My Chicago Pipe Show Trip & Reviewing Pipe Tobaccos!
Believe it or not, the May 2017 Chicago Pipe Show was my first in the Windy City. I’ve been attending 4-5 pipe shows a year since 2003, but the Chicago Show was not one of them. It’s not that I did not want to attend but as Director of the Texas Sports Hall of Fame, our museum’s largest annual fundraiser was always held the same weekend as the Chicago Show. When I retired three years ago, I thought the Chicago Show would immediately be added to my list but during my first two years of retirement “stuff happened,” on the home front which prevented my attendance. Not this time!
I live in Robinson, Texas, and on Friday morning, May 5th, I drove 100 miles south to the Austin Airport to fly to Chicago. My trip this year almost fell through as there was a terrible accident on I-35 that had traffic at a standstill for an hour and a half. I sweated it out and arrived at the airport at 2:00 PM for a 2:35 PM flight. Believe it or not, I made it. The plane was boarding when I got to the gate and I walked straight onto the plane and apologized to the passenger sitting next to me for my being covered in sweat. Thankfully, I did remember to put on deodorant that morning and the flight attendant tending to my area of the plane was kind enough to bring me a towel to help me dry off quickly.
Fast forward to my first look at the Pheasant Run Resort where the Chicago show is held. A huge facility! I knew I was in trouble when the very young and attractive front desk clerk gave me a map of the place to show me where my room was, where the smoking tent was, and where the nearest bathroom was in case of emergency (guess I looked old to her). I flunked compass training in the Army and my sense of direction has not gotten better as I’ve aged. My arrival time was about ten minutes before I was to meet big time pipe collectors David Wruble and Fred Berger for dinner, so, I had to hustle to my room to drop off my bags and meet them in Wruble’s room. After meeting David for the first time in person after many years of conversing with him by phone and email, and renewing my long-time association with Fred, we went downstairs and met up with Shane Ireland of smokingpipes.com and a couple of his friends including pipe maker Adam Davidson, and off to a fancy steak restaurant we went. I can’t remember the name of the place but the prime rib was the best I ever had. And making the dinner even nicer was the fact that Ireland paid for everyone’s dinner. Thanks again, Shane!
When we got back to the hotel, Wruble and Berger took me room hopping. Those two have been going to the Chicago Show every year for the last 15-years, and knew every secret passage in the hotel, including an elevator that took us up to the penthouse suite where collector Rich Esserman was holding court with about a dozen fellow collectors including Dave Peterson and Chuck Rio. I had brought 15 Castello Epoca pipes with me for Rich and Dave to look at. After using one of the bathroom towels to wipe the drool off their chins I think I may have made some sales.
I was then hauled off to collector Eugene Smolar’s room where I think I met half the Russian Federation. I never saw Eugene that night. He was sleeping after a long round with friends and Russian vodka. I did see him the next day at the show and Eugene gifted me a very nice well aged cigar. Thanks Eugene!
The next agenda item was a trip to the smoking tent. Shock and awe! That tent was bigger than my house and was filled to the brim with pipe smokers and pipe makers. The bar constantly had a long line and smoke filled the tent the entire time. It was wonderful! If I tried to tell you the names of all the famous pipe makers and collectors that I saw in the tent, I’d forget half of them, so, I’ll take a pass at trying. Finally, at 2:00 AM, I had worn out. I offered a good night to Fred and Dave and thanked them for a wonderful evening and then with map in hand found my way back to my room and got lost on the way only twice.
I got down to the pipe showroom Saturday around 11:00 AM and was once again in a state of shock and awe. I’ve seen many pipe showrooms in my day but none as big as this one! Pipes and tobaccos on sale all over the place. Over 300 tables in all. I spent hours looking over all the stuff and then selected my show pipe. I always pick out a pipe at a show from an American pipe maker to add to my collection. My choice for the Chicago Show was a Dr. Bob Canadian with thick bowl and beautiful Cumberland stem. Dr. Bob Keiss (maker of Dr. Bob pipes), is a long-time pipe maker and retired physician who lives in Vermont. He’s received all kinds of accolades for his pipes and their smoking qualities and this beauty is my first. I’ve not smoked it yet but soon will. Thanks Dr. Bob!
My Chicago Show Dr. Bob Pipe Acquisition
In between running the isles in the showroom, I spent time in the smoking tent and had great visits with tons of old friends such as Dr. Fred Hanna, Rick Newcombe, Brian Levine and others. Later that evening I attended the awards dinner and had great food and great fellowship while watching long-time friends Vernon Vig and Greg Pease win the Dr. of Pipes award. I was so pleased for both of them as they are a pair of real treasures to this great hobby of ours. Then, I went back out to the smoking tent for a while before saying so long to everyone around 10:00 PM and once again attempted to find my hotel room. I had an early 8:00 AM flight the next morning and wanted to get a little sleep before departure. A great show and highly recommended, especially for those of you who have never been to a pipe show.
Now, on to tobacco reviews. The gentleman in the photograph with me is Jim Amash. He is known as JimInks on tobaccoreviews.com, and is that site’s most prolific reviewer. The photo is of the two of us talking in the Chicago Show smoking tent as we discussed tobaccos and our likes and dislikes. Jim says he smokes about 12 bowls a day and each bowl is almost always loaded with a different blend. He keeps a note pad with him and as he puffs he constantly pulls the notepad from his pocket and makes notes for his reviews. That guy takes his reviews seriously and is very scientific in his approach. As for me, I just puff and then give general impressions of the smoking experience I had with the particular blend. Between Jim and me, as of this writing we have penned a total of 3,653 reviews on tobaccoreviews.com. That sounds like a lot, but in the nearly 17-years that the site has been up, there have been over 75,950 reviews written by pipe smokers around the world. That site is just fabulous, and a tremendous resource for our hobby. Kudo’s to Jon Tilman, who started the site, and to Pipes & Tobaccos Magazine and Editor Chuck Stanion who now own and run the site in marvelous fashion. The next time you want to know about a tobacco before pulling the trigger on a purchase, you may want to first go to www.tobaccoreviews.com to get first hand impressions of the blend. I highly recommend that site and happy puffing to all!