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A gentleman’s art: Tales of a young man’s pipe dreams

The Old CurmudgeonIn my hometown of Bozeman, Mont., there was a pool hall that dabbled in fine English tobaccos. These came in neat little tins because they were cured under pressure allowing the juices of one type of tobacco to blend with the others. These tobaccos were sold with such names as “Capstan,” “Three Nuns” (Ain’t had none. Don’t want none. Ain’t gonna get none.), “Parson’s Pleasure,” “Baby’s Bottom” (Nothing Smoother Than) and an Irish tobacco called “Erin More.”

And then there were the pipes. The English pipes varied from what we had in America. They didn’t have a metal piece in the stem called a “condenser” which provided a wet, bitter taste. When I tasted English tobacco I was completely addicted, and from then on, that’s all I smoked. I smoked it to the extent that people said they wouldn’t recognize me without a pipe in my mouth. You used matches, not just one, but in tens of thousands. Cigarette lighters weren’t used as often because they added an unpleasant propane taste.

One night at Howie’s Steakhouse in Butte, Mont., while I was waiting for my meal, I saw a man that I took to be an Englishman in a tweed jacket with leather patches on the elbows wearing a bow tie. He reached into his top jacket pocket and pulled out a pipe and reached into the other pocket and pulled out a roll-up pouch. He carefully filled his pipe with tobacco, lit it up and looked like the most contented man in the world. That image never left me.

Along came World War II and I was stationed on the eastern coast of England. With every pass I went into London and searched the smoke shops. With justifiable pride, they drug out their account ledgers to show me where they had supplied tobacco to nobility, which further enamored me with pipes and tobacco. It was the beginning of a long love affair.

More than before I wanted to dress like that Englishman at Howie’s Steakhouse and stand behind the counter looking halfway intelligent.

There was a television newscaster by the name of David Frost. I remember his interview with the ruler of Bangladesh, who had been imprisoned by the Pakistani authorities during the war with Pakistan. During the interview, the ruler pulled out his Dunhill pipe and his roll-up pouch and said “the only thing I demanded while in prison was my pipe and my Erin More.”

Well, 14 years went by. Marriage, three children, divorce. My “pipe dream” had to be set aside.

My second wife, Velva, walked into the house one day soon after our marriage and plunked down $2,000 in cash and said, “Here’s your pipe shop.” Within a few days, I rented a space in the entrance of the Ellen Theater in Bozeman.

I immediately put in what I considered to be an ideal pipe shop, including a cigar store wood-carved Indian that was loaned to me by the local druggist. The life-sized Indian figure came from Cripple Creek, Colo., during the Gold Rush. She was carved carring a bundle of wrapped tobacco. The statue was so valuable I covered a chain with velvet and anchored her to the building. She got the attention of the public, especially school boys who noticed her bare breast.

Thanks to pipes and tobacco I’ve met some colorful characters along the way.

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