I surmised that the main complaint the cob haters had was all based on aesthetics. They just thought cobs looked stupid, which to me felt a shallow argument. A few felt the corn taste from a cob filtered into the smoke, but that was the strongest point that they had.

On the other side, corncob pipe smokers loved their cobs, despite their sullied reputation. A pipe smoker on a small budget could accumulate a sizable collection for the price of one briar pipe. Unlike briars, corncob pipes didn’t need a rest period between bowls. Most appealing of all, corncob pipes were perfect for sampling new blends. With pipe tobacco, some stronger blends and aromatics could ghost a briar pipe, souring the next few bowls with the remnants of the previous blend.

Since I was still a greenhorn in the pipe world, a corncob pipe had the potential be an asset to my collection. I could smoke all the new blends I wanted without fear of one of them haunting one of my precious few briars for future bowls. So I threw in a Missouri Meerschaum Legend into my cart and placed my order. The pipe was only $5, so if I didn’t like it, I wouldn’t feel too put out about the purchase.

One week later, the package was on my doorstep with my brand new cob and tins of tobacco. Upon seeing my corncob pipe, my wife chuckled and gently ribbed me over my purchase. My wife grew up in Kentucky, so she had her reasons for making fun of my pipe. I stuck up my nose defiantly as I marched out to the garage with my cob in hand and the tin of Erinmore I purchased with it, ready to try out my newest acquisitions.

No matter how many pipes I add to my collection, I haven’t lost that excitement that comes with breaking in a new pipe. This time was different, since this was the first time I was smoking a pipe made from a material other than briar. Would I like my new corncob pipe, or would the haters be proven right? There was only one way to find out.

After removing the filter from the black plastic stem, I stuffed a flake of Erinmore into my cob and stuck a charring light, lighting the flake tobacco with a few gentle puffs. After the second light, I sat back and puffed away, paying closer attention than normal at how the pipe smoked.

How did it go? Well, I can’t say I remember much of it. One moment I was lighting my pipe in my cold garage in the middle of February, and the next, I was in a barn somewhere deep in the Ozarks. My heavy winter coat had disappeared, and as I glanced down, I discovered I was wearing a pair of old overalls, slightly obscured by the large beard that had grown on my face. My office chair had been replaced by an old rocking chair, and my coffee switched with a jug labeled “XXX” on the front. Though I swore I had been alone in my garage when I lit my cob, a fiddler appeared on the other side of the barn, scratching away as he called out lines to a square dance. Needless to say, I was quite bewildered as I rocked in my chair, watching the scene play out in front of me while smoking my new cob.

Okay, none of that actually happened. I’ll be honest, I could taste hints of corn in my first few bowls, but once I broke the cob in, the problem went away. Just like a briar, the cob needed a breaking in period to remove the corn taste. On a side note, I later learned that Mark Twain would hire people to break his cobs in for him. Once his cob was well seasoned, he’d put on a new stem and smoke away. Not a bad job if you ask me.

After I broke in my Missouri Meerschaum Legend, it quickly proved its usefulness as a team player on my pipe rack. I could try any blend I wanted without fear of ghosting my pipe. This opened the door for me to try Lakeland tobacco, which is notorious for leaving behind a soapy, floral taste in a pipe. Any new blend that had a strong scent to it went to my cob first for a try out.

 

Due to the low price point of a Missouri Meerschaum pipe, the cob is the pipe for the everyman. The corncob pipe fits in the rack of the rich and poor alike. For the poor piper, they’re a way to build a rotation of pipes to smoke. For the rich piper, the cob serves its purpose by smoking new blends, so that a particularly nefarious tobacco doesn’t mar their high grade Dunhill.

For the average pipe smoker, though, the cob is the perfect companion for everyday use. The piper can load up a Country Gentleman and mow the lawn or putter around in the garage without fear of dropping and breaking their pipe. While on vacation, a pipe smoker can puff away on their Legend cob in the middle of a lake or stream while waiting for their next big catch. I’ve read tales of pipe smokers who have dropped their cobs in the water while fishing, only to let their cob dry out and use it again a short time later. If a cob gets destroyed or left behind, the piper won’t take a hit in their wallet in replacing it. For just a few dollars, they’ll have a new cob ready to pick up where the last one left off.

One if the biggest strengths of Missouri Meerschaum Company is that they sell a variety of cob shapes to fit the need of every piper. There’s the Legend, which is roughly the size of an average billiard for a normal smoke. Then there are the smaller cobs for quicker smokes, like the mini cobs or the Pony Express. The Country Gentleman and Patriot have deeper bowls for when you want a longer smoke. And if these pipes just aren’t large enough, there’s the Natural Freehand, as well as the gigantic MacArthur cob. Nothing says, “I’m a pipe smoker and I don’t care what you think of it” quite like puffing away on a MacArthur cob while raking the leaves in your lawn. That’ll turn some heads.

Another great aspect about owning corncob pipes is that they’re easily modified. Most corncob pipes come with a plain, plasticlike finish to them. If you search around online, you can find ways to give your cob a personal touch. Using wood filler, sand paper, and a furniture marker, I was able to give one of my cobs a makeover, making it look a bit more rugged in appearance. There are some creative pipers out there that give their cobs a complete overhaul, completely changing the cob from its original appearance. If you’re interested in making your own pipe, it’s not a bad idea to take a cob and mess around with it to get your feet wet.

Despite their usefulness, there are a few downsides to a corncob pipe. As stated before, cobs need a few bowls to hit their sweet spot. Corncob pipes also come with plastic stems, which can crack if the piper clenches too hard. I also find that cleaning the plastic stem of a cob isn’t the easiest, due to the width of the airway in the stem. However, there are some online pipe vendors that sell forever stems for cobs. Forever stems are made from vulcanite or Lucite, like the average briar pipe. While I don’t have a Forever stem, I plan on purchasing one or two in the future for my favorite cobs. This is a great option if you hate the idea of smoking a pipe with a plastic stem. Truth be told, I don’t mind plastic stems, but they don’t hold a candle to vulcanite or Lucite stems.

Finally, cobs have a much shorter lifespan than the average briar. Depending on the size and width of the bowl, a cob will eventually burn out after repeated use. I haven’t had a cob burn out on me yet, but looking over the bowls of my cobs, its evident that one day they’ll break down. On the other hand, once that cob falls apart, its just one quick stop online to purchase an exact replica of the fallen pipe.

 

So should you pick up a corncob pipe? I think so, but ultimately that’s up to you. While it’s true that a cob doesn’t exude sophistication like a Peterson or a Dunhill, you’re still purchasing a useful, hard working pipe. The pros of owning a corncob pipe outweigh the cons, and you’ll have a pipe with a rustic and rugged reputation. Sure, you’ll get some weird looks from passersby; but you’re smoking a pipe anyway, so that comes with the territory. Smoke what you like, and who cares what a stranger thinks?

If you’re interested in buying a cob and you don’t have one, you can’t go wrong with a Missouri Meerschaum Legend. A Legend is a great entry point for a cob, with a bowl that’s just the right size for an average smoke. If you end up enjoying the Legend and want to pick up a second one, look at the selection offered by your preferred pipe shop/online vendor and pick a shape that fits your smoking style. My personal favorite cob is the Country Gentleman, as the larger barrel shaped bowl holds a surprising amount of pipe tobacco.

I have one word of caution if you choose to dip your toes into the world of corncob pipes. Once the cob bug bites, you’ll find more and more corncobs sitting on your pipe rack with your briars. You’ll place orders online for tobacco, and to your surprise, you’ll find that a cob somehow slipped into your cart. I wouldn’t be too concerned about that, though. It’s only natural that you have a few cobs on hand for the right occasion.

I also wouldn’t be too alarmed if you and up buying a rocking chair for your porch or backyard. After all, you’re not just limited to smoking cobs while sitting in a rocking chair. I mean, you can smoke a briar pipe in a rocking chair; it’s not a rule you can only smoke cob while sitting in a rocking chair. That’s ridiculous.

If you wind up with a pair of overalls for when you smoke a cob, though, that might be a reason for alarm. Then again, that front pocket is mighty handy for storing a corncob pipe and tobacco pouch. Now that I think about it, overalls are very practical attire for a pipe smoker.

If after a few months of smoking a corncob pipe you’ve joined the local jug band, then you’ve reached the point of no return. If you spot a washboard while antique shopping for estate pipes and think, “I bet I could play that”, then I suggest sticking with briars for a few weeks until the feelings subside. Keep an eye out on your favorite Pandora stations, and make sure that a Country music station hasn’t found its way into your list. Once you’re part of The Possum River Jug Band, there’s no escaping your fate.

But don’t let these dire warnings deter you from trying a corncob pipe. You might end up with a new favorite pipes if you do. Or two. Or ten. Now if you’ll excuse me, the neighborhood kids are playing out on the street in front of my house. Those no good hoodlums keep goin’ on my lawn to get their kickball. I have my Country Gentleman cob filled with Old Joe Krantz, so I’ll be sittin’ on my porch givin’ ‘em the stinkeye while puffing my cob.

Darn kids these days. No respect, I tell ya.

Happy puffing,

-TheBadgerPiper

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When I was a wee badger, every Saturday night my family would go to the grocery store for our weekly food shopping. While most lads and lasses my age would’ve found this boring, I always looked forward to it. As soon as we entered the store, I’d make a beeline towards my favorite spot— the magazine aisle.

Back in the 1990’s, the magazine shelves spanned for almost the entire aisle, filled to the brim with magazines focused on countless topics and hobbies. Most of these magazines were dull, boring magazines that held no interest to teenaged Badger Piper, but back then I could always find at least one magazine that would catch my eye. Sometimes if I was lucky, these stores would even carry comic books. I remember buying my first comic book at a pharmacy store (Marvel Vs DC #3), which led to a life long love of super heroes.

Over the years, I’d discover new magazines to throw in my parent’s shopping cart. I’d buy magazines on video games, comic books, and even MAD Magazine. Of these magazines, the video game focused ones were my favorite. Back before I had the internet, I had no idea what video games were coming out until they showed up in stores. Video game magazines such as Electronic Gaming Monthly were a godsend, providing me monthly updates of game previews, reviews, and editorials. These were thick, and I mean THICK magazines, and the holiday issues often went over 300 pages, chock full of content and gaming ads.

I need to stress how important the video game magazine was back in the day. Without gaming magazines, the consumer had no way of knowing what games were good when at the game shop/rental store. The average kid/teenager would pick a title based on the box art, or if it was a licensed game based on a cartoon/movie. Sometimes you’d find a gem, but more often than not, the game was trash. Based on my terrible NES collection, I can tell you that I wished I learned about them sooner.

Over the years, and with the growing popularity of the internet, the magazine aisle started shrinking in size. Why would someone need to get their gaming information from a monthly magazine when they could get online and read up to date information as it happened? The interest-focused magazine slowly became irrelevant, and I watched as my beloved titles like EGM, Nintendo Power, and Wizard Magazine disappeared from shelves for good as they ceased publication.

 

Fast-forward to today, and that magazine aisle is now just a sickly shell of its former self. As a lover of history, I believe the death of print magazines is not only a shame, but a real loss for mankind. Today, we can go back and read archives of old magazines at libraries, or buy them off of ebay. Magazines are physical, tangible records capturing a moment in time. I can grab an old gaming magazine and see what was the latest hotness in April 1997.

As great as the internet is, there are real risks to storing all of our information online. Without warning, an entire site can disappear, erasing articles forever. If the webmaster doesn’t have an archive of the site, all that information is gone forever in a blink of an eye.

As I said, I love learning about the past, and one of my favorite topics is reading the history of books and literature. For more than 3000 years or so, mankind has written on papyrus, vellum, clay tablets, scrolls, and other materials to record history or tell stories. If we’re talking about cave paintings and whatnot, it’s even longer. These records and stories have had to survive wars, fires, disasters, and time itself to reach us today.

For example, let’s look at the literature of the Anglo-Saxons. The Anglo-Saxons spoke and wrote in Old English, the predecessor to our modern English. Though the Anglo-Saxons recorded their history and stories down in manuscripts, only enough material has survived the ages to fill a small book. Who knows what we lost, thanks to those pesky Vikings? I’m sure most readers have read the epic tale of Beowulf, or are at least familiar with it. The fact that we have Beowulf at all is a miracle in and of itself. Only one manuscript of Beowulf exists today, and it was almost lost in a fire in the 17th century. Imagine what could’ve happened if someone hadn’t braved the flames and pulled it out just in time? Without it, we might not have The Lord of the Rings today.

We have these stories today because they were preserved with quill and vellum. My fear is that one day, all of our digital records could disappear in an instant, forever lost. Even the articles in this blog could vanish without a trace, all due to human error.

 

So what does this all have to do with pipes and tobacco? Why I’m glad you asked! With the loss of magazines, I’ve had a rectangular shaped void in my heart. I’ve missed having a monthly magazine to flip through at my leisure. Since I’ve started smoking a pipe, I’ve wanted a pipe-focused magazine or catalog to scour and read in my spare time. While there are some great pipe focused magazines out there, I haven’t been able to subscribe to them. Sure, there are some great substitutes out there, such as pipe podcasts; they can’t replace my love of the print medium.

This brings me to the subject of this blog post. Back in 2012 when I was starting out as a pipe smoker, I placed a tobacco order with Pipesandcigars.com. A few months after I placed my order, I received a catalog in the mail from P&C. I had no idea this was coming, so when I opened my mailbox and found the catalog, it made my day.

I spent the next few days pouring over the catalog, thumbing through the pages as I looked over the different products P&C had to offer. Sure, all this information was on their website, but having a physical copy of the catalog has its advantages. For example, while I knew a lot about the different pipe brands out there, my pipe tobacco knowledge wasn’t up to snuff. Here, I could go page by page through their tobacco selections and read the descriptions for each blend. I didn’t have to scroll through a website and click on every single blend that had an interesting name to see what they were like. For a pipe newbie like me, this was a valuable tool, and perked my interest in blends that I might’ve passed up before.

I thought that the catalog was a one-time deal, but a few months later, a new catalog arrived in the mail. Since then, the P&C catalog has been a welcome addition to my mailbox, and I look forward to it every month. I wish I still had my original catalog though, as with the passage of time, some of those blends in my first catalog disappeared as they phased out of production.

I want to take a moment and thank the kind people over at P&C who put the catalog together. There’s a lot of care put into each edition of the catalog, with the P&C staff chiming in with recommendations for new blends. Each page is full color, highlighting a variety of pipes, tins, and blends for the pipe smoker, keeping them updated with the latest products that might be a great addition to their rotation. I’ll often check out the pages highlighting tobacco blenders that I haven’t tried before, and see if there’s something new that I might like. I credit the catalog for helping me discover War Horse Green last year, which has become a weekly smoke for me.

If you haven’t ordered from P&C and subscribed to their mail catalog, then you owe it to yourself to do so. Having a physical pipe catalog is an incredible tool that will only help you refine your pipe tobacco wish list. Your wallet might not appreciate it, but your cellar will.

 

I need to stress the importance of what P&C is doing with their catalog. With each new edition, they record a specific moment in time for the world of pipe smoking. Recently, Dunhill ceased production of their legendary pipe tobacco line. Over the next few months, every online retailer will run out of their stock and remove Dunhill’s logo from their webpage for the foreseeable future. Early Morning Pipe, Nightcap, My Mixture 965, Elizabethan Mixture, and even the dreaded Royal Yacht will vanish from all online sites.

However, thanks to the P&C catalog now we have detailed records of Dunhill’s current line up, as well as when each blend entered the market. While this doesn’t mean much for most pipe smokers, for the pipe tobacco historians out there, its useful information.

On certain pipe focused webpages and forums, you can find scans of old pipe tobacco catalogs that date back to the early 20th century. The pipe nerd can go back and read a scan of an old Peterson catalog and see how the company has evolved over time. We have records of the available tobacco blends from, say, the 1950’s, all thanks to these print catalogs.

The P&C catalogs continue this old tradition, not just for our benefit, but also for those pipe smokers who will come after us. One hundred years from now, future pipe smokers trapped in the matrix will be able to pull up these old, archived catalogs and get a snapshot of our tobacco market. They’ll be able to learn about the Syrian Latakia blends that disappeared in 2017, or the McClelland red Virginia blends that vanished in 2018.

To some pipe smokers, this isn’t all that important. After all, what’s the use of remembering a discontinued blend if you can’t smoke it? Yet pipe smoking and history are intertwined, considering that pipe smoking is already viewed as an odd throwback of days gone by. Just as we keep the hobby alive by sharing our knowledge for those who are interested in the hobby, P&C is archiving pipe history in their monthly print catalog.

Of course, P&C isn’t just printing these catalogs out of the kindness of their hearts. They’re a business, and they’re mailing these catalogs to your doorstep in the hopes of another purchase from their website. However, I’m a capitalist, so I have no qualms being advertised to with products that I might like. Good on ‘em, and I’ll gladly buy from them again and again. But by creating these catalogs, P&C is also providing a valuable archive for decades to come.

So I tip my cap and raise my pipe in honor of P&C and the hard working men and women who spend time creating the P&C catalog every month. Whether you know it or not, you’re preserving our history.

Puff in peace, my friends,

-TheBadgerPiper

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Disclaimer: I do not work for pipesandcigars.com, nor do I receive any sort of compensation for writing this article. I’m simply a fan that appreciates their work.

An Update and a Tribute

Greetings fellow pipers, and a hearty new year to you.

First, I wanted to give an update, as it’s been some time since I’ve posted an article. Don’t worry, I haven’t given up on blogging. The reason for the silence is that during the month of November, I participated in National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo). Every November, writers all around the world spend the month working on a new novel, with the goal of reaching 50,000 words written before the end of November.

Ever since I became serious in my writing endeavors, I’ve wanted to participate in NaNoWriMo, but every year, I’d find a reason to wait until next year. After six years of excuses, I put my foot down and forced myself to participate. With my new job, and travelling for the Thanksgiving holiday, I knew it was unlikely I’d hit the 50,000 word goal. So I went in with the mindset that whatever word count I reached was better than not participating at all.

So for November, I put the blog on the back burner and focused all my efforts to get as far as I could in my project. I hunkered down in my garage, smoked my pipes, and typed away, letting my imagination run loose. In the end, I managed to hit 25,000 words, which I’m happy with considering the circumstances. In December, I worked on a Wind in the Willows-esque that I’ve had simmering in my mind. I’m still working on it for another chapter before I return to my NaNoWriMo project.

Since I’m mostly done with deadlines for now, I’m back to focusing on the blog and coming up with topics to talk about. My goal this year is to write at least one article on the blog a month, and hopefully expand into some pipe related short stories. I’d also like to revamp my blog and make it a bit more presentable. I confess that I’m not very savvy when it comes to webpage design. My gift is working with words, not web design! So will be a work in progress.

So let me ask this, what would you like to see me talk about over the next year? A blog lives and dies by its audience, and I love interacting with my readers and fellow pipers. I truly appreciate every person who visits my little blog, and thank you for reading. Are there any pipe topics that you would like me to explore? Let me know in the comment section.

Finally, I wanted to take a moment to pay my respects to a fellow piper that recently passed away. As some of you know, I began my pipe journey by visiting the Christian Pipe Smokers forums, which helped answer some nagging questions I had about taking up the pipe.

One of the most prolific posters on the forum was a Canadian user by the name of Rusty. Rusty was an atheist, yet he found a digital home on the CPS board, sharing his vast wealth of pipe knowledge while playfully poking and prodding the other forum members. Though he rarely agreed with the faith background of the majority of the forum users, there discussions were always respectful and lively.

When I say Rusty had a vast wealth of knowledge of pipe lore, I mean he was a living embodiment of pipedia. If there was a thread on Erinmore flake, Rusty would prattle off the entire history of Erinmore, and when they precisely changed their blending methods. If you had a question about Dunhill pipes, Rusty knew the answer, and he wasn’t afraid to share it.

I didn’t post all that much on CPS (and for some reason, I can’t seem to log in anymore), but I did have the chance to interact with him on one occasion. I was preparing to go to Ireland, and I wasn’t sure how much pipe tobacco I could bring back without paying extra fees. Rusty popped in and gave me the answer in his jovial manner, chiding me for not knowing how to do a proper Google search before answering my question. I thanked him for his help, and soon after stopped posting. It wasn’t that I didn’t enjoy the community, considering I still lurk there. I’m just naturally shy, and find it hard to acclimate into a well-established forum.

Rusty passed away over Christmas, and I was shocked to read the news today as I checked the forum. In the thread announcing his passing, the entirety of CPS poured out their love and appreciation for a man that gave the community so much of his knowledge. He left a lasting impact on many of us, and I know they had an impact on him as well.

If you have some spare time, I highly suggest going over to the forum and reading his posts in the pipes and tobacco forums. There’s a good chance you’ll learn something new from a man that knew pipes better than most seasoned pipe smokers.

Rest in Peace Rusty, you will be missed.

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-TheBadgerPiper

The Tradition Continues On

The Tradition Continues On, a long form haiku poem
by TheBadgerPiper

With lit match in hand,
I place it over the bowl,
Gently puffing smoke.

My pipe is alight,
After tamping I recline,
My evening is set.

Just me and my pipe,
My mind wanders to the past,
And of days gone by.

In the wisps I see,
Companions of long ago,
That I’ve never met.

The hourglass slows,
For this ghostly communion,
Of like-minded souls.

Brothers of the pipe,
Briar, clay, corncob, and meer,
All joined together.

The weary sailor,
Battered by the wind and waves,
Puffing at the wheel.

He mutters a prayer,
For clear skies and a calm sea,
To reach a safe port.

The tired soldier,
Clenching his cob for comfort,
At camp far from home.

He writes to his bride,
Letting her know he’s still safe,
And thinking of her.

Also the scholar,
Wrapped in his smoking jacket,
Pipe and book in hand.

He ponders myst’ries,
In his chair by the fireplace,
Into the wee hours.

The late night writer,
Rewriting his manuscript,
For the umpteenth time.

His bleary eyes squint,
Smoke from his pipe in his eyes,
He waits for his muse.

Their images pass,
As I puff and tip my cap,
To those long since gone.

I, too, will join them,
A ghost among the pipe smoke,
One day far from now.

‘Till then I will smoke,
And honor their memory,
With this tradition.

Passing my knowledge,
Of pipe smoking to pipers,
Who heed the pipe’s call.

Though odd we may be,
We’ve found contentment and peace,
Through briar and leaf.

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Author’s Note: Over on the ThisPipeLife forums, we have a haiku thread (started by the illustrious pipe master Motie2). In the thread, the users have been taking poems from the public domain poetry book Pipe and Pouch, and reworking them into haikus. It’s been a fun exercise, and anyone who wants to try their hand at it should check it out.

Tonight, I decided to take a stab at doing an original haiku in long form, and see where it took me. This is the result, and I hope you enjoyed it as much as I did writing it.

Until next time, happy puffing,

-TheBadgerPiper

The Great Treasure Hunt

Before I begin, I need to address an issue that’s affecting bloggers such as myself. I am, or was, a Photobucket user, and had been for about ten years. I used it for posting images on forums, and later blogs like this one. Unfortunately, Photobucket decided to change their services overnight, and blocked all image sharing for free members. So many of my former posts no longer have images on them.

That’s fine; they can do that if they want. If the price to upgrade to a paid user were affordable, I’d go ahead and do it. However, $399 a year to upload photos to my blog is outright ridiculous.

Needless to say, I will no longer use Photobucket for this blog, or at all. I’m not sure when I’ll be able to fix my older posts, but I’m unhappy with how Photobucket handled this. Like knocking the dottle from my pipe, I’m ridding myself of their services and going somewhere else.

Summertime has reared its head once again, much to the dismay of pipe smokers everywhere. While people are out with barbecues, sports, and other activities people who love the sun get to do over these next few months, I’m here in my garage with my fan blowing at full blast. Even as a young lad, other than time off from school, I never cared for summer. Humidity, mosquitoes, wasps, spiders, bugs, and the heat? Blech!

So how am I beating the summer heat? By staying indoors as much as possible during the day. While I don’t get to smoke my pipe as much in the summer, I do think of my pipes and stare at the upcoming forecast, praying for decent weather so I’m not melting in my garage.

In the meantime, I’ve taken up a new hobby to help pass the time: visiting antique stores. When I was younger, my mother would take me along for trips to the local antique stores. While other kids might’ve found this boring, I actually enjoyed going to these shops and looking at old items from the past. Back then, I was more interested in searching for old action figures and comics, but every now and then I’d find an old set of pipes and study them when no one was looking.

Since taking up pipe smoking, my memories of antique shopping as a teenager gave me the idea to go back to those musty shops and see if I could find a hidden gem. On pipe forums, you’ll hear about the occasional score lucky pipers have made, such as some piper snagging an old Dunhill for $10. Now that’s a rare case, but if you don’t look, you won’t know what you’re missing. Where I live, there are tons of antique stores, so every few weeks I’ll go explore a new shop and see what I can find.

So far, that $10 Dunhill is my personal Loch Ness Monster. In fact, if I can find an old pipe or two, then I consider that a success. Most of the time, the several pipes I find are not worth a second glance. I’ve even found one old corncob pipe at one store that sells for $50! Ha! Good luck selling that one.

Last year, I happened to come across a charming old Chacom Billiard with a tall bowl for $30. I debated long and hard about purchasing it, but decided to spend the money towards commissioning a pipe. When I came back a few months later to pick it up, the pipe was gone, snagged by another lucky piper. Sometimes I regret passing it up, but it’s a reminder to me that if you find something worth buying, then buy it before someone else does.

One’s mileage will vary when going to an antique shop. Not only is there the possibility that you won’t find a pipe hiding somewhere, there’s also the price issue. While there are hidden $10 Dunhills out there, more often than not, I’ll run into the old, chewed up Dr. Grabow for $50, or that cob I mentioned earlier. The antique shopper is at the mercy of the shop owner, and some think their old, dirty pipes are worth their weight in gold. Keep that cell phone close at hand, so you can make sure you’re not getting ripped off from an ignorant seller.

Though I’ve yet to find a deal on a neat pipe, I don’t regret my time searching them. Venturing into a new antique store is an exciting adventure, with countless nooks and crannies to pick around in search of a hidden gem. I’m like an explorer in an undiscovered territory, and it’s waiting for me to jump in and find that forgotten pipe that has to be somewhere next to the jar of discarded buttons.

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One object that I can always count on finding is the old, discarded pipe rack. More often than not, I’ll find at least two pipe racks in each store. Most are the plain, boring pipe racks that hold six pipes. If I’m lucky, I’ll find one with a humidor jar in the middle, with the scent of Prince Albert still lingering in the jar. Most recently, I found a wooden train, with two pipe rests sitting in the middle two cars. While I don’t have room in my shelves for such an object, I can’t deny how cool it is.

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Even when I don’t find a pipe in an antique store, I’ll still find various pipe related objects and paraphernalia. Pipe tobacco tins are common, featuring such classic blends as Prince Albert and Kentucky Club. Sadly, many of these tins are priced a bit more than I’d like to pay. Why spend $20 on an old Prince Albert tin when I could put that money towards tins with actual pipe tobacco in them? Still, there’s no denying that they’d look nice displayed next to my pipes.

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Other neat objects I’ll find are little figurines or books with characters that have pipes in their mouth. They’re a reminder of days long past, when pipe smoking was much more common than our ragtag group of misfits today. Take for example Cycling Daddy (pictured above). You’d never see a toy today featuring a pipe smoker. Yet there’s Cycling Daddy, with a creepy doll happily riding around with a pipe in his mouth. Let’s hope he’s not possessed like one of those dolls in a horror movie.

Even though not every trip is a success, exploring old antique stores is a ton of fun. While you’ll find a lot of junk in an antique store, you’ll still see many old and long forgotten items from the past. There are so many items you’ll find that aren’t in production anymore, or old toys you’ve forgotten about. When you step in an antique store, you’re leaving the modern world and entering a museum of the past. As pipe smokers, we have an appreciation of all things old and out of place, and the antique store is a perfect place for the piper to spend an afternoon.

Stay cool out there, and happy piping to you!

-TheBadgerPiper

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The Dreaded Hipster Label of Dooooom

Let’s talk about labels, shall we? Labels are the lens we use to identify and sort the people we meet. This practice is learned in school, particularly in high school, as a way for the young to find likeminded individuals, as well as single out the ones they should avoid. These social groups have terms such as the jocks, the popular kids, the rich snobs, nerds, losers, etc. Your entire reputation is determined by this label, and good luck trying to shake it off.

While these labels tend to fall off after college, there are some that persist long after graduation. These labels can define a generation of people, or a specific time period. In the past, you had the beatniks, the hippies, and later the grunge movement of the Gen-Xers. During their heyday, people looked down on these scene followers with distain and disregard. Those labeled as part of the scene were viewed as sheep, followers with no opinions of their own.

Today’s modern punching bag for the millennial generation is called “The Hipster.” Now, I’m not an expert on the topic, but I’ll do my best to give them an adequate description with their common stereotypes. Hipsters are young adults who are known for their pseudo-intellectual interests and hobbies. The Hipster drinks craft beer and expensive macchiatos, and eat locally grown organic kale. They dress in attire associated with manliness, such as large beards that would make Gimli jealous and flannel shirts, yet they lack any manly skills. The common person on the street views the Hipster as nothing more than a poser hiding behind their thick-rimmed glasses and old timey beard.

Hipsters also have a reputation for enjoying things that are seen as unpopular or dated out of a sense of irony or pretentiousness. And here is the reason why I’ve decided to write this blog post. See, with the rise of the Hipster came with a resurging interest in pipe smoking. Pipes not only became popular again, but trendy, much to the chagrin of the common pipe smoker. Now, when the pipe smoker is out and about enjoying their pipe, there’s a chance that they will get stamped with the dreaded “Hipster” label.

Pipe smokers haven’t taken too kindly to this turn of events. As if pipe smokers didn’t have enough to deal with already in the form of the “anti’s” trying to crush pipe smoking all together, now they have to defend themselves from accusations of being pretentious posers. In response, pipe smokers developed a rabid knee-jerk reaction to anything having the whiff of Hipster on it. Read any pipe forum talking about Hipsters, and the venom will seep from your computer screen onto your keyboard.

A recent example of this occurred when online tobacco retailer Pipes & Cigars.com released an ad claiming that every hipster needed a pipe. Pipe smokers on forums and reddit were none too pleased with P&C’s blatant pandering to the Hipster crowd. I agreed with them. Any sort of ad promoting pipe smoking as trendy and the cool thing to do should go back to the drawing board.

Since my initial venture into this hobby, I’ve seen a growing fear among my fellow younger pipers of being labeled as a Hipster. We feel this need to go on the defensive, proving why we’re not mindless Hipsters simply following a trend. Heck, when I first started this pipe blog, I debated writing an article explaining why I wasn’t a hipster. When new pipe smokers fear talking about their new hobby because they don’t want to be labeled as a Hipster, then there’s a serious problem.

Let’s get a few things out of the way first. I am a millennial. I have an old timey beard on my face and use beard oil. I am not a lumberjack, yet I happen to enjoy wearing plaid. I write for a living, instead of working as a mechanic, a construction worker, or other “manly” professions. I enjoy fancy iced coffee drinks, instead of pure black coffee straight from a thermos. And if I’m out for drinks, I’ll be the first to order one of those pumpkin or grapefruit craft beers. However, I don’t identify myself as a hipster. I don’t do any of the above things I listed to fit in with a crowd; I just happen to like them.

I’m also a pipe smoker, because I enjoy smoking a pipe. Do I do it out of a feeling of superiority or the desire to seem smarter than I really am? Not at all. I smoke a pipe because it’s something I’ve wanted to do long before the Hipster movement deemed it cool. I liked the earthy aroma of pipe tobacco, and the look of a pipe. I don’t smoke a pipe for the stares or the oddness factor; I smoke a pipe because that’s just who I am. I imagine that if you’re taking the time to read this blog, or post on a forum or reddit, you also smoke a pipe for a similar reason.

Despite my intentions, I know that when I’m out smoking my pipe, there will be those people who assume I’m a Hipster, but should I really care? Should any of us care? No! You know why you smoke a pipe, and that’s all that should matter to you. Life is too short to worry about these things.

Back when I was in fourth or fifth grade, I went to school wearing a Cubs shirt with Taz the Tasmanian Devil on the front, dressed in a Cubs uniform. Though I was from Chicago, I didn’t understand at the time that some Chicagoans root for either the Cubs or White Sox, not both (for some odd reason I don’t quite understand). As I stood in line, a more popular classmate came up to me, pointed at my shirt, and said “The Cubs suck.” I stood there in complete shock, as I thought everyone from Chicago was supposed to root for the Cubs. I never wore the shirt again, and looking back that’s something I’ve regretted for many years. I let someone dictate what I enjoyed, just to try and fit in. Never again will I make that same mistake, and I will follow my own path instead.

Going back to the subject of Hipsters for a moment, is it a bad thing that others might find their way into our hobby for a different reason than our own? Sure, pipe smoking is considered trendy at the moment, but trends don’t last forever. Eventually people will lose their interest and seek out the next new fad and leave their briars behind, perhaps for a later decade.

However, there will be those who gain a genuine love of pipe smoking due to the Hipster movement, and stick with it. Why should they be treated as outsiders because they took up the pipe that way? Not everyone had a pipe smoking relative, or wanted to take up the hobby from a young age. For some, it’s an impulse decision with no sentimental memories attached to it, and that’s okay.

The pipe smoking community is a diverse collective of people ranging from the mild mannered to the eccentric. There is no exact mold that crafted us all. Not every pipe smoker has to be some sort of craftsman, scholar, or wise old parent. We’re free to be who we are without having to play pretend. That’s what makes our hobby interesting. We all come from different backgrounds and walks of life, yet we share a common love of an old tradition.

My hope is that my fellow pipers will stop worrying about being labeled with the dreaded “Hipster” tag, and just enjoy their pipes. Let’s let the mockers about Hipsters, and smoke your pipe in peace. You know who you are, so don’t let others determine that for you.

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TheBadgerPiper

The Joys of Pipe Cleaning

 

Recently, I noticed that my pipes hadn’t been performing as well as they should. As I eyed my Peterson 05 and struggled to pass a pipe cleaner, I discovered the draw hole was caked from dottle. The 05 wasn’t the only pipe with this issue; all my pipes were long due for a good round of cleaning. Scratching my head, I realized the last time I gave my pipes a thorough cleaning was back in May of 2016, over six months had passed since then! Sure, I run a pipe cleaner through my pipes after every use, but my pipes needed some well-deserved TLC.

Pipe cleaning and maintenance is an essential part of taking care of one’s pipes. After a pipe is smoked many times, the briar starts to stink in a way that’s off-putting. It’s like if you never took a shower, only wiping yourself down with a hand towel to get off the dirt. That might work for a day, but eventually all the deodorant in the world won’t hide your terrible body odor. Pipes need to be taken care of, and it’s our duty to keep them clean for our enjoyment. After all, pipes take care of us, so it’s only fair we do the same for them.

As a pipe smoking enthusiast, I’ve built up a collection of pipes for my rack. As nice as it is to see a filled pipe rack, the problem comes when its time to clean them: it takes time. I’ve discovered that cleaning my pipes takes days to complete. So, with no writing projects to focus on, I set aside a week this past February to clean all of my pipes and get them back in order. I’d grab a bunch of pipes from a rack, gather my cleaning supplies, and head out to the garage to start my work.

I have a specific system for cleaning my pipes. I use two different kinds of pipe cleaners for the job. For everyday smoking, I use Dill’s pipe cleaners (the red packaged ones you see in grocery stores), as they’re cheap and easy to find. Deep cleaning is a different beast, and I use BJ Longs Regular and Tapered pipe cleaners, as they don’t bend easily in the shank. I also buy shank brushes to keep on hand for the draft hole. When you smoke a pipe regularly, the dottle builds up around the draft hole until you can’t pass a cleaner through it. Shank brushes are tough and firm, and can break through dottle when a pipe cleaner can’t. These are handy tools, and I can’t recommend them enough for every pipe smoker.

When I started cleaning my pipes as a new pipe smoker, I used Isopropyl alcohol as a cleaning agent for inside the stem. This time, I switched to everclear, as I’ve heard it’s safer for the pipe smoker. I still use the Isopropyl bottle, because it’s easier for me to stick a pipe cleaner in and get it saturated.

I bought a pipe reamer when I first became a pipe smoker, but haven’t needed to use it until now. Some of my pipes started building an uneven cake, so the reamer scrapes the bowl for me and eliminates undesired cake (though not too much). Finally, I keep a stick of beeswax chapstick to polish the stems of my pipe. The beeswax works well in making my stems look brand new after a bit of elbow grease with a paper towel. The only tool I don’t have that I plan on picking up in the future is a pipe cloth. It’s not necessary, but I hope to start polishing the bowls and keep them looking nice.

The whole process took about three nights to complete, taking about seven to ten pipes each night until my task was complete. I’m a bit OCD, so when I clean my pipes I use about half a roll of paper towels and set them up around me. Some were used for polishing, others to dry my hands after getting everclear or old tobacco stains off my fingers. After all, if you’re cleaning your pipes, your hands are probably going to get dirty.

Once I had everything set up, I’d put on a podcast episode of the Country Squire Radio, light a pipe, and begin my work. After separating the stem from the bowl, I soak a regular pipe cleaner in everclear and run the cleaner through the stem, followed by the bowl. I’ll take a paper towel and clean the part of the stem that connects into the pipe and remove any residual tobacco from it. Sometimes I’ll take a Q-tip and dab inside the shank of the bowl, removing any tobacco from there as well.

After that, I’ll soak a tapered cleaner and run that through as well before using a dry one to help remove any remaining everclear from the stem and bowl. Finally, I’ll stick with regular pipe cleaners until they run through clean. The stem always comes clean first, but I’ll use quite a few in the bowl until they come clean.

If a pipe cleaner won’t pass through the draft hole, that’s when the stem shank comes into play. This time, there were a number of my pipes that were so caked with dottle that I needed to use the thin end of a tapered pipe cleaner to start the process. Using a heavy-duty shank cleaner is effective, though, and once I break through the dottle and clean it out, it’s smooth sailing from there.

Once the inside of the pipe has been thoroughly cleaned, I work on the outside of the pipe. I’ll polish the stem with the beeswax until the stem shines, and dab a paper towel with everclear and clean scorch marks off the rim of the pipe as best as I can.

I’ll set the pipe aside once I’m finished and let the stem and bowl dry while I work on the next pipe before putting them back together again. Usually, it takes me about fifteen minutes with each pipe before I’m happy with my work.

 

There are some pipe smokers that might find pipe cleaning a tedious process, but I enjoy it. I can just sit back, puff a pipe, listen to my podcast or music, and just think while I work with my hands. As a writer, when I smoke my pipe I’m working on a story and hammering out little details. When cleaning, I’m using my hands with something tactile, and I see the results of my hard work. While I enjoy using my mind when working on things, it’s nice to take a break and fiddle around with each pipe. I take a moment with each pipe I own and think about how I bought it, and how it’s useful to me. I put care in each pipe, and I don’t take them for granted.

It’s important to have these moments as a pipe collector. The pipe is different from other forms of smoking. With the cigarette and cigar, you smoke one and throw away the butt and forget about it. There’s more thought to a pipe, as we don’t throw a pipe away when we finish a bowl. We have memories tied to each pipe, and think of the joy that they’ve brought us. There’s a special connection we have with our pipes that we don’t take for granted.

It’s important for us to take this time and clean our pipes. It shows we don’t just mindlessly smoke and have no thought for our actions. Pipe smoking is deliberate and thoughtful; from the moment we pick out a pipe, a blend, and set aside time to enjoy them. By cleaning our pipes, it’s our own way of thanking them for the service they provide for us. So if you haven’t cleaned your pipes in some time, go ahead and take care of them. They deserve it, and you just might enjoy your time.

 

Until next time friends, happy puffing!

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-TheBadgerPiper