Growing up in North Texas in the late 70’s – early 80’s was an experience. Doing so with grandparents who were farmers and sharecroppers only added to it. Their outlook on life and what was important was forged in the Great Depression of their childhood and early teens.
I recall Saturday nights at my father’s parents house. We lived a couple blocks from them and spent some of every afternoon at their home after school while my folks were still at work. My grandmother’s siblings (there were 12 of them all together) would play poker Friday and Saturday nights most weeks. This exposed me to the world of cussing, Seagram’s 7 and 7Up, gambling, dirty jokes and tobacco. There were typical cigarette smokers, (most of them my parents’ generation) and then a few smokeless tobacco users, who included the infamous Uncle Leon, Uncle Jack and Uncle Roland. Uncle Jack was a character and I’m not sure how that man never got arrested with all the things he pulled. Uncle Roland was an avid Dallas Cowboys fan and was a welder who learned his trade repairing battle ships in Hawaii during WWII. Uncle Leon…. I think something must have happened to him during the war because the man simply was not bashful about anything. He was a large man, about 6’3” and as close to 400 lbs. as a man could get without actually being 400 lbs. Maybe the most notable traits about him were his gentle demeanor, a love of plow-broke mules and overalls, the only form of clothing he wore out of the house. He also had an uncanny ability to rid the chicken house of coyotes with a .30-30 no matter what time of night it was.
Shimson’s Hopkins Natural straight grain
Uncle Jack would smoke a pipe from time to time, but he had passed away by the time I was 7 or 8 years old. I don’t recall what sort of pipes he smoked, but I do remember his ridiculous one liners and songs he would come up with on the fly just to make us laugh. He was a truly funny man, the type that would have told a dirty joke to the Pope.
Uncle Vanoy was the big pipe smoker. He was a pilot during the WWII, which profession allowed him to move to Ohio in the 1950’s. We called him “Yank,” and he had a love of Danish Freehands and Jack Daniels. I recall he would smoke Prince Albert, Walter Raleigh and on occasion a cherry cavendish of uncertain provenance. I always remembered being on the front porch when he smoked and I loved the smell. Everyone did. My father would tell me about spending the better part of a day carting Uncle Vanoy around Dallas trying to find him a new pipe back in the mid-70’s. Dallas is known for many things but pipe shops aren’t one of them. “We spent the whole day looking for one of them ugly-ass pipes he always smoked,” my Dad later recalled, “but we couldn’t find a thing he liked.”
The 2021 PSOI
I know Uncle Vanoy had Ben Wade, Preben Holms, early Erik Nordings, W.O. Larsens and even Sixten Ivarssons. When he passed away in July 2019, his pipes apparently went with him, since no one ever heard what happened to them. I’d sure like to have gotten my hands on some of those.
I don’t recall all of the pipes I purchased when I started out. Most were as cheap as I could possibly find since it takes mowing a lot of lawns to buy a pipe when you’re just 14. Lucky for me, antique stores didn’t care if a kid was buying a pipe. I was also lucky that Dallas tobacconists at the time didn’t care either. I do remember Dallas had a chain of pipe shops at the time named “Up In Smoke” and they sold a lot of Peterson pipes.
I was a young adult before I could buy a pipe that was worth remembering, and I still smoke it regularly. It’s a Killarney 68 with a P Lip. I was amazed by the striking red stain and the grain. I didn’t know much about the proper way to smoke a pipe back then and I’m shocked I never burned the bowl. It’s still a fantastic smoker, but it doesn’t get the time in the rotation it deserves.
I basically only use Zippo lighters for my lighting needs. I think about half my Zippos use the pipe insert. It’s a great little modification and I believe any pipe smoker will appreciate them. However, I learned to light my pipe with a traditional Zippo insert. I learned to modify my technique for lighting my pipe that basically consists of keeping the Zippo mostly upright and angling the bowl to the side to accommodate the lack of the pipe hole insert.
(Perhaps not exactly like Shimson’s… but the best I could do!)
Much like the other aspects of smoking a pipe, I’ve developed a routine and consistency in how I light and even tamp my pipe. I do have other non-Zippo lighters, but they all use Zippo lighter fluid. One of my favorites is a trench lighter made out of a .50 BMG casing. It is messy, looks gnarly, does not stay lit in any sort of breeze and just isn’t practical, but I love it and wish I hadn’t lost it on the move back to the States.
The other is an old Elgin lighter that was gifted to my late grandmother in the late 1940’s or early 1950’s. Add to this the various table lighters I have managed to find here and there over the years, and I’ve got nearly as many lighters as I do pipes. I also have a box of stout matches in my pipe roll as a faithful backup.
The rare Plato
Over the next several years, I didn’t smoke a pipe as much, and I was still interested in trying different makes of pipes. I owned some Italian pipes, a couple of Eric Nording pipes and more than a few unbranded basket pipes. I wasn’t an exclusive Peterson smoker until about 12 years ago. I had just gotten to the point I didn’t want to search anymore, as I always felt disappointed with other makers of pipes. I wasn’t smoking high-end Petersons either. I just liked the performance and aesthetic of what they were producing in their everyday lines.
My first non-entry level Peterson was a 2007 Donegal Rocky 338. It’s got a P-lip and sterling band. The line was a bit more posh than it is today. I’ve not seen a new DR issued with either a P- Lip or sterling band in many years. Those two pipes held my rotation down well until about ten years ago when I began to take up the pipe more seriously as a means to unwind and unpack the day’s events.
I discovered that the online pipe community of had exploded in my absence. I think Sykes Wilford at SPC is solely responsible for the vast majority of the resurgence of pipe smoking, but perhaps two years of COVID lockdown contributed as well.
My first true high-grade Peterson was a straight grain natural 3s Deluxe. I have since purchased so many I forget which came before the other and what I paid for them but they all hold a special place. Every one has a story. The ones I cherish the most are those my wife has bought for me.
After getting married in 2014, I moved to Toronto. I didn’t realize that pipe smoking there is for nearly all practical purposes illegal. It’s hard to find tobacco, there’s nowhere to meet up socially with friends and you can forget about smoking outside in winter.
The 2016 PSOI
Eighteen months later we relocated to Israel. My wife was born in Israel, and much of her family resides there. She had lived in Canada when we met, and shortly after we married, we decided it was the best time to make such a move. As Jews, it is something of a spiritual journey in the flesh. It’s known as Aliyah, meaning “to go up.” It’s an expression used in ancient times to describe the three times a year Jews would travel to the Temple in Jerusalem—Passover, Shavuot (Christian Pentecost is named after this holiday) and Sukkot (which marks the end of the High Holy Days at the end of the solar year).
It was such an amazing experience to live in a land filled with such history. I had always been a student of history, archaeology, and philosophy, so this seemed to be a place where the three could merge into a daily life exercise. Which there, I was able to spend much of my time in the Kollel (religious institution of learning for married men) as well as become a tour guide. I know tour guiding may not seem to be that big of a deal, but when you consider the government in Israel requires individuals to be licensed and must have completed a very rigorous college program that covers everything from biblical history, geology, geomorphology, religious rites of various religions, map reading, and archaeology to name a few… it takes on a bit of a different perspective.
During that time, I was afforded a rare opportunity to meet some of the biggest names in Biblical Archaeology and befriend them. Dr. Mike Freikman, Dr. David Ben Shlomo, Dr. Yossi Garfinkel, the late Dr. Eilat Mazar, and Dr. Ralph Hawkins of Averett University. I spent many hours in the field excavating sites like Al Auja, and several sites in the Golan Heights. It was a pipe smoking history nerd’s dream. During that time, I would enjoy my pipe during breaks on dig days, and even managed to convince Dr. Freikman to pick up the hobby. Eventually, this led to a non-paid position assisting him in the Archeology Labs run by Hebrew University, where I got to sort artifacts and categorize them for cataloging.
Pottery handle with maker’s mark typical of the 9th-10th century BCE, the period of the divided Kingdom of Israel
The smoking culture in Israel there feels like an anachronism. Tobacco is reasonably priced and most smokers roll their own cigarettes. You can smoke nearly anywhere you want and pubs have only small non-smoking sections, the greatest space being given over to smokers. I found a small group of fellows there who enjoyed the hobby as much as I did, one of them a close friend to this day. Sitting down to smoke a pipe with a buddy was always an occasion for a free-flowing discussion of anything and everything. The pipe was a commonality to share with someone else, and you for the time period we were smoking, we didn’t need to be concerned with the pressures of the day. Unfortunately, the pandemic hit, and my wife and I lost our jobs which required us to relocate where jobs were easier to come by. It was a bittersweet situation, to be sure.
Through the pipe community since then, I’ve made friends all over the globe from all walks of life, orientations, creeds and ideologies. My wife jokes that no matter where we vacation, I’ll know someone there who smokes a pipe to meet up with. She’s correct. We’re idealogues, philosophers, theologians, antiquarians, nerds, geeks, old farts, men, women, rednecks and everything in between. My Peterson pipes are vehicles to that destination, to connect with others and in so doing see how much alike we are in so many respects, to spark conversations, to be in dialogue. Like pipe smoking, dialogue is an art form. If we don’t tend the fire, then like an untended ember in our Peterson pipes, it dies.
CERTIFIED PETE GEEK ZIPPO LIGHTER UPDATE
Zippo has received our order and everything is on target. It sounds like they may ship from the factory in as little as 2-3 weeks, but I’ll give everyone an update Sunday by Sunday. I was overwhelmed by the response–and gratified! Thanks to all who are participating.