Even though I have now been smoking a pipe for 53-years – I started when I was 17, and I’ll let you do the math on how old I now am – I can still vividly recall the first time I smoked a pipe. I was a junior in high school and worked part-time as a disc jockey for a local radio/TV station in Waco, Texas. The news anchor was a grizzled old veteran named Bill Herring and he smoked a pipe. The only time that pipe was out of his mouth was when he was anchoring the TV newscasts – yes, we could smoke freely just about anywhere we wanted to back in those good old days. Bill always smoked Stanwell pipes filled with Borkum Riff Whiskey. Everywhere he went Bill left a trail of the most wonderful smelling smoky odor. He looked very distinguished in his suit while puffing on that wonderful smelling pipe every time he came into the radio broadcast booth to deliver the news to my listening audience. One day, I decided that I wanted to be like Bill and smoke a pipe so that I could look grown up, smart and distinguished too.
One evening in between spinning those old 78’s (I bet a lot of you don’t even know what that means), I cautiously approached Bill as he was preparing for a newscast at his desk in the newsroom. I began the conversation by telling him how much I enjoyed smelling his pipe and that I was thinking about taking up pipe smoking myself. Bill stopped hammering away on his old Smith-Corona, took a couple of slow puffs, smiled, and said, “Boy, I think you’ve made a wise decision.” To shorten a long story, just a few days later Bill took me to Waco’s only mall where our town’s only pipe shop – The Humidor – was located. I was fascinated from the moment I walked into the shop. The smell of the place was heavenly, and behind the counter on a peg board hung about a kazillion pipes of all shapes and sizes. On a shelf under the peg board was a long line of glass humidors filled with various blends, and under the glass counter in front of the owner were more pipes being displayed as well as various lighters, tampers, etc. It all looked so cool – I was hooked! The owner of the establishment, dressed smartly in a tweed jacket and bow tie, joined Bill and I as we looked over the pipes on the wall. After about 20-minutes I chose a Danish looking sandblasted bent Dublin pipe with smooth side panels; a Stanwell second called a Danish Sovereign. The $12.00 price tag on that pipe stretched my wallet but hey, I wanted that pipe in my mouth! So I gave the pipe to the shop owner to set aside for me and then began the hunt for the perfect tobacco.
Bill and I walked over to another wall filled with display shelves of tobacco tins. It was a whole new world to me. Mac Baren, Dunhill, Balkan Sobranie, and many others – probably all now long discontinued. Bill said that most of those blends carried hefty price tags – some as much as $3 dollars! So, he advised that we look at the pouches of blends that were in another area. As we looked over the huge variety I spotted a large box that had the same Borkum Riff Whiskey pouches that my friend always had sitting on his desk back at the radio/TV station. “I want to get a pouch of that Borkum Riff Whiskey,” I firmly stated. “I love the way it smells.” Bill smiled and said that it tasted as good as it smelled and that it was the only tobacco he smoked. So, I added .89 cents to my tab by getting a pouch.
Before leaving the shop and heading back over to the station, Bill got me some pipe cleaners and a tamper to go along with my prized new pipe and tobacco and off we went. Once we got back to the station and at Bill’s desk in the newsroom, he showed me how to load my new pipe and how to tamp once the pipe got lit. We both used matches – I wasn’t about to pay the kind of money the pipe shop wanted for the lighters they had – and I stood by his desk, feeling quite grown up and manly as I took my first few puffs. I thanked Bill and then strolled back out to my car with pipe in mouth, hoping that I was projecting the perfect image of a pipe smoker to anyone who might be looking.
My bedroom at my parents house was actually a stand alone on the other side of our garage. So, I knew that I could smoke out there with no issues. My father didn’t smoke but my mother smoked cigarettes and I felt pretty secure in the knowledge that I wouldn’t get much grief once I told them I was smoking a pipe, but didn’t want to take any chances of them seeing me smoking it right off the bat. I got into my bedroom and lit up again… and again and again and again. Man, keeping a pipe lit was not easy! So, I just puffed harder and faster trying to keep the thing going. I bet I used up a whole book of matches on that first bowl. I actually did enjoy the taste at first, but after awhile with all that puffing, all I could taste was hot smoky air. I smoked that bowl of Borkum Riff Whiskey all the way to the bottom as I was determined to smoke every shard of tobacco.
I smoked two more bowls before dinner and another one right before going to bed. I was still using a ton of matches, packing the bowl too tightly, no doubt, but I sure was having fun being a pipe smoker – until the next morning. I woke up feeling something weird and painful in my mouth and on my tongue. I could hardly talk and when I brushed my teeth with my Gleem toothpaste there was a burning sensation in my mouth that was almost intolerable. Hell itself could not have been hotter!
I have a saying, pipe smokers are born, not made. A born pipe smoker keeps at it until he/she learns proper smoking techniques through trial and error. Back in the 1970’s there was no internet. The only way I could get smoking tips was by ordering an Iwan Ries Catalog that had helpful tips in it. I didn’t smoke my pipe much at first, mainly because I had my tongue in a sling, but once I began the learning process, I decided two things. First, I really liked smoking a pipe and second, that pipe smokers must not have asbestos tongues after all.