The summer of the Pipe, 1967

Cigar Events, Cigar Talk:

I have been watching the Grateful Dead documentary for about a week or so now which have segments according to the history of the band. There was a chapter focusing about the year 1967 and the trials and tribulations of San Francisco during the summer of love.

The summer of 1967 for those not aware was the pinnacle of the Boomer generation.  Hippies or would be hippies transported themselves to San Francisco to hang on the streets, show how cool they were and generally make a nuisance to everyone. As a 16 year my myopic vision thought this pilgrimage was the greatest event in history. Well , maybe not the greatest but it ranked up there.

I was a Counselor in Training at Ten Mile River Scout Camps in Narrowsburg NY. 3000 miles away from the Summer of Love. The camp of over 13,000 acres was the largest scout camp in the world. This year it is celebrating their 90th anniversary.

Within the camp were separate camps with their own unique identity and flavor.

I was stationed at Camp Rondack situated on  beautiful Crystal Lake.  My job as a CIT was switched every two weeks  to gain experience in all areas of operation of the camp.  CIT”s slept in tents all summer with no electrify, no hot water to shower and no plumbing, we used latrines.  I loved all this being a city kid and enjoyed roughing it.

Boy Scouts were a different bred back then with more self reliance  , less tech stuff and more of a laissez-faire attitude. You learned to take care of yourself or you didn’t make the cut.  Smoking was part of this also. Scouts were forbidden to smoke but staff could and did within limits.

There were three distinct factions of smokers but at times, they did intermingle. The cigarette crowd were partial to Marlboro’s and foreign brands. English Ovals , Players and Gauloises made the rounds.  The cigar contingent seemed to favor Hav a Tampa Jewels wooden tips, and De Nobili’s , an Italian sounding brand but both  were made in the states. They  were cheap to buy and looked cool.

The top of the pecking order were the pipe smoking  staff who were either in college or about to head there. The pipe boys were a striking group, either having  a pipe lit , about to light a pipe or constantly playing with it. They had pipe tools , lighters, pouches working to max capacity. The pipe team were always comparing notes about what to smoke, how to smoke it and showing off their pipes. Very few had high-end pipes as the expense was beyond them.  Corn Cobs, Yellow Bole , Medico were the prime hardware.

Pipe tobacco was usually blends that you could buy in any smoke shop. The usual suspects included; Sail, Amphora, Troost, Prince Albert, Carter Hall, Cherry Blend and others.  You had many options.

As a pipe wanna-a-be, I gravitated to the pipe smokers waiting  to join their cadre.  It took time but finally one of the cerebral cigar smokers, Ken Sacher who was about  to enter his freshman year at Univ. of Toledo allowed me to smoke with him. I was very eager but told him I did not own a pipe or had a pouch of tobacco.  He suggested we go to Monticello, NY. on a day off and find the perfect pipe and tobacco for me.

So Ken and I went to town a couple of days later , we hitched as neither of us had a car and hitching was acceptable behavior. There was a tobacco store in Monticello which offered  a vast array of choices.  We went through  the aisles of the place, looked at what was available and settled for a manly looking corn cob pipe and a pouch of Cherry Blend pipe tobacco.  I believe the tab was about $1.25 for the works.  I did not buy a cigar nail and Ken said that I could use his.  This was pure excitement and a chance to join the heavy hitters of Camp Rondack.

The camp had a small building which was the staff lounge, used as an evening get- a -way. The building had a modest decor of crappy  beat up chairs, tables,  a couch and other distressed furniture. We also had a stereo with mismatched speakers but at least it worked. We strictly played 33 1/3 records and  wore out the grooves on Sgt. Pepper’s and the Doors first album. 

Depending when you arrived after work , you sat in the most comfortable chair or couch available. The building was small but  tended to congregate with your fellow smoker, cigar, pipe ,cigarette as your weapon of choice.  However the tightness of our quarters made it very unlikely that we could smoke exclusively with a singular group.

I made a dash to get a good seat for my introduction to the pipe world but most of the A listed chairs  were already taken. The seasoned pipe crew were having a fine time without me. I was very eager to join them but was frozen out and no one offered an invite to join them.  I tried to laugh it off but was depressed about the situation.  Was I foolish to think I would be accepted to the elite level of pipe smoker?

I found a spot away from the masses but inched my chair as close as I could as the well-formed dense pipe smoke gathered near the ceiling.  I played with my new pipe but as I did not have a pipe nail or damper It was a crude attempt to get my pipe lit.

I tried several times without a successful light and was offered no assistance. The crowd was not  paying any attention to me. I sat in my shitty chair wanting to get out of the building.

A few moments later, Norm Russakoff the Camp Director came into the lounge with his pipe in hand. Norm was a burly guy with a no-nonsense demeanor and a very strong presence. If you did not know his personally , you would cower in a corner to get away from him.  I knew Norm from my days as a camper at Camp Kunatah several years earlier and he took a liking to me.

Norm sat down as a staffer gave up his seat for him no doubt to get in his good graces. He sat down and yelled, ” Gerechter, ” sit next to me , I want to talk to you.”

This was a clue for another staffer to get up and give me his chair. No one questioned Norm Russakoff. He smiled, noticed my new pipe and offered to help me get it going. We started a conversation about who knows what but every other staff person was now my pipe buddy. For the rest of the summer I was one of the guys , who somehow had Norm’s ear , so I was to be reckoned with.

My pipe days were pretty numbered after that summer. I have dabbled in this world on occasion since then and eventually knew my path was cigars.

For the summer of 67, my true summer love was the pipe.

Keep smoking




This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.