“All I Do Is Make Pipes”
By Dyan Kastle
After spending time with owners, J.M. and Gail Boswell and meeting their son, Danny (19), and daughter Rachel (16), I was overwhelmed with an education on pipes, tobacco, cigars, and all the “toys” that go along with this very personal and fun hobby.
As I walked into their quaint shop, I was greeted with Gail’s grandfather’s smoking jacket, walls of pipes, the aroma of pipe tobacco, a sitting area, climate-controlled humidor, and other comforts that would please even the most frugal connoisseur. I felt like I was home in talking with J.M. and Gail. The wealth of knowledge they share is comprehensive, as well as humble. J.M. said, “All we do is make pipes. You’ve got to love it and we do.” That quickly becomes obvious.
J.M. got into the business by accident. As a ten year old boy, he had a newspaper route and delivered papers to a pipe shop in Carlisle. At the age of 17, he ran into the shop owner and was asked to do odd-and-ends work. The rest, you could say, is history. An accident, one might ask? It was more like a calling to a hidden talent. J.M. said that he made a lot of mistakes while learning, but caught on quickly. After five years he decided to move his wife, Gail, and at that time two-year old son Danny, to Chambersburg, PA. J.M. was going to work for a local manufacturer. But when driving through downtown Chambersburg, fate hit them again. There on Main Street in downtown Chambersburg was a sign in the window of a business suite, “For Lease, Will Remodel to Suit.” It was as if someone was telling them to stay in the pipe business. They took the little bit of savings they had to open the doors and offer the local people a part of their dream. Gail said, “J.M. would work all day in the shop, come home and eat, and then work until 1:00 am making pipes, calling wholesalers and making runs to businesses to sell his product.” He is one of a handful of professional pipe makers in the world today.
As we talked in the smoking area, two young men walked over and asked if it was okay to join us and smoke the cigar they had just purchased. J.M. and Gail, with open hearts, invited them to join us. J.M. made some chit chat with them and I could tell they felt truly welcome. As they talked, Gail leaned over to me and explained that when they moved up the road (to their current location), that the were a little worried about losing clientele. But, they have actually gained customers. They come by and bring their newspaper and coffee to relax for awhile before going home. Some spend their time here when they’ve had to drop someone off at the hospital. Instead of worrying in the waiting room, they come here and relax, she commented.
“Pipe smokers come from all walks of life,” they told me. From the regular Joe off the street to Ambassadors (one from South Africa who stops in when he is in the area); from soap opera stars to Curtis Armstrong (from the Return of the Nerds and Moonlighting); from first-time buyers to the most experienced.In the 20 years he has been mastering his art, J.M. has crafted well over 150,000 pipes. Generally, he makes around 6,000 pipes a year, as well as blend tobacco. “The key to blending good tobacco,” J.M. confided, “is that it needs to not only smell like its name, it’s gotta taste like it also. People don’t smoke a pipe for habit, it’s the taste.” Pipes are personal. They are an extension of each individuals personality. There are pipes for cool smokes, big pipes, pocket pipes, feminine pipes, masculine pipes, pipes for all occasions and all walks of life. Customers are confident in J.M.; they tell him what they want and he creates it.
One gentleman that was in the shop lives in Roanoke, Virginia. He travels to Chambersburg because he said, “J.M.’s the best.” He didn’t mind traveling the distance because, “it was worth it.” The traveler had a box of pipes he showed me. These were pipes he had purchased through the years at different places and they were in need of repair….you guessed it! J.M. is a pipe doctor, too. The way this man handed me his pipes, showing me where the repairs had been made, I could tell he genuinely loved the craftsmanship of the pipe. The traveler posed a good question, “You’d travel for a good meal, wouldn’t you? Well, I travel for a good smoke.”
As J.M. went back to work and Gail continued to show me around the shop, I began to understand how personal it was to have the right pipe. My husband now owns a Boswell and I have a pina colada cigar. Best cigar I have ever smoked.