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Spotlight: Ladies Pipes, Part 7/7, Concerning the Summit of Diminutive

Blog by Robert M. Boughton

Member, International Society of Codgers
Member, North American Society of Pipe Collectors
Member, Facebook Gentlemen’s Pipe Smoking Society
Photos © the Author except as noted

For Liz B. Smith: this one’s for you

It’s not the size of the dog in the fight; it’s the size of the fight in the dog.
— Samuel Langhorne Clemens (Mark Twain), 1835-1910, U.S. humorist, writer, editor and extraordinary adventurer

The word ‘American’ terminates in ‘I can,’ and ‘dough’ begins with ‘do.’
— Attributed to Alfred Carl Fuller (1885-1973), founder of the Fuller Brush Co.


A great American rock group called The Doors summed up this blog in the most famous couplet from the 1967 song “The End.”  The rest of the brilliant yet rambling lyric poetry, alas, is too morose and even sinister to cobble together a quote for the occasion, no matter how many annoying ellipsis marks might be used by, say, someone with the skill set to edit negative book reviews so they sound glowing on the dust jackets.  Hence the more merry samples above, which still bely the sadness I feel at the close of my attempt to serialize various facets of the ways women enjoy the pleasures of pipes as much as  do men.  (Twain, I’m sure, would have despised Fuller’s aphorism and hated being associated with a salesman.)  The nine months since my first installment seem more like years given the travails I’ve faced and overcome.  But fret not; I won’t go there now – at least not in great detail.

I had two more conventional instruments for savoring pipe tobacco set aside for the seventh and last part of the series and was still deliberating which to use.  As circumstances transpired, they were lost to the most shameful, unscrupulous and downright worthless excuse for a human I have ever encountered in a slumlord, and with whom I am still engaged, in ever-escalating legal battles.  The dispute is now poised to escalate from civil to criminal for the felony property conversion perpetrated by the contemptible principal of several offenders.  But I will write more about that in a future blog detailing the loss of almost every material possession I held most dear.  Suffice it to say for now that the devastating event has proved to be the single most unnerving and excruciating test of my ability to come to terms in my own mind with any set of undeniable facts, to discuss the odious injustice of the whole despicable experience with family and friends and, perhaps most difficult of all, even to brooch the subject in this forum, I have ever experienced.  The memories still sting and I believe will even after the full weight of the law crushes the scoundrel.

And so, after careful consideration, I decided to combine a look at salesman samples, a separate blog of which I began drafting some months ago, with the culmination of my ladies pipes series.  In the span of a few years I amassed an admirable collection of these little gems of tobacciana and still have several, thanks to the fact that they were stashed in my go-bag, as I call the portable kit of rotation pipes, tobaccos, restoration tools and odds and ends.  They were snug in a small box of restorations in progress or just completed when the slime ball who is now the central focus of my ever more litigious life made the premeditated decision to lock me out of my home with the purpose of converting my property to his own gain.  After all, he was sued twice in the past on the same grounds and only had to pay for one of them.  At any rate, in my research into female pipe enjoyers, I found a greater incidence of affinity for these tiny pipes among women compared to men, despite the frequent common ground of the two genders viewing them as impractical for loading with leaf and lighting up.  I shall do my best to dispel the myth.

While I am aware of the unusual interest in salesman samples in recent contributions to this forum, all of which included good information on the peculiar items, I will give my two cents worth for those who may have missed the others six parts and, I hope, add a little more context and color.  I would also like to celebrate some of the collection that was mine and those that remain.

Salesman samples were not toys – nothing like the Matchbox and Hot Wheels cars many of us collected as children.  They were not knickknacks such as thimbles or figurines of people, animals, castles, super heroes and creatures from fantasy and mythology.  Salesman samples came into existence as marketing tools for manufacturers of almost every mechanical and non-agricultural commodity and were most popular in the early 20th century.  Few folks nowadays remember a time when cars and airplanes were not the standards of transportation, and products could not be shipped in viable ways, often overnight, to showrooms all over the country and world.

Enter the intrepid peddlers of every type of ware – baseballs, coal stoves, violins, furniture, upright carpet cleaners and, of course, tobacco pipes, to name a fraction of the goods they offered – and who had no mode of travel better than trains, and in some more remote locales, stagecoaches and even by horseback.  Think about that.  How could one person carry many samples of the items he sold, which were either huge or fragile, to convince prospective buyers to purchase them?

Then some merchandising brainiac came up with the idea of exact replicas that could be conveyed in valises.  Giants like Sears & Roebuck were made as much by direct salesmen as mail order catalogs, to be sure.  The reality of traveling salesmen is that they covered vast and perilous territories going “door-to-door,” which in those days was farm to farm, and they were often far between.  For anyone who complains about road conditions now, thank your lucky stars you weren’t around back in the day.  Then again, maybe a few old curmudgeons were!  True, there were also small general stores to be pitched, but most folks had few chances to make the dusty, jarring journey into town.  Some salesmen even had to pay in advance for their merchandise and keep the profits.  Here’s the real kicker: back then, bartering was the name of the game, and with little cash on hand, the yokels and mercantile proprietors tended to trade with eggs, butter, vegetables and other what-have-you.  In short, the life of the traveling salesman was rough and grungy long before the latter word was coined in the 1960s, yet today he is remembered in popular movies and cheesy novels as a fast-talking bespectacled dandy from “sumwer back east.”

Remember, all of the following genuine salesman samples are about the size indicated in the photos with a tape measure and a ruler.lad1Now for some pipes I’d like to own.lad2 lad3 lad4And here was my own collection of salesman samples.lad5 lad6lad7William Demuth & Co. (WDC) Bent Pot with screw-in rim guard, before and after

lad8 lad9 lad10WDC Wellington Bent Apple, before and after

lad11Yello-Bole Straight Billiard

lad12“Mahjong” Bent Billiard, probably made of Bakelite

lad13Kaywoodie Straight Apple

lad14Custombilt Porcelain (filled mouthpiece – not smokable)

lad15No-Name Rhodesian

lad16La Grande Bruyere  Bent Apple, Czech, before and after.  This was my first restore.

 Only three of the diminutive but intricate works of craftsmanship in my promising and cherished sub-collection of these fading pieces of tobacciana and history survived theft by the slumlord: the Mahjong, which at an astounding length of 2½” with a chamber diameter of ⅜” x ¾” may indeed be the smallest functional tobacco pipe ever made, as the seller hinted; the WDC bent billiard, mere fractions larger in every respect,  and last but by no means least, the Yello-Bole, at a whopping 3¾” long sporting a ⅜” x ½” chamber.  To emphasize the point, their salvation was by the sole grace of my having them with me when the illegal lockout was executed.

The subject of this final Ladies Pipes blog is the restoration of the Yello-Bole, which, I’m sorry to report, was not all that difficult, beyond Plato’s maxim, “Better a little which is well done, than a great deal imperfectly.”  Steve wrote a wonderful blog concerning a no-name carved apple salesman sample (3¼” long, 1″ tall with a ⅞” outer bowl diameter and a ⁷∕₁₆” inner bowl diameter).  In the first photo, my favorite, he contrasts the dinky apple with a giant KBB Yello-Bole Imperial 3068C Bent Billiard (length 10″, height 2¼” and inner bowl diameter ⅞”).  See https://rebornpipes.com/2016/12/26/a-tiny-salesman-pipe-what-a-contrast-to-those-giant-house-pipes/.lad17KBB Yello-Bole Giant vs. Tiny Carved No-Name, courtesy S. Laug

Steve also summed up the relative natures of a standard pipe restoration and that of a salesman sample when he wrote, “It takes as much work to clean and restore a tiny pipe as it does a big one and the steps and process [are] the same regardless of size.”

And so, as I begin again to practice the wonderful disorder that is pipe acquisition, with the three salesman samples and a handful of other survivors to my name, I have a strong desire and need to share.  My good friend and mentor emeritus, Chuck Richards, taught me that.  Therefore, in light of the kindness and encouragement she has shown me on the Smokers Forums UK, her invaluable guidance in this series and the interest I know she has in mini pipes and salesman samples, to repeat my opening dedication with a tad more emphasis: this Yello-Bole is for you, Liz – literally.

RESTORATIONlad18 lad19 lad20 lad21 lad22 lad23 lad24The Yello-Bole, to be honest, was a cleanup job.  The most troublesome aspect of rejuvenating the delicate little working scale example of a pipe that would likely measure 5½” long was stripping the old stain and replacing it, and as a consequence removing a bad discoloration on the front.  Confident an Everclear soak would not harm the nomenclature, I began with that and an OxiClean bath for the bit. Stripping the original stain did a fine job of revealing the rough edges, so to speak, of the briarwood.  To be still more honest, after perhaps ten minutes of immersion in Everclear, the stummel might just as well have cried to me through the depth, as I recall even now the mental flash of eradicating that all-important if carbon-obscured facet of the chamber, being “CURED WITH REAL HONEY.”

With a reflexive thrust of a hand toward the Tupperware bowl in which the minuscule bit of wood had sunk to the bottom like lost treasure, I plucked it out and wrapped it in a soft cotton cloth.  I wiped it.  I turned and scrubbed it, inside and out.  I ran an end of a cleaner through the shank and bent it in half to dry the chamber walls.  I did everything short of CPR.  Observing the miraculous near perfection of the coat of whatever cured honey concoction the factory applied so many years earlier,  I’m here to tell you, the full comprehension of the reprieve I was granted in the nick of time was acute and profound.lad25 lad26 lad27 lad28The bit came out of its cleaning solution some time later, a little better for the bath.  I used the white end of the same cleaner as before to dispel the insignificant impurities that remained.

Super fine “0000” steel wool and 320-grit paper got rid of the unpleasant large light blotch on the bowl’s front and gave the whole spotted but rich wood a nice shine.lad29 lad30lad30aThe gamut of micro mesh from 1500-12000 elicited the highest sheen the briarwood would achieve before the final electric buffing. lad31 lad32 lad33 lad34 lad35 lad36Several minutes after staining the stummel with Fiebing’s Brown leather dye and flaming out the alcohol with a Bic, I gave the surface a gentle buff with 8000 grade micro mesh.lad37lad38A retort was neither needed nor called for under the circumstances I described earlier with my nearly disastrous soaking of the stummel in Everclear.  Micro meshing the bit was so simple I forgot to mention doing it until now.  And so, all that remained to do was buff the wood with red and white Tripoli, White Diamond and carnauba, and the bit with white Tripoli and carnauba.lad39 lad40 lad41 lad42 lad43 lad44 lad45The final shot I took is some sort of weird view I found by accident with a cell phone camera toggle switch marked “NG.”  So far I haven’t a clue what it stands for, but it seems to show the inner pipe.  I offer it for entertainment purposes more than anything else.  Maybe someone can explain it to me.lad46CONCLUSION

My ideal for the series was, in the language of college essays, to compare and contrast the primary topic of tobacco pipes and their attraction to men and women in general through some key aspects of the pastime, and to gain potential insights into what differences in tastes and interests, if any, might exist.  I knew from the beginning that my hopes were overambitious, but I have at least made some headway.  Perhaps a book is in order.

At times I was disheartened by the apparent lack of interest in the topic.  But comparing reactions to the first six, looking at votes, comments and likes, I see they all average out to one of my typical blogs here.  My primary objective was to bring the men and women of the pipe community more together. Only time will tell.

Now I just need to get Liz’ address to send her the pipe.


http://www.amiright.com/parody/90s/deepbluesomething11.shtml WARNING: SOME OFFENSIVE LYRICS



Take a Sad Pipe and Make It Better

Guest Blog by Robert M. Boughton
Member, North American Society of Pipe Collectors
Photos © the Author

“Only when you eat a lemon do you appreciate what sugar is.”
― Ukrainian proverb]

The Beatles sang the idea more perfectly, to take the same liberty with the English language as Thomas Jefferson when beginning to pen the U.S. Constitution, and I’m not looking to start a revolution or create an international incident or any other uproar by saying that all Ukrainian pipes are lemons. My personal experiences have both been with the Veresk Company in Kiev, now the capitol city of the Republic of Ukraine. Before the fall of the former Soviet Union, the Veresk Cooperative factory was the only official outlet for tobacco pipes throughout the USSR. On the other hand, the following work of briar art was created by Ukrainian pipe crafter Konstantin Shekita, who made his start at Veresk.rob1 The Cooperative made all of its pipes during the Soviet days from fruit woods including cherry, pear, peach and apricot. After the collapse of the entire Soviet empire, brought about as an unforeseen consequence of Mikhail Gorbachev’s attempt to ease economic hardship for the common Russian with perestroika (rebuilding, reorganization) and to remove the iron-clad clamp on discussion of economic and political realities employing glasnost (openness), Veresk became a company and started to use briar imported from Tuscany, Italy. Although the fruit woods are still sometimes substituted, briar is now the preferred wood. This Golden Gate billiard, which with help from my mentor, Chuck, was determined to be pear wood, was probably made before the end of the Cold War.

On occasion, I find myself having to track down information on a given odd pipe every way I can: Internet engines using multiple query terms, emailing or calling friends, posting threads on various forums – even some Deep Web methods. Having a background as a newspaper reporter, I then try to verify the first source as well as I can. By and large, however, the first place I check is Pipephil, at http://www.pipephil.eu/logos/en/index-en.html. If that site has nothing on a pipe I have bought and/or restored, then I know I’m in for some real work. The contributions of Pipephil as a database trove of information on pipe brands, history, dating and other useful details is, for the most part, invaluable and irrefutable.

For example, about a week ago I saw a Kaywoodie Super Grain Lovat advertised as pre-1930s. Checking Pipephil, I learned that although that dating was not quite accurate, the placing of the Super Grain stamp above Kaywoodie and a four-digit shape number – in this case 5190 – dated the pipe to between 1931 and 1938. The inclusion of Imported Briar, introduced in 1935, narrowed the pipe’s manufacture to within three years during the latter part of the Great Depression. Lucky that no one else seemed to see these details, I won the very old but pristine Lovat for $32.50 with S&H.rob2

rob3 At about the same time, seeing the Golden Gate advertised on eBay as “Wooden Smoking Estate Pipe,” I was able to make my decision to buy it based on the GG I spotted on the bit, which Pipephil, with its amazing logo-finding resources, identified with certainty as a Ukrainian brand with the unlikely name Golden Gate. I was also warned that I was liable to receive a pipe made with very alternative wood, meaning something from a fruit tree. For $10 Buy Now with no S&H, I didn’t care. P.A.D., I embrace thee! There are so many worse things on which to spend one’s money.

However, in its entry on the Golden Gate brand, Pipephil gives the translation of Veresk as briar. I have been unable to determine from which language this assertion is drawn. The Russian word for briar, шиповник, transliterates to shipovnik (ship-ŌV-nee-yik), and the Ukrainian шипшина is shypshnya (SHIP-shnee-uh). The best references to Veresk in regard to Russian I can find are a sub machine gun known to players as the SR 2M Veresk, used in a computer role playing game (RPG) called Alliance of Valiant Arms [https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=R9BFocl97_Y], and a surname most common in Russia [http://forebears.io/surnames/veresk]. Hence I suspect Pipephil has this tidbit wrong, and Veresk is in fact derived from the last name of some Party-loyal old Comrade. I emailed Pipephil the details above and asked if perhaps Veresk is briar in another language or dialect. I’m hoping for a response.

RESTORATIONrob4 I snapped this first photo to add to my private collection, as I do all of my new and unused pipes that need no restoration, before I realized the peculiar stain probably hid something, such as a fruit wood that Pipephil identified as the most common type used by Veresk, whatever the company’s name means. Here is the Golden Gate after I stripped the old stain with an Everclear soak and then used super fine steel wool to begin the process of smoothing the assaulted pear wood’s skin, so to say.rob5


rob7 I’m no expert on woods, but this does most resemble pear to me, after comparing all of the possibilities. Any knowledgeable wood-workers who might read this, please feel free to correct me

I tried a couple of fills of favorite tobacco blends before beginning the restoration, and enjoyed them, and after the Everclear soak, I was sure the pipe needed no retort. In hindsight, it occurs to me that I should have taken a close-up of the chamber before soaking the wood in alcohol and then using my reamer and sandpaper to remove the unusual coating that came in it as the billiard arrived in the mail.

Researching that general subtopic of pipe knowledge after my instincts already led me to eradicate the harsh-feeling stuff, I was horrified and reached the conclusion that the somewhat sharp and definitely alien material used to coat the chambers of both Veresk pipes I have purchased was the so-called “waterglass.” This attractive sounding term is a euphemism for sodium metasilicate (Na2O3Si), a highly toxic chemical compound that is “[i}rritating & caustic to skin, mucous membranes. If swallowed causes vomiting & diarrhea.” Then there are the serious consequences of absorbing or ingesting this diabolical method of coating the chamber of a pipe that, when lit, cannot help delivering its sickening and potentially deadly payload directly into the hapless pipe smoker’s body, causing “[u]pper airway irritation, fever/hyperthermia [and] leukocytosis.” [http://pubchem.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/compound/Sodium_metasilicate#section=Top. Also see its use in tobacco pipes at http://pipesmagazine.com/blog/out-of-the-ashes/bowl-coatings-the-good-the-bad-and-the-ugly-part-ii/.%5D

On a brighter note, I observed an unevenness of the rim.rob8 With the gentlest wood file I have, I corrected that minor problem and re-sanded and micro-meshed again until it was smooth.

I proceeded to sand the wood with 320-grit paper and used micromesh from 1500-4000.rob9


rob11 Although I liked the grain on most of the Golden Gate and considered buffing without stain, I recognized the need for something darker to lessen the flaws on the front and back of the bowl. I chose Lincoln Brown boot stain and flamed it after I applied a couple of coats.rob12 This time I took off the char with 4000-grade micromesh and some extra pressure on the pad instead of going down to 3600 and risking removal of the new color in spots.rob13


rob15 You can see in the first photo above that the small metal band came off from the alcohol soak, and so I used a few dabs of Super Glue to reattach it. Seeing the surface of the wood could use some slight further attention to prepare it for buffing, I took a small piece of super fine steel wool and only ran it over the surface of the wood with the gentlest touch, as though wiping dust or hand smears from the wood.rob16 With the pear wood ready to buff, I did so with white Tripoli, White Diamond and carnauba. The stem I left as it was.rob17


Altogether I think I took this sad billiard and, with a little help from a friend, as the Beatles also sang, made it better. At the very least I am now willing to offer it for sale, knowing it won’t send anyone to the hospital or perhaps even kill him.

Parker Super Bruyere Straight Billiard

Guest Blog by Robert M. Boughton
Member, North American Society of Pipe Collectors
Photos © the Author

I have made it a rule never to smoke more than one cigar at a time. I have no other restriction as regards smoking. I do not know just when I began to smoke, I only know that it was in my father’s lifetime, and that I was discreet. He passed from this life early in 1847, when I was a shade past eleven; ever since then I have smoked publicly. As an example to others, and not that I care for moderation myself, it has always been my rule never to smoke when asleep, and never to refrain when awake.
― Mark Twain (Samuel L. Clemens, 1835-1910), U.S. author, humorist and critic, at his 70th Birthday Speech, 1905

The nomenclature on this Parker Straight Billiard is worn beyond much recognition, but certain details stand out enough under the closest of scrutiny to make me confident it is a Super Bruyere, Made in London England. The following pictures, “enhanced” by various means with photo editing, are all I have to go with.Parker1

Parker2 On the left, the words Parker at the top followed in the middle with a clear enough trademark diamond and on the bottom a definite, fancy Bruyere can be made out. This combined with the very rough yet apparent Made in London England in the photo to the right seem to compare on pipephil.eu only to the Super Bruyere.

That said, the other most notable condition of the pipe as I received it, other than fading of the original stain, was the actual presence of a small amount of tobacco in the bottom of the chamber. That was a somehow endearing quality I had never before seen.Parker3 This angle also shows the majority of the kind of work I needed to do to make the once precise pipe presentable again. The stem was discolored and scratched with minor chatter but no teeth marks. There were also slight dings around the inside of the rim and some blemishes on its top that appeared elsewhere throughout the pipe’s outer area.Parker4




Parker8 I apologize for jumping the gun on the sanding away of one patch of bad pits on the right side before even documenting its original state.

The chamber needed considerable reaming, which also removed the dings in the rim diameter, before sanding with 150-grit paper followed by 200 and 320. I swabbed it with small Everclear-soaked cotton cloths, scoured the shank over and over again with a wire-handled cleaner dipped in the alcohol, did a preliminary cleaning of the stem’s air-hole and retorted the pipe.

After those steps, I sanded the top of the rim with 200 paper, eliminating the scratches there. I followed that with 320 paper over the entire bowl and shank and buffing with super fine steel wool, then 1500, 3200, 3600 and 4000 micromesh.Parker9

Parker10 As much as I liked the lighter color of the briar, I concluded that re-staining with medium brown boot dye seemed the best course. I flamed it, let the wood cool and buffed with 3200 micromesh.

The stem needed 200-grit paper before micro-meshing with 1500, 3200, 3600 and 4000 grades.

To finish, I buffed the stem with red Tripoli and White Diamond, and the wood with red and White Tripoli, White Diamond and carnauba.Parker11





Parker16 The last touch was to refill the Parker “P” in a diamond on the stem with a white marker.


This restore, I’m happy to report, went without a hitch, although that does leave me with a rather unexciting blog. I almost wish something exciting had gone wrong and required a clever solution!

Giving It the Old College Try, As a Favorite Substitute Teacher Used To Say – Robert M. Boughton

Guest Blog by Robert M. Boughton
Member, North American Society of Pipe Collectors
Photos © the Author

“What is the real purpose behind the Tooth Fairy, the Easter Bunny and Santa Claus? They seem like greater steps toward faith and imagination, each with a payoff. Like cognitive training exercises.”
— Author Chuck Palahniuk, in a Seattle Times interview, November 18, 2005

Attention, working memory, processing speed, long-term memory, visual processing, auditory processing, logic and reasoning are the primary aspects of cognitive thinking, or the ability to learn. That’s why I kicked myself, in the figurative sense of course, the other day when I finished this restoration project and discovered I had deviated from my normal habit of photographing each part of the project – in this case, the pipe before it was restored. I mean, that’s not really an important step, after all, only the key to understanding the significance of the end product.

My excuse is that I bought a lot of eight pipes on eBay, knowing they were in foul condition but rather desperately needing more ware for my online store, and in the repetitious task of documenting all of their original conditions from every angle, the one slipped past me. However, being more attentive by nature, I have managed to forgive myself, if not without some wicked self-chastising.

Anyway, I bought that particular set for several reasons: nobody seemed to see what I did, that hidden in the apparent wreckage (at least to someone with an eye to get past all of that) were an unusual Savinelli huge billiard, a Ropp cherry wood, a smooth and well-colored old meerschaum bulldog and a Longchamp pigskin billiard, all of which appeared to be vintage; the bidding was low, I thought – I won for $32.50 with free shipping, more than the price for any one of them with careful work – and I was determined to have them, without sniping, at a sane cost I was confident of achieving by scaring off the competition with a max bid that had to seem outrageous to the others who were watching. I wonder if any of the unfortunate amateurs even took another look to see who won. And, oh, the thrill of victory in the best example of the open market that is eBay, even at its downright dirtiest.

Only one of the eight, a very old corncob, was burned out. In fact, that is putting it over nicely, for there was a glaring hole in the bottom that I confirmed with a poke from my pocket three-in-one pipe utility tool, but even it offered an excellent age-browned stem and gold-colored shank plate that fit an old restore with a crack I’ve been working on. The beautiful Savinelli Punto Oro marked “Herman Marcus” – which the eBay seller misidentified in the ad as a “Neiman Marcus” – on the right shank is very badly caked like the others and has an original short stem that for whatever hair-brained reason was bent up and back and not surprisingly has a chunk out of the lip. Call it foolhardiness or even plain arrogance, but I think I can fix the chunk. The other six pipes are finished, but this account concerns only one.

My blog today is about a lesser-known pipe brand called Monarch, which was established in Hartford, Connecticut in the 1930s and also distributes the Carey Magic Inch and Aerosphere pipes. Specifically, this concerns an apple shaped sitter with a bizarre patented tenon that screws into the shank. Once inserted with great difficulty, the tenon leaves a jet engine-like protrusion with a tiny piece of the rod that snaps onto the stem. Robert1At the time I believed my greatest problem would be disassembling the pipe, as something within the complex tenon system went awry and left the stem and cap spinning out of control with no purchase whatsoever. Naturally, I consulted my friend and mentor, Chuck Richards, first. He examined the pipe, sighed, made a doubtful face and suggested I give the whole thing a hot alcohol flush to see if that might loosen things up. But he was making no promises. And so, just for backup, I emailed our host, Steve, and posed my question. He said he had encountered the same problem once or twice in the past, and the only way he was able to get the pieces apart was to wiggle the stem carefully back and forth for as long as it took to do the job. Steve suggested the process could take some time and be quite tiring.

And so I decided upon a course of compromise. I gave the pipe a normal cold alcohol flush just to remove some gunk, which it did, and as I was quick to wipe up the overflow, it cleaned the bowl and shank well also. Then I commenced the wiggling. Steve was correct. The darned thing wanted to put up a fight. But maybe I lucked out, or the pipe just felt the negative vibes beginning to emanate from my psyche, because after about a half-hour of this nonsense the stem popped off. I was sure I had broken it!

Uncovering something out of a sci-fi comic book from back in the day, before anyone from Earth at least had ever traveled into space, or perhaps more like a diagram one might see in an old tech manual on airplane engines, I grasped the bowl and shank firmly in one hand and seized the curious bulb with two fingers of my free one and tried my hardest to twist. This approach got me nowhere but hot and sweaty.
Acutely aware of how easily I might demolish the entire pipe with one fell move but needing in the worst way to get that thing out of the shank, I wrapped the extending end of the tenon in a few small pieces of cotton and found some pliers. I started with the least necessary force and worked my way up a few notches before thinking better.

Sitting down and applying all of that processing (in particular visual), logic and reasoning I mentioned in the beginning, I noted the small opening in the exposed end of some sort of rod as yet unknown to me but most certainly to become so. And I remembered something (learning) I had done before to extract similar parts jammed in admittedly more sturdy objects. Rummaging through my toolbox, I found a small screw and screwdriver and with all due respect for the frail pipe, not to mention the unknown integrity of the odd tenon, forced the screw a short distance into the hole, where it jammed as I had intended.
Reversing the turn of the screw, no pun intended, I was rewarded almost at once with movement of the rod. Soon it became loose enough to finish by hand, and then the whole, approximately two-inch, grimy rod, along with the bulbous end and the stem cap, were in my hands. I know pride is supposed to be a sin, but not in all cases, and at any rate, there it is.

The patented supertenon, which appeared not to be intended for removal in order to accomplish such trivial tasks as cleaning the pipe now and then, suddenly told me, as clearly as if it spoke the words, why I found it and the inner shank coated with vile muck accreted over the decades. Intense alcohol scrubbing with stem cleaners corrected that problem.

But then there were the bowl and rim to make right again, and I emphasize that term. The iniquitous conditions of the two, un-photographed as they may be, can be approximated by a shot I took of those areas of another pipe from the same lot:Robert2Although clearly not even the same material as the Monarch apple, the rim scorching and cake buildup in the bowl are for all intents and purposes identical.

I reamed that bowl with vigor and then sanded it, first with 150-grit paper and then 400, for about 40 minutes, until it was completely clear of carbon and down to the briar at the top. I used 220 on the rim, then micro-meshed it with 2400.

In this way time flew, and the hour arrived to reassemble the pipe. I really had no idea how that would go, but after a few tries I managed, with the rod inserted through the holes on either end of the bulb and decorative cap that was attached to it, to turn the crazy tenon as far as it would go back into the shank. Relieved that the cap was snug in place, I made several tries to line up the tiny exposed end of the rod with a space station-like dock deep inside the hollow stem.Robert3 For some odd reason I felt like Major Tom floating in a tin can. At last I heard a happy click of connection, and the pipe was as whole as it could be.
You see, that was the problem right there. Even after I buffed up the stem with red Tripoli and White Diamond, and the briar with the works, I just was not satisfied with the wicked little Apollo 13 shimmy thing going on between the stem and the tenon. My attention, working memory, processing speed, long-term memory, visual processing, logic and reasoning were all whirring at full capacity as I tried to rationalize putting this piece of horse pucky up for sale on my new Web store, but something in my subconscious still refused to learn this new trick.

Therefore, I went to the Google chalkboard to see if I could work it out by looking up “Monarch tobacco pipe tenons,” which was actually a suggested search, and found images of them. And what do you know, but right there, number one, was my hideous creature.Robert4 Take special note of two items of intelligence we can gather from this photo: the significantly greater length of the rod sticking out of the bulb, and the still far too big of a gap between the exposed rod and the connector in the stem of my Monarch. The first thought I had was to disassemble the doggone thing again and see if I had somehow made a mistake – which does happen sometimes – and perhaps the tenon was screwed in too tightly. I’m sorry to say it wasn’t.

Still, the exercise in self-doubt was a success in that without it I might not have observed the length of the tenon loose in my hand again and imagined it re-inserted into the shank without the bulb and cap in the way. I mean, I never really liked it from the beginning, let’s face it, and so the notion of tossing it into my growing assortment of pipe odds and ends was rather appealing.

I made a battlefield decision and thought, what the heck. I’ve already spent too much time on this fanciful, vintage and even patented experiment in pipe making, so what are a few more minutes? After re-screwing in the rod without the bulb and cap, I snapped on the stem – and it indeed was a much better fit.Robert5 Robert6 Robert7 Robert8 Robert9 Robert10 Robert11
Now that all is said and done, I am happy that I did the work of making this sad example of pipe craft look beautiful again and ready to smoke in some fashion. But the bottom line is, I don’t even want to keep it around to use for my own enjoyment, so I certainly won’t sell it to anyone. First thing after finishing this blog and dispatching it, I intend to remove the pipe from my online store, where I have already posted it for $35. To me that would be the same as robbery, and even offering it free with the purchase of another pipe would be a cruel joke to play on some unsuspecting customer. Besides, it would only come back to me by the power of three times three. Maybe I’ll give it to a friend who is particularly fond of apples, with a copy of this blog. At least I have made it reasonably easy to remove the so-called tenon now.

To me, this is the real purpose behind the Tooth Fairy, the Easter Bunny and Santa Claus. Learning.



To Sonia Golden
To Chuck Richards
To Steve Laug
To Capitan Gregorio Fuentes

For the first two hundred and fifty days the boy was in a small wet space where the climate was almost always right. It made him think of islands in the stream of the Gulf where the air was humid but there was a breeze that made a boy feel free.

Sometimes the woman who kept him in the place let the others outside become too loud when he was sleeping. He considered this behavior beyond inconsiderate but had an uneasy feeling in his stomach every time he wanted to slap her during the good part of his life when he was always safe and most of the time comfortable.

If he squirmed and tried to free his hands which were bound he could tell she was aware but often she did nothing. Then he had to kick twice to get her attention. The boy thought she wanted to keep him there forever. For the first time his mind turned to escape but he had no plan. At the end of the two hundred and fifty days he kicked harder than before and understood he was outside.

“Cabezota!” the woman said with true strength and meaning. That was not a nice thing to say, and the boy knew she was his mother. Although the sound of the word never changed in the years that followed, the conviction behind it gave way as a woman’s complaints will when she is forced to surrender over time.

But in secret he liked the word his mother called him then and often later as he grew as well as he could, which was not much for many years. It gave him a warm sureness of identity and was the only feeling of control he had over his mother.

The minute the boy escaped the prison, people with masks on their faces glared down at him. One of these people held him upside-down by the ankles and gave him the first slap on the rear he ever received for no good reason he could imagine. But knowing that boys did not show their emotions he did not cry even then. All he did was gasp in shock. It seemed as though his life would be like men without women.

For the rest of his life he remembered in his mind and heart that belonged to no one else the looks of stupid amazement on the faces of his parents as they smiled at him. He could never forget their bared teeth like burros chomping on the bit. He wanted to scream but could not.

He was only a newborn and later had no way to explain the images and sounds and feelings that rushed together with a clarity similar to that of a soldier sprinting for his life with the same raw terrified taste of phlegm and bleach in his mouth. But the boy recognized the words that were spoken to him as one by the two when his mother held him in her arms for the first time.

“Gabriel Miguel Jorge de Sabato,” the new parents said to their boy in the thick accent of Spain and made the unfortunate burro faces.

The boy was small because he came early. He was also quiet unlike the others. He tried never to scream the way most people did for the first few years after they learned the bigger world was not the Garden of Eden. That could be good or bad, depending on how the child was raised.

He did not like the name his parents gave to him for as long as he knew and he had gone nine thousand six hundred and fifty days, counting Leap Years, since the first slap and he remembered before then.
The boy was never afraid of his parents. Even as an infant he understood they meant well. But when he was out of the first place and then the oven machine with a glass window he heard the sounds more often. I know for whom the bell tolls, he tried to say to himself, but the thought took the form of a stream of spittle.

His mind again turned to escape. He did his best but in the end he was not at all his usual quiet self. He howled as a lobo and kept at it until he was breathless with the coughing that comes and worn out whenever he heard the words. They were like a hyena caught unaware by a lion. As any real man who liked nothing better than to get out in the middle of life and grab hold of it knew, from even one hunting safari to the green hills of Africa, the sound of a wounded and dying hyena was nothing like laughing.

If they had a clue how much of their babble I understand, he thought, they would engage their brains before their mouths.

The skin of the baby boy was wrinkled and he was old in every other way including the eyes which were the blue of ice in the calderas of a volcano.

His days were long from confinement in the new cell. It was in a clean, well-lighted place and square and open at the top which was too high to get over because of the wooden slats that formed the walls.

Still the boy grew more desperate. Every time he heard the words during the first few years he lost all of the contents of his stomach. Sometimes it was so bad he also made other messes.

I should have taken better aim and spat on their faces, the boy thought. Instead he went still the way a leopard does before it strikes its prey. He lay in his cage, dreaming or pretending to be asleep thinking about what he would do one day.

I will get out of here, he told himself, and crawl across the river and into the trees and never look back. The boy was already aware of his habit of having big thoughts but never acting on them.

He decided while still in the crib, which is the most important time of life, that he would never have anything to do with the name he refused even to think about. One night he felt smothered by a blanket the color of Caribbean coastlines, where the sky reflects from the shallow water over the white sand before the shelves drop off into navy blue depths. With that thought in mind he chose to call himself Mike.

Then without warning he was released from the pen for no reason he could conceive. But he was wise enough not to question the turn of events and soon met other people his size. In spite of the vacant gravy-eyed stares he received in return, he always introduced himself by his chosen name.

Mike loved his grandfather who was his mother’s father even more than his own parents. What a terrible idea, he thought to himself in the early days and later said aloud when it came to him. Sometimes a boy talked to himself when he was alone and that was normal.

But he always dismissed the notion that his thoughts made him bad. This one was true and nothing could be done about it. The grandfather taught the boy everything important in life and that was why he loved him the way he did which was a man-like love.

The grandfather was already very old when Mike was born and lived in a small house made of adobe in Taos. His given first name was Eduardo and he, also, had two middle names.

The old man was podgy and had a full head of white hair for as long as Mike knew him. His skin was a natural dark the color of the earth in Castillo, Spain, which was where he was born early in the previous century. The only part of his appearance that changed was his big wrinkled face that was like an apple left in the sun.

The boy thought that if the old man could somehow be stretched out to full size he would have the classic look of a Spanish nobleman except for the tattoo of a cheap looking young woman on his right arm. Much later the boy learned the woman was his grandmother, who died before he was born.

But the first time he met Mike during the prison days he leaned close so that the boy feared the old man was going to give him one of the bad wet kisses. He knew that if this was done to his belly, which he hated, he would direct more than a scream at him. The infant smelled something on the breath of the old man that was sour and harsh and liked it.

Instead of doing the bad wet thing or worse, saying the words the boy could not bear to hear, his grandfather rubbed the boy’s belly in a way that made both of them laugh and spoke in a whisper so that the parents would not hear. Mike knew right away it was a secret and so he listened even more than he had always done.

“I am your grandfather, Ed,” the old man said, and right away Mike knew that this big person was different than all of the others, “but you can call me grandfather or grandpa or just Ed. I will call you chaval for now because that is what you are until you grow out of it or tell me you do not like it.”

Mike thought about what to call his grandfather for a long time, until he was three months old, and one night at dinner when the old man was with them he made up his mind.

“Grandpapa,” Mike said.

The grandfather and parents all stopped the way animals in a forest will when they sense danger, the old man with his round glass of the dark gold clear liquid with no ice that he poured often from a big bottle in the freezer and the other two with their spoons and forks in their mouths. None of them had ever heard of such a thing and they were without words.

Then the laughter began. His parents did it the way they could not help but the old man the boy loved spilled his drink and slapped his hands on the table and his legs and chest with joy until tears streamed down his face and the coughing started. All of the others carried on at the same time with so much loudness and confusion and talking over each other that the boy could not understand a word of it and he became hot and angry and could not stand it any longer.

“Grandpapa!” Mike said again with firmness to let them know he was not finished.

Again no one could find words. Good, Mike thought, now I have struck them dumb for real and I have their attention.

“What is that thing you put in your mouth before and after dinner?”

The first complete sentence of the infant was not so easy to follow but his meaning was clear.

“Qué milagro!” said the mother, who was a devout Catholic and crossed herself.


When the last light of the winter day was gone and darkness outside the hacienda-was as full as the moon and everything from the dining room was cleared to the kitchen and washed by hand in the sink, all of the adults sighed again in satisfaction. The boy burped. The paella valenciana with duck and snails was the best either of the men ever remembered eating and they told her so. The boy’s mashed vegetables in a jar were as good as he could expect. His mother smiled until the old man spoke again.

“You inherited that gift from your mother, God bless her soul.”

She frowned but turned back to everyone with a forced smile.

“Now is the time for Gabriel’s diapers and bedtime,” she said.

Ed, who was rolling on the floor with the boy, at once got to his knees and picked him up.

“I will do it,” he said.

The parents looked at each other the way that said without words they thought they could stop the old man but it was too late. He was already standing and carrying the boy under one arm that was still big and strong despite his very old age. The mother and father watched with the nervousness parents have when their child goes off on his own to war or college or any dangerous place as the other two moved down the long hallway.

“Just tell me where do you keep the diapers, chaval,” the old man said to the boy in a quiet voice the parents heard anyway. Ed turned his head and held Mike close to his ear. “Ah. In the dresser in your room. Of course.”

After the grandfather changed Mike’s diaper with a sprinkle of the white powder that most of the time annoyed the boy but on this special occasion again made both of them laugh as if at a private joke, Ed bent over to put Mike back in the cage which for once in his life he did not notice.

The boy’s attention was caught by something that fell to the carpet from the inside pocket of the old man’s tattered and comfortable coat. The boy tried to see what it was and started to become angry that he could not move fast enough. Ed understood Mike’s curiosity. He picked up the thing and held it so the boy could see.

“Do you like him?” he said.

He held the pipe that fell and was nothing like the bent one Mike had surprised everyone by asking about after dinner. This pipe was new and shiny but in many other ways the boy could not describe, even to himself,not as much to look at as the one his grandfather had smoked that day and evening.

Ed had a different pipe every time the boy saw him. Still Mike’s eyes had a flash of fire when they fixed on the fine strong pipe.

“Yep,” the boy said with a hard sound to the “p” that made the old man go into another fit of laughter with the clapping of the hands and slapping of the knees and chest. And so of course Mike could not help joining him.

“Then you keep it,” the old man said and smiled, but there was faint sadness the boy did not miss and another look on his face as he handed it with care to the infant. “And always take care of this pipe for it is special and smokes better and longer than any other pipe ever made. It was hand-carved by an Italian who is new to the craft but shows great potential.”

Mike bit his lip even though he still had no teeth and clasped all of his fingers together and trembled with the thrill that came from the strange and unfamiliar way he wanted the pipe, but did not move to take the gift that was held out to him.

“Go on. It won’t bite. Take it. And do not worry about sticking it in your mouth like I do because it is well cleaned and you will catch none of my germs.” This made them both laugh again. “Of course I cannot give you any of my tobacco or your mother and father would kill me or worse yet never speak to me again.”

Mike, who did not understand the joke, still did not take the offered pipe. He could feel the strong emotions that Ed tried to disguise.

“Ah,” the grandfather said. “You sense my attachment to this thing. Well, this is true or I would not give it to you, for nothing that is not of value to the giver is worthy of parting with. Besides, I have not had it long, for the pipe maker, as I said, is a newcomer. ”

None of this reasoning made sense to the boy but he trusted his grandfather’s sincerity and knew the old man would not take no for an answer. Mike held out a hand that shook with the passion of doing something he knew his parents would not like and accepted the pipe. Ed chuckled. The boy was aware it was because he understood these things.

That night and many others afterward Mike fell asleep sucking on the pipe the way most children his age did with their fingers or other small objects that were sold at stores to pacify them.

Mike’s parents were very proud to be descended from the brave and heroic Conquistadores who were the first people to find New Mexico not counting the natives. The parents disapproved of this name their one child told everyone was his but could do nothing to stop him.

The mother and father still spoke the language of the old country that the boy pretended he did not know. They also read many books by authors of the Spanish language, which is not the same as Spanish writers the way most of the people in the rugged high desert Land of Entrapment meant it and that was to say Hispanic.

It was from the authors of some of these books that the boy’s mother and father named their son. The last name being a coincidence was to the fledgling Mike God’s biggest joke. He went to great lengths to hide the fact that he borrowed and read many of the same books in the Spanish of his ancestors.

“Qué chorrada!” Mike’s mother said for the first time when he was three and he refused to eat the mashed pea baby food from the jar. She was determined to feed him pasty green mush when he only wanted a few of the good kind that he saw and smelled the bigger people eating. Mike wondered at the woman’s own nonsense. It reminded him of the day he decided to come out of her. She seemed then to try her best to keep him inside and now out.

Women, the boy thought. They make no sense but must be necessary in some way for life to go on.
As early as the time known as primary school Mike began to show the signs of being different. They were in the slight build and big doleful eyes with an obvious but unknown imagination behind them and the standing alone in the middle of the schoolyard or playing field with the body still and arms limp and in the strange way he stared up at the sky or into the distance. Whatever he saw no one else could tell.

All of these were like bad omens and scared the others who were deaf to Mike’s thoughts. The adults including his parents said he was sensitive as if that were a good thing.

Mike grew as well as he was able which still was not much. All that the others could talk about in hushed voices whether he was present or not was that the boy was a runt but dangerous somehow for being weak or, more often, a contrapelo which was not a nice thing to say or even think about anyone.

Robert2 The truth was that Mike was always sad while those about him were at peace, as it seemed to him. The worst time was when the sun set although he knew the sun also rises.

What, he wondered to himself, if one day the sun did not rise? He remained this way even when the other boys his age began to have the changes that lead to manhood.
Robert3There were times when he had that sick gaunt scared look of a small dog that is thrown into deep dirty water and must paddle around in circles looking foolish or sink and drown or pull itself out with all the strength in its front paws and still more, almost dragging itself by its own collar, until it is left shaking with the tail between the shivering legs. That was unlucky.

“Gabriela!” said some of the other seven year old boys in school the first time they taunted him to fight. They knew they would win. All animals smell fear.

But Mike never backed down and he always struggled up onto his feet for more. He seemed to like the beatings. They left his skin, which had softened and smoothed since he was a baby, bruised even through the natural color of milk with a little cocoa. His eyes were almost always puffy and black and blue, which was an unfortunate condition of his life but good for the building of strength and character. To the few other outcasts in his pack Mike was a doe, caught in the crosshairs of a big game hunter’s rifle, that senses something is wrong but has no understanding of the true nature.

Until the boy was almost out of high school he had nightmares. He could never remember them long enough to tell the doctors his parents made him see. Mike was too forgetful to keep a journal of the awful visions as the men in white coats always asked him to do.

He did not know how lucky he was to have parents who gave him everything he needed if not all that he wanted, or the idea of to have and have not. Oftentimes his mother reminded him of all the starving children in India.

Most of his waking hours were filled with despair every time he observed two or more other boys pushing and shoving each other, sometimes with fierceness like lion cubs but always in good nature and followed by nervous laughter and camaraderie that was never of the wrong kind, as though their fun and games were a moveable feast.

Years passed this way. Mike began to grow stronger a little at a time. I should do something to change the way my life is going, he thought, but was always afraid. And so he continued to take the beatings from the others in the schoolyards that were sometimes different but in the important ways the same. One afternoon in high school all of the kids were laughing and joking in their groups.

“Gabriela!” said one boy.

“Chulo!” said another.

But this fight was to be remembered for many reasons. Mike had had enough. Over the years he had learned to get back on his feet faster and then to strike in a clumsy fashion that at first hit only the air and made the other boys laugh even more and make fake scared faces which were known to cause Mike to lose control in a way that was always his undoing.

In time some of his punches began to connect with the dull sound of a piece of meat falling to a slaughterhouse floor. At last one of them lead to the bloodshed of another boy even if a mere dribble from the nose that resulted on that occasion in one of Mike’s most painful yet rewarding losses.

But on the day when the other boys called him their names for the last time, everything changed. Other than the name-calling, everyone present, who seemed to include all of the students and none of the teachers, agreed that it was Mike who in fact threw the first punch. But nobody, in fact, saw anyone but Mike hit anyone else. And there was no mistaking who the winner was, as Mike was the only boy standing while all the regular suspects lay unconscious all about in pools of their own blood. By the time teachers arrived, nobody else had seen anything.

No one in the schoolyard including Mike had ever seen his style of combat that was like the Dirvishers Dance, or the Sacred Ritual of Love, even though Mike danced alone and love had nothing to do with it.
Robert4 Only one year short of being a man according to the law the fighting stopped for Mike. The bigger boys found someone else smaller to terrorize and even invited Mike to join them but he just said no. He had seen enough of the fighting in life and desired only to make a farewell to arms.

The others had not learned this lesson and Mike sometimes watched them with a strange feeling inside as they stalked their new victim. The feeling was not relief for himself or pity for the other boy. He felt nothing, like a shell-shocked soldier returned home from war.

Mike began to grow and for a while his parents had to buy him new clothes almost every week. That was a difficult time for the entire small family but in particular the boy who then realized he had started what he thought would be a happier road to becoming a man. But it was not so.

The infant boy grew for twenty-six years that turned him first into a bitter teenager and, as time sometimes will do, hardened and calmed him into a quiet young man.

His height was six feet and two inches and he had the natural lean strong body that youth gives without working for it. He made good money doing construction labor and was known and respected for his hard work.

The foreman at the first site where Mike worked almost straight out of high school hired him for his size and the fact that he had checked on the application that he had reliable transportation to and from the sites. When the foreman found out Mike meant his feet he told him he would have to get a car if he wanted to continue doing that kind of work because he might be called early or late and without notice.

Mike knew he was cabezota as his mother always said and his mind was a steel trap and so he did not much care for the new condition of his work. But the pleasure and peace he gained from the toil he did were the only reasons he paid for new transportation.

The small pickup he found was used but in good condition and did not drink gasoline the way his grandfather drank scotch and was not cheap. Mike was forced to barter with the salesman, which he hated, and paid a fair price in full with cash as he did for everything he owned. He did not trust banks and could not bring himself to borrow money.

The next thing you know, he thought, you will be a beggar.

Mike did not keep his money under his mattress but in a solid fireproof safe bolted to the floor of his closet. And he kept a sawed-off double barrel shotgun strapped behind the nightstand.

He lived alone in a small furnished studio apartment. There were some photographs of his family, most of them his grandfather or the two of them fishing or working on pipes together, stuck with pins to a piece of particle wood he hung on the wall or in frames on a large work table he added to the room. He was what most of the people in the sprawling college town of Albuquerque would call a loner.

But what the others called him each time he passed them by, the ones who reminded Mike of rattle snakes in nests, was nothing new to Mike. He pretended not to hear the few who held themselves above everyone else whisper that the young man was loco, which was the worst kind of unusual. The word that the young man believed had no power over him also gave him a feeling of pride and he felt good and better than the others were for knowing something about them. This information he kept inside him as his own.

Most of the time when Mike was not working he walked the good and bad parts of the streets alone with his own thoughts. He was not afraid of anyone when walking because he knew what he could do. Maybe the others saw it in his eyes.

The pipe Ed gave the boy when he was too young to understand its true value and craftsmanship was called Cavicchi, which was short for Cavicchi Four C Freehand. It had a tall curved bowl with rough edges along the top and many close lines of grain from top to bottom. The stem was bent with a silver band. The boy kept it in a box with soft lining and took it out and held it every morning when he awoke and again whenever he returned to his home and at night before he went to bed.

He could read “Cavicchi C” on the left side of the part he learned from his grandfather was called the shank and “Fatto a Mano in Italia” on the right and, underneath, a row of four circles with Cs in them. At first the thing was a reminder of the old man but over time it became a good luck charm despite the years of the many beatings and the physical changes that were worse in some ways and the boy tried his best not to think about.

After all, he thought, I survived them, did I not? And despite everything the magic pipe never abandoned me.

But he did not smoke Cavicchi until he was of the legal age and his grandfather gave him his first tin of good tobacco. He coughed, as all young men or boys do when trying tobacco for the first time, and his grandfather laughed with him but taught him the secret of not inhaling the smoke.

One day when Mike was walking on the old Route 66 that ran through the center of Albuquerque he came to the east end of the Nob Hill District and noticed a big glass building with the word arcade on it. He had seen the place many times but never thought to go inside.

As most young people do, which is to say without thought, he entered the ratty old place filled with antiques and vintage memorabilia and asked another young man behind the counter if he had any smoking pipes. Mike surprised himself with the question as he heard it in his own voice.

I have my own favorite tobacconist where I can buy any pipe I could want if I needed one better than Cavicchi, he thought.

The other young man had short hair of the cut known as Ivy League and small round eyeglasses and wore straight-legged pin-striped slacks from the 1950s and a starched dress shirt with buttons on the collar and a bow tie.

“Could this guy be more of a nerd if he tried?” Mike said to himself.

Then he had a pang of guilt he had never before felt and asked himself why that should be. The answer came to him so fast it made him lighter in the head than Five Brothers Smoking Tobacco.

He is just like I am, or was. I don’t even know his name. Who am I to judge him for his unfortunate haircut and silly clothes? My own hair being much longer than his and my loose jeans and tee-shirt make me no better than he is.

Mike wondered how he had learned compassion. The understanding of a different person’s feelings still hit Mike like the heavy rain and near-gale force winds of what the locals called the monsoon season.

“Hmm, I think I might have a couple over here,” the other young man said, and before he turned to lead the way Mike looked for a name tag which identified him as Andrew.Robert5 The two wound their way to the Continental Divide of the ground floor of the huge disordered place and stopped by a locked glass case. Inside it Mike saw two old worn pipes in a six-hole stand of the color of the mashed peas he was forced to eat from a jar when he was a baby. Andrew pointed them out.

“May I take a closer look at the pipes, Andrew?” Mike said and noticed the pleased smile on the other youth’s face at the use of his name. Again Mike had an odd feeling but it was good and so he dismissed it.

Mike glanced at the left side of the shank of the first pipe for a name, even though he did not care for the look of it, and saw it was a Dr. Grabow of no special character or personality. He gave it back to Andrew and inspected the other pipe, first its general appearance and how it fit in his hand which he liked and then for markings on the shank. In three lines of capital letters he read Thinbite and Imported Briar and Italy.

“How much for this one and the stand?” he said, expecting to have to resort to haggling, which he still hated despite his success with the pick-up truck, but after all the stand was an unfortunate color and had a space for a large jar that was not on it and both of these he would have to fix.
“Hmm, let’s see,” Andrew said and it was obvious he made up a price in his head. “Eight dollars for the stand plus five for the pipe, that’s thirteen dollars.”

Mike could not argue with the price and paid for them at the front counter.

“Thank you, Andrew,” he said and left but not before seeing the smile again.

Mike had three miles to walk from the arcade to his apartment and the rain began just after he reached full stride. He ducked under an overhang and removed from his backpack a bright yellow slicker with hood that he put on and zippered to his Adam’s apple. The overcoat and his high-laced combat boots would keep him dry.

Rain helped him to slow down and focus on the race of thoughts that sometimes still bothered him. When Mike was in school the doctors wanted him to take pills they said would do the same thing and his parents agreed so Mike went along with the idea.

But he never took the pills. At first he gave them to other boys he knew and thought they would help until these boys returned to him talking so fast he could not follow and blinking and rubbing their noses all the time and he noticed they never stopped moving or twitching and begging Mike for more.

He made up a story about how the doctors no longer gave him the pills and from then on he crushed them all with his hands and threw them in the trash. Mike thought maybe his parents wanted to poison him and was happy he never took even one.

The rain was also calming as it came down as if in the torrents of spring almost five months after his twenty-sixth birthday. Mike saw none of the usual small children and animals and wondered if they blew away.

During the walk home that seemed short Mike remembered the good times he had with his grandfather during his annual summer vacations to the town of Taos in the far north-central part of the state. His parents did not approve, which was one of the best excuses for the trips as far as Mike was concerned although he needed no other reason than his great love for the old man and the wisdom and lessons he was given in the art of restoring pipes. These memories were the best part of Mike and he kept them with him all of his life in a special place apart from the rest.

The tall muscular young man cut his way through the storm and ducked his head against the attacking rain and when he had no other choice he leaned into the strong wind to keep his footing firm. He did not need to look where he was going. From the cracks in the sidewalks and the uneven spots and even sometimes the faded old War Powers Act stamps on ground-hole covers Mike could find his way almost anywhere in the city.

He spent more time staring at the cement than at the life around him although he was aware of everything. When he was almost home he stopped and looked forward and felt the cold air and hard rain lash his face. He accepted this challenge of the weather and had an idea stronger than the storm.

“I will restore Thinbite to its original glory,” he said and smiled and was aware that he had done this. It was the first true smile he could remember for a long time. “And I will give it to grandfather on his one hundred and fourth birthday as a work I did on my own, even if it does not compare to Cavicchi.”

A car horn honked loud and long and Mike looked up to see that he blocked the way of a car pulling out of the parking lot. Oblivious to the continued blare of the horn and other signs of the driver’s road rage, he continued on his way and walked the last few blocks to his apartment as fast as he could, which took little time thanks to a change in the wind’s direction in his favor that he took as a good omen.

When he opened the door to the room that was his home, Mike left behind the wetness and traded the fresh smell of rain for the strong but good traces of fresh salmon he baked in foil with lemon, onions and spices the night before.

Mike knew only the door and thin windows shuddered and whistled with the buffets of the storm that intensified but the entire studio seemed little better than a skiff that swayed and rattled from the rolling waves of rain and wind in an ocean of confusion outside.

The single Spartan room was smaller than his parents’ garage and he knew his truck would take up almost all of it but he was happy there with the Murphy bed and kitchenette and walk-in closet he could reach into for anything he needed and the bathroom with its toilet, sink, medicine cabinet and shower.

“My castle,” he said, remembering the story of the knight who tilted at windmills and his own first given middle name in honor of the ancient writer who made it all up.“But I need no Sancho Panza to keep me company. Maybe someday I will rescue a dog from the pound and I know what I will name him.”

He removed his dripping coat and shook it out and ran his fingers through his hair to clear the dampness as he stood by his heavy wooden work table by the one window. The table was where he kept the few things that meant the most to him not counting Cavicchi and his tins of good tobaccos. Those he stored in his nightstand.

He ran his hands over the machine at the back of the table with its three fixed buffer wheels. Mike wanted and could afford a newer three-on mandrel lathe and motor but this one was of great sentimental importance and he never got around to searching the Internet for another. The old man gave the machine to Mike when he was twelve, and he had not yet used it outside of his grandfather’s house. That was not good. Tools were made to be used.

After Mike switched the places of his laptop computer and the very old wood buffer to a spot where he could sit on his stool and reach it without trouble he picked up a rag that he dampened with distilled water and wiped it clean of dust and dirt from many years without use. He covered the laptop with some plastic and plugged in the machine that was heavy enough not to need to be bolted to the table and put on his clear goggles before making sure it still worked.

“This is silly,” the young man said as he adjusted his goggles until they were snug over his eyes, “because I have kept it safe and clean except for a little dust and grime and have even replaced the used buffer wheels that were on it when grandfather gave it to me. But the old man taught me well and all of the good lessons are coming back like riding a bicycle.”

Mike flipped the power switch up and right away felt a small chunk of something hit his goggles and so was happy for the old man’s lesson. He felt a rush of blood fill his entire body with a warmth that was so good it almost made a natural thing happen as he heard the smooth even hum of the motor and saw the cloth buffers that were loose and white tighten up at high speed.

The machine was not cheap when it was new and so it could be adjusted down as was better when working with wood. He turned a knob to one thousand seven-hundred and fifty revolutions per minute and listened as the whirring slowed. It was a thing of beauty despite its age and use and Mike remembered the old man’s words when he gave him Cavicchi.

“Nothing that is not of value to the giver is worthy of parting with.”

The young man loved his grandfather more than ever and thought about how to restore Thinbite.

“Should I only clean him up with a nice bath to remove the years of grime that are on him and clear away the scratches the way a plastic surgeon does a nip and tuck? Maybe Thinbite deserves more. What if I could do something more original,closer to a make-over?”

He looked at the rugged Thinbite and considered the possibilities from every angle.
Robert6 Robert7 The part of Mike that did not know what to make of itself knew he already liked Thinbite and the uncommon use of smooth natural briar on the shank and most of the bowl, with the small rusticated area around the bottom, and that he felt that way from the moment he saw the pipe. But the suspicious side that was still in his nature wondered what flaws in the grain of the wood the rustication and heavy but faded stain might hide.

He took a serious step. He knew, from experience watching his grandfather strip old pipes covered with rustication or thick stains of black for dress pipes or green for St. Patrick’s Day or red for Christmas that the wood might be strong but still have unfortunate weaknesses.

The feeling in Mike’s stomach was a mix of fear and hope that there could be serious problems he had to correct. Most of the pipes with these signs that he watched his grandfather strip had bad grains or pits that were filled with putty because they were too deep or numerous to correct any other way. Mike had to know. He was always curious that way.
Robert8 Even when he was learning the basics of pipe craft from the old man, Mike liked to work at a pace that was steady but not rushed because having something to keep him busy at all times not only made him more efficient but he also felt better.

First he began to clean and sanitize Thinbite with bristled pipe cleaners from a bundle on the table and an unopened bottle of Everclear in the freezer that he bought two years earlier for that day. He broke the seal on the bottle and lowered a pipe cleaner a third of its length into the strong one hundred and ninety-proof alcohol.

He held the pipe stem that he removed from the shank and worked the wet cleaner into the hole of the bit. This was not as easy as he thought it would be. The cleaner jammed less than an inch into the stem and no matter how hard he tried he could not force it deeper. But the young man was stubborn and determined.

“I will defeat you, stem,” Mike said to the little piece of Vulcanite that was the regrettable color of the stand he bought along with it.

And so he removed the difficult cleaner, which was ruined with soot as far as it had penetrated the old stem, and wet the clean end in the Everclear. With a sneak attack through the tiny hole in the stinger at the other end of the stem he overcame the initial resistance and was able to make it all the way through, but again not without a skirmish. The entire cleaner had the color and consistency of resin and made Mike suspect with unhappiness that someone had smoked something different than tobacco in Thinbite. That was more than he wanted to know of its history.

Mike understood the stem was going to be a long battle but one he would win with time. He took a second cleaner from the bundle and soaked all of it in the Everclear before he returned to the stinger hole and again did not give up until the cleaner stuck out of both ends of the stem, where he left it to soak up more of the badness inside.

He rubbed the rim of the bowl with patience his grandfather taught him, but that he still only had for pipes, for however long the alcohol required to remove most of the scorching so he could see the clean but duller grain of wood again. There were some dings and scratches but they could wait. The rest of the blackness he took away with medium grain sandpaper.

In a kitchen cupboard he found a clean empty plastic pint container from seafood salad he ate with crackers and returned to put Thinbite without its stem at the bottom before pouring enough of the Everclear to cover it. Mike held Thinbite down until the alcohol flowed all the way through the bowl and shank. The piece of wood turned and bobbed for a few seconds before it stilled as though lifeless and floated on its side. The young man felt a stab of guilt as if he had water-boarded a friend.

While he watched the alcohol that immersed the pipe bowl come to a still, Mike was reminded of a day when he was twelve and visiting his grandfather. The two were restoring pipes as usual, the old man doing the majority of the work, as was to be expected. But for the first time the old man gave Mike more responsibility by allowing him to buff five pipes and stems on two lathes including the three-on buffer he was later given.

Each pipe was of a different shape and quality but to the boy they were all special and beautiful. The repairs were made, so when Mike was done with his part the pipes would be ready to be returned to their owners.

The old man was a master at his craft and the most popular pipe fixer in northern New Mexico and into Colorado, but he never carved pipes because he knew what he was born to do. He did not attain his skills and status being stupid or blind, and so he noticed cuts and bruises that covered Mike’s body and were worse than usual.

Certain the parents did not do these things to their child, Ed always suspected bullies but knew better than to push the boy to talk. He had been a chaval once and had a very good memory despite his age.

“This one and I, we are both cabezota,” the old man said to himself when he was alone and thinking of the boy, which was often.

After Ed gave the five unpolished pipes to Mike, he said again, as he had very few times before, “You will always say what you have to say when you are ready, no?”

“Of course,” Mike said. He wondered if his grandpapa might be psychic and appreciated that the old man did not try to force him to talk about it like some people or read his mind still more. That was another reason he loved the man.

The grandfather lay down and closed his eyes on the couch in the living room where the boy worked. This was how he got the little rest he needed, at times during the days and nights when there was nothing else to do. Without seeing he could tell the bigger work load helped the boy focus a little more on the pipe restoring he enjoyed instead of the pain he felt.

Because of the wounds to the boy’s hands, which the man noticed more from the skill and potential for true greatness beyond his own that he observed they already showed, Mike at times had trouble controlling the small pieces of wood as he held them against the buffers. He did not let any get loose so that they flew across the room as he had done sometimes when he was younger and still learning, but he came close more often than he liked.

As he completed each bowl and stem, Mike attached the two and set the finished pipe on a large cloth of thick cotton of the type made for drying cars washed by hand. The cloth was on a small folding wooden stand to his right.

At the exact midpoint of his work, the boy had polished and set aside two pipes that were by the same maker. Both were apple bowls but of different sizes that made Mike think of them as a man and woman. He screwed the third together and saw that the stem was uneven with the shank by about an eighth of an inch.

He smiled because he knew this was not a mistake his grandpapa would make. The old man was playing a trick on him, to see if he would catch the flaw and remember how to correct it.

Mike turned to get up from his seat and tried not to disturb the old man’s sleep that he knew was like a cat’s. His leg brushed against the unsteady wooden stand, which made a soft creaking noise that brought a grin to the old man’s lips because he knew the boy was passing the test but did not hear the splash of a pipe into the dirty water of a mop bucket below.

Ed forced the grin to go away just as the boy looked at him to see if he noticed. Mike stood and walked around the room looking for a stem cleaner and a bottle of distilled water. With both in his hands, he opened the water bottle and inserted the bristled cleaner all the way inside, turning the bottle enough to soak the cleaner.

When the cleaner was soaked he bent it into four even sides and pushed them together to fit into the shank. He inserted the loose stem and placed the pipe in the refrigerator to let the water in the cleaner soak into the shank and make the two pieces an even fit.

The boy returned to the last two pipes and soon was done. His breathing stopped as he saw only three pipes to his right where there should be four, not counting the fifth that was in the refrigerator.

While he was up he returned to the refrigerator to retrieve the pipe. With a toothpick he removed the bent cleaner and replaced the stem, which was a perfect fit.

At least the trick worked, Mike thought. But where can the other pipe be?

He looked everywhere, on the two buffer machines, on the floor, on the little wooden stand again. The boy dropped to his knees as though in prayer but placed both hands on the floor and felt a sickening panic fill him when he still could not see the missing pipe anywhere at that level.

At last Mike noticed the mop bucket and at once knew the awful truth. The boy recalled the basic rule of deduction, which he learned in a literature class and was one of the few useful things he had taken with him from that period of his life he would rather forget.

His lips moved but he did not say the words, “Once you eliminate the impossible, whatever remains, no matter how improbable, must be the truth.”

Mike crawled toward the bucket as though it were a rabid dog, looked into the filthy gray contents and almost retched at the stink of it. But he summoned all of his courage and winced as he put a hand into the foulness and felt around until he found the slimy pipe bowl and pulled its sallow, lifeless form from the depths.

“I have killed her,” the boy said in a whisper, seeing the smaller of the two apples covered with a nasty wet film of dirt on the once beautiful bowl.

“Killed who?” the old man said, pretending to awaken. He startled the boy, who turned so fast that he knocked his head on one of the buffer machines.

“The female Winston Club,” the boy said, biting back an urge to cry, but still a single tear escaped an eye and rolled down his smooth, bruised face.

Ed, who knew how his grandson felt and for the first time understood he was turning into a man, lost the urge to laugh and said, “Would you prefer that it had been the male?”

The youth, who did not know how to reply, stammered the next words.

“I do not know. I mean yes. No.” He paused again to choke down the need to cry, which he knew only babies and girls did. “I only know that it is the worst thing I have ever done and the saddest thing I have ever seen.”

Noticing his grandpapa’s eyes glisten with emotion but not understanding the cause, Mike experienced the most intense shame he had ever known.

“It is true, Mike, this unfortunate thing is very sad, but if it is the worst you have ever done then you are a very lucky young man.”

The boy could not believe his grandpapa had called him by his chosen name and a young man as well after such a huge mistake.

Ed cut Mike off before he could speak and said, “Besides, I don’t think she is dead but only holding her breath until someone gives her a good bath. Females are particular that way. Have you ever given a girl a bath?”

The boy’s eyes widened and he shook his head no.

“I thought not. Here, I will show you how.”

“No,” the boy said and put his hand on the old man’s arm as he reached for the pipe. “This is my mess. I will give her the bath and make her as beautiful as she was.”

Ed tried to conceal the pride he felt for the boy, who saw it in the old man’s eyes and smiled.
Mike was always a quiet boy and when the time came to drive him back to his parents’ home the old man spoke of the boy’s troubles at school the only way he knew.

“You know, Mike, I am a peaceful man and can count the fights I have been in on fewer fingers than I have on one stubby hand,” he said as they bypassed the town of Bernalillo on the freeway. “And most of those the drink made me do it. But sometimes a fight, like war, cannot be avoided. On those rare occasions, a man or boy must be willing to stand and defend his honor or else live with the regret and be walked over for the rest of his life. I know this. I was a foot soldier in the Great War, which started when I was 31 and therefore I was known by most of the others, who were just kids, as Dad or even Granny. It was not so great for all of the men at the bottom who had to do the fighting. But we knew it was a good cause and so we did what we must.”

Mike considered his grandfather’s words with his most serious expression and nodded.

“Besides,” the old man said before closing the subject forever, “now and then it just feels good to give some ignorant S.O.B. a nice solid wallop to the face and watch him go down.”

Then the boy and the old man laughed. Mike remembered the words five years later.

Mike forced his mind back to the present.

“I am not at my grandfather’s, I am here, now, and I must finish Thinbite,” he said.

He knew the soaking of the bowl in alcohol was an extreme measure but decided it was the best course because if the stem was so dirty then the shank and bowl would be guarro, which is not at all nice.But Mike also considered the rustication and the words on the pipe and how to avoid scratching the smooth wooden area with sandpaper.

Patience was not something Mike had much experience practicing. At first he sat at his work table and set in a row everything he thought he might need for his project: the micromesh kit, the super fine steel wool, the alcohol-based boot stains he was taught were best for pipes, bars of red and white Tripoli, carnauba and Halcyon II waxes and even a couple of extra buffer wheels in case he wanted them. These things he bought over the years to be prepared for the special day.All he could do then was to wait for the Everclear to reveal the truth of Thinbite.

Lightning, sudden and jarring as a grenade explosion, awoke Mike and lit the studio with the clarity of day. His last memory was sitting with his back against the pillows on the bed he pulled down from where he stowed it in the wall and eating albacore chunks from a tin. The thought that he had slept away the night gave Mike a sick feeling until he heard the heavy artillery report of thunder less than a mile away and not a second later the darkness was replaced by light.

He knew the front line of the storm had reached him and by instinct reached for his flashlight in the nightstand and looked outside his window to see if lightning had struck his truck. He saw a tree split in half.

Relieved, Mike looked at his watch with its glowing green hands and saw the time was just after three in the morning. With the sure feet of a seasoned sailor on a boat adrift at sea in a night squall Mike walked to the wall in the kitchen alcove where the breaker box was located. He opened the small case and felt all of the switches.

Nothing was tripped so he moved a small emergency generator in the closet to the floor by the work table and plugged in the lathe and a halogen lamp. He turned on the blinding light. From the silent but still icy freezer he took a bottle of strong imported beer he had aged for more than two months and opened it with a hand even though the lid was not made to be twisted.

“Now at last I can sit down and get to work,” he said, and took a good swallow of the thick dark stout liquid.

He took the pipe bowl from the jar with alcohol that had turned the gold of whiskey. Real whiskey made Mike, unlike his grandfather, feel like an amateur and he enjoyed hard drink only now and then. This was not his fault. Some people are born that way.He was happy to watch the one hundred and ninety-proof alcohol evaporate and reveal briar with a white coating on the smooth area and a slight green on the rusticated part. He set it down on a small square of cotton cloth.

Tearing off a piece of the finest steel wool he set to work brushing away the dried residue of alcohol. Holding the pipe inside a thick cotton rag he turned it in his hands to clear away the tiny particles of steel wool that were still on it. He tilted the bowl away from his eyes and blew through the shank, watching the dark gray cloud that cleared the bowl.

Mike’s first look at the raw briar was all he needed to understand the use of rustication and thick staining on Thinbite.In the middle of the front and the top of the right sides of the pipe were signs of gouges that had been smoothed with wood filler. He knew his grandfather on a summer day long past had told him one of his many tricks that was the exact way to deal with this problem but he could not remember what it was no matter how hard he tried. All he knew was that it sounded simple at the time. He was sure the answer would come to him if he put the matter out of his mind.

To stay busy while he did not think about the trick, Mike used an old toothbrush to work on the rusticated bottom and smoothed the rim with a small piece of very fine grit sandpaper. He removed the thin patches of the remaining old stain, careful to leave the name of Thinbite and its place of birth and type of wood untouched.

A glance in the bowl showed a buildup of cake so thick he could almost not work his little finger to the bottom. This called for the reamer, which was at hand. He turned the knob on top until the blades were as close as they would go and slid the sharp end as far as it would fit inside the bowl, halfway down. Then he tightened the blades again and began to turn the tool in a slow and even way around the inside.

During this stage of the work Mike tapped onto a small square of cotton the built up carbon as he loosened it with the reamer. The half-hour needed to work his way to the bottom of the bowl and clear cake and make its interior smoother left a pile of soot an inch high and wide, and Mike was behind the schedule he had set. When he considered the character of the owner of Thinbite who had so abused the noble pipe the young man was angered. But he knew the delay was necessary.

Mike finished smoothing the inside of the bowl with a piece of 400-grit sandpaper wrapped around his pinkie so he could keep the paper where he wanted it. When he felt no resistance he removed the paper and again blew a big cloud of old cake from the bowl.

He dampened a square of cotton with alcohol and turned it in the inside of the bowl. The cotton came out black but when he again ran a finger against the inner bowl it was as smooth as it had ever been, and his finger was clean.

Then, starting with a regular piece of the same paper, Mike made the dings and scratches in the rim of Thinbite disappear before smoothing it with 1000-grit micromesh.

The fills in the wood seemed to make nasty faces at Mike. But instead of giving in to their taunts, the young man thought until his eyes narrowed and the furrow in his brow grew deep.

“I remember!” he said, loud enough to awaken his neighbors, and then lowered his voice. He never liked it when others did this to him. “The trick is using an indelible marker the same color as the grain of the wood to draw over the fills and mask them before the stain and waxes are applied.”

Mike held his breath while he searched his work table for a pack of colored markers and let out the sigh of relief when he found it. He chose the only brown pen there was even though it seemed to be too dark, which when he drew over the fills in the wood that were circles and lines and other shapes he found he was correct.

“Well, then,” he said. “I will just have to improvise with coats of lighter colors until is at least closer to the true color.”

He did this, first with yellow, then orange, and to his surprise the result was good. He gave the finished work the gentlest micromesh he could manage, which was almost not even a flick of the 3200 paper over the marked wood. Robert9 Robert10 The rest is not all that bad, Mike thought as he examined the entire pipe for scratches. He found some but they all went away with gentle sanding.Something nagged at the back of his mind that he had forgotten a detail of his grandfather’s method.

But at that moment, as though from a clear sky over an endless smooth ocean, which Mike had never seen, the idea came to him that he could use different colored stains on the pipe. After a moment of consideration, he decided on the red of Catalonian wine for the lower region of the bowl with its rustication and smooth shank, and the brown of the Ebro River Valley hills for the upper area.He drifted into a reverie.

Mike had never visited either of these places but read about them in some of the books he used to pretend he did not understand. His father most of the last five years when Mike lived with his parents understood the boy’s need for privacy but on one occasion without knocking opened the door to the bathroom and caught Mike, on his knees, dressed only in his underwear and bent over one of the books written in the language of Spain.

“What are you doing with that book you cannot even read?” the father said with a look of anger and horror on his face. The boy flushed red and at first he stammered.

“I like the pictures,” he said and felt dirty as a sudden sweat covered his body from the lie.
“There are no pictures on those pages,” the father said. He seemed confused and embarrassed and at last relieved as he understood. “Oh. Carry on.”

And when he left he smiled, in a way that told the boy he had been discovered, and closed the door. The fact that he could read Spanish was no longer his secret. Mike had never been filled with such complete humiliation.

In his private studio Mike’s thoughts returned to the reality of the pipe in his hands and he smiled, at peace with the past and present.

“This Thinbite of Italy will have some of the best parts of Spain when I am finished with it,” Mike said.

The wood was shiny and free of imperfections except for the filled places. But even they looked better.

He decided to go ahead with the next step of applying the burgundy-red leather stain to the lower part of Thinbite and the rim. He was careful to fill every groove in the rustication and to leave an even line for the brown stain he would use to coat the natural wood of the upper bowl.

With the red dye still wet in places, Mike stuck a folded cleaner in the shank and help up the pipe. He kept it steady as he turned the damp part of the lower pipe over a candle and then the rim with the flame a few inches from the surface. He took pleasure as he saw the puffs of blue flame appear for a moment on the stained wood and knew the alcohol was being removed.

When he was done with this he inspected the stained areas and saw they were blackened but was not alarmed. With a piece of 600-grit micromesh he rubbed away the darkness with care to reveal a red coloring on the flamed areas. The rustication shone and Mike could see the good grain of the shank. The rim and bowl still showed the spots where it was filled.

“I can live with that,” he said and believed his own words.

Placing the glass jar of red stain back in its box with the swab he squeezed as dry as he could with a strip of the cotton cloth, Mike replaced it where it belonged and picked up another box with light brown stain inside. With a finger in the bowl to hold the pipe and a growing excitement he slid its swab through the narrow opening of the bottle until he saw the tip dip halfway into the liquid and pulled it back out.

This time he took even more care not to let the stain drip or pool up on the smooth briar top, cutting the shiny dye onto the untreated part of the wood from the rim downward.He was growing tired again and had to use all of his control not to slip and overlap the dyes. Mike held the pipe in one hand and again turned the fresh-stained area of the bowl over the candle flame to remove the alcohol.

“All I have left to do before the finishing is buff off the char from the flaming of the alcohol,” Mike said.

Outside, the strongest storm anyone who lived in the city had seen in many years still made the door and window shiver. The young man was aware of the knocks and hisses caused by the wind only with the part of his mind that would miss them if they stopped, in the same way he knew when the power returned and he unplugged the bright hot halogen lamp and buffer machine from the generator and back into the wall. His stomach made more noise to him than the downpour but he ignored the minor discomfort with little effort.

He was in a hurry to finish Thinbite. In a remote area of his brain that was his instinct he knew he should slow down. Still he overrode such thoughts and stood, stretching with his arms thrown back behind his head and his back arching. His body shuddered in relief and he groaned and yawned.

“I am sure it is time for the final steps of buffing the bowl and shank and the Vulcanite stem with the waxes,” Mike said as though the words would make it so. But a thought snapped at the back of his mind like a crocodile in pursuit of a hunter’s leg. This doubt came to him through a mental bayou and made him recall the days when he lived at home and his mother would nag him on and on and he would block out her words.

He could still see the fills in the pipe and knew whatever Thinbite was trying to tell him was important and so he made his best effort to hear the words but without success.

“I wish the old man was here,” he said to himself. “No, he is not here and this is to be a surprise for him. The waxes and the buffing wheels will work out the little flaws, I am sure of it. I have seen this many times.”

The presence on the work table of the old buffer machine dusted and cleaned was that of a young living thing waiting to be let out to play. Seeing the machine on his work table made Mike recall every visit to his grandfather in Taos during the summers and sometimes shorter trips on special occasions and that was saying something.

He sometimes suspected his ability to summon the details of all the events of his life was unusual but did not know for sure and so he ignored the thought whenever it came to him. The young man’s only certainty was that he watched everything and always listened, except when he chose to tune out his mother which was to be expected.

He peeled the plastic from the end of the big bar of White Tripoli wax and put on his goggles before turning on the machine and re-checking the speed. The three clean buffers whirled in a blur that tightened them up. Still, Mike knew the left buffer was the tightest. For two revolutions of the cloth he applied, with an odd gentleness, a thin, even layer of the chalk-like wax. With the machine still running he set the brick out of the way and picked up the pipe bowl.

With another light touch no one would expect from such a big strong young man, Mike held the fragile pipe bowl to the buffer and turned it with careful, deliberate slowness, waxing only the smooth upper part of the bowl and the shank. As he did this he could see the briar grow shiny as it made contact with the thick clothe buffer. He took special care around the lines of the shank and gave the rim a quick sideways turn before stopping.

Mike held up the bowl to inspect it and was pleased with what he saw before he repeated the process on the middle buffer, which was dry and took away the left over oils and small bits of white wax.

To the third loose buffer Mike applied only the smallest amount of carnauba and gave the smooth parts of Thinbite a final spin, mindful not to miss any groove of the natural wood. Excitement filled him as he imagined a hunter must feel when he has followed the tracks of a large dangerous animal in a jungle in the darkness and at last has the beast, in his sights as the sun begins to come up, proud and true at first light.

With the tip of a finger Mike applied the Halcyon II wax to the rusticated area a little at a time until the entire rough part of the bowl was covered. He set it down on its rim on a rag on the table to dry for five minutes.

When the time was right the young man gave the rusticated bottom a turn on the dry middle buffer to bring out the true shine of the special wax he had used. Before his eyes he saw the shimmer spread and was reminded of light from a sunset playing on a quiet northwestern New Mexico lake as the water lapped and his loose fishing line tightened.

Using a soft old toothbrush he had saved, Mike worked on the rusticated creases to remove leftover wax from the last buffing.

Wishing to see the full results of his efforts only when Thinbite was whole and complete again, Mike wrapped the bowl in his large cotton cloth and turned it in his strong hands so there would be no smears and set the covered bowl on the work table.He turned his attention to the stem.

“Scratches on the Vulcanite that is green with age and teeth marks and other chatter around the bit,” Mike said. “But this is not bad. I have seen carnage that seemed to have been left by wild beasts with bite marks so deep I wondered if the thing that had smoked the pipe was in fact human or perhaps a werewolf with the stem like a piece of bone that he tore at and gnawed with his great salivating and dripping fangs. And grandpapa taught me well the lore of how to mend even these horrible kinds of wounds.”

Then another memory filled Mike’s young heart for a moment. Even in his mind he had not thought of his grandfather as grandpapa since he was twelve when the old man stopped addressing him as chaval, for Mike was no longer a boy and should not be called a kid, which, after all, is another word for a young goat. From then on Mike was referred to as young man or his chosen name, or sometimes the old man just said “Come here.”

Mike smiled again and sighed and finished cleaning and sanitizing the stem. He gave the entire stem an even sanding with 420-grit paper that removed the nasty green color and the scratches and teeth marks up to the bit. There he had to apply more pressure to even out the places where, over the years, someone had chipped away at the lip, but he knew he was lucky he did not need black Super Glue because the rain still came down in sheets and there was nowhere in Albuquerque to buy it anyway.

The strong odor of a burned tire from the stem sanding reminded Mike again of his grandfather’s house. He used micromesh 1000 to smooth the stem before wiping the surface with a rag and bringing it to a high gloss with a Red Tripoli buff followed by rubbing with another cotton rag and buffing once more with White Tripoli. Thinking his project finished gave the young man a sense of pride that made him wonder for an instant if he should feel guilty.

“Screw guilt,” he said, and thought but did not speak the same about his mother for raising him in a way that would make him even question such a simple pleasure in life. “That hang-up is hers to deal with, and besides, it cannot be her fault entirely because from what I heard of my grandmother she was either a saint or a demon.” He reflected some more. “I wish I had met her so I could make an informed decision. Maybe she was only human.”

For the second time in less than twenty-four hours, Mike felt as though he had been knocked in the head by this new-found empathy. He returned to his work right away.

The stem was ready to attach and Mike could feel his excitement growing. Doing his best not to look at the bowl as he uncovered it in the cotton cloth, he took it in one big hand and with the other pushed the delrin tenon into the shank and adjusted the fit.

The time had come to look on Thinbite in his full glory. The stem was good as was the shank it was attached to. The rusticated area was a rich burgundy red and flawless. The rim and right side of the bowl were smooth and shiny with good grain.

An explosion of thunder filled the room.

The fills in the bowl in those places still showed like scabs on a wound, which he was familiar with. The young man was sure his heart would stop beating despite his youth and good health. He stared at the flaws for several minutes as though that might make them go away.

Then an anger he had not felt in many years filled him and it took all of his control not to slam the pipe down on the work table and bash it to bits. Somehow he set Thinbite on the cotton cloth and staggered to his bed, where he collapsed on his back.

“I wish grandfather were here,” he said again, “or I with him in Taos.” He stared at the ceiling until it blurred. “But he is not here and I am not there and this is my mess to fix.”

The young man wanted to give up on his project and go to his tobacconist to buy the old man the best pipe he could find but in the end he remembered the word surrender was one he did not know.

“I will close my eyes and picture the old man in my mind. What would he do if he had Thinbite in his great masterful hands now?”

Mike fell into a state between wakefulness and sleep. He imagined his grandfather in his shop. Thinbite was in the old man’s hands as he turned it once and smiled. As the young man suspected, the old man knew what needed to be done to make Thinbite whole and good again.

Mike watched from above as his grandfather chose the right piece of micromesh from his table and removed the stain from the areas covering the fills and wiped the bowl clean of dust.

The old man reached for something Mike at first could not see because it was buried in the clutter. As the old man’s fingers moved through the many tools he had for every situation, the young man felt his breathing increase to an almost unbearable pace.

Mike and his grandfather saw what he was looking for at the same time.

“Super Glue,” Mike said and exhaled, and his eyes opened. He found he had been holding his breath. “Of course. How could I be so stupid? Thank you, Grandfather, for the help.” He felt the old man’s presence and wondered if he had been heard.

He stood again and walked to his table and sat on the stool. He did not yet have so many of the tools and supplies that build up, from years of work restoring pipes, that he could not find what he sought with a quick look. One day he would possess all of these things, some found in stores but most contrived by ingenuity and all of them horded for the day when nothing else will do. Mike soon found the small double packet of Super Glue he knew was there. He tore off the top and took out one tube and set it nearby.

Mike considered his grandfather’s approach to Thinbite and made the conscious decision to do it his own way. Although the old man did the correct thing under the circumstances by removing only the patches of wax and stain over the affected areas of Thinbite, Mike came to the sudden decision that the difference in colors of the two stains he used was not enough to bother with, and the better choice was to stain the entire pipe in the burgundy color. To remove the brown stain and the waxes coating it from the smooth upper area he preferred the careful use of steel wool. Robert12 The process of reversing his mistake went with surprising ease. He stripped his original attempt to re-stain and wax the smooth part of the pipe with the steel wool and rubbed the light red briar with the 1800-grit micromesh. Then he matched the filled places with a brown marker and covered those spots with the Super Glue. When it dried he chose the 1000-grit micromesh to take away the roughness of the hardened glue. He now remembered this was the trick to be sure the ink from the marker did not run or even show when buffed.

Mike took a deep breath and let it go. The time had come to see if he or the pipe would win.

“You will not defeat me, pipe,” he said.

He was tired and wanted to be done with it, and it was already the old man’s birthday. The young man tried to imagine living one hundred and four years but could not. He could not even think of being as old as his parents.

Taking the same steps above as he had below, the young man stained the upper half of the pipe again, this time with the same burgundy color as the bottom, and lit the candle again and flamed it with careful, even turns. The blue light that danced across the surface of the bowl as the heat from the candle evaporated the alcohol in the stain never failed to make him smile.

Mike had a good feeling about Thinbite again and was happy he did not break it to kindling wood as he wanted to do earlier.

Just then he noticed something was different. The room was silent except for the hum of the refrigerator.

“The storm has stopped,” he said and opened the drapes, which let in streaks of the dawn sun that highlighted the dust floating in the air of his room. “Now this is a good omen if ever I saw one.”
The buffing passed in a blur, with Mike’s hands working on their own the way a great musician does, not thinking about the music but making it.

Mike did not remember shutting off the machine but knew he must have done so when the mandrel slowed to a stop and he found himself rubbing the finished bowl in the cloth.

The young man picked up the stem and for the second time in a day turned it into place in the shank. He did not know how tired he was until he leaned forward on the stool to rest his elbows on the table where he could better see the details of Thinbite in the natural light. His entire body ached with stiffness, but what he saw was worth the pain. Robert13Robert14 “Thinbite, you are whole again,” the young man said and felt a new kind of joy.

But he was tired and needed to rest for an hour or two before the long drive to Taos and the old man.
He lay on his bed and thought he was awake, but he dreamed of a boat on a lake and the fish he would catch.

For the drive to Taos Mike packed a Styrofoam chest with ice in which he buried cans of Coca-Cola. He was a man and therefore stuffed a change of clothes into his knapsack and of course put the box with Cavicchi on top, knowing there would be time for smoking. He shouldered the pack as he would a rifle.

The young man wrapped Thinbite in bubble plastic and taped it closed before shutting the drapes.

Taking also his shotgun under an arm to secure in the locker in the bed of his pickup, he left, locking the door behind him with his key in one hand and Thinbite in the other.

The gas tank was full and he had only two stops to make, at his tobacconist for a felt pipe bag with a drawstring for Thinbite and a plain box to put them in and a good liquor store he knew for a thirty-year-old bottle of the old man’s favorite Scotch he had special ordered.

He was in a hurry to see his grandfather and had no time to waste on feminine formalities such as wrapping paper and bows. Neither, Mike knew, did the old man.

When he was on the northbound Interstate he was free at last and popped a can of Coke to celebrate.

The trip took a few hours the way Mike drove, both his speed and shortcuts. He pulled up to the modest little adobe house sitting on five acres of unspoiled land a half-mile from the official Taos town limit in the late summer heat of early afternoon.

Ed waited outside, as he always did. Mike thought he must have been looking out the window and seen the pickup kicking up dust down the private road or have excellent hearing, or maybe he was psychic, as the boy Mike had often suspected.

The two embraced as men do, with hard claps on the back.

“Heavenly Father, I always forget how big and tall you have become!” the old man said. “Always when I think of you it is as the chaval you have outgrown.”

“Just as I always picture you in your seventies,” Mike said with a smile. “But I swear you don’t look a day older than ninety-four now.”

That made them both laugh.

“Happy one hundred and fourth, grandfather.”

“Ah, that’s enough of that,” Ed said. “I stopped counting years ago.”

Mike loved the old house and the beautiful piece of land almost as much as he did his grandfather and had spent many hours arguing with his parents to let him move there to live with the old man.

“Think of what I could learn there!” he said.

“Exactly,” his mother said in her most sarcastic, wine-addled voice that always made Mike think of Elizabeth Taylor in Who’s Afraid of Virginia Wolf.

He recalled his grandfather’s occasional comments on the subject of women and drinking.

“If it were up to me there would be a law against the whole thing,” the old man said, and they always laughed. “There is a definite evil that can come to some from the drink, God knows even plenty of men, but women are pre-disposed to evil enough as it is without adding the ammunition of booze.”

The two were still standing in the drive by the house when Mike’s nervousness began to show in the way he moved, his legs jangling and light on his feet, which seemed ready to leave the ground.

“Well, out with it,” the old man said. “Do you just have to pee or have you done something you need to talk about?”

Mike sucked in a deep breath of air and held it a moment. Without letting it out he said, “Why don’t I get my things and we can go inside and sit down and have a drink.”

His grandfather was alarmed.

“Oh, my Lord, you’re in some kind of trouble.”

When they were in the familiar living room, the old man looked again at his grandson and said in an unhappy but resigned voice, “I suppose sitting is in order.”

“Happy birthday again,” Mike said and handed the box to his grandfather, who was close enough to the couch that when he fell into it he was not hurt. “And this is what I meant by a drink.”

From behind his back he pulled the bottle of vintage Scotch, which the shop clerk had wrapped up in clear red plastic despite Mike’s protests. A small fancy card was attached. Ed saw the note and it was clear he was moved beyond words. He fumbled with the bottle and set it down on the coffee table, at last taking the card in hand and clearing his throat before reading it aloud.

“My dear grandfather,” he said, reading, and his voice began to tremble. “You are so much more to me than a grandfather that I can never repay you. You have been a father, a mentor and a friend. Love, Chaval.”

Mike did not care if his grandfather saw the tears that were close to his own eyes but did not wish to shame the old man. He suggested that his grandfather open the box. The young man was relieved to hear his grandfather clear his throat with gruffness and become more himself again.

Ed of course knew a pipe box when he saw one but believed it must be a trick to disguise the real contents. But when he took off the lid and saw the dark blue felt bag his body went still a moment as he considered the possibility that his grandson was returning the Cavicchi as some sort of gesture.

A closer look at the size and shape of the bulge within the bag told him he was mistaken. Stealing a glance at Mike’s expectant young face he took it from the box and pulled the drawn top open. Inside the bag the old man felt the stem and not knowing what to expect removed the pipe.

Although his glasses were on the table he said, “Why, this looks like a Thinbite! I haven’t seen one of these in years. Where did you find a new one?”

The young man let out an audible sigh of relief, certain the moment would never be replaced as the greatest of his life.

“I apologize, grandfather, because it is a Thinbite but it is not new. I found it in a second-hand store in rough shape and restored it for you. I used the skills you taught me to fix it.”

Not since baby Mike first called him grandpapa at the dinner table more than twenty-six years before, or the last quarter of Ed’s life, had he been so speechless.

“Do you like it, grandfather?”

When he realized he was staring at his grandson and seeing the gawky bruised boy he once was, the old man shook his head as though to come to his senses.

“I think it is time for a toast,” he said and tore the plastic wrapping from the Scotch bottle and opened it as fast as he could while Mike went for crystal shot glasses in an antique cabinet nearby.

Ed filled both to the brim as Mike looked on.The young man followed his grandfather’s lead in raising his glass and waited for the toast.

He continued to wait. Just as Mike was going to suggest one himself, the old man spoke up.

“A toast,” he said, “to my grandson,Gabriel Miguel Jorge de Sabato, who has become what he was born to be, and is ready to carry on the tradition started by my father’s father’s father.”

Mike heard his given name and was surprised that it did not bother him. In fact, from his grandfather’s mouth, it even had a special rightness to it. But he still concluded the old man started celebrating early that morning even if he did claim not to count the years any more.

“To me!” Mike said, going along, and they both knocked back their shots. The young man poured two more and lifted the glass. “To my grandfather, the greatest and oldest pipe restorer in the world.”
Again they emptied their glasses, and this time slammed them down. Mike was already beginning to feel the effects of the good Scotch but was prepared for any consequences if the old man stayed happy.

“I have thought of another toast,” Ed said.

“I am not surprised,” Mike said, joking, but his grandfather looked serious.

“As they say in England,‘The King is dead! Long live the King!’”

Mike did not care for the sound of that, but what could he do other than drink the shot? He poured what he intended to be the last, at least for himself, if only to brighten the shifting mood.

“May the reigning King live forever,” he said.

“Ah!” the old man said, and of course they downed the drinks.

A long silence followed, but the young man was comfortable with it.

“I have been thinking much for some time now,” his grandfather said at last.

“Oh, no!” Mike said, and the alcohol swimming in his head made him giggle.

He thought about the first time, when he was fifteen and said something impertinent to the old man, who just glanced at him with his eyes that burrowed and said nothing. But since then Mike treated the reprieve he received as the good fortune it was and never abused the license.

“No, no, seriously,” the patriarch of the family said. “But we do not need to speak of that now. When the time comes, you will find everything in my files, which are very organized, under your name.”
The young man’s head cleared as fast as the storm in Albuquerque had that morning.The conversation was turning a different direction than he planned.

“I think it is time for a bowl of tobacco,” he said and reached for his knapsack to get Cavicchi.
The old man’s face brightened as he saw the old pipe that was new when he bought it just before giving it to Mike all of those years before. They now seemed to have passed in a flash.

“I love that pipe,” the grandfather said with a warm smile that gave the young man hope again.
“I know. That is why you gave it to me.”

Their eyes met and they gazed at each other with the rare understanding that needs no words.
“I have just broken in a Costello CanadianI traded two Savinellis for,” the old man said with victory in his eyes. He picked it up from the table and showed it to Mike.

“Nice,” the young man said and nodded in honest admiration.

“Nice, yes,” the old man said, in his mind adding the word to his list of youthful vernacular with which he tried to stay current.

The way they talk these days can be so strange at times, he thought. That word my grandson used just now, for example, means so much more than nice used to mean, which is a good thing. Ah, times change, and one must change with them.

After one bowl of the strong burley mix the old man offered, Mike was even more light-headed than before.

“I think it is time for a nap,” he said. “We will have all night to continue talking.”

“Yes,” his grandfather said.

“I never told you how much I love my Cavicchi of Italy.”

Ed at once picked up on the lead to their old game.

“I still like the Peterson’s of Ireland, in particular the older models and special editions.”

“And the Ropps of France,” Mike said.

“Right now I am a great fan of the Thinbites of Italy, even though they are managed by an American company called Whitehall. But I fear the new Dunhills of England, which need much practice to restore to their old greatness.”

“The Nordings of Denmark are excellent,” Mike said. “You can always count on the Danes to make a good fighting pipe.”

They stopped and laughed, the old man throwing his hands up in defeat.

“You were the best student I ever had,” the old man said.

Mike ignored the obvious answer, yawned and said, “Well, I need a nap. I’ll take the couch.”

“Good,” Ed said. “I will sit back in the recliner and sleep like a cat, which I must have been in another life or am preparing to be in the next.”

Mike thought about all the times he had stayed at his grandfather’s and never seen him use the big bed in the one room that was always closed. When he was a boy Mike camped out in the living room in his sleeping bag to be close to the old man.

“Why do you never sleep in the bed?” he said.

Never before had he seen a look of dread on the old man’s face and was astonished to learn that his grandfather could be afraid of anything. The idea would have been the same as learning there was no Santa Claus if the young man had ever believed in such things.

His grandfather was nervous and tried to grin to hide the fact when he said, “I used to sleep there but have not done so now for thirty years, since your grandmother, God rest her soul, passed in that bed.”

A sadness and loss was so deep that Mike saw it in the old man’s wrinkled face and for the first time observed how frail his grandfather seemed. He felt it inside himself like a punch to the kidney. He would have put an arm over his grandfather’s shoulder but knew that would make the man more uncomfortable.

“Come with me,” the young man said. He had never used the imperative form of speech with the old man. His grandfather stood and allowed himself to be led into the bedroom. The door had to be opened with a slight shove and the hinges squeaked. Mike pulled back the covers on the bed and left the room.

From where Mike lay on the couch he heard the old man pace for many minutes followed by the sound of bedsprings as his grandfather sat. Two shoes dropping one at a time to the floor.

“Thank you, Mike, for helping me,” he said in a quiet, worn out voice from the bedroom. “I see I was afraid of something I did not understand. I am ready now.”

“No problem, grandfather,” Mike said in reply, mumbling, already almost passed out.

Ed paused and said, “Good night, chaval.”

“G’night, grandpapa.”

When an hour had passed, Mike awoke with a start. The sun was still high in the sky although his watch read four-thirty. He did not dream during the short but deep sleep. Nothing was out of the ordinary except for the unusual silence. The air inside and out was still, and even the birds did not sing.

Mike walked to the bedroom door, which was ajar, to check on the old man. He was sure his grandfather was not still sleeping even if his eyes were closed.But he opened the door with care to avoid the long creak that he found was unavoidable and saw the old man with the heavy Navajo bedspread over him so that only his head and shoulders and arms showed.

His eyes were open, but they were fixed on the ceiling in a way the young man had never before seen. Mike gazed at his grandfather’s pale face for a few seconds and burst out in uncontrollable tears he had not spilled since he was a baby.

All he could say, over and over, was “No.”

When the sobs subsided he moved to the old man’s side and reached out to touch Ed’s face. He knew the man he loved more than anything else in life was not the body before him but still recoiled at the feel of cooling skin.

Mike forced his hand back to close the eyes and with his fingers straighten the white hair so that when he was ready to call the people who would take his grandfather’s physical remains away forever they would see him as he wished to be seen.

The deep breath he took as he stood again was choked with the last raspy sob the young man thought he would ever make.

Mike remembered the old man telling him little more than an hour earlier that the young man would know the time to look in the files. And so he went without further thought to the work room.

He opened many cabinets in order searching through the alphabet for his name. At last he came to three folders that could hold the mysterious secret his grandfather chose to keep to himself until he was gone.

One had old copies of every report card and note to the boy’s parents about his progress, as they called it, sent by the schools he attended. And he had a copy of Mike’s record of live birth certified the year he was born.

Another held numerous detailed notes in the old man’s writing describing Mike’s learning of pipe restoration over the years.This folder, with his grandfather’s diary of his rising excitement at Mike’s rapid grasp of every important element of the restoration process, showed a side of the old man he never knew.

Because of what it told the young man about Ed’s obvious pride in his grandson and the special relationship between the two as teacher and apprentice, Mike spent the most time reading every word Ed wrote about him.

His immediate conclusion was that this was the folder he was meant to discover.

Then the young man saw the third folder overflowing with official papers. They appeared to be the old man’s most vital documents. There were his marriage license and certificate, the deed to the old adobe house and the title to Ed’s truck. The house and truck were free and clear for many years in the old man’s name, which he learned was Eduardo Abelardo Baldomero de Castillo.

“What a magnificent name,” Mike said, knowing it meant guardian of prosperity and noble strength and bold and famous of Castillo.”

But in the back of this file were legal documents including a last will and testament that named Gabriel Miguel Jorge de Sabato, “also known as Mike de Sabato,” as the sole heir.

Sole heir.

The words took time to sink in. The young man knew from skimming the will that Ed left everything he owned to his beloved and only grandchild. Those words in particular meant more to the young man than he could express at the time. The entire idea met with resistance when matched against Mike’s grief, which still burned with the slow steady progress of a fine pipe tobacco.

Mike thought about his grandfather’s clear plans for him and what they meant. He never had to consider what he would do with his life beyond construction labor. Maybe he was born to restore old and abused pipes as his grandfather’s notes claimed.

He remembered every word his grandfather spoke to him during their last brief visit and wondered at the old man’s apparent premonition of death. The odd toast of the king is dead, long live the king.

The comment that the young man would find what he needed when the time came. The sad reference to his wife, who died in the same bed to which Mike led him. The old man’s whispered admission to Mike that he had been afraid of the unknown but now was ready. And more than anything else, the final “Goodnight, chaval,” which he had not called Mike since he was twelve.

Mike wanted to blame himself for his grandfather’s death.

“Why did I make him go to the room and sleep in that bed?” Mike said. “Maybe he would still be here with me if I had let him sleep in the big chair as he wanted.”

But taking all of the facts as a whole, Mike could not dispel the idea that the old man had known he would die that day, on his one hundred and fourth birthday, in his home with his grandson there to see him off. He even seemed to plan the event as a death in the afternoon.

At least, Mike thought, he died as one of the undefeated, which was the only thing that counts. The old man lived his life, did what he was born to be,ate what he liked and smoked the best pipes and drank only good whiskey right up to the very end.

After an hour passed, the young man still could not bear the thought of the old man’s body being taken from his home and place of business for the past seventy-five years. But he made the call he knew was inevitable.

Within ten minutes after he called the police, it seemed to Mike as though more cars than the Taos Police Department had were there to investigate, not counting the paramedics and a reporter from the local newspaper.

“Did you see the write-up in today’s paper?” the sergeant who appeared to be in charge said.

“No,” Mike said, confused.

He had no idea what a write-up was and hoped the old man was not caught driving while intoxicated. New Mexico had one of the country’s highest rates for that crime so the courts were cracking down on offenders.

Then he remembered why everyone was there and realized his grandfather had a bigger problem. He would have laughed at himself if he had not still wanted to cry.

“Yeah,” the sergeant said and tucked his shirt in over his gut, “I guess living a hundred and four years is one way to get your picture on the front page in these parts.”

Mike decided he did not care much for the man. He took a slow, deep breath and let it out to control his impulse to see if he could disarm the sergeant. He thought the probability that he could do so was high.

But at that moment he heard a zipping sound from the bedroom and turned so he would not see the bag carried out.

“Do you know if he was intestate?” the sergeant said.

“Intestate?” the young man said. He knew what the word meant but did not see any reason for the sergeant to ask.

“Yeah, intestate, meaning he had no will. Because if that’s the case the state takes everything.”

Mike’s lips turned into a grin, but his eyes said something else. The sergeant took a step backward.

“My name is Gabriel Miguel Jorge de Sabato, and my grandfather, Mr. de Castillo to you, was not intestate. He left everything to me.”

“Really,” the sergeant said. His eyelids shut halfway. “Well, then, I’d appreciate it if you’d stay in town until further notice.”

The young man gave the sergeant the most servile and compliant nod he could muster. He was having fun.

“Oh, don’t worry about that, sergeant. I’ll be here for you any time you need me. By the way, I’m moving here, and who knows? If I’m lucky I might be around for another seventy-eight years.”
Gabriel knew he did not like the sergeant and thought it would be nice to become a permanent thorn in his fat side.

But he understood the time had come to grow up and do what he was born to do. Living in Taos would give him a new chance at life. He thought he might even meet some of the bellamujeres who were everywhere and one would like him.



“How simple the writing of literature would be if it were only necessary to write in another way what has been well written. It is because we have had such great writers in the past that a writer is driven far out past where he can go, out to where no one can help him”
— Ernest Hemingway, Nobel Prize acceptance speech, 1954

The inspiration to write a tribute to Ernest Hemingway, in the style of his Nobel Prize winning novella The Old Man and the Sea, came to me a little more than five months ago. I found a neglected little Thinbite pot from Italy that had the potential to be beautiful again in a local second hand store and finished restoring it in time to donate the pipe to my club’s raffle on International Pipe Smoking Day 2014. I was both pleased and surprised when the pipe was chosen by the first winner, my friend Lindsay, before others of more distinction. Lindsay said he liked the look and feel of the Thinbite.

Because of the extreme difficulties I experienced in the restoration process, I had to make three separate attempts before I got the job done right. My mind working as it does, which is to say in often random sparks of odd connections, I remembered the classic tale of the old fisherman who takes epic measures to catch a huge marlin, only to find that his greater battles are with the sharks that eat away at the captured fish until there is nothing left of it but the skeleton by the time the fisherman returns to his village in his battered skiff.

Hemingway’s brilliant and descriptive prose is the work of a masterful writer who was able to condense complex characters and storylines into lean prose using what is often called, by fans and detractors alike, simple structure and language. But his stories, in particular his masterpiece on which this story blog is modeled, are anything but simple to write. In his letter accompanying the manuscript to his editor, Hemingway wrote that “it is the best I can write ever for all of my life I think.”

Thinking at first that my story blog would follow Hemingway’s own closer in format, I soon realized that I did not wish to borrow more than the most basic storyline: that of a struggle that often seems hopeless. I wanted somehow to make it my own. To that end, while the details of my attempt at a re-telling vary considerably, the details of the restored pipe that constitute the blog aspect of my work remain essentially accurate. But I never expected to become as involved as I did in the creation of a work of my own that followed the tale of The Old Man and the Sea but did not parody or make fun of it. I soon came to the understanding, however, that to pull off a credible tribute to Papa’s greatest work would require far more of my own heart and soul. I am also somewhat of a perfectionist and did my best to employ many of the same language uses of the late author.

That being said, I must emphasize that the characters and events of my version are not, for the most part, based on my own life. In fact I found myself more and more amazed as the “people” in this version took on shapes of their own choosing, as it were, diverging from my personal youthful experiences. While most of the story is fictional, including the young man’s formative life events as a child and later, as well as his relationships with his parents and grandfather, some elements of my own personality are revealed in the narrative, as is true with any work of fiction.

Last but not least, I beseech the readers of this work to understand, as I have already tried to make clear, that I know I am no Hemingway and do not intend this to be a strict re-telling of the original story with its eternal themes and characterizations. I only hope that you appreciate and enjoy the use of considerable humor mixed with drama in my rendition.

As a reward to the first person who made it this far in reading my humble offering and can name in the comments field all of the titles of other Hemingway books incorporated into this text – excluding my gracious host, Steve, whom I know is a bit of an expert on the subject – I offer a pipe of my own full restoration (to be chosen, of course, by me). If anyone can calculate the exact birthday of the young man, Mike, using the information provided in the story, I will be very impressed, and an honorable mention will be acknowledged. (Steve, you are welcome to attempt this challenge.)

I thank you for your indulgence in reading this tribute, which ran longer than expected, to Hemingway and the lesser known Thinbite pipe.

Robert M. Boughton
Albuquerque, New Mexico, USA, July 31, 2014
Photos copyright © the Author

Bewlay Beauty and the Playboy Meer Beast – Robert M. Boughton

It is once again my pleasure to present an article by Robert Boughton. Robert has written several pieces on his work in refurbishing pipes. He always has a great way of not only describing the process he uses in the work but also does very thorough research into the background of the pipe brands he works on. This article covers his work on two pipes that recently joined his rack – a Bewlay and Playboy meerschaum. Thank you Robert for your willingness to share your work with us.

Bewlay Beauty and the Playboy Meer Beast Guest Blog by Robert M. Boughton
http://about.me/boughtonrobert Photos © the Author
“Destiny has two ways of crushing us – by refusing our wishes and by fulfilling them.” – Henri Frederic Amiel, Swiss philosopher, poet and critic

As I admitted in a thread on the Smoker’s Forums, I am the first person to acknowledge that I suffer from a severe case of Pipe Acquisition Disorder (P.A.D.), and so I take both of the above admonitory notes with all due respect, even though I made up one and have no intention of troubling myself with the other. With that in mind, during the past two months my pipe acquisitions have reached epic proportions, at least for me, at 16 additions and one more (a 1980s series Peterson Mark Twain) I am committed to buy on Friday. I really have no choice about that last one, you see, as my word is as good as the metal of the band in my Peterson Gold Spigot Bent System natural grain.And to further my own defense, I should add that I received a nice tax refund and pay raise.Besides, there are far worse things on which to spend ones money, and I have no other serious vices, even having given up alcohol 26 years ago for reasons obvious to everyone who knew me back in the day. Really, when you look at the situation from all sides, it’s more of a quirk than a disorder. Right? I say the habit should be called Pipe Acquisition Quirk, or P.A.Q., to downplay the association of the condition from that of a mental disease.At any rate, that is quite enough of that.

My goal here, as I have already tried to begin making clear, is to have some fun describing the excitement of the hunt for little gems of pipes that can be found in odd locations, such as second-hand stores and antique shops, and the special thrill when it is apparent that the rewards located need some attention and care to restore them to their rightful glory. The latter aspect of the overall adventure is the best part for me, anyway. That is why I was almost disappointed to find that the Knickerbocker and Winston pipes I picked up on Tuesday are in pristine condition and have never even been smoked. If you ask me, I have to say that response to buying pipes is more twisted than being in the habit of acquiring one at every turn.

But as I already suggested, there is nothing like the clandestine hunt for the prized pipe, not online or in the regular haunts but in the wild, so to speak – lurking out there in a dark corner of the jungle where everything from the lowest to the highest example of the art of pipe craft might be found by the crafty hunter, just waiting for the right person to place in his sights and liberate the artifact from its unwitting seller for restoration and lifelong appreciation.

Such was the case this Friday past, while I was driving to my weekly pipe meeting earlier than usual and the notion hit me to veer from my regular course for a stop at an unassuming and poorly situated antique arcade on the east side of town, whence I had heard from a fellow pipe club member of incredible deals on excellent pipes. However, by the time I arrived at the scene, my friend, who seems to have a touch of the old P.A.D. himself, had pretty well cleared out the available stock and was remembered with cloying fondness by all of the vendors. Still, there were five left – the two I bought last Friday, which are the subjects of this blog, the other pair I purchased on Tuesday and one I let someone else have. Note I do not call it the one that got away because had it been a fish I caught I would have thrown it back in the water.


I.The Bewlay London Made Hand Cut Spiral
Rob2 Bewlay & Co., Ltd. was an English chain of pipe shops for about the first half of the 20th century until it was sold. [See Steve’s excellent recap of everything I found in my own research and more at https://rebornpipes.wordpress.com/2014/03/07/house-of-bewlay-pipes-tobacco-leaflets/.%5D The general consensus is that Bewlay sold only Barlings, Charatans and Loewes with the Bewlay name and mark on the pipes. Another source included Orlik in the list. But regardless of the total roster of pipe crafters that supplied Bewlay, everything they offered was considered to be of high quality.

Such is the case with my little beauty of a Bewlay small billiard (1-½” x 5”). I have had a difficult time trying to match this pipe with its maker. Even after viewing many samples of all of the above pipe crafters’ works, it is with uncertainty but sufficient confidence that I attribute the pipe’s origin as Barling.rob3Most of my pipe friends to whom I have shown the Bewlay commented right away that it looks like a Barling. My only serious doubt arose from the little billiard’s bizarre, if I may be so bold as to describe it, tenon bit. Here indeed is a bit fashioned by an evil dentist tossed out of the profession and turned stem-maker. My friend and mentor, Chuck Richards, calls it a “funky screw,” but I prefer corkscrew or even drill bit. The thin half of the screwy bit, which bears the same Patent number found on the bottom of the shank – № 167103 – as shown above separate from the bit, fits snugly through a thin horizontal slot in the front of the tenon. The wider half slips into the mortise. Whatever this bit’s real name (and I would very much appreciate a message from anyone who knows the answer), it is removable for cleaning and perhaps replacement if necessary, which is not unimaginable given its frailty. To tell the truth, in fact, I bent mine with almost no force applied when I first discovered its presence and just had to probe to see what I could discover. Well, I soon found that the odd bit is at least like aluminum and can be removed intentionally or not, and bends with alarming ease, but then again bends right back just as handily.

The Bewlay/Barling Spiral billiard was in pretty good shape when I bought it, other than the scorched rim, cake build-up in the bowl, some scratches on the pipe, bite marks and discoloration of the originally brown stem and general dirtiness inside.

My first line of attack was to ream the bowl carefully, then sand it with 400-grit paper torn off into a piece that wrapped around my ring finger. Then I soaked it for some time in alcohol, removing most of the old coating which I finished off with some 1000-grit micro-mesh, careful to leave the areas around all of the nomenclature untouched.
Pleased with the results so far, I applied Lincoln light brown alcohol-based boot stain to the entire outside of the pipe bowl and shank, and flamed it all around just enough to see the whoosh of blue light as the alcohol burned off and left a light layer of black soot. The soot I easily removed with the finest micro-mesh



The only task remaining for the bowl and shank were to buff them with my cheap high-speed dual buffer: once all over with white Tripoli, then again with carnauba. At last I think I’m getting the hang of using a light touch on the single high-speed buffers so as to avoid flying objects that can break easily and to achieve the desired polished effect evenly and without streaks.

I micro-meshed the stem with #600 paper, getting rid of all the discoloration that was not inside the stem itself, and buffed it with white Tripoli. To finish it off, I used a white crayon marker to fill in the Bewlay “B.”



Bewlay Spiral

Bewlay Spiral

London Made S101

London Made S101

Patent № 167103

Patent № 167103

I already owned one Laxley African Meer…
…and as soon as I saw the Playboy, I knew it had to be a Laxley also.


With Chuck’s concurrence, I am satisfied it’s a Laxley Playboy club edition.
This rugged African pebbled Meer was easy to clean up and make it look almost new again, despite the heavy, crystallized burning all around the rim. I began by taking some small cotton gun cleaning cloths and applying a little purified water to each, then lightly cleaning off the outside of the bowl and shank.

I had to sand off the bright black crystallized burn around the rim with patient use of 400-grit paper until I began to see the light brown of the Meerschaum show through. Then I switched to micro-mesh and decided to go all the way past the black stain from the original. Not having any stain of that color, I bought some Lincoln for $6.95 and daubed it around the rim with care not to let it run down the top, which was fine the way it was. Next, of course, I flamed it and micro-meshed the ash away to a very smooth finish.

The screw on brown stem was a mess, so I fixed it up with micro-mesh #600 micro-mesh and buffed it evenly with white Tripoli only.


That, my friends, is how beauty met the beast. And as I intend to keep both of these for my ever growing, P.A.D.-fueled collection, I expect they shall live happily ever after.

The Old Ropp Billiard That Only Wanted a Joyeux Noël – Robert Boughton

I received this article from Robert on Christmas day. I appreciate Robert’s willingness to write for the blog and to post about what he is learning as he works on pipes that he is refurbishing. He has an inimitable style of writing that is a pleasure to read. Thanks again Robert. With no further ado here is the article.

About a well-used, unassuming Ropp billiard that I bought from the talented pipe maker and restorer, Victor Rimkus, for $5, and the immediate odd wariness that something serious must be wrong with my perception of beauty in the grimy, almost blackened specimen of French craftsmanship and the conflicting fear of taking advantage of Victor’s generosity.

Guest Blog by Robert M. Boughton

“…Above all
Were re-established now those watchful thoughts
Which, seeing little worthy or sublime
In what the Historian’s pen so much delights
To blazon–power and energy detached
From moral purpose–early tutored me
To look with feelings of fraternal love
Upon the unassuming things that hold
A silent station in this beauteous world.”

William Wordsworth, “The Prelude,” Book 13 (1850)

Wordsworth had a righteous beef with that haughty society of humans, known as the upper class,which thrives in the rarefied heights of self-idolatry and therefore revels in the delusion of Divine Right over the so-called common man. The notion of only those fortunate enough to possess large amounts of money and property being capable of appreciating the little things in life, on the absurdity of the premise alone, rankled the 18th to 19th century English poet, who not only admired the many qualities of the “common man” but advocated incorporating the more relaxed, informal speech and other idiosyncrasies of the commoner throughout his life as a writer – most of which encompassed a time when epic poems were still more in vogue than Wordsworth’s new lyrical, Romantic style.

Pipes, their crafting from raw materials, the countless possible final results of forming and finishing, the often elusive pursuit of the history behind a given sample(whether of high class or more common origin) and, at my particular phase of development in the whole grand learning process, the choices that are made when restoring one of these wondrous innovations of relaxation and contemplation, are all aspects of the trade, art and, above all, pleasure of the sometimes overwhelming experience. Put another way, regardless of the fact that the poet himself never made this connection in so many words, Wordsworth’s view that there is no more such a thing as a common man than there is common sense reflects my passion for all things related to pipes, which of course includes the myriad types and blends of tobaccos used in their smoking.

In such a state of mind did I find myself at the monthly meeting of my pipe club some time past, glancing through Victor’s large selection of $5 pipes in varied conditions, from unblemished and ready to smoke to one or two with nearly burned out bowls. Now and then I gave one with nice curves more than a once over, even caressing a few, but all of these I spurned based on whatever uncertain reasoning guided me. I only had eyes for something new, special; something not yet tried, but only imagined. What poet can accurately describe the fickle laws of attraction? Suddenly, on that enchanted evening, as if across a crowded room, I saw her – a stranger, yet somehow familiar, when I got beyond the initial wild, unkempt look. I picked up the dark, full-bodied billiard and right away noted the total blackening of the bowl rim and a few dings here and there, as well as the lack of luster. The briar and stem were rough to the touch. But none of these signs of extreme use deterred me. On the contrary, they were exciting. They showed experience, character. Someone had loved that pipe, and for a long time.

And so I pushed my Dollar Store 3X glasses backward from the tip of my nose to take a closer look, for birth marks, as it were… and was not surprised that the shank was stained with substances not part of the pipe-making craft and the words there mostly obscured, but indeed jolted enough by what I read on the stem to let out a little grunt of dismay:

rob1Why, Ropp was on my actual mental list of new experiences I wanted to have! Still not convinced it could be a real Ropp, but considering the possibility which in my near-fevered engrossment then presented the viable alternative that someone had switched the stem, I peered again at the shank, still unable to make out the murky engraving there. So I moved away from the darkness of the back bar at the Moose Lodge where we have our monthly meeting and closer to Victor, who was sitting and talking with other members. Standing there, I thought I could at least read “opp” on the shank. During a pause in the conversation, I handed Victor the pipe and asked if it was in fact a Ropp, to which he shrugged and asked, “What does it say it is?” Much like Chuck, Victor can be blunt that way. I was nonplussed. Fortunately for me, Victor broke the silence by getting out his own eyeglasses and giving the pipe a quick closer exam before pronouncing it a real Ropp after all. That was good enough for me, and I handed him $5. Considering the loopy grin of satisfaction on my face, Victor must have thought I was a little touched.

Victor Rimkus. Photo © the Author

Victor Rimkus. Photo © the Author

Cleaning the Pipe
As I noted already, the pipe was dirty. How dirty was it? There was so much dirt, finger oil and other unwanted growth that the bowl and shank were almost blackened, and the main nomenclature all but illegible. See for yourselves:




An alcohol cleansing was in order, so I dug out some cotton and Isopropyl I happened to have in my mobile pipe shop box in the motel room where my roommate and I were staying between apartments. Although I never over-pack clothes and personal hygiene products, I am like a woman when it comes to my pipes and accessories: they go everywhere with me. More or less saturating the cotton, I let the excess drip back into the bottle before applying it quickly but evenly around the outside of the bowl, rim and shank. I was gratified and horrified to see the accretion of filth disappear from the wood and ruin the first piece of cotton in no time. Already I could observe the fine grain I knew was down there, but another swab was needed to finish the process, this time applying a little pressure, in particular around the rim which was pretty well charred. To complete the rim, I switched to a bristly pipe cleaner dipped in the alcohol and gently moved it around the top of the bowl, watching as I did so the buildup of black burns transfer to the cleaner and rotating the thin bristles as needed until they, too, were a nasty dark brown. Again, a second bristle cleaner was needed, but when I was done the rim was like new.

In these photos we can see not only the improvement as far as the uncovering of the grain is concerned but also the flaws – the pits that are obvious in places.

“Eug. Ropp,” underlined, is clearly visible, marking this seemingly unassuming billiard an actual Eugene Ropp Signature pipe. As Eugene Ropp was the second master pipe-maker in the French dynasty, and lived from 1859-1937, I date this billiard to the 1930s.

Eug. Ropp signature, underlined

Eug. Ropp signature, underlined

Made in France, R10

Made in France, R10

The Restoration
By now, it should go without saying that I consulted my friend and mentor, Chuck Richards, before beginning the restoration of this pipe. Rather, I should say I did so in a round-about fashion. After all, I merely needed to hand him the pipe and tell him I was about to begin work to get his advice! Chuck is very generous and loquacious that way, and I am grateful, for I soak it all up and would be nowhere now without his invaluable input. For example, I would not have known to clean the pipe with alcohol without Chuck’s input. He also saw, as had I, the pits in the wood, but suggested an ingenious solution to the problem: using brown and black markers to fill in the holes before applying small amounts of Super Glue, then gently buffing away the rough parts. I must say, that seemed a perfect solution as well as one I would enjoy describing in this blog.

However… upon completion of the alcohol cleaning, I saw that the old stain on the wood was still too dark for my taste and would, therefore, require removal. I suspected that in the process the pits would be eliminated. Thus began the stage of restoration that for me, before this pipe, was always the first: sanding. Besides, I have always found that part of the job necessary for the pipes I have restored due to the severe build-up of coloration from over-staining or even varnishing in the first place or previous restores upon restores. Whatever the causes, I find the sanding a relaxing, contemplative process that also gives special meaning to the term full restoration. I used an 80-grit paper, careful to avoid obliterating the nomenclature with one fell swipe.





This time I remembered my old habit of following the sanding with a gentle buff using grade 0000 steel wool and, with a very damp soft cloth, clearing away and leftover shavings. Then I commenced a regimen of micro-meshing, starting with a vigorous circular buff with 2400 grain, which improved the looks nicely, then what turned out to be a final round using 8000. Together they left a beautiful pre-finish sheen.



Other than the stem – which, although the photos of its two unrestored sides make it look in foul shape, really presented no great difficulty sanding, waxing and buffing back into pre-chomping condition – all that was left was the carnauba waxing. I ended up giving it two coats, and this was the end result:





I know, I know: I admit I overdid the sanding just a wee bit, if I may couch the offense in such nice terms by ways of saving face. Chuck was first and no doubt not last to point out this gaff of mine, for which I am sure I will lose countless nights of sleep. Nevertheless, I was and remain rather proud, despite the sin of that reaction in certain circles, of my efforts to take that which was not even recognizable as an antique Ropp signature pipe and, rather than restoring it, as a purist might have done, to its more-or-less original condition, instead cleaning off the approximately 80 years of crud and giving it a somewhat newer, fresher appearance without detracting from the classic 1930s French lines and curves that remain unmistakable. Of course, I am as always grateful to Chuck and others who continue to guide me through this magnificent course I have only just begun, even when the constructive criticism is not of the glowing type. Chuck being the natural born leader and teacher he is did not leave his comments at that, by the way. He explained the simple use of the wheel that could have been employed to remove the old coloring. Another day, another lesson learned.

Anything any of you can add as far as information about this antique Eug. Ropp Signature R10 Billiard would be appreciated. I am somewhat talented at searching the Internet but have no books on the subjects, and so far my efforts have disappointed me, except for the basic determination of its approximate age. So I look forward to hearing from you!

I will close with photos of two other Ropps I own, one that I acquired in good condition on eBay and might make part of a future blog on pipes of that variety, and the other a second I have had for a few years and just learned is derived from Ropps.

Deluxe Cherrywood

Deluxe Cherrywood

Grande Morez #15 Second

Grande Morez #15 Second

Happy holidays!

The Peculiar Particulars of the Pre-formed Pipe, and the Pleasures It Provides – Robert Boughton

Thanks to Robert Boughton for his newest contribution to rebornpipes. It is always a pleasure to read about Robert’s work. He not only reworks old pipes but also does research to provide the historical background of the pipes – something I always have found fascinating.

This subject, that of the little-known unfinished, or pre-formed, pipe having nagged at me for some time to approach but for thinking I lacked suitable samples of previous completed efforts of the same type, which proved erroneous, and for assorted other excuses, all of these being of the good type (as if there were such an animal), at last I find the time to take a holiday, it seems, from my mounting responsibilities, to write it all out.

Guest Blog by Robert M. Boughton
Photos © by the Author

“Who be ye smokers?”
A bewildered crew member in Melville’s Moby Dick (1851), upon
going above-deck to find Ismael and Queequig smoking a peace
pipe (quoted with a nod to our good host, Steve)


Let there be no misconception, from the commencement of this essay, as to the precise meaning of the modifier unfinished as I apply it to pipe. To be sure, I do not refer to the stylish, branded varieties sometimes called unfinished pipes in reference to certain fine lines – Savinelli and Baronet, to name a couple – whose pipes of that description are more akin to natural versions of pipe craft, and hence the term natural often applied to them. No, the unfinished, or natural, pipe by any brand name lacks only the final glaze and buffing with waxes with which to complete the process, and also sell for much more than that which I shall discuss with as much brevity as possible. Also, the variation of unfinished pipe of which I will soon find my way to addressing should by no means whatsoever be confused with pipe kits, those more typical introductions to the art of pipe making that involves chunks of briar, in general, with pre-drilled stems that the novice pipe maker then saws, chisels, sands, micro-meshes, buffs, stains, waxes and otherwise lovingly transforms from a veritable lump of wood to a finished mode of partaking of all the world’s smoking tobaccos, the degree of excellence depending on the innate talent of the individual woodworker and maybe some amount of luck.

Therefore, having discussed what I do not mean by unfinished pipe, I will re-name the oddity a pre-formed pipe. In this context, the difference between anything finished by minimum standards and the opposite, the mere basic elements to build one’s own pipe all but from scratch, is easier to comprehend. Thus, my meaning of pre-formed pipe is simply a pre-shaped piece of briar, un-sanded, un-glazed, un-waxed or polished or even showing the grain, in many instances – but with a stem, which may or may not fit as attached. Therein resides the fun and challenge for someone a step or two shy of ready to tackle the difficult enough task presented by even a pipe kit, but prepared to refinish, with considerable detail and elbow work, a pre-formed pipe in the rough.

The owner of my local tobacconist of most frequent choice is good enough to offer a small but ever changing selection of these pre-formed pipes for $12.50 each, with a nice variety of shapes from which to choose, even if those available often defy identification on any official chart of pipe shapes. To me, at least, that is just another part of the charm of these raw pipes in transition from mere rough wood and dull stems to greater things of beauty, regardless of how much or little work is invested by the restorer on the sample. The owner, by the way, tells me her supplier (whom she somewhat enigmatically declines to identify) calls these rough-hewn pipes “stubs,” which in an online search for “smoking pipe stubs” brings up such disparate references as the habit of some pipe smokers to stick a cigar stub in the bowl and puff on it, the usually distasteful dottle of wet, unsmoked tobacco remaining at the bottoms of wet smokers’ bowls, and, yes, Melville’s likeable character in the above quoted novel – which is as massive as the Great White Whale itself – Stubbs (whose greatest sign of character is his large collection of pipes). Again, thanks are due to Steve for pointing this out in an emailed attempt by me to determine the origin of the term stubs in relation to pipes, for upon further thought I recalled the other pipe-smoking characters in Moby Dick adopting the habit of shortening the lengths of their stems, as much as possible in order to tolerate the horrendous stench of rotted fish, through the closer proximity of the pipe smoke to their noses. Perhaps by coincidence, most of the samples of the pre-formed pipes I have seen are indeed on the short side.


And so, before our weekly meeting Friday night, I once again plumbed the dædal depths of Chuck Richard’s knowledge of pipe lore, and in so doing learned far more than I had anticipated – indeed, everything but a tag better than unfinished or pre-formed, although those adjectives turn out, in a vaguely sad way, to be far too apt: the unfortunate truth of the matter is that the German factory of their origin had never intended to leave these pipe shapes in any condition but complete to a degree noted to that European country. The factory, it seems, simply went belly-up in the 1970s with thousands of the pre-formed specimens sitting there, where most of them were at some point picked up by a U.S. distributor who continues to market them as-is, but not to individuals. (Aha! Thus, the tobacconist owner’s reluctance to disclose the name of her supplier thickens.) Later, a few German pipe interests procured the remainder of the lot and ever since have been selling them to anyone, for the most part in the European Community, who will bite. All of these unfinished pipes, therefore, were cut from decent briar that has aged in the 40-some years since the end of their official production – and are now perfectly suited for the consummation of the process. Perhaps these pre-formed pipes can, as a result, be compared to a fine wine that is left open to breathe. Based on the four or five of these finish-yourself pipes that I have now practiced the art of restoration, this example being the only one I can now document in full (although I am attempting to leave this latest restore pristine), they smoke wonderfully no doubt with or without any further work. But that would not only take away from the ultimate enjoyment of this likely unique and limited edition of unfinished pre-forms, barring the unlikely enthusiasm of a reader to strike out upon the task of building a finish-yourself pipe business; it would also deprive me of the opportunity to get on with the remainder of my tale.

And Now, for Page Two…
As anyone who has ever restored a pipe knows, there are restores, and then there are restores. In any case involving one of these unusual pre-forms, the only real tasks are choosing one with signs of good grain and lack of flaws such as cracks or fillings. In other words, to re-state a theme common to me, somewhat after the old man in Mrs. Robinson advised a memorably disinterested Dustin Hoffman, I have one word for you: sanding!

Here was my little pre-formed pot as I first saw it.
broughton3 broughton4 broughton5

Unfortunately, I was forced to use my cell phone camera to snap these shots and the others that will follow, and so the clarity of the roughness of the plain briar, with bumps and pits and discolorations a-plenty, is somewhat wanting. But I hope you can see enough to get the general condition of my little pot. Again, I chose it over the assortment of others in more exciting shapes for the beauty of the grain I could hardly make out, and the lack of real blemishes.

Of course, after rigorous sanding – with 80-grit paper followed by 150 – I saw the beautiful grain for which I had purchased this particular pipe, in some places elegantly lined and others more spotted, but overall a clear potential for finishing. Then I used some micro-meshes, starting with 1500, then 2400 and at last 12000.

At that point, I was at a quandary. Should I use a stain, or skip it? The natural beauty of the pale briar attracted me very much. Still, I opted to use an alcohol-based shoe stain of a light brown color, which, as it was almost dry, I held a gentle match flame under the bowl and was gratified with the brief poof of blue as the alcohol in the stain ignited and dissipated.

The next step was an easy buff of Tripoli White Wax. Wow! was my initial thought after my first experience applying Tripoli. The immediate soft luster the preliminary wax bestowed upon the previously smooth but somehow flat bowl and shank gave the wood real dimension.

Again, I pondered long and hard on the idea of adding a coat of Tripoli Red, and during that pause remembered more of Chuck’s words to me before our Friday meeting: “Sometimes a little Red Tripoli on the wood is just what you need, especially to give it deeper color.” Still with more than a little flip-flopping in my stomach, I went for it:



Wow! was my initial thought after my first experience applying Tripoli Wax. The immediate soft luster the preliminary wax of Tripoli White bestowed upon the previously smooth but flat bowl and shank gave the wood real dimension. But my gentle blessing of the Tripoli Red gave the old briar absolute radiance.

Suddenly, all that remained were a buff with my new stick of carnauba and – come to think of it – quite a bit of work yet to go before the stem would be in order. I don’t know about the rest of you (and I know this places me with the troops in the rear as far as experience goes), but I have developed an undeniable case of what might only be apt to call stem loathing, if I may possibly coin a phrase. I just hate the buggers, as my British friend and fellow pipe smoker Leigh might say, if he didn’t have the habit of speaking the Queen’s English, and even in the tone and style of William, or His Royal Highness the Duke of Cambridge KG KT.

At any rate, with no way around the dirty deed, I went all-in, setting about the task of reducing a downright humongous overhang of the stem where it must, I repeat, must at all costs end up smooth and flush with the shank opening. I tried to be patient with the wretched thing, you see, I really did. Nevertheless, after a day of patiently trying the coarsest micromesh in my trusty box, getting nowhere with that approach and wearing my entire left arm, hand, four fingers and thumb into spasms of pain, there began to creep into my mind more direct and effective means of accomplishing the necessary duty. With far more grace and good sense than I in fact felt, I returned to the 80-grit sandpaper for a quick adjustment of the problem…and the approach actually worked!

That was about the time I realized I had another, nice and shiny, short straight stem I had stashed away with my spare pipe parts, assorted bowls needing serious work and assorted detritus. At the same time, I flashed on a diminutive Chinese pipe given to me by a friend as a joke owing to my known appreciation of certain specimens of that origin. That pipe, which had been covered in gaudy varnish and appeared at first touch to be made of balsa, would be a perfect match for the longer, curved stem I had adjusted as already described. Still, I finished repairing the original stem, micro-meshing away the rough surface where I had brutishly employed the bully force of abrasions, and then applying a good buff with Tripoli Red. But there I go again, off on a tangent, and when this initially homely Chinese pipe might be the subject of a forthcoming blog.

Without further delay, therefore, here are the final results:





The more I practice restoration as a fledgling, or novice, the higher level of understanding I acquire as to the years required to achieve anything close to master level. At least I am getting quicker on the uptake of that which I now comprehend is limitless information.

What more can I add, except the usual well-deserved thanks to my mentor, Chuck, and my sometime adviser and friend in pipe appreciation, Steve… and everyone else who holds any stock in my ability to learn.