Blog by Dal Stanton
This interesting Trent Lev-O-Lator came to me in a lot from Craig’s list. One of the great things about friends and family knowing that I restore pipes for the Daughters of Bulgaria is that I have eyes all over the world watching for pipes! Jon, a colleague working in the same organization, was in the US for a time of furlough after working in Ukraine and was in the Philadelphia area. This lot of several pipes came up on Craig’s List in his locality and he sent me an email concerning them. He went to look at them and gave me some descriptions, and many of the pipes were beyond a state of being restored, but for the price being asked, the remaining pipes would make it worthwhile. Here is picture of the Craig’s List Lot that Jon acquired for me. As a bonus, the pipe racks would be nice to have here in Bulgaria!They finally made it to Bulgaria where I sorted them and posted many of them online in my For “Pipe Dreamers” Only! collection where pipe men and women can commission a pipe to be restored that ‘speaks’ to them. Andy has commissioned pipes before and is a return patron of The Pipe Steward. Before my wife and I moved to Europe with our family over 25 years ago, Andy and his wife, were part of a church in Maryland that I helped start. Previously, I restored a very nice Monarch Pat. 1989069 – 1074H Bent Ball for Andy as well as create a Churchwarden from a repurposed bowl and had fun with the write-up calling it, Fashioning a Churchwarden from a Forlorn, Throw away Billiard – a story of the Phoenix. Andy returned to the ‘Dreamers!’ collection and another pipe spoke to him, a Trent Lev-O-Lator, part of the Craig’s List Lot from Jon. Here are pictures of the pipe that got Andy’s attention. The nomenclature stamped on the left flank of the shank is ‘TRENT’ [over] ‘LEV-O-LATOR’. The right side of the shank is stamped ‘IMPORTED BRIAR’ [over] ‘SERIAL 49W-5’.I had never seen this name on a pipe, and I had no idea was a ‘Lev-O-Lator’ was. My first queries to Pipedia and Pipephil.eu, my regular first stops for information and research, came up empty. A quick look in my copy of ‘Who Made That Pipe?’ by Wilczak & Colwell, also came up empty. When I searched more broadly in Google, I came up with two helpful threads. The first was from Pipes Magazine Forums where another person was asking the same question in 2015 – had anyone any information about a pipe marked ‘Trent Lev-O-Lator’? He had acquired a Zulu with this nomenclature and was hoping to understand better its provenance. One helpful response in the thread from ‘eJames’ started to build a road map:
Bruce Peters pipes (and a couple of others) were made by HLT for the Penn Tobacco Co. If this is a Bruce Peters it was most likely made before HLT bought Grabow, probably in the 1940’s.
Taking this information, I returned to Pipedia and found ‘Bruce Peters’ listed among American pipe makers:To understand more about the Henry Leonard & Thomas Inc., I look at the Pipedia article about HLT:
Henry Leonard & Thomas, Inc. (HLT) was founded in Ozone Park, Queens, New York by Henry J. Lavietes and two partners on May 31, 1938. The company patented a stem design for pipes and cigarette holders designed by Henry on March 9, 1943. Henry was the son of David Lavietes, who moved to Sparta, North Carolina in the early 1940s to purchase laurel and rhododendron burl to ship back to his son and HLT. Lavietes decided to stay in Sparta and founded the D&P Pipe Works with his other son Paul, originally as a 15-person operation. David Lavietes was the inventor of the Ajustomatic feature incorporated into Dr. Grabow pipes even today.
There is no mention of “Trent” or “Lev-O-Lator” but there is mention above of David Lavietes’ invention called the ‘Ajustomatic’ which later became a feature of Dr. Grabow pipes when in 1953 (same article) HLT acquired Dr. Grabow. In the same article, the Popular Mechanics advertisement (LEFT – Courtesy of Doug Valitchka) describes the ‘Ajustomatic’ technology which looks much like the Lev-O-Later. Here is the text enlarged:I continue to search for more leads and I find one additional thread that shed more light on the path. This time the thread was from Tapatalk.com, in the “Dr. Grabow Pipes” Thread. The thread started in 2017 when ‘SpadeFan’ asked:
Found this nice 86 from HL&T stamped BRUCE PETERS and LEV-O-LATOR. Anyone know what the term LEV-O-LATOR means? Sound like I should plug it in and make coffee or something.Responses in this thread speculated that the ‘Ajustomatic’ and ‘Lev-O-Lator’ were one and the same:
JoeMan: That fitment sure looks a lot like an ajusto…and the cleaner may be identical to that of a Van Roy…and that logo looks a LOT like the Van Roy logo too. I wonder if it’s a Van Roy production pipe which was then branded as a Bruce Peters. If so…and if it is Ajusto…then I bet Lev-o-lator is their fancy name for the ajusto function.
Pipesbywhitney: I sold one a while back and here are my notes on it; This is a Trent Lev-O-Lator “Serial 49W-5” longer stem pear also stamped “Imported Briar.” I can find no provenance for Trent pipes but the Import Briar stamping tells us it was most likely American made. The Lev-O-Lator system seems to be a metal drinkless mechanism attached to the tenon similar to many used in various American pipes during the mid-20th Century. I can find a Trend pipe similar to this one made around the same time by the Wm. Demuth Co. in New York so there could be a connect.I could find no additional information specifically placing the ‘Trent’ name in a time-line, but what I can deduce is that the ‘Trent Lev-O-Lator’ is the same ‘Ajustomatic’ internal technology that is traced back to before Dr. Grabow was acquired by HLT in 1953. Without any specific reference to ‘Trent’, it’s difficult to say much more with certainty. The Trent Lev-O-Lator on my worktable has the feel of being dated from the 40s to the 60s but this is only speculation. I would need to find the Trent in a catalog to place it more specifically.Looking at the pipe itself, it’s a very nice half-bent Billiard. The chamber has some thick cake build-up with the rim showing thick lava flow. The rim also has two dents on the forward and rear internal edge. The stummel is darkened from grime and age. I can see a few fills and dents on the briar surface which will require some work. The stem has oxidation, which is moderate, but the good news is that the bit has little tooth chatter.
True confession is good for the soul: The research that I have just completed examining the ‘Ajustomatic’ technology was done AFTER I started working on the restoration! With my practice of putting a batch of stems in the Before & After Deoxidizer soak to remove oxidation, I started on this before doing the research. Unfortunately, I did not realize that the tip of the ‘Lev-O-Lator’ would come off. This fitment serves as an air regulator which is cool. Without realizing that it would come off making my attempt to clean the airway with a pipe cleaner wetted with isopropyl 95% much easier, I decided to remove it. The shank ring was already loose, and I felt I could remount the metal ‘stinger’ the same way I took it off.I heated the entire metal tenon with a Bic lighter. After it heated up, I wrapped a cotton pad around the tenon and gently applied a little torque with a pair of plyers and voila! The vulcanite loosened its grip and the Lev-O-Lator came out. I still didn’t realize the end regulator could be removed.Along with other pipes in queue, I clean the Trent’s stem with pipe cleaners wetted with isopropyl 95% before placing the stems in the soak with Before & After Deoxidizer. After some hours, I fish the Trent’s stem out of the Deoxidizer and let it drain. I then use a cotton pad wetted with alcohol to wipe off the oxidation that had surfaced. I also work on the cavity of the vacated metal Lev-O-Lator with cotton buds wetted with isopropyl 95% as well with pipe cleaners clearing the airway of the Deoxidizer.I then apply paraffin oil, a mineral oil, to the stem to begin the revitalization of the vulcanite.Now, with an understanding of the research I did previously, I remove the air adjustor of the Lev-O-Lator after I reheat the tenon, insert it into the cavity and then screw the stem to the right to tighten it in the mortise. When it tightens, I’m able to continue rotating the stem to the right because the metal is still hot. I rotate the stem clockwise until aligned and then let it cool. The ajusto air regulator is totally clogged with what looks like mud. I use a dental probe to clean it and wipe it down with a cotton pad and alcohol.I apply a few drops of CA glue to the inside facing of the shank ring and attach it to the stem. This should hold it in place.Next, I use the Pipnet Reaming Kit and starting with the smallest blade I go to work on the thick cake. This was the hardest cake build up I think I’ve experienced in any of my previous restorations! Oh my, it took a good bit of time for the smallest blade head to work through the brick hard cake. I was careful not to force the blade too aggressively for fear of breaking the blade head. The blade head finally broke through to the floor of the chamber and I switch to the next larger blade. I use only 2 blade heads of the 4 available in the Kit and then transition to scraping the chamber using the Savinelli Fitsall Tool which fine tunes reaching to the areas that the blades would not. Finally, I sand the chamber using 240 grade paper wrapped around a Sharpie Pen and then clean the chamber using a cotton pad wetted with isopropyl 95%. After completing the chamber inspection, I detect some small heating cracks running on the chamber wall. To remedy this, later I’ll coat the chamber wall with pipe mud to provide a layer that will help restart a healthy protective cake.Next, to clean the external surface and work on the lava flow over the rim, I use undiluted Murphy’s Oil Soap on a cotton pad. I also use a brass wire brush to work on the thick lava flow on the rim. The grime is thick, and the rim does a good job coming clean, but it’s in pretty rough shape. I take some pictures to inventory the issues I see on the bowl and rim. The rim is beat up. There are divots out of the briar on opposite sides of the rim. The outer edge of the rim is also dinged and skinned.There are several old fills that are soft and drawn up. Often this happens after the cleaning and the stummel is wet. I move methodically to each of the fills and excavate the old fill material using a sharp dental probe. To fill these holes, I use briar dust mixed with a thick CA glue. I put a small mound of briar dust on an index card and I put some CA glue next to the mound. Using a toothpick, I gradually pull briar dust into the CA glue mixing as I do. I continue to create the putty until it reaches the thickness of molasses and then I apply small amounts of the briar dust putty to each of the holes including on the rim. After doing this, I set the stummel aside allowing the patches to cure. Now, turning to the stem, I take some additional pictures to get a closer look. The upper and lower bit has very little tooth chatter and the button is in relatively good shape. What stands out about the stem is the very rough surface that remains over the entire stem after the soaking in the Before & After Deoxidizer. To remove any remaining oxidation and to address the rough surface texture, I sand using 240 grade paper. I also focus on the sharpening and freshening the button area.I then transition to the sink with 600 grade paper and wet sand the entire surface. Well, during this process, the shank ring that I had attached with CA glue popped off and went down the drain. Fortunately, after immediately turning off the water, I was able to unattach the trap underneath the sink and retrieve the ring! I follow wet sanding using 000 grade steel wool. The stem looks great.On a roll with the stem, I apply the full regimen of micromesh pads to the stem. First, I wet sand with pads 1500 to 2400 then dry sand with pads 3200 to 4000 and 6000 to 12000. Between each set of 3 pads, I apply Obsidian Oil to rejuvenate the vulcanite and record that phase with a picture to show that newly polished vulcanite pop! I then put the stem aside allowing it to dry. With the stem on the sidelines, I look back to the stummel. The briar dust putty filling the several holes on the rim and stummel surface has cured. I begin to file each fill mound down with a flat needle file – bringing the mounds down almost to flush with the briar surface.After the filing is complete, I transition to sanding each fill site with 240 grade paper to bring the patches flush with the briar surface and removing all the excess fill material. My normal process order is a little out of order but the grime on the inside of the mortise and airway is patiently waiting. Using many cotton buds and pipe cleaners dipped in isopropyl 95%, I attack the internals. I also employ the full arsenal of dental probes, spoons and shank brushes. At the end of the carnage pictured below, I have yet to come to a place of declaring the internals clean enough to satisfy me. With the frontal assault paused, I use the slower, more passive approach to continue the cleaning through the night. Using kosher salt and isopropyl 95% I let it soak and work on the internals. I first pull and twist a cotton ball to form a wick that I stuff down the mortise and airway with the help of a stiff wire. The cotton wick serves to draw out the tars and oils. I then fill the bowl with kosher salt and set the stummel in an egg crate to stabilize it. I then fill the chamber with isopropyl 95% until it surfaces over the salt. I wait a few minutes as the alcohol recedes and then top it off once more. I set the stummel aside to soak.The next morning, the salt is not soiled in a great way, but the wick is what is what I want to see.I follow again with a renewed frontal attack using cotton buds and pipe cleaners wetted with alcohol as well as additional scraping the mortise walls with a dental spoon. Eventually, the buds start surfacing lighter and I call it, ‘Cleaned!’ and move on.With the internals clean, I now focus on the external surface restoration. I start from the top with the rim by topping the rim using 240 grade sanding paper on the chopping board. With the damage on the rim, and the briar dust fills on the rim, the topping will give the rim a fresh start with new lines and surface.The half-bent shank reach extends beyond the parallel plane of the rim, so I need to hang the shank over the edge of the board while I top. With the stummel inverted on the 240 grade paper, I do a tight rotation of the stummel on the corner of the topping board. I check after a few rotations until it looks clean.I then switch the 240 grade paper with 600 grade paper and rotate the stummel several more times. I like what I see. Even after the topping, there remains some roughness on the external edge of the rim. The former divots in the internal rim edge are all but gone, but there are still some slight indents where the briar dust patches are. To remedy this, I create an internal rim bevel. I start on the internal rim edge using a coarse rolled piece of 120 paper to cut the initial bevel. I follow this by using 240 and 600 grade papers tightly rolled. My method of creating the bevel is to pinch the paper against the internal rim edge with my thumb pressing the paper while my index finger puts consistent counter pressure on the external side of the rim and then rotate consistently around the circumference of the rim. This usually provides a consistent result. I do the same with the external rim edge, but not with the same intent of creating a bevel. My goal is simply to clean the rim as much as needed. The result is not only to clean the rim, but to soften the rim presentation. With the rim repair and initial sanding complete, I use sanding sponges for the next phase. I use coarse, then medium and light grade sponges in that order. I’m careful to guard the nomenclature during the sanding phases. After completing the sponge sanding, I go directly to sanding with the full regimen of micromesh pads. I begin by wet sanding with pads 1500 to 2400 then follow by dry sanding with pads 3200 to 4000 and 6000 to 12000. I love the way the grain emerges during the micromesh process. I now reach a decision point which is not in limbo too long. I decide to apply a darker brown dye to the Trent stummel primarily to aid in masking the fills which are dark on the briar landscape. I will use Fiebing’s Dark Brown Leather Dye with the flexibility to lighten the aniline dye if I choose. I assemble my desktop staining tools with the Dark Brown Leather Dye in a shot glass to apply with a bent over pipe cleaner. I begin by wiping the stummel with a cotton pad wetted with alcohol to clean. I then warm the stummel using a hot air gun. This heats the briar and expands the grain allowing the dye pigment to have a better reception.When heated, I use the pipe cleaner applicator to paint the stummel with the Dark Brown Leather Dye in sections and then with each painted section I flame the wet aniline dye with the lit candle. This immediately combusts the alcohol in the dye which flames off with a ‘poof’ and the dye pigment sets in the grain. I do this methodically around the stummel until the entire stummel is thoroughly covered with the fire crusted dye. When it’s completed, I set the stummel aside for at least 6 hours to allow the new dye to settle. This ‘rest’ helps guard against the dye later coming off on the steward’s hands after the first few uses of the pipe when the stummel is heated. I put the stummel aside and wait.After several hours, I’m ready to unwrap the fired stummel.I mount the felt cloth buffing wheel to the Dremel and set the speed at the lowest RPMs. This is to reduce the heat generated by the coarser felt wheel as I apply the coarser Tripoli compound.With my wife’s assistance, she takes a few pictures as I ‘unwrap’ the stummel revealing the results of applying Fiebing’s Dark Brown Leather Dye to the stummel. After completing the first round applying Tripoli compound with the felt buffing wheel, I change to a cotton cloth buffing wheel and increase the speed to about 40% full power. I again apply Tripoli using the cotton cloth wheel which can reach into the crook of the bowl and shank which is not possible with the felt wheel. After doing this, I go over the entire stummel once more with the cotton cloth wheel using Tripoli compound. This pass using the cotton cloth wheel sharpens the grain lines – making them very distinctive and almost seeming to be luminescent. After completing the application of Tripoli compound, I wipe the stummel with a cotton pad wetted with alcohol not so much to lighten it, because I like the dark shade of the briar, but to blend the new dye and to dissipate possible dye clumps that collected on the surface.After reuniting the Trent stummel and stem once more, I mount the Dremel with another cotton cloth pad, maintaining 40% full power, and apply the finer Blue Diamond compound to the pipe – stem and stummel. When finished, I buff the pipe with a felt cloth to remove the compound dust from the surface. Before applying the wax, I have one project left to accomplish. Earlier I noted that there were some heating cracks in the chamber which were not severe enough to warrant the use of J-B Weld but could be addressed though applying a pipe mud. Pipe mud is the mixture of cigar ash and water to form a ‘mud’ that provides a hard, protective coating over the chamber walls and serves as a starter layer to develop a healthy dime width protective cake. With gratitude to my colleague, Gary, living in the nearby city of Plovdiv, I have cigar ash that he provides me periodically from his passion of smoking Romeo cigars. I clean the ash through a sifter and it works very well.I mix small amounts of ash and water until I get a mud-like texture. After putting a pipe cleaner in the airway to block the draft hole from closing, I use a small dental spoon to scoop the mud and deposit it on the chamber wall. I also use the spoon to spread the mud so that it disperses evenly. After applying the pipe mud, I set the stummel in an egg carton and let the mud dry and harden through the night. The next morning, the mud transformed into the hardened protective layer as hoped. If Andy is the next steward of this Trent, he should know not to use a metal tool to clean the chamber during the initial stages of use. After using the pipe, stir the resulting ash carefully and after dumping it, take a folded over pipe cleaner and rub the chamber wall to loosen the debris. This avoids scraping the new protective layer which will help encourage a new protective cake to develop.Now the homestretch. I mount another cotton cloth buffing wheel on the Dremel, maintain about 40% full power speed, and apply a few coats of carnauba wax to the Trent Lev-O-Lator Bent Billiard – stem and stummel. After application of the wax, I give the pipe a hearty hand buffing with a microfiber cloth to disperse any collected wax and to raise the shine.
When I started this restoration, I had never heard of the ‘Lev-O-Lator’ adjustment fitment. It would be interesting to play with the movable adjuster valve to see what the difference in the experience would be. The grain on the Trent half-bent Billiard came out very well with the thick, dark grains masking well the fill repairs. I did not re-glue the shank ring in place – I will leave that to the new steward to determine according to his preferences. Andy commissioned this Trent Lev-O-Lator Half Bent Billiard from the For “Pipe Dreamers” Only! collection and will have the first opportunity to acquire it at The Pipe Steward Store. This pipe benefits the Daughters of Bulgaria, our work here in Bulgaria among women and girls who have been trafficked and sexually exploited. Thank you for joining me!