The pretense was that what I’d be doing would involve work. But the truth is I went to Morganton, NC to play with pipe tobacco. I work in tobacciana (obviously), and so, technically, it would at least be work-related play.
See, I’ve visited Cornell & Diehl a couple of times now. Ordinarily I get to hang around the factory for two or three hours. Although one can see every part of the factory there is to see in about forty-five minutes, what goes on there is sufficiently complex that a few hours will only provide a very cursory understanding of what the folks at C&D do. My previous visits were enough to test the water only, so to speak. I was looking to get waist deep.
“What do you want to do while you’re here?” Chris asked over coffee shortly after my 9AM arrival.
“I want to work.” My delivery was as stern and ambitious as I could make it, like I was applying for a job.
“Good, because that’s all I ready had planned for you.” He followed up with his signature laugh.
Ten minutes later and I’m under Ted’s wing. Ted is 76 years old, but a spirited individual who doesn’t look a day over 60. Largely, he spends his time at C&D blending tobacco to fill orders, and the demand for C&D’s blends certainly keeps him busy. All the guys work from a small, tattered card catalog filled with handwritten tobacco recipes in a strange code of argot and numbers. For the most part, they’ve got all this committed to memory. For a newbie like me, there was no sense to it. Everything had to be explained to me through every step of the process. Like I was a baby. And to these expert old hands, I guess that’s pretty much what I was when it came to blending tobacco from scratch.
So it was that I spent the next five or six hours blending, saucing, bagging, tinning, and labeling tobacco for orders under their guidance. The Cornell & Diehl plant is like one humungous crafts project scaled into a formidable and efficient operation. I was warned that at the end of my shift I’d want to stuff all the clothes I was wearing into a bag and quarantine it from the rest of my laundry. And they were right. Even my hair smelled like Latakia.
Just as I was getting the hang of things (in my opinion, at least) my time was up. Although I did leave Morganton with a far better understanding than ever before of what the fine folks at Cornell & Diehl are up to each day, I figure I’ve still just barely scratched the surface. Looks like I’ll have to put together and polish a convincing argument or three as to why Sykes should let me go for a full week next year.
Tuesday isn't particularly important for the Smokingpipes team. It's a graceful point in the week after the stress of Monday's update melts, and before the stress of Thursday arises. It's the hour of orange glow between night and day. It's a moment for us to slow down and recollect ourselves. For some, this could be turning the music up a little, or shooting rubber bands at one another. For many, it is an opportunity to pull out some nice tobacco and have a long smoke. Whatever your Tuesday therapy may be, there is something else to add to that routine, starting today: YouTues! (YouTube Tuesday) Today we bring you a video tour of Lasse Skovgaard's workshop, and a conversation between Sykes and Lasse about his first experiences with making pipes. There is more to this interview, which will be making its way to YouTues soon, along with many others from Eltang, Heding, and our recent visit with Michael Parks. We will post most of them here, but don't forget to follow our channel to stay up to date. So, without further delay, Happy Tuesday, and Happy YouTues!
Yesterday, February 20th, was International Pipe Smoking Day, which was started by Smokers Forum in 2008 as a day to celebrate pipe smoking. After all, if the world calendar is replete with unofficial holidays such as "Talk Like A Pirate Day" or "Wear Your Pants Backwards Day" (which I expect results in all manner of accidents and complications), why not have folks around the globe gather to celebrate something many of us enjoy. From what I've heard over the years, dozens of pipe clubs everywhere get together to celebrate with contests, raffles, and good old-fashioned camaraderie. It's great that the semi-official holiday has gained so much ground in recent years, as it's introduced a lot of new pipe smokers from all walks of life to the enjoyment of pipes. Pipe smoking is gaining ground outside of the usual, stereotyped pipe smoker demographic, and we can only hope this continues.
We here at Smokingpipes.com celebrate the business and enjoyment of pipe smoking every day, as I'm sure many of you do as well. During one of our marketing meetings recently, appropriately subjected as "Brainstorming Meeting: We All Go Insane!" a small collection of staff closed the doors to the conference room and smoked our pipes, spouted out-of-the-box marketing ideas for various current and future exciting things, and laughed at each other when some of us [coughs] wanted to find out exactly how far was too far. One idea was to do a comic strip (unsure of how many), and the ideas and weird pseudo-world of characters between my ears wouldn't stop. Case in point: our first strip introducing two characters; Brandy and Flake. You can be sure we're going to whet your whistle with a number of different ideas over the coming months.
In the meantime, we've quite a staggering update for you today consisting of 166 new pipes, including new pieces from Brad Pohlmann and more of Peterson's Saint Patrick's Day pipes, along with 72 lovely estates from all over. And just like any other holiday, hopefully you will find some excuses today to enjoy some leftovers from your recent celebratory adventure.
Currently sitting on my desk is a beautiful piece of art. It happens to be a Danish Estate crafted by Tonni Nielsen, fresh from estate restoration, and scheduled for today's update. Though I could write a thousand or more words about this Bent Brandy, its fine-looking grain and exotic wood accent, there are times where words simply fall short. That's why the images on Smokingpipes.com are so important. Although text relates information not outwardly visible and gives a little historical context for brands and pipemakers, it is the photograph that best describes -- and often sparks an infatuation with -- a pipe.
Our photography and videography team: Peter Kogler, Katie Ranalli, Chris Johnson, and John Sutherland have perfected their craft. For each update, they have less than three days to capture and edit photos and video for an average of 200 pipes. Additionally, many of these pipes get multiple photos from various angles -- all told, the gang takes well over a thousand photographs each week. Great pains are taken to ensure that what is seen on the web is exactly what sits in the tray in front of them. The light cannot just bounce off the shiny finish of a smooth pipe, it has to illuminate the intricate details of the grain. The stain needs to be just the right shade, which can be difficult for some of the colorful pipes we offer. The silver needs to be polished, and the stamping needs to be as legible as possible.
Of course, all of this effort would be pointless if we used one photo to "symbolically represent" a category of pipes like many other online retailers. For us, that is not enough. The pipe you see is the pipe you get. We do not use stock photography. We do not use bulk photography. This means, if we get 10 Peterson Darwin System Smooth (B42) with P-Lip pipes, we photograph each one with the knowledge that, although they are given the same title, each pipe is unique. Isn't that part of what makes pipes so special after all?
I could tell you that these guys work really hard, and that each photo is perfection... but why not go with the theme of this blog post and show you? It is for this purpose that we have stalked them with cameras and created a short video illustrating just that. So, without further rambling from myself, please take 2 minutes and 40 seconds to witness the endless work the guys and gal do to make the Smokingpipes.com update stand out.
So, if you’ve been keeping up, you’ll know that last week a few of us piled into a car and made a field trip to visit the good folks Cornell & Diehl. I’ve continuously heard rumors about just how nice Craig and Patty Tarlar are, and this is indeed true on a massive scale. Upon our arrival, Patty greated us with glowing enthusiasm along with pizza and hot coffee (two sugars, please).
The pizza had little chance to settle when Chris Tarlar pulled Ted and I away from the table for a tour of the works. I hope that doesn’t sound reluctant-- I love pizza, LOOOVE IT-- but I‘m getting fat, and it’s not everyday one gets a guided tour behind the scenes of a major pipe tobacco manufacturer.
First thing, Chris lifts one corner of a tarp laying on the concrete floor to reveal big, beautiful leaves of red, gold, and black. Visions not unlike Scrooge McDuck back-stroking through his money pile filled my head, except replace McDuck with my image and his coin with said big-o pile of tobacco leaves.
The tour continued upstairs to a floor covered in drying racks, which were, again, filled with large tobacco leaf, and then returned downstairs where we were shown the blending station, machines that press, and machines that cut, and ovens that cure.
The tour concluded and it was back to business and pizza, but this is not where the fun ended. Dear reader, I wish you could have seen Ted’s face light up when the Tarlars graciously offered him a bunk and a lesson in blending! This will be redeemed at a later date, and you can of course expect a full report. Told you they were impossibly nice.
John Sutherland: Marketing Mngr and Sr. Photographer
These are busy, busy days here at Smokingpipes.com, what with the Holiday Season and all, and when word came through the grapevine that the Monday following Thanksgiving is pretty crazy in our warehouse, I thought I might wonder over there and grab a pic or two before the outgoing packages began their merry voyage to new homes.
Unfortunately, there was really no way to get a photo that could convey the sheer scale of the hundreds and hundreds of boxes due to be shipped. That said, I thought you may enjoy a couple behind-the-scenes images from late yesterday, the above featuring the wonderful Janice, our Shipping and Receiving Supervisor.
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