Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Pipe Maker held captive in Flight 2009

For a guy that rarely leaves his shop,
it is never easy leaving home to travel across the
country. I have pulled out of my driveway many times, leaving the seclusion of the mountains, only to find out the seasons have changed since the last time I went for a drive.

The trip to Nashville to see Todd Johnson would require that I fly, which in itself is a nightmare for me. Not that I am afraid of flying.
It is more of a problem of being locked up with strangers for several hours on a plane.

Remember I don't get out much.

From the time you enter the terminal you are basically treated like cattle moving you through a maze of ropes that herd you to your own demise. The first thing they do is tell you your bags are a half pound too heavy and that you will have to remove the extra weight or pay an extra hundred dollars.
Don't forget that you are already paying for your luggage to be transported in the first place.
They strip you down like you are going to jail, and the odd thing is, that the people in front of you that have traveled in the last decade, have already removed three quarters of their clothing. This is an attempt to not upset the swat team that is searching them for nail files and other weapons of mass destruction.
And tell me why it is that they always strip search the little old lady, that just turned a hundred years old and is in a wheel chair, when the guy in front of her barely gets looked at and he is so
big he would not need a weapon to kill everyone on the plane.

Just an observation of stupidity in action.

Then as you load the plane they are handing out face mask,
because Swine Flu is coursing through every living soul on the plane, and there
is no way in hell you are going to get out of this one alive.

I hope you can understand why, I naturally feel uneasy about traveling in this manner.
For the sake of the people reading this, I won't get into the discussion about the
people you sit next to on the plane. I am sure they feel the same way about the recluse
pipe maker from Wyoming sitting next to them.

As I am moving through the lines, I just have to remember that I am going on this trip
to have fun and maybe get some pipes made while working in Todds shop.
I don't know why I feel the need to gripe about the on going violation of my person in the airports of our great country.

Too much Caffeine?
Or maybe, I am still going through a mid life crisis and am less tolerant of stupidity.

No matter the reason, my love of flying still did not keep me from going.

I was looking forward to working with another pipe maker and sharing as many ideas about
our craft as possible.

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Meeting Of Like Minds Summer Of 2009 continued

Visiting Todd in Nashville this summer was not only fun but we managed to talk about pipe making a great deal of the time.

Many pipe makers work in isolation, so any chance to get together and talk about our craft is something to look forward to whenever we get the chance.

The pipe shows we attend seem to have the same outcome. Pipe makers from all over the world get to share their stories and talk about each others work.

Discussing tools and materials used in the creation of pipes and even helping each other with common and not so common problems
we may be having.

While in Nashville, I also got to visit with another
pipe maker, Bruce Weaver. Me and Bruce would talk about pipes and life in general while watching Todd work on a new Blow Fish.

Meeting with Todd this summer was such a good
experience that I went home and started to plan my next visit to Nashville.

This time I would make plans for a longer visit so I could work with Todd as long as both of our schedules would allow.

Friday, November 27, 2009

Meeting of like minds Summer 2009

I went to Todd Johnson's studio this summer to meet with him and to talk about one of my favorite subjects, high grade pipes. We talked about the many separate elements that go into the construction of a great pipe. Not only in beauty of grain and design but also in the technical aspects of a pipe. The only thing I was wishing when I left was that I had allowed more time to spend talking with my new friend about our mutual interest. I told Todd that I was going to plan another trip to see him in the
fall and this time, I would allow for more time to work with him
in his studio. Todd was very gracious over the few days I was with him this summer and he told me he would be glad to have me come back and work with him.

Some pipe makers say they do not need or want outside influence being a factor in their work. I do not believe this is possible unless you close yourself off from the world and never look at another pipe but the ones you make yourself. You will not find any great artist that did not work with fellow artist. These artist usually lived in artist dominated communities, absorbing each others thoughts and taking into consideration the processes that each one follows to produce their work. In the end creating beautiful works of art that are considered by the public to be the sole work of the artist, is in reality a collaboration of everything the artist has learned through his artistic career. The artist draws from a well of knowledge passed to him by other artist as well as his own experiences working in his particular medium.

In my chosen craft, I want to hear all the ideas and obtain all the information that I can on the subject of High Grade Pipes. I talk to and work with fellow pipe makers so at the end of the day
I will have a deep well of knowledge to draw from. Some pipe smokers think of a pipe as a tool to smoke their favorite tobacco. Others consider the High Grade Pipe in itself a work of art that should be treasured in their collection like any great work of art. Picasso and Matisse would go to each others homes and study each others work. They would even create paintings for each other and trade ideas frequently. These artist probably did not always agree on technique or execution. Matisse needed outside stimulation often painting at the location or by using models.
Picasso needed little outside influence, he would rarely leave his studio working mostly from his imagination. If two great artist like Picasso and Matisse can trade ideas and admire each others work, while still remaining great friends, then I believe pipe makers should do no less.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

The meeting of like minds

I met Todd Johnson at the Sparks pipe show.

I also had the good fortune of meeting Bruce Weaver,Jeff Gracik,Brad Pohlmann and Steve Morisette at the same show.

All of them seemed to be great guys and we shared a common bond.

The love of making pipes.

It was easy getting to know them because of this bond and It was great to talk to other pipe makers because we speak the same language, and we
share many of the same problems.

I will try to talk about each of these pipe makers over time on this blog because I feel that each of them deserve their own acknowledgment but for now I want to focus on Todd.
We talked to each other about pipe making and my focus on making High Grade pipes.
I was glad that Todd took such an interest in my work and that I had someone to bounce ideas and questions off of.
I was just glad that he and the other pipe makers I met at the show liked the work that I was doing and took such an interest in me and my background.
Todd was very knowledgeable on the subject, as I am sure many of you pipe lovers already know.
We emailed over the next couple of months discussing aspects of pipe making.
We met again at the Chicago Pipe Show where Todd told me he wanted me to come and visit him at his home in Nashville Tenn.
I let him know that I would do just that and that also I would get a chance to see my family because I grew up an hour from where Todd was presently living.
You may not know this but there is no schooling offered to become a pipe maker.
Everything to know about making a great smoking pipe is locked in the heads and hands of great pipe makers like Todd Johnson who learned his craft from people like Tom Eltang.
The offer to come and see him and talk about our common interest was something that I could not pass up.
After Chicago, I started making plans for a visit to Todd and his studio in Nashville.

That story and more photo's will be in the next post.

Dark Fired Tobacco

Most of the firing process was over when I arrived in Kentucky.
I did manage to find one barn that was still being fired.

When Tobacco is fired wood is piled up into rows on the floor of the barn. The wood is then set on fire and covered with sawdust.
The smoldering wood creates huge amounts of smoke and heat.
The heat and smoke are controlled by the adding and subtracting
of wood and sawdust during the firing and also with air vents built into the barn.
These vents can be opened and closed by the farmers to control the process of smoking.
This may be unbelievable to most people but these barns are insured and if they burn down the farmers can recoup some of the cost of their lost crop.
Many barns catch fire during this time of the year and burn to the ground.
My cousins have lost at least two tobacco barns and one hay barn just in the last few years.
I remember when we would fire tobacco on our farm when I was around twelve years old.
I would go into the barn late at night to check on the fire with my father.
What was so amazing to me was the fact that we were tending fires underneath tobacco that
was so dry and brittle that it would crumble in your hand.
If you watched close you could see sparks climb on the wind blowing through the cracks of the barn.
The sparks would go up and land on the big leaves of the tobacco. The sparks would rest on the
leaves and looked a lot like Fire Fly's flickering all through the barn.
I just knew that at any minute that barn was going to go up in flames.
We watched those fires very close and the barn never burned down.

The barn that I sat in late at night and marveled at why it was still standing is the wood sided barn pictured here in this Blog.
I was twelve in 1977.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Amish In The Bible Belt

The Horse And Buggy Go Well With The Sign Above

Amish are a people that base their lives around
family and religion.

I do not remember Amish in our part of Kentucky when I was growing up.

Amish have grown to a big population in
Christian County. They have bought up a great
deal of the farm land close to where I grew up.

Mennonites lived near by but they can use tractors, the Amish that live here cannot
use tractors for work or even for driving to town
like the Mennonites .

Everything is done either with mules or horses.

It is a quiet life without the sounds of modern
machinery but one that would be physically hard.

People are a lot like Cats and Dogs

We Fight Until We Just Give Up

Saturday, November 14, 2009

What you are smoking

More photo's of the Tobacco hanging in the barns and being moved on wagons to the stripping room.

This process has been going on for a few weeks and still they say it will take three more weeks to get all the tobacco stripped and ready for auction.

The five to ten acres raised on their farms thirty years ago has now turned into more than sixty acres today.

Some farmers that have huge operations have fields that are over a hundred acres in one field.

Very hard for me to imagine how much man power it would take to raise that amount
when most of the jobs are still done by hand.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Farming Tobacco the old way

My Uncle Roy showing me the Tobacco Barns. His father built this Barn around Sixty years ago. He told me that two of the barns I remember being on the farm burned down while Firing Tobacco. The metal barn in the photo's replaced the red wooden barns that I remember. Talking to him brought back a lot of memories of the way things used to be done.


I was talking to my cousins David and Steven Bolinger today about the way Tobacco is stripped, graded and gotten ready for auction.

Everything has changed since I was a kid working with them on their farms here in Ky.
I also worked on our own farm that my parents bought when I was around ten years old.
They kept the farm for a few years but had to sell when interest and low pig prices got to be to much for them.

I have never really gotten over losing that farm. There is nothing better for a kid than lots of land to run around on, hunting in the woods and fishing for Bass and Blue gills.

In those days a big tobacco patch was probably five to ten acres, now a patch can be much larger, possibly a hundred acres, if you have the hands to work it come harvest time. Also having the barn space to hang it up until it comes into order could be a real problem.

When I worked in tobacco, we would strip the tobacco in what seemed like the coldest part of the year after harvesting in what was the worst possible heat of summer.

Every leaf was graded, then made into a hand size bundle that was around two or three inches thick.

Great care was taken with every leaf.
And each leaf was graded accordingly.

In my memory every bundle of leaves had to be perfectly tied, not with a rope but a tobacco leaf. Each hand full of tobacco was made even at the end, like the end of a thick hemp rope when cut flush.

Great pride was always taken in every job done on the farms.

My uncle Roy had taught his sons David, Steven and Danny to do the best job they could while working their land.

Everything from planting the seedlings, spraying for tobacco worms, and suckering the plants,
was all done with a certain care, that I knew even as a boy, not all farmers would take.

When I was too small to do much else my job usually was to hoe out the long tobacco rows.
I have been dropped off many times at a field with a water bottle and a hoe at 6:00 in the morning and told somebody may be able to check on me at lunch time.

I would usually try to bring something to eat with me but the heat has a way of ruining things.

Days can get very long when you are on the wrong end of a hoe and in heat that I could no longer stand.

Even when the tobacco was cut and placed on the spear like sticks getting them ready to be hung in the barn, the greatest care was taken not to lose any more leaves from the plant's than necessary.

When the tobacco was stripped, tied and placed into a bale to be pressed and made ready for auction every bale was treated like gold.

Tobacco was a cash crop. And every pound counted as it does today.

But I believe the processes for planting and harvesting are so different now, that I am not the one that should be telling that story.

Life on the farms of Kentucky now for me are a fond memory and something that I look back on with great pride.

My Cousins still farm the same land and have even expanded their lands as their families grew.

And I know that they still work their farms with the same pride and care that was taught to them all their lives by my Uncle Roy.

The same pride and care that was taught to him by his and my mothers father when they did the same jobs with much less.

When my mother was a girl they planted each plant by hand. She told me they would make a hole in the row with a short stick and put each plant in the ground by hand and then water the plants by hand with a bucket of water.

Farming has changed so much in my life but not nearly as much as in their life time.

My father plowed the fields with Mules as a boy. I have watched the Amish that now live in our part of the country plow the fields that way and I can't even imagine the amount of work that goes into their day to day life of just keeping up with everything on the farm.

Unless you are Amish everything has changed over the years and probably farmers are glad that they don't have to put in as many hours doing the hands on physical labor of the past.

I guess in some strange way, I was lucky enough to witness, what is now just a childhood memory of the family farm.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Heading to Nashville

I am flying out of Jackson Wyoming today to go back home to visit family and friends.
My plane lands in Nashville Tenn, the home of two fellow pipe makers, Todd Johnson and Bruce Weaver.
I am planning on spending the next couple of weeks with Todd and Bruce going over all aspects of pipe making.

We work a great deal in isolation and I believe it helps all pipe makers to get together with their friends and discuss methods of creating the best work possible.

I learned a great deal on my last visit, and I am hoping to learn more on this trip.

But I know if nothing else we will have a good time.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Fun at the show in Vegas !

Here Todd Johnson and Jeff Gracik are talking to
Richard Friedman. Richard had just finished showing us his pictures of Alaska and the cruise he provides on his Yacht. Richard has a special cruise lined up for pipe smokers.

Brad Pohlmann and Bruce Weaver

Brad and Bruce talking things over at the show in Vegas.
Bruce Weaver is now Grandpa Weaver with a new 8 pound baby boy. Congratulations Bruce
Just got back from the First annual West Coast Pipe Show in Las Vegas about a week ago. Marty and David did a great job.
I would like to thank them both for putting on such a wonderful show and I look forward to many years at the upcoming West Coast Pipe Shows.
I always have a great time seeing my friends and sharing ideas on pipe making and thoughts on life in general.