Another Whirlwind Trip to the Windy City
First, you can blame Neill Archer Roan for the photo of me. Not only is Neill an accomplished professional photographer, many of you will remember him from his many years of running a very popular website called A Passion for Pipes. While his business career has blossomed to the point where he no longer has the time to run a website, he is a fixture at the Chicago Show every year and his book about the history of the famous Comoy’s Blue Riband pipes, titled simply – Comoy’s Blue Riband – not only is a very interesting and entertaining read, his color photographs of many of those old classic pipes made by the original Comoy’s factory over the decades made for some very fascinating reading and I highly recommend it. Copies can still be found on Amazon and elsewhere.
The 2019 Chicagoland Pipe Show was held again this year at the Pheasant Run Resort, which is actually in St. Charles, Illinois, just outside of Chicago. It is an expansive hotel resort with a golf course, workout facilities, several bars, restaurants and coffee shops, and the huge “Mega Center,” where the annual pipe show is held. At full capacity, the Mega Center can host over 300 vendor tables and there is still plenty of room to walk around and check out the literally thousands of pipes displayed as well as plenty of tobacco and other hobby accouterments. As is the case every year, I haunted the showroom floor literally for hours and still missed seeing several old friends who were in attendance. The presentation of 300 vendor tables and 3,000 – 4,000 people inside the Mega Center can truly be mind boggling for an old country boy like me. And I can’t count the times I encountered fellow hobbyists who were attending for the first time who told me that they were overwhelmed by the experience. For people like you and me, who love the pipes and tobaccos hobby, it’s heaven on earth and you may want to put the show on your bucket list if you’ve never attended.
I arrived at Pheasant Run last Friday, and as usual, was treated to genuine great hospitality by not only the hotel staff, but also by several Chicago Show volunteers who made sure my room was ready, that my dinner needs were taken care of and then gave me a rundown of some great pre-show sales going on in several of the rooms that were being hosted by various vendors. Really good deals can be made in those pre-show rooms and I admit that I consummated a few of those deals myself before heading off to dinner with a couple of friends of mine – high grade pipe collectors David Wrubel and Fred Berger – at a marvelous steakhouse in St. Charles. I ate a delicious thick and juicy prime rib while enjoying David and Fred’s company and decided that eating that steak while visiting with old friends was almost as fun as smoking a good pipe.
I made it to the Mega Center Saturday morning just a few minutes before the doors were opened at 10:00 AM, and it was like a calf scramble watching thousands of people trying to get onto the showroom floor at the same time. Once I finally made it inside, I wore myself out walking around and meeting and talking to long time friends in the hobby, vendors, and the best part, meeting so many of my customers that I had never had the pleasure of shaking hands with before.
I spent a lot of time in the monstrous 400 x 400 foot smoking tent visiting and smoking. It seems like almost every time I turned around someone was wanting me to try one of their tobaccos that they’d just picked up. After awhile, I’d smoked so much leaf that my palate was no longer able to tell me whether I was smoking a Latakia blend or an Aromatic! But hey, I was smoking, talking to a bunch of great folks, having a drink or two, etc, so life was good.
On Sunday, it was a replay of Saturday and I was there until the final whistle blew at 5:00 PM. Kudos to the vast number of volunteers who made the show exceptional for me and everyone else in attendance, and to the employees of the Pheasant Run Resort who were also very helpful and friendly. In fact, I had such respect for the efforts put on by the hotel staff that I even booked my same room for next year before leaving!
Before wrapping up, I want to make you all envious by telling you about a showing I was invited to attend on Sunday afternoon. A small herd of well known high grade pipe collectors hold a “show and tell” in a collector’s room each year (I was sworn to secrecy and can’t say who he was), and they lay out their Chicago Show acquisitions on a king size bed for everyone to see. Can you imagine what kind of wood was laying on that bed? I spent a couple of hours actually holding and admiring pipes made by the likes of S. Bang, Bo Nordh, Jeff Gracik, Ernie Markle, Teddy Knudsen, Castello, Dunhill, etc, etc, etc. They were some of the most amazing pipes I’ve ever personally seen and held and I’ve seen a lot of pipes over the years.
On Monday evening I flew back home and on the flight I fell asleep and dreamed about pipes and tobaccos until we landed three hours later at the Austin airport (about an hour and a half drive from my home in Robinson). I must have been one tired cowboy!
Before closing out this blog post, I thought you might like to see one of the great wonders of the world. It was made by Danish pipe maker Erik Nording many years ago and is the first thing that the patrons see when walking through the Mega Center doors into the Chicago Show arena. Nording made this “pipe statue” out of hundreds of smoking pipes. Now, that’s a work of art!