Blog by Steve Laug
This is a continuation of the work that began with an email from Anthony, a reader of rebornpipes asking if I would be willing to help him clean up his Dad’s pipes. He wrote; “I have a few pipes (8 or so) that haven’t been smoked in 15 years. They were my dad’s. I would like to get someone to restore them”. We chatted back and forth via email and the long and short of the story is that I have eight of his Dad’s pipes in my shop now to work on. The photo below shows the mixture of pipes that he sent me. There are some interesting shapes and most are very dirty and have very little if any of the original finish left on the briar. All have an overflow of carbon on the rim top and all have chewed, damaged stems and buttons. Anthony remembers his Dad smoking them throughout the years he was growing up so they went from regular use to being boxed and stored. They will need a lot of TLC to bring life back to them but it should be fun to give it a go. I went through the pipes and assessed their condition and contacted him and got the go ahead to proceed on the lot.I have completed the restoration of five of the pipes. The next pipe I chose to work on was the A unique sandblasted bent apple with a ruined replacement vulcanite stem – it is the first pipe at the top of the right hand column in the above photo. I have circled it in red. It is a bent apple shaped 1/4 bent pipe with a sandblast finish on the bowl and the majority of the shank and some smooth portions on the side and around the end of the shank that provide contrast between the finish of the bowl and the black vulcanite stem. The stem that is on it is again a replacement twin bore/bite proof stem that is destroyed. The fact that most of these pipes have a replacement twin bore bite proof stem tells me a lot about Anthony’s Dad’s habitual gnawing on his pipes. The stem has a diameter is slightly less than the shank. The stem is ruined with large pieces missing from the button on both the top and underside extending into the surface of the stem. I will need to find a different stem. The pipe is stamped on the left side of the shank in a smooth band. It reads Racine & Laramie in an arc over Old Town San Diego. On the underside it reads Italy. The bowl had the least cake of any of the pipes, just a slight, uneven buildup on parts of the bowl. The biggest issue with the finish was just the dirt and grime ground all around the bowl. I took photos of the pipe to show its overall condition when it arrived at my work table. I took some close up photos of the bowl, rim top and the stem to show what I was going to be dealing with on this pipe. The rim top was din excellent condition with just some dust and debris in the grooves of the blast. The finish looked good other than the grime. The shank looked a little pinched in the smooth portion and makes me wonder if whoever restemmed the pipe did not do that to adjust the shank diameter to approximate the stem diameter. I find that a bit frustrating as it is not that hard to fit a decent stem without doing that. The stem was ruined you can see from the second and third photos below. The “bite proof” stem evidently was not bite proof. Anthony’s Dad had gnawed through the twin bore and left a gaping hole in the stem. The topside was cracked and missing chunks and the underside had a large chunk missing. It would need to be replaced.I had worked on a Racine & Laramie pipe before that also needed a stem. I went back and read the blog I did on that pipe. Here is the link: https://rebornpipes.com/2013/06/30/a-restemming-job-with-memories-of-the-past/. Like the previous R&L Italian Made pipe the look and feel of this one says it is made by Lorenzo. I quote from that blog now in part to remind you of the tobacco shop whose name is stamped on the shank of this pipe.
When I read the stamping is when the memory came back. I have been in the Racine & Laramie tobacco shop in Old Town San Diego, California. It is a museum like tobacco shop that has a wide range of tobaccos and pipes in an old California mission style village setting. You can almost imagine cowboys riding up and tying up their horse to go in and get a pouch of fixin’s. The picture below is what I remember of the shop. It is from the website http://www.racineandlaramie.com/
History of Racine & Laramie
In 1868 Racine & Laramie became San Diego’s first Cigar Store. Having come from eastern Canada in the prosperity following the War Between the States, Messrs. Racine and Laramée sold cigars, tobacco, stationery, pipes, cutlery and gentlemen’s furnishings. The adobe they rented had been built in the 1820’s as the retirement home for leather-jacket soldier, Juan Rodriguez of the Royal Presidio. It was one of the first six buildings in the small pueblo, 500 registered voters, thousands of Kumeyaay. The Rodriguez family held ownership through periods of depression and Gold Rush boom, and their son, Ramon, was on the City Council. The widow Rodriguez had the building remodeled in 1867 and rented to Racine & Laramie and the Bank Exchange saloon. All was lost in the fire of 1872.
Using archeology, historic research and photographs this building has been reconstructed with the interior furnished and stocked as it may have been in that remote, frontier Pacific port. This picture gives a panoramic view of the interior of the shop looking at the cigar humidor.It was this shop that I visited many times over the years. It is like stepping back in time to enter the old town and then to walk into the shop itself. I think the last time I was there was about six years ago now. I took the train from the downtown harbor area to the old town site. I walked through the reconstructed village. I must have spent 3 or 4 hours wandering around the site and ending up in the old tobacco shop. I looked at pipes and tobaccos before settling on a couple of tins. I think I picked up some Dunhill EMP and maybe a tin of McClelland Dark Star before catching the train back into town.
That gives you an idea about the shop that this pipe came from. I can imagine Anthony’s Dad, a Californian, visiting this shop and like me picking up a pipe and some of his favourite tobaccos.
I want to include the tribute that I asked Anthony to write about his Dad and his pipe smoking once again in case some of you missed that and wanted to have some background. Along with the information on the Racine & Laramie Pipe Shop in Old San Diego I find that knowing a bit about his Dad helps to give me a sense of the previous pipeman when I work on a pipe from an estate. Anthony sent me this tribute: When my dad died 6 years ago, my mom asked if I wanted my dad’s old pipes. He was a long time pipe smoker, ever since I was a kid I can remember him sitting on the couch smoking his pipe inside. He worked at IBM and used to smoke his pipe in his office before they changed the laws in California. So you can imagine he had quite the collection over the years.
I took his pipes and put them in storage for a few years, I myself recently quit smoking cigarettes and decided to take up pipe smoking as it was easier on the wallet. I asked in /r/pipetobacco if anyone could recommend a pipe restoration service and someone told me about rebornpipes.com. I was hesitant but after looking at the blog I knew it would be a good place to send my dad’s pipes.
My dad loved smoking his pipes, sitting out by the pool in the sun taking a nap or in the garage wood working. The house was my mom’s area and the garage was my dad’s area. I spent hours sitting out in the garage as a kid watching the niners or a’s and giants on tv while doing woodworking projects. I hope to do the same with my kids these days.
I’m not sure if my dad smoked other tobacco but I remember Captain Black was the kind he smoked regularly. He had tins of it in the garage, full and empty and would turn the old tin jars into storage for odds and ends, like screws or washers or miscellaneous stuff.
I remember when I played little league my dad would sit in the stands and smoke his pipes. One of my teammates asked “What is that smell?” and I ashamedly said “Oh that’s my dad’s pipe…I’ll go tell him to put it out” and my teammate said “No man, it smells good!”. It’s funny how the little conversations over the years you remember.
Another time when I was in 3rd grade or so we learned how smoking was bad for you (this was back in the 80s). I remember I asked my teacher if smoking a pipe was bad for you too….and she hesitated and said “Not as bad as cigarettes, since you don’t inhale it”. After that I was no longer worried about my dad smoking.
Knowing my mom I have no idea how my dad pulled this off but he managed to smoke his pipe in the house. I guess she liked the smell of it. Recently when I was waiting for my girls to get out of school I was sitting on a side street smoking my pipe and someone walked by and thanked me for bringing the pipe back. He said his dad used to smoke a pipe and he loved the smell. As did mine. The only difference is my daughters complain constantly about the smell of my car, but that is mostly because I smoke cigars too.
Anyway, grab some fine tobacco, light up a bowl and sit back and relax. I don’t have a pool like my dad did but you can catch me working on my laptop sitting in my driveway smoking a nice pipe, especially one of these restored pipes from reborn pipes….I can’t wait to smoke them.
Thanks Anthony, that gives me a sense of who your Dad was and how he enjoyed his pipes. I was ready to turn my attention to this sixth pipe. I went through my can of stems and found a stem that was the right shape and would do the job. It was larger in diameter than the shank so I would need to work that down but once finished I think it would look better. It was oxidized but otherwise a pretty clean saddle stem. I took photos of the two stems together to show how they compared. I put the stem on the shank and used a Dremel and drum to take down the circumference of the new stem. I wanted to get as close as possible to the size of the shank without damaging the shank itself. It worked very well. I took photos of the stem after the Dremel work. There is still a lot of sanding to do but it is getting there. I sanded out the scratches and removed the rest of the excess material to match the circumference of the shank with 150 and 220 grit sandpaper. It was a bit of a challenge as the previous restemming had left the shank out of round – much narrower on the underside than the top. It took a lot of hand sanding and constant checking to make sure I had removed enough and not too much material. I took photos of the fit once it was what I wanted. I knew that the polishing with micromesh sanding pads would make the final adjustments to the fit. I polished the stem with micromesh sanding pads – wet sanding with 1500-2400 grit pads and dry sanding with 3200-12000 grit pads. I wiped the stem down with Obsidian Oil after each sanding pad. I polished the stem with Before & After Pipe Stem Polish – both Fine and Extra Fine to finish removing the light scratches that remained. I gave stem another coat of the oil after that and set it aside to let the oil dry. I set the stem aside and worked on the bowl. I reamed it back to bare briar using a PipNet pipe reamer to remove as much of the cake as I could. I finished with a Savinelli Fitsall pipe knife and then sanded it with 220 grit sandpaper wrapped around a dowel. I cleaned up the mortise, shank and airway in the bowl. Remembering that I had not cleaned the stem, I cleaned airway and slot in the stem with pipe cleaners, cotton swabs and alcohol.I worked some Before & After Restoration Balm into the nooks and crannies of the sandblast finish on the rim top, bowl and shank. I worked it deeper into the grooves with a horsehair shoe brush. The balm works to clean, enliven and protect the briar. I really like the way it brings life to the briar. When I wipe it off with a soft cloth it not only adds a shine but takes away the grime that is in the finish. I decided this was a good time to take a break. I fired up a bowl of some gifted Uhle’s #44 in my “Malaga” rusticated Diplomat and sipped some coffee to look over the pipe to see if I was missing anything. It was great to be able to sit and work with a pipe in my mouth.I put the pipe back together and polished the bowl with multiple coats of Conservator’s Wax and the stem with multiple coats of carnauba wax. I buffed it with a clean buffing pad to raise the shine. I hand buffed it with a microfiber cloth to deepen the shine. The pipe polished up pretty nicely. The finished pipe is shown in the photos below. This is sixth of eight pipes that I am restoring from Anthony’s Dad’s collection. I am looking forward to hearing what Anthony thinks once he sees the finished pipe on the blog. Once I have the remaining two pipes finished I will pack them up and send them back to him. It will give him opportunity to carrying on the trust from his Dad. The dimensions are Length: 5 1/2 inches, Height: 1 1/2 inches, Outside diameter of the bowl: 1 1/2 inches, Chamber diameter: 3/4 inches. Thanks for walking through the restoration with me as I worked over this pipe from Anthony’s Dad’s collection. Two freehand pipes remain and will soon follow in the days ahead. Keep an eye out for them because there are still some unique pipes in the lot.