On Bending and Straightening Amber Stone Stems

For meerschaum lovers, as I am, amber and Bakelite are important materials, as they were both used for stems in many antique and some slightly newer pipes.

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Blog by Robert M. Boughton

Copyright © Reborn Pipes and the Author except as cited

No amount of experimentation can ever prove me right.  A single experiment can prove me wrong.

— Albert Einstein (1879-1955), German-born theoretical physicist and winner of the 1921 Nobel Prize for his discovery of the law of the photoelectric effect, received in 1922 (don’t ask why – the answer in some ways is more complex than Relativity)

THE POWER OF PERSUASION

This is the most difficult pipe restoration blog I’ve ever written, for the things about which it is not.  It is not about an antique gold-banded KB&B Blue Line Bakelite, c. 1910-1914.  A friend of mine won that distinguished, classic shaped pipe from the pre-Kaywoodie era for a very low price on eBay, and I offered, for a small fee, to restore it.  It is not about the still older gold band CPF Best…

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Customer Testimonials

Here is what past customers have written about their experiences with pipes they bought at Roadrunner Restored Pipes.  All testimonials are on file.

It looks brand new!  Fired it up with some Old Dark Fired and smoked my first Peterson.. Love it! I look forward to future business…Enjoying the heck out of [this pipe] — Jim. S., Stewart, TN, who bought a black sandblasted K&P Peterson System Standard

My only decision with it now is if I am going to give it’s first run with Red Raparee or Exotique — the kind of dilemma I enjoy.   I like everything about the pipe, size, shape, chunky stem and open draw but I really love that stain!  Overall — a real charmer.  Thanks for your willingness to part with it — it was very generous.David D., Rising Fawn, GA, who bought a WDC Full-Bent Billiard 

Just a note to let you know the pipe arrived today in perfect condition.  It’s
everything I hoped it would be — fits my hand perfectly and it’s the sort of size I like!!  Even the psuedo p-lip (I have another pipe like that)!  Beautiful pipe.  Smokes very well… Many thanks indeed!! Dallas H., Vancouver, BC, CANADA, who ordered an Italian No-Name sandblast/natural mix of exceptional beauty, in the Peterson System style

I received the pipe today and it looks fantastic!  Many thanks! Daniel P., Scottsdale, AZ, who sent me a gorgeous big round and thick bowled Ropp Natural Cherrywood #815 he bought online for cleaning.  The key to the lock box where the package was placed was put in someone else’s PO Box, and that scoundrel absconded with it.  As Daniel had prepaid the cleaning fee, and although I was not responsible for the Postal error, I felt the right thing to do was offer Daniel a similar but somewhat nicer Ropp of the same style, the 901, for $5 more.  The deal worked out well, and I saved a future customer.

 

 

Pipe Smokers’ Laws – Borrowed with Appreciation

This was posted yesterday on Reborn Pipes, where it is being well received.

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Blog by Robert M. Boughton

Member, International Society of Codgers
Member, North American Society of Pipe Collectors
Member, Facebook Gentlemen’s Pipe Smoking Society
Website Roadrunner Restored Pipes
Blog RRP
Falderal About Me
Photos © the Author except as noted

For once I have a contribution to make, which I am so grateful to have chanced upon while surfing the Web for something I no longer even remember (and said forgotten search therefore being of no consequence), that needs no opening quote or official introduction.  I have no idea what category this offering falls under but doubt the change to my typical format will be met with anything less than approval and pleasure by the majority of this forum’s readers and contributors.  My  only request – call it a suggestion, if you prefer – is that the following list, courtesy of the Ozark Pipe Smokers of Rogers, AR, USA, be given…

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The Big Sleeplessness

From thirty feet away she looked like a lot of class.  From ten feet away she looked like something made up to be seen from thirty feet away.

— Raymond Thornton Chandler (1888-1959), British-American writer of poems, essays, literary reviews, screenplays and hard-boiled detective tales, through his great character Philip Marlowe in “The High Window,” 1942

Note: My sincere apologies to the genius of Raymond Chandler, who, with Dashiell Hammett, all but invented the hard-boiled detective fiction genre.

I was wearing my powder blue boxers.  I was unkempt, dirty, unshaven and sober, and I couldn’t care less who knew any of it.  The sun was a big dark orange rooster mute with nothing left to crow about other than another shot at a life filled with danger, which reminded me I had not slept going on five days.  The freshness of the Sandia foothills was fooling no one who has blown the kind of time I have in this high desert burg, even if that steady, sandy ascent into the mountains was too formless to see yet.

The temperature during the longer shifts of light than dark grew hotter with each twenty-four-hour trudge that dragged on that miserable stretch, late July into August.  The dog days neared their end with no such luck appearing on the horizon for the solar blaze.  The sultriness outside was the kind that had nothing to do with dryness or humidity.  The oppressiveness that hung over the entire overblown town was all about the barometer.  At night the blood red color of the fourth planet from the sun, and the fact that it was closer to our little world than it had been in eleven years, only made the air outside seem hotter.

The weather fat-heads kept predicting rain but I hadn’t seen any since the part of the year I liked best, what the locals called the monsoon season with the kind of cock-eyed, soppy buzz that got under my skin, right after the mere sound of a Christmas carol.  Last I heard, a monsoon was driven by large bodies of surrounding water.  The whole forsaken state was landlocked.  While I’m on the subject of things I dislike, I might as well mention I’m not a big fan of opera – excuse me, the opera.  I’ve had to scratch under the collar through my share of these shows and would be none the poorer if I never sat through another.  Carmen was okay, come to think of it.  At least you could say that little tease got what she had coming.

The torridness was part of the reason I didn’t bother to put on one of my suits.  All of them were the same straight cut, most black or gray but a few with some color to them, like a rumor about me that was going around.  Not that any of those stories played a part in my trouble sleeping  The other excuse for not making myself more decent was that every one of my flannel uniforms was at Owen’s, my tailor, being taken in because of the weight that was sapped out of me.  I was everything the well-dressed pipe restorer who lived alone ought to be.  I was waiting on an eight thousand dollar check to clear the bank, and until that happened I wasn’t going anywhere.

The case I was working was a tough nut to crack.  Sometimes a gig was all aces, but this was bad news that made a big part of me not even want to cool down.  My biz was to fix the brodie, only in this case the charge sheet of senseless brutalities was full with counts.  I’ve never hung it up unless the pipe was done for, as in ready to stoke the fireplace or campfire.  Briar is a stern wood, though, and I had to take a shot.  In the crowd she came from, the little sister looked plenty ritzy.  Away from the crowd made her more into something any group would give a wide berth.

Some creep did a real number on this one.  She still had a swell figure and I could tell she was a dish back in the day, but that was long ago and far away, as the kid from Hoboken crooned.  In my book, a nice body is the important thing anyway.  Whatever genius plugged this dame had to be whacky or a twit.  As I saw it, the heartless S.O.B. deserved the hotsquat.  I’m not one to lash out unless I’m threatened to my face, but if I had nabbed him, he wouldn’t have known I had a beef until I put the kibosh on him.  Not that I had any idea to dog the numbskull.  It’s not like I had a Geiger counter tuned to a man’s sweat, and murder is about as simple as common sense is common.  Besides, by then he was long gone.

I picked the broad up for a five spot, but not for anything sappy, just to save her from the meat wagon.  I kept her wrapped up like I found her and got her safe and sound to my office on Agnes Avenue.  That’s also my cave, which makes it my castle.  My heater is the only insurance policy I carry.

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I’ll give you the dope, straight up. She was worked over pretty good if that word can be used in this scenario. Her kisser and most of the rest looked like a body that was dragged along a stretch of old road strewn with potholes and broken liquor bottles. Maybe she took a dive from the high window, but that would have spelled farewell my lovely for this client. Then there was the forehead that looked to have been pistol-whipped.

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This little gal, no big surprise, had a bad dose of amnesia.  The little bit of I.D. I found on her was all but eroded by years of grime on top of all the pushing around.  All of my local pipe gumshoes were sure they recognized her as Alpha, an Israeli, on account of a distinctive birthmark forming a curious A.  I’d known a couple of the type, and something about this A didn’t jibe.

I brought my friend Steve Laug, a fellow pipe investigator north-northwest of here in Canada, up to speed with my progress.  Laug was the best P.I. in the biz and had profiled more pipes than I had ever dreamed of in my humble philosophy, to crib from one okay yarn spinner.  I don’t buy a word of the stories that some fellow named Marlowe wrote any play credited to another Brit.  Anyway, Laug also had more skill patching up the abused and maimed than anyone else I knew.

He was the one who spotted the resemblance of my victim to one of the classic models from the Dr. Grabow stable, the 42 number.  Laug shot me the profile he did on one going by the name of Westbrook about a year before.  One mugshot in particular that Laug snapped of the Westbrook gal after he started cleaning her up showed the unmistakable genetic marker of my girl.  So they were related, but how?  That was for me to uncover.

dr-g-42-westbrook_s-laugCourtesy of S. Laug, P.I.

No man could miss the hot curves on Laug’s Westbrook knockout compared to those of my Jane Doe, even after someone put the screws to her.  I followed Laug’s tip to another lead that took me to a real treasure trove, including a group shot of Doc Grabow’s X Series Continental Line, class of ’81.  Letting my eyes move over the lines and curves of these gorgeous creatures clued me into why the doc rated them X, if you get my drift.

dr-g-x-series-continentalCourtesy Dr. Grabow Ranch

Oh, so many beauties in this world, and so little time.  Still not being able to put a name to my little darling was driving me bat nuts, so I gritted my teeth and went to the archives, as I like to call the place.  It’s a reputable joint run by a Frenchman known on the streets as Pipephil.  First I inquired about Alpha and was introduced to a couple of sweet numbers that showed two styles of that outfit’s A, both about as similar as Laurel and Hardy.

alpha-galaxy-a-symbol_pipedia

alpha-kappa-a-symbol_pipedia

Courtesy Pipephil

Roaming still deeper into the organized labyrinths of Pipephil’s place, I came across an A type that was a virtual twin of my Jane Doe, belonging to a swell called Douwe Egbert, a Dane no less.  That was when I got my big break and hit the jackpot with a connection to another part of the same clan, a blue blood great Dane from the house of Elbert Gubbels & Sons of the Royal Dutch Pipe Family.  They went belly up a few years back, but not before conceiving a certain new acquaintance of mine, even if they adopted her out and didn’t give her their own name, as if it was too good for her.  All that digging paid off.  Amphora was her name, and a beautiful one at that, from the Greek for a double-handled thingy used back in ancient times to hold wines and oils and whatnot.  I looked at the facial big boned structure on Amphora and got it right off.

a-symbol-on-bit-douve-egbert amphora-a-bit-symbol_elbert-gubbels-and-sons-nl

Douwe on the left and Egbert’s Amphora on the right, courtesy Pipephil

Relieved to have put a name to my innocent friend, I started saying it out loud, over and over, as I began the tasks of cleansing, mending and restoring Amphora to health.  It was a dirty job, as some guys liked to put it in those days, but that was my specialty.  After the initial wipe with soft cotton cloth strips soaked with purified water, I made the first definite visual confirmation.  The words were legible only because I knew what I was looking for from a gander at one very crisp tattoo on the left hip of one of Pipephil’s collection.

amphora-x-tra-820-shank 23

I never could get my Amphora’s number, maybe because she was too classy to let a man of my position become so familiar.

All I can say about the next step, when I finished washing her body and went to work on that wrecked forehead, is that I was glad she was still out cold.  I had to get rough, see.  There was nothing plastic about the surgery I had to perform, but it was cosmetic, alright.  The job started out gritty and got worse, about as low as I ever go, with 80 paper followed by 150 to clear away the char alone.  I’ve seen my share of bad burns, but this was as close to a crispy critter where the victim was still alive as I hope I ever see.

The harsh part was what followed.  I had no choice but to put a file to her scalp, behind the forehead that was caved in, to fix the mess the best I could.  After that part I took a deep breath and let it out, like a tea kettle giving off steam right before it hits full boil.  I stepped back to look over my handiwork so far.  The job wasn’t perfect, but that kind of work is above my paygrade.

I did most of the mop-up of that scene of the unfolding drama with what seemed like endless paperwork.  Let’s face it, this job runs on paperwork.  Fine tuning with the full scale of micro mesh was a pleasure.

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Maybe I took a liberty at that point, but I could not control the impulse.  Besides, I told myself, Amphora might very well awaken from her ordeal of the long goodbye, which she was lucky to survive. and not even notice the patchwork I did.  That last part was if Lady Luck shined on me, but who was I kidding?  I don’t place my faith in luck and never met a dame, not the type I liked to be seen with in public anyway, who didn’t know the instant a single strand of hair went amiss.  The best I could hope for was that she would keep quiet about it.

To give Amphora a healthy tone more like her old self, at least as I imagined she once was, I gave her a thick coat of high fashion skin colorizer called Lincoln, a burgundy color that I knew I could lighten to a more natural auburn.  I applied some heat to fix the solution so it wouldn’t run and with a patience that was anything but natural to my usual personality used a three-stage, six-pad micro mesh conditioner process.  I finished that part with a light rub of four-ought steel wool.

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I saved the most slender part of Amphora for the last.

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There were scratches along both sides, but no evident mayhem. This called for more paperwork, forms 180, 220 and 320 to start. I followed up with form 400 and the full treatment of micro mesh conditioner.

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The conditioner was old, and I could see it was out of date. I checked my mail and found thenew supply was in the box. There’s a saying in billiards that the cue is only as good as the player, but a cue that’s an inch off from warping is plain bad news. I would never carry a heater with a barrel that’s off, or one that’s not nice and tight all over. I don’t even care for the 1911 .45 that’s designed that way for tactical reasons. I had a playback, you could call it, to other times in my career when I re-stocked my supplies.

Repeating the full process with the new pads, I found that even an old dog can learn a new trick, in this case to keep your heater clean and well-oiled, if you get my meaning.

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Amphora was waking up and starting to squawk.  My only retort was that medicine never tastes good, and I gave it to her.

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She was lucky her insides were cleaner than she had been outside, and I only had to give her the one dose.

While Amphora was still coming around, I found the makeup any lady of quality won’t leave home without putting on, just the usual compounds and waxes, and buffed her up.

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My insomnia and other personal stresses had made me ready to go for the big sleep, but I was over all that and was just about to take a seat on the new recliner I bought for my new digs in a more genteel part of town, and relax with a long, full-bodied, folksy Ukrainian tiger I came across at one of those new places a man can now find such pleasures.  I even sat down with the broad in my hands, feeling her fearful symmetry that only the Master Craftsman Himself could dare frame, and was about to light her fire for a quickie before taking a nice long snooze.

That was when Amphora woke up and started to yap.

SOURCES
http://www.gutenberg.ca/ebooks/chandlerr-bigsleep/chandlerr-bigsleep-00-h.html

http://www.cultureify.com/1940s-slang-lingo-phrases/

http://graphics.latimes.com/finding-marlowe/

http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2836745/How-two-Hollywood-s-famous-detectives-Sam-Spade-Philip-Marlowe-named-inspired-black-private-eye.html

https://1fa1282d-a-62cb3a1a-s-sites.googlegroups.com/site/seanspipes/home/dr-grabow-shape-charts/1981SpartaShapeChart-continental.jpg?attachauth=ANoY7crnrqZwyaoMF6HNKflSv6JrH2Q7_rP-H_6Xxq1Sa06aylrImgtGNsFeVu_T_bqhD5Y6hzREmZd4gNHMqg8hnJsZvY1OOZ_YEhyY89J1hl6hxkkPDpByhf4a8lRCcpVWOhT8jl0dm1h8VzGTZsmNyXP2hkyYUh2qNPjvWbTB_Oe2ICpBIQvJIeuZRyXhXwUU9mg0Y7kKKFJRTa_wNVG6RMzhB5mZ1mQfDOblMM0GZrGp11FRY1RsH3x40zSzsxnvXA6ipj8iBYH4SPiuD8GaKDySNG2Fcw%3D%3D&attredirects=0

https://rebornpipes.com/2015/08/29/restoring-a-dr-grabow-westbrook-42/

https://sites.google.com/site/seanspipes/home/dr-grabow-shape-charts

https://pipedia.org/wiki/Shalom_Pipe_Factory

https://pipedia.org/wiki/Alpha

http://www.pipephil.eu/logos/en/logo-d7.html

http://www.pipephil.eu/logos/en/logo-a5.html#amphora

ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED AT https://rebornpipes.com/2016/08/19/the-big-sleeplessness/

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Basic Pipe and Tobacco Care

The following list is aimed for the most part toward complete or relative newcomers to pipe enjoying, but even experienced pipe men or women may find it useful.  Although these guidelines may seem obvious when read in cold, hard type, so to put it, we have witnessed people with years of experience committing many of the Dont’s without a thought, and by the same token first-time enjoyers who grasp all of the Do’s as if by second nature.  But first for a few definitions that are necessary to continue.

  • Bit: The official name for the part of the pipe that is placed in the mouth and commonly referred to as the stem, but in fact includes the entire piece from button to tenon.  Through the bit the smoke is drawn back to the taste-bud before being exhaled, unlike cigarettes.  Bits are most often made of Vulcanite (black) or Ebonite (the natural blackness of which can be altered with various colors and patterns).  Both of these are hardened, more durable forms of rubber, and can oxidize with age.  Other bit materials include acrylic (Lucite), higher quality plastic available in translucent or colored varieties that do not oxidize; regular, cheap plastic more prevalent in the most inexpensive of pipes; amber gemstone, red, yellow or orange, brittle and formed from the fossilization of ancient pine trees, and rare in most pipes made after the early 20th century; Bakelite, a condensation of phenol or its variations combined with formaldehyde into another form of plastic; nylon, and even wood such as bamboo.
  • Button: The part of the bit with top and bottom ridges used for the teeth to hold onto, also called the lip. And of course, there are different varieties of button types: standard, fishtail, p-lip, denture, wide comfort, regular (single bore), double bore and double comfort. The last two, with pairs of small holes for drawing the tobacco smoke, are designed to be bite-resistant.
  • Tenon: The narrow end of the bit or shank made of Vulcanite, plastic or acrylic and/or metal that twists or screws into the shank and acts as a sort of filter. Note: some pipes have reverse tenons built into the shanks that twist or screw into the bit and may or may not be removable for cleaning.
  • Shank: The extension from the bowl with an airway – in general round, triangular or almost flat – connecting the bit and bowl.
  • Mortise: The wider opening of the shank where the bit is inserted.
  • Draught hole: The narrow hole in the shank from the mortise entry to the bottom of the chamber.
  • Bowl: The area of the wood or other material used to fashion this primary part of the pipe, inside of which is placed the tobacco
  • Chamber: The formal name for the inside of the bowl, where the tobacco is load

These are the basic Do’s and Dont’s of pipe and tobacco care.  Recline in a comfortable chair with a nice pipe loaded and a chamber-full of good tobacco, relax and peruse the contents.  This is not a set of rules to be memorized at once; there will be no test when you finish, at your own speed.  The intent of making an ever-changing guide for connoisseurs of pipes and their plentiful varieties of tobaccos is to provide a handy source of information to consult as needed.

LOADING THE CHAMBER

DO: Try to fill the chamber with tobacco using this three-step method.  First, fill the bottom third of the bowl loosely (baby’s touch), then the middle third use a firmer hand (mama’s touch) and finally a still firmer hand (papa’s touch) to top it off, tamping the last until it springs back a little about an eighth of an inch below the rim, but not so firmly as to create a tight draw.  This approach should result in a good initial charring light and then, after tamping the first thin layer of ash, a more lasting one.  The desired result is a thorough, even burning of the tobacco throughout the smoke.  Still, re-lighting and occasional tamping are natural, as with cigars, due to the tighter packing compared to cigarettes and the contemplative nature of savoring a pipe.

DON’T: Never stuff or cram all of the tobacco into the chamber.  Doing so is almost certain to prevent lighting at all or cause the tobacco to stop burning due to lack of oxygen, and, if forced to light, often results in a wet, harsh taste and a backwash of brackish spittle, also referred to as dottle.

LIGHTING THE PIPE

DO: Always try to light the tobacco with matches or a special lighter, designed for pipes, that aims the flame directly into the chamber.  If necessary, an average lighter such as a Bic can be used, with care to keep the flame in the chamber to avoid rim burning.

DON’T: Never, ever use a cigar lighter, also known for good reason as a torch, to light pipe tobacco.  The chamber will develop burnouts, or holes through the bowl, as a result of the intense heat of the cigar torch.  Even with a pipe lighter or Bic, careless use will burn the rim.

SAVORING THE PIPE

DO: Remember the pipe is not a cigarette or cigar and should not be inhaled!  The tricky part is in drawing the smoke into your mouth, sometimes all the way to the taste buds which are most prominent on the back of the tongue and roof of the mouth, to discover the full mixture of flavors of a fine tobacco blend.  This ability comes with practice and learning to close your throat.  The ability to inhale and exhale through your nose with a pipe in your mouth will become habit, and it is clear you are doing so when the embers in the chamber do not glow red and a little plume of smoke does not rise from the still-lit tobacco.  I have noticed a peculiar physical reflex caused when my mouth is clamped on the bit and I inhale through my nose: the back of my throat closes on its own.  I have no idea what this phenomenon is called, but try it.  Of course, just as there are folks who are double-joined or otherwise able to perform atypical physical feats, so also may be the case with some of those who fancy pipes.

DON’T: As inhaling pipe smoke will make all but the most devil-may-care old-timer cough violently and indeed become quite sick, it’s simple: don’t inhale!  Pipes are by far preferable to cigarettes first for the reason they are not to be inhaled and for the absence of the poisonous, addictive chemicals added to cigarettes (a.k.a. coffin nails, cancer sticks).

DO: Enjoy your pipe.  Puff it as you would sip fine liquor or another special beverage.

DON’T: Refrain from rapid, constant puffing like a locomotive that will overheat the tobacco and hence the pipe.  Not to kick a dead horse, but again, the higher the temperature of the tobacco and pipe, the more probable that damage such as burnouts, cracks, large pocks in the chamber and other irreversible harm will befall your pipe.  No pipe, including a corn cob, need be considered disposable.

REMOVING TOBACCO AND ASH

DO: Holding the pipe upside-down by the bit with one hand, gently tap the shank against the other hand to release the ash and unsmoked tobacco into an appropriate receptacle, such as an ashtray.  A small, spoon-like scoop on one end with a tamper on the other, for purposes of loosening remaining contents of the chamber and tamping the tobacco in the chamber, is often needed to complete the task and is very inexpensive, even in the more elaborate three-piece variety.

DON’T: As hard as it may be to overcome the common habit, never bang or even tap the rim against a hard object. This will, sooner or later, leave chips and dings on the rim and upper bowl and also lead to cracks in the bowl and/or shank and even more serious damage such as bending the tenon or even breaking the shank.  Also, never empty the spent ash and tobacco into an unsafe receptacle, including trash cans and paper bags, because of the risk of resulting fire.

CLEANING THE PIPE

DO: Always wait until the pipe is cool before removing the bit and cleaning the pipe to avoid breaking the tenon, bit or shank.  Gently remove the bit, holding the stummel (the bowl and shank) firmly in one hand and steadily turning the bit until the tenon is clear.  In some cases, the bit may be so tight it will not turn.  If that happens, try the same disassembly method above, but instead rotate the stummel.

Standard (or soft), bristled, extra fluffy and churchwarden pipe cleaners are among the few absolute necessities for pipe care.  They are vital for regular removal of moisture and other accretions from the pipe stem as well as the inner shank and start at about $2 for a pack of 35.  Walgreen’s sells three-packs at a great savings but might only have the bristled kind.  Use regular cleaners on most pipes, which have large enough airways in the bits to fit the soft cleaner, in particular when soaked with alcohol for periodic deeper cleaning.  Also, moisture and detritus in the shank all the way to the draught hold at the bottom of the chamber are absorbed better by the regular or extra fluffy cleaners, and the wire from the bristled variety can wear grooves in the bottoms of meerschaum and clay chambers.  That said, there are exceptions to almost every rule and times when a fluffy cleaner just won’t fit through the bit or shank.  So keep some bristly cleaners on hand for those situations!  A paper towel is best to clean the chamber of all pipes so as not to remove the desired 1mm of uniform cake.  All of these steps can be done every time the pipe is used, but should not be avoided, on average, more than every two or three times the pipe is enjoyed – and should be taken before replacing the pipe on its stand or in its bag and/or box, lest moisture causes the pieces of the pipe to become stuck together.

A note on filters: dispose of any separate filter you might use in some tenons as needed, and insert a fresh replacement when finished cleaning the pipe.  The need for filters is disputed and depends on personal preference, and when they are saturated the user will be aware from the typical foul taste and gurgling of the draw.  They come in several varieties: Dr. Grabow paper types that fit most U.S. made pipes designed for such use, including corn cobs; the Medico 66-baffle paper system that is interchangeable with the Grabows; Savinelli balsa strips; 9mm options for larger bores such as many British pipes, and still other, more elaborate models.

Most knowledgeable pipe enthusiasts, who tend to have collections, also recommend a “cooling-off” period after smoking a single pipe several times so that the flavor of the tobacco is at its best and without any brackishness.  The length of time between smoking a given pipe is a matter of intense debate.  Therefore, as a rule of thumb, get to know your pipe(s) to decide how long is needed for yours.  Still other supplies for pipe cleaning, including liquid solutions and wire brushes, are inexpensive.  Screens of the kind used for pipes made for smoking alternative ingredients should be unnecessary if the tobacco pipe is well-engineered and maintained, and brands like Savinelli sometimes include special balsa filters.

DON’T: Failing to clean the pipe regularly can cause the bit and shank to become filled with thick, wet, harsh substances leading to an unpleasant pipe experience as well as the previous warning about sticky parts, not to mention greater cake buildup and, ultimately, the need for professional cleaning.  Never use a makeshift object, such as a pencil, screwdriver, paper clip or anything else that can break the wood and other material of the pipe or become lodged in any part of it.  This is a common way to disable or destroy a good pipe and cause great grief.  Never use a knife or other sharp object to clear away excess cake buildup in the chamber.  Gouges in the chamber can lead to burnouts if smoked before repairing, as one example of potential problems.  Consult your local tobacconist, who will likely do it for you at no charge.  If you feel an overwhelming need to rid the chamber of unwanted cake yourself, use a reamer designed for the purpose, careful to leave the 1mm or so of cake.  They are available online at reasonable prices and various types.  Don’t twist the bit in a back and forth manner as this creates friction and heat that over time damages the pipe.   Do not force the separation!  Again, consult your local tobacconist for help or advice!  I know ways to deal with this situation but feel it advisable not to mention them here so as not to be blamed for any resulting damage to a wonderful pipe should the reader employ the wrong measure.

MAINTAINING PURITY OF TASTE

DO: If your standard briar pipe has not been cleaned on a regular basis long enough for the bit and shank to become congested or clogged with tobacco or a dark mixture of saliva, tar and other foul liquid combinations, you can dip as many pipe cleaners as are necessary in Everclear 190-proof alcohol (where available) and run them through the bit and shank until they come out relatively clean.  Everclear, a brand of ethanol (rectified spirit, the type from which drinking alcohol is made) is the best type for this process, as it is very strong and dries faster.  However, not everyone can get his hands on the stuff, so unflavored and colorless high-proof vodka is a good alternative.  The only rectified spirit stronger than Everclear is Spirytus Vodka from Poland, at 192-proof (the absolute – no pun intended – highest purity), and can be found for $15.99/375 ml compared to $11.99 for Everclear.  Even 92% isopropyl alcohol is an acceptable alternative that can be obtained almost anywhere inexpensively.

DON’T: Do not use methyl, propyl or butyl alcohol, which are for laboratory and industrial purposes, to clean any part of a pipe. These other types of alcohol are poisonous and often lead to blindness and death.  Do not use anything with more than a very small alcohol content to clean Lucite, or acrylic, bits as well as softer woods such as cherry. Alcohol can and will cause warping of bit substances other than Vulcanite.  In particular, never use regular strength alcohol to clean the shank or chamber of meerschaums (which, by the way, often come with acrylic bits).  Instead, use pipe sweetener, or freshener.  The Castleford brand has worked well for me but is blue and therefore should not be allowed to touch the outer bowl and shank, so as not to discolor the porous material.

PROTECTING THE PIPE AND TOBACCO

DO: Remembering that the tobacco pipe, even corn cobs, is a fragile but durable object of beauty and utility, regardless of the price, always store and transport it with care.  Padded travel pouches made of leather and less expensive materials are available as well as boxes.  If it came with a sleeve and/or box, keep it there and in a safe place when not in use.

DON’T: Do not store or carry a pipe anywhere without respectful protection.  Chafing, scratching, dirtying, overheating or unintended falling to the ground are likely results.  Like DVDs, pipes are easily damaged, in particular if left near a home heating device or in a motor vehicle.

DO: The same rule applies to the tobacco, which dries out faster the warmer its storage place may be.  Various sized small jars available at stores like Walmart, individually or in flats, are great for preserving the moisture of tobaccos.  Small mailing labels can be placed on the side of the jar to describe the tobacco in it, or the information can be written on the lid with an indelible marker.  However, if your goal is to set aside tobacco to let it age (called cellaring, from the ideal storage location), transferring the contents of a tin or other package to a jar will not do the trick.  To age tobacco, either leave it in the original vacuum-packed container or put it in a durable special baggie and vacuum-pack it yourself.  You can write the brand and name of the tobacco and the date it was made if known, or the date packed, on the baggie with an indelible marker.  Whether you keep your tobacco in the original package or a jar, if it becomes dry, it can always be rehydrated by various methods, including my personal favorite, the Hydrostone.  Soak the stone in purified water for about ten minutes and then place it in the package.  The dryer the tobacco, the longer the rehydration will require – from hours to days.  In extreme cases, re-soaking the stone may be necessary as many times as it takes.

DON’T: If you do not use a particular tobacco very quickly, it tends to dry out in the original package even if it is stored in a place that is cool.  So it’s a good idea to invest in the glass jars and always store your tobacco in a cool location (but as with coffee, not a refrigerator).

CHOOSING THE RIGHT PIPE

DO: Choose your pipes, in particular the first time, based on three easy factors: æsthetic (personal appreciation of beauty), mechanical and financial.  The most important of these is the first, being your own, very personal attraction to the pipe.  These marvelous instruments of relaxation and deep thought come in many different styles, shapes, sizes and materials.  Styles include full-bent, bent, straight and sitters, to name some.  Then there are natural (smooth), carved, rusticated and sandblasted finishes.  The shapes are numerous including classics such as the apple, billiard, brandy, bulldog/Rhodesian, calabash, cherry wood (both the wood and one style of sitter), churchwarden and Dublin.  Then there is the original Danish freehand with the plateau (rough top) rim, and all sorts of artisan pipes by independent makers, some of which defy description and can only be called freehand.   Find one that you like, not something you believe is “cool” or will impress your friends and others – unless, of course, all these conditions are met!  You will be the only person who smokes the pipe, and so yours is the only opinion that matters.

Mechanical considerations involve the over-all construction and engineering of the pipe, beginning with the opening of the air hole in the button, traveling all the way through the bit and aligning with the draught hole.  The best test is to see if you can run a cleaner without trouble all the way through the pipe, while it is assembled, and into the bottom of the chamber.  This is the sign of a well-engineered pipe, whether it be a no-name Italian or an expensive brand.  Without getting into names, there is a certain venerable company, on a European island country, with a well-deserved reputation for quality pipes that nevertheless sometimes have a tendency to be buggers when put to this test, even disassembled.  In other words, the name and price don’t guarantee the level of engineering.  Also, any pipe with a cheap plastic bit is a good sign of one to avoid.  Lucite is a high-quality plastic found on many fine pipes, although Vulcanite and Ebonite are the standards.  The bit should fit the pipe, neither too loose nor tight, and should be flush all around with the shank.

The key is the look and feel of the pipe in your hand and whether it passes the mechanical tests.  This brings me to the ever-wider availability of “estate” pipes, which were once owned and enjoyed by previous, unknown pipers.  Many of these provide the opportunity to obtain an excellent, collectible pipe that might otherwise be out of your price range at a very low price.  The catch is that you need to trust that the person who restored a given estate pipe did so with skill and care to ensure the absence of flaws as well as thorough cleaning and sanitation, the methods of which I will forego explaining here.

One final note on this subject: always scrutinize a pipe, new or used, for any cracks, in the bowl, shank or bit!  You might be surprised how many flaws are missed by tobacconists.

DON’T: As I have already indicated, price is not a necessary part of the pipe choice decision.  Affordability, of course, is.  Price ranges for new pipes, name brand or otherwise, are about $45-$100 low-end, as much as $250 mid-level and anywhere into five digits or more high-end.  If you can afford more, by all means invest in a brand pipe that really grabs you – but not with the thought that the price makes the pipe!

The bottom line: Love and protect your pipe by taking the above simple precautions.  Any pipe, no matter how generic, will serve you long and well if you do the same for it, and the pleasure and satisfaction you will receive in return are priceless.  But don’t sweat it. In almost no time, all of this and more will become second nature.

Some of us are in the business of selling, cleaning, refurbishing and restoring neglected pipes and see more than anyone should of the abuses that befall these wonderful works of craftsmanship and quiet enjoyment.  Therefore, we have nothing to gain by promoting the constant care of potential customers’ pipes…except for the satisfaction of seeing well-maintained examples.

[This guide is a work in progress that is updated on a regular basis.  After publishing the first version on the Smokers Forums-UK. I received an amazing amount of feedback that was of great help in clarifying and expanding the list.  I continue to keep my eyes and ears open for new thoughts on the subject of making the most of pipes, and any input is always appreciated!] 

Bewitched, Bothered and Bewildered by a Mastersen

This blog was first published on rebornpipes.  I already sold the Mastersen to an experienced fellow pipe man who told me it was just what he had in mind to add to his collection. 

I’m wild again, beguiled again
a simpering, whimpering child again
bewitched, bothered and bewildered am I.
I couldn’t sleep and wouldn’t sleep
when love came and told me, I shouldn’t sleep
bewitched, bothered and bewildered am I.
— “Bewitched (Bothered and Bewildered,” 1940), lyrics by Lorenz Hart (1895-1943), music by Richard Rodgers (1902-1979), a great American musical team

INTRODUCTION
Since the song “Bewitched” was introduced by Vivienne Segal in the 1940 Broadway musical “Pal Joey,” there have been many covers. Written for a woman, quite a few have made it “their” song, from Ella Fitzgerald to Lady Gaga. Men have taken their shots, also, from Frank Sinatra to Rod Stewart. But when I was a teenager, I had the enduring privilege of seeing Lena Horne at the Mark Taper Forum in Los Angeles, and she did it, as the Chairman of the Board would say, her way. She sang some parts like a choir mistress in Heaven and spoke others in the husky asides of a barfly, keeping the audience enthralled and on the befuddling edge of tears and laughter. And so to hear the song in my mind is to relive the gruff silkiness of the lady’s inimitable voice.

My mother has always been a devotee of Freudian psychology. Being more agnostic regarding the Austrian neurologist who pioneered psychotherapy, my father tended toward dismissing all of the man’s work despite the lasting innovations. Therefore, in general, I began to take my mother’s view of the matter, until I was older and found a balance between my parents that they, alas, did not.

Now, bear with me, there’s a point coming. My dad told me one day that the songs people whistle or hum, without even thinking about it, reveal their subconscious moods. He was in the frequent habit of popping out such tidbits of knowledge, and for that I am forever grateful. I realized I had stopped listening to anything else he said maybe a half-hour earlier, having dissociated deep into myself, as far away from my dad as I could get. In fact, at least on a conscious level, I forgot my dad was there until he made the casual comment, and I stopped humming. I had to stop everything, including the gardening and general cleanup work we were doing on the patio, to figure out what was the tune, and I still remember now: “Cat’s in the Cradle,” by the late great Harry Chapin.

That’s right, I was humming about a father and son who never take the time to sit down together and have serious talks. I was not aware I even knew the story of the lyrics that well, but liked the tune. My dad and I had both heard it countless times, no doubt, as the spring afternoon I’m describing was in 1978, when I was 16, and the song came out in 1974 and won the Grammy for Best Male Pop Performance. Snatches of the words came to me: “I’m gonna be like you, Dad, you know I’m gonna be like you,” and “But we’ll get together then, you know we’ll have a good time then,” and “He’d grown up just like me, my boy was just like me.” The smirk on my dad’s face, with its annoying and condescending twist of the lips, said everything. He knew he had figured me out at last, although not his own contribution, and he was right, so I grinned, my own expression of false pride I learned from my father. I could see it stung my dad, and I’m now sad to say I was happy.

Thinking back on that encounter with my dad, as I began to find my own twisted path in the world, I consider it odd that he so berated basic Freudian theory of deep subconscious conflicts influencing our conscious actions. After all, humming a Harry Chapin tune that summed up my subconscious feelings at the time seems to me nothing less than proof of a simple variation on what we still refer to as a Freudian slip. Had my conscious mind picked the song, it would have been “”Don’t Think Twice, It’s Alright,” by Bob Dylan.

As I began work on this ornery, perplexing pipe 16 days ago, and continuing through to its completion, I found that I was humming the refrain from “Bewitched.” Sometimes I even broke out into the repetition of words that came back to me. And so I understood I was making a musical Freudian slip of sorts. The Mastersen freehand had many flaws to overcome, and I was indeed bewitched, bothered and bewildered at the challenge of removing them. I had also come to love the pipe without ever having tried it and, like the story of “Bewitched,” despite its presenting difficulties.

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So blackened and grungy was its bowl, so almost thorough the filling of the chamber with cake, so worn and grimy the shank, and so ruined the once typical Danish freehand plateau style rim as well as the reparable-but-not-worth-the-work bit, I did not even know what brand of pipe I had.

That is, until a happy coincidence that occurred at the monthly Moose Lodge meeting of my pipe club on the third Thursday of last month, August 18. One of my fellow pipers, Mario (who is very into Kaywoodies and metal tobacco pipes and once bought a KW from me), showed me a beautiful Mastersen of which I snapped a photo with my Nikon. Due to the increasing instability of that camera, which is cheaper to replace than repair, the photo is nowhere to be found. At any rate, I handed my dingy and as yet unknown pipe to Mario, who said, “Ah, another Mastersen!”

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Mario Coveting a Don Warren Pipe

That was how I learned what I had. I ask you, what are the odds? Bestowed with a vision of the potential for a real beauty if restored with the necessary attention and care, I experienced a sudden sense of urgency to fast-track my Mastersen. I still did not even know how it was spelled, thinking it was the same as Bat Masterson, the famous TV dandy, gambler and lawman played by Gene Barry, who preferred his wits and cane to his gun for four seasons from 1958-1961. The same error by other pipe collectors and sellers accounts for the reason more examples can be found online using the spelling of Bat’s last name.

I did, however, pick up a few pieces of information along the way about Mastersen pipes. According to pipephil.com, and suggesting the brand is still in production, “Mastersen is [emphasis added] a brand of the former Shalom Pipe Co. [of Israel] which was later bought by Mastercraft.” Mastercraft, in turn, was taken over by Lane Ltd. A contributor to the Dr. Grabow Collector’s Forum (DGCF) noted the Shalom connection but added that Mastersen pipes were manufactured from the late 1960s to the mid-1970s as redemptions for Brown and Williamson’s Sir Walter Raleigh tobaccos. In this case, I suspect Pipephil was correct but meant to make clear that Mastersen was made by Shalom only, and the DGCF man had it right about the time period and redemption points.

Here are two shots of Mastersens I found online, the first with nice vertical grain, and the second showing the plateau rim type natural to the brand’s freehand pipes. Neither is anywhere near the quality of the specimen Mario is so lucky to own, with its exquisite, perfect, vertical grain and strawberry blonde shade.

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RESTORATION
Mario’s beautiful example of what a Mastersen freehand could look like served as a wondrous counter-spell to the initial bewitchment that froze my thoughts of starting the job. Still, I was bothered by the apparent lack of any plateau remaining on the rim and the resulting need to do something about that dilemma. And of course the stem bewildered me more than a bit. (Ha-ha.)

Setting the bit aside for the time being, I began my assault on the stummel by soaking it in Everclear and then giving the still-caked chamber a 40-minute preliminary reaming, as that single good, long one proved insufficient to mend the old ways of the small space. The next pictures show before, during and after.mas6mas7mas8

I continued the corrective measures with both my Senior Reamer and a new “one size fits all” type I found online. The little thing was so inexpensive I couldn’t help getting one to see if it worked. I have to say it has its uses, which are limited, but this chamber of horrors was one of them. I suppose the best way to describe the only function I’ve found for the less powerful reamer is by comparison to micro meshing after sanding. The small reamer has a certain precision that smooths away some of the rough edges left by its Senior counterpart. Maybe for those of you who have seen real combat on the battlefield, it would be like sending in the Army Corps of Engineers to clean up the devastating work of Marines.

The reaming complete, I turned to sandpaper, first on the rim and chamber with 150-grit, then working up the fine line to 180, 220 and 320.

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I used the same progression of paper, minus the 150-grit, on the bowl and shank. That was enough for the first night.

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The next day, Saturday, I slept late, meaning 9 or so in the morning, for the only time my cerebral RAM can access. I arose in an excellent mood made better by starting my first giant mug of strong, rich French Market coffee mellowed with chicory. Since I was in such a clear, positive frame of mind, I savored the moment more by turning to the bit that was wrecked by the havoc of some poor soul who must have suffered from a sort of waking temporomandibular joint disorder, even though there is no such malady since the real thing occurs while one sleeps. It’s called everyday teeth grinding when one is cognizant, and if a pipe smoker is that angry he ought to give up the best known form of relief from stress altogether. I ran a couple of cleaners through the air hole, first a dry run and then soaked with Everclear, and used the last of my supply of OxiClean to give the bit a bath. And now I’m gonna show you some 8×10 color glossies of that ordeal. You see, I was still of the mind that I might take the time to salvage the heinous wound to the mouthpiece of this bit.

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By this time I already knew I was going to find a replacement somewhere, but once I start something I have to see it through. Therefore, I used more of the fine steel wool and then micro meshed from 1500-12000, just for the sake of it. Be all you can be (for now), mighty bit!mas17mas18

I did find a replacement in a bag from my recent move to better digs that I’ll show you later, because I’m sick of the entire idea of bits for now and it’s out of order, and I did keep the original for some unknown pipe I will restore for my own use rather than to sell to a trusting and hapless buyer.

Grabbing the steel wool again, I put it to better use on the stummel, with gentle rubbing.

mas19mas20mas21Lo! How a simple micro mesh progression from 1500-12000 will change the hue of briar!mas22mas23mas24

Three days almost to the hour after I began this project, there was no more putting off the inevitable: doing something to make the rim rough rather than the usual desired velvety smooth. Part of me that had no trouble adapting to the rule “If it isn’t broken, don’t fix it,” one of my dad’s many maxims, hated the notion of touching a rim that was “perfect” the way it was.

In the end, I knew that a smooth rim on a Danish freehand style pipe was anything but perfect, and I considered my options, which seemed to me to number three. 1) I could rusticate the circular top, but the Mastersen freehand is not a rustic pipe. 2) I could reshape the top and try to roughen it up, but I’ve never done that before, to be honest. 3) I could leave it flat but give it some sort of texture.

The last choice seemed the best way to go, and that’s what I did. Starting out with a couple of level but tentative strokes of a wood file, I succeeded in making the following beginning, which I later gave more depth.

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I came across a surprising number of other Mastersen freehand restorations, and two of them recounted the same obliteration of the rim and chamber stuffed with carbon char. The common rim problem suggests to me a straight, shallow plateau that lends itself to being burned away by the average pipe enjoyer. I don’t know what to make of the mystery of the overflowing chambers. The two reviews of these pipes’ level of smoking quality are very high, one coming from a regular participant in an online pipe forum and the other from my friend Daryl. Given my run on inexplicable coincidences, maybe both Mastersens were smoked close to death by the same perp.

But on with the restore I must go. The beautiful briar needed a light stain, and I didn’t want to overdo that part of the task. The only problem was that I wanted the bowl to be a tad darker than the shank, and the darker stain I had was very dark, Lincoln Marine Cordovan (deep maroon) alcohol-based leather conditioner. Taking a wild chance, I used that on the bowl and rim and Fiebing’s Brown on the shank. I was surer than the first people to test the A-Bomb were with the risk they took that I could remove enough of the excess darkness from the bowl without scratching it. The scheme still must sound plain crazy. Anyway, after flaming out the alcohol with a Bic, I set it aside for 10 minutes.

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The father of my best friend in high school used to wake up or snap out of a reverie, stretch, yawn and say, “Well, hell!” Those are the words that came to my very conscious mind as I chose 500-grit paper to begin eliminating the ash-like residue and over-darkness from the stain.mas29

I applied Halcyon II wax and let it sit for 20 minutes before rubbing the stummel with the same soft cotton cloth shown above.

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The next photos don’t quite show the subtle difference, but it is there, as I think the final shots will reveal. I was almost done, I thought. All that was left with the stummel was to make the color still lighter. Using the finest third of my micro mesh pads, I gave it a strong buff with 4000, 8000 and 12000, and even then resorted once more to the super fine steel wool. My rim work is clear here.

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The stummel finished, I looked for the bit and remembered I had not yet built up the tenon that was too narrow to fit the Mastersen shank. With other more pressing business to tend, I did not begin that stage for another two days. When the other matters were caught up for the time being, I considered the discolored replacement bit and gave it an OxiClean bath with a scoopful from a new tub of the powdered detergent and bleach and removed the resulting crud that was leeched out of the Vulcanite/Ebonite with 320- and 220-grit paper. I also buffed with the full range of micro mesh. As a point of interest, did you know if you Google Ebonite, almost all of the links are to bowling balls? It seems that is now the primary material for the balls used by serious participants in that sport, as it can be given color.

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I started the process of building up the tenon with Black Super Glue. This part took several more days. After the first layer, I added fine scrapings of Vulcanite from an old bit thrashed beyond hope of repair.

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At last the two pieces of the puzzle fit together, and I connected them.

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CONCLUSION
Although the grain does not have the same uniform, vertical tightness and the color is not as light as I hoped to achieve, I can say without hesitation the task was worth every bit of bewitchment, bother and bewilderment I encountered. But this seems like the perfect way to celebrate Labor Day, although this was a labor of love, not work.

SOURCES
http://articles.latimes.com/1991-04-17/news/vw-125_1_head-music
http://drgrabows.myfreeforum.org/archive/mastersen__o_t__t_502.html
http://www.pipephil.eu/logos/en/logo-m3.html
http://drgrabows.myfreeforum.org/viewtopic.php?t=502&start=0
http://piperestorer.com/home/318-masterson-freehand-made-in-israel.html
http://pipesmagazine.com/forums/topic/by-request-the-restoration-of-my-masterson-freehand
https://www.bowling.com/shopping/ebonite/bowling-balls?gclid=Cj0KEQjwr7S-BRD96_uw9JK8uNABEiQAujbffJTXbPGJnkV_ebKRiCbi6AG7xKzy_Nd0Q5G2OeTLs3gaAoV-8P8HAQ#all

 

About the Author

I was born in the South Bay area of California in 1962 into a family that was notable for its diversities and similarities.  On my mother’s side there were the surfers and photographers; on my father’s, the men of science and art.  Although I seem to be the only member of the family with a literary bent, as it happened, when it came to photography, the twain met.  I will never forget my early childhood, much of which was spent in my grandparents’ home, looking up to my grandfather, who appeared to be a giant.

All fortunate little boys, when they’re growing up, have a role model who is bigger than life. For me it was my Grandpa. When I was very small, we used to take walks from his house in Hermosa Beach down to the ocean, and along the way, every time, we always stopped to talk to all of the people who also respected my Grandpa. Without doubt, he was a local celebrity and fixture.  At first I had no idea that his fame spread round the world. All of the great surfers of the time as well as others involved in the daring sport — people like Mike Purpus out on the waves and Dewey Weber, both hot-dogging and later making longboards, to Hap Jacobs, the famous board maker, and even Warren Miller, who still films thrilling sports movies and at the time had a local office for a surfing film business.

I admired my Grandpa — LeRoy “Granny” Grannis to everyone else — more than anyone I have ever known, including several astronauts.  As I grew older, into my teens, he mellowed toward me.  You see, turning into a young man, I outgrew my hyperactivity and fidgeting and therefore was no longer a strain on him.  My grandfather had little patience for many things, least of all hyper kids. When I was 10 he had taken me to buy my first camera, a Kodak Instamatic 110, which I carried everywhere with me until I was a teenager. Then, when I was 15-17, we would take walks on the beaches and cliffs of the Palos Verdes Peninsula, where I grew up (other than many stays at my grandparents’ house). Both of us were armed with our cameras (my 110 against his several Pentax SLRs that were state-of-the-art at the time, each with a different lens). We snapped photos of surfers from the beaches and hang gliders from the cliffs. Sometimes my grandparents would drive me down the coast to San Onofre for better surf photo ops, and on the way wack we’d stop at Carlsbad to eat. My Grandpa was a man who would not lie about anything. Therefore, during the first five years of our photo expeditions, when I would show him my latest work in mounting excitement and expectation of a word of approval from the great pioneer of the sport of surfing and its photography, he merely slipped through them without a word and handed them back. I always knew that was the kindest he could be. Then one day, when I was 15 and we were standing on the PVE cliffs above Rat’s Beach, and I was struggling to stay on my feet against the heavy wind off the Pacific, my Grandpa studied my prints with the same blank expression as always. “Well,” he said, speaking at all for the first time after such a viewing, “that’s about as good as you can do with that camera.” By the time my mind stopped racing, I understood two things: one, he had just given me the highest verbal praise of which he was capable, and two, all of those years he had been studying my improvement. He was just born and raised in a different time and environment, where people didn’t show their feelings the same way. At any rate, the next Christmas, my adoptive father gave me a basic Pentax K-1000 SLR that was like gold to me. Before I was 16, I was hired by a local community newspaper as a news/photo stringer, reporting mostly on the police and justice beat — meaning the police blotter. But I also covered politics, various features and even sports and had two genuine scoops in that early beginning. One I phoned into the L.A. Times South Bay News Desk about a bold armed robbery in broad daylight at a local plaza,where armed men in masks stole $1 million worth of jewels from a salesman. I simply read the lead paragraph as I wrote it to the copy writer on the other end of the phone, who took it down in shorthand without thinking before reading it back with a surprised chuckle, and gave him the name and number of the police sergeant to contact for details or a quote. The next day, my lead paragraph with a quote from the sergeant was on page 2 of the Times — without a byline, of course. The other was an article I wrote about the reported theft of an Old Master painting said to be by the Italian artist Piettro Berrittini da Cortona. The real work, I verified with the curator of paintings at the J. Paul Getty Museum in Malibu, was a mural too big to fit in the alleged owner’s house, and three known versions of which were, at any rate, located in major museums around the world, including the Louvre. The story of the apparent insurance scam made the Reuters wire.

More recently, I have continued writing the short stories and novels the artistic skill for which I began practicing even before my early dabbles in journalism, and several years ago began restoring estate tobacco pipes. I enjoy blogging the details of these restorations, with some admitted literary flair.