1967. The summer of love. For me 3000 miles away from San Francisco, and flower power,a teenager living in NY, 1967 meant other things. I was a Boy Scout, spending the summer in TMR Scout Camps as a counselor in training. I lived in a tent, no hot running water and was put to work learning about the great outdoors.
Every two weeks we were given new assignments which was to learn new outdoor skills. Within TMR which stood for Ten Mile River Scout Camps, about 110 miles from New York City in Narrowsburg NY, there were separate camps. My last camp for that summer was Camp Rondack. In those days, the tobacco was not yet demonized to the extent it is today. Of course we were not encouraged to smoke as this was not the policy of the Boy Scouts. Campers were not allowed to indulge but counselors, scoutmasters and other leaders could . We were not puffing away every second of the day but picked our spots.
However, there was a pecking order of smoking. Cigarettes were at the bottom of the pack and it was mostly the younger counselors who puffed on them. Mind you at the time, a pack of smokes cost about 25 cents so even if you were cash strapped, 25 cents could be had.
Cigars were next in line and primarily machine made products. The old grizzled scoutmasters were often seen chewing stogies or lighting one up at night. They would sitting on a bench barking orders to the boy scout troop and telling everyone what a horrible job they were doing. Since they were the ultimate authority in the camp, their word was law. It as quite a sight , a leader in their scout uniform, large campaign hat covering his dome with smoke circling around them. A real version of a smoke signal.
The top of the chain were the college students who spend their summers in the camp as special counselors. They made little money, but had elite status and clout in the eyes of the counselor in training.
First they were college students with majors such as wild life management, forestry, or biology. They were there to teach skills to the scouts, and counselors in training. These specialists came up the ranks from scout to CIT and their present position. What also made them special to me was their love of pipes. It seemed everywhere you went in the woods, in camp and in town , someone was smoking a pipe. The pipes were of all shapes and sizes. Rustic pipes such as corn cobs, more exotic types such as bent bull dogs. The quality of the pipe varied but as long as you had one sticking out of your mouth , you were cool.
Discussions were often arise about what was the best tobacco. No one to my knowledge ever had a custom blend. The store bought tobacco at the time ranged from Borkum Riff, Sail, or Half and Half. The sweeter tobaccos seemed to be favorites. We could tell who was walking around by the smell of the tobacco. It became their trademark.
I wanted to join the in crowd but was not sure how to make it to this inner circle. It took some time but I figured it out. I would attach myself to a couple of senior counselors and bombard them with questions about their tobacco and pipes. Then I would comment how impressive their pipes made them look as they walked around camp. I was assigned to work in the kitchen at Camp Rondack and my boss, his name was Mike, was a pipe guy who liked Sail tobacco with the green pouch. This was a fairly aromatic blend and he smoked it while he worked around the office. I complemented him on his choice of tobacco , hoping he was give me the privilege of smoking with him. it was a tough sell because he did not bite . The age difference was a barrier. I was 16 and he was 20. I was not deterred and not going to stop my quest. Fortunately the camp director was a robust fellow who also love to smoke. He remembered me as a scout several years ago and thought I was a pretty good worker. Norm was his name, and actually gave me a pouch of tobacco and told me to get a pipe. I was shocked and in heaven. What pipe should I buy to make my entrance into this exclusive club? It was also a question of how much cash I had . I earned no money that summer as a Counselor in Training as the deal was the camp paid my room and board and that was it. A good pipe could run into a pricy item which I could not handle. I decided it was going to be a bare bones model. I could score a corn cob pipe for 35 cents at a local general store in Narrowsburg NY. My next day off I hitched into town ( in those days , everyone hitched ) made my purchase and waited for my invite to smoke with Norm and whoever else was in tow. I reported back to Norm and showed him my purchase. He said nothing to me about the pipe in particular but told me to meet him that night for a bowl with the rest of the guys at the staff building . The staff building was an old shack converted to a lounge of sorts. We furnished it with a chairs, a couch, music from a beat up stereo and just plain crap from various locations. Staff members started to filter in after 9 pm with their pipes and stashes of tobacco. I was a regular at the lounge but never smoking with them. I was allowed to sit in and watch them smoke. Tonight it was change. Various guys started their ritual of packing their pipes, lighting up and making comments about the tobacco. I waited for Norm to show up and he did about 1/2 hour later. Everyone greeted each other and then Norm came up to me. He said, ” what do you got,” and I showed him my pipe. I was expecting a comment about my selection but all he said , ” OK, light up and join us.” No one paid attention to me as I filled up the bowl, took a match to the tobacco and started to puff. Actually no one said anything to me smoking that night at all. They didn’t have to. I was now a comrade, part of the group, no longer an outsider. I could sit with them anytime and would be accepted.
The rest of the summer proved to be uneventful. Camp ended at the end of the August and we stayed around several more days to close it up. I was still in high school, entering my junior year. We had a camp reunion that winter and most of the guys showed up. The college guys tried to be cooler than ever, full of exploits and probably lies about what they accomplished at school. Most of them still smoked pipes, several of them added facial hair to complete the look. Norm, was at the reunion and after that, I never saw again but heard he became a lawyer in NY. Mike I was told became a priest. As for the other pipe guys, lost track of most of them but have not seen any of them in since 1967.
As for me , pretty soon I lost my interest in pipes , channeled that urge to cigars which make me quite happy. I do own one pipe which sits in a drawer and have a couple of tobacco pouches which sit empty. Never say never, so down the road, might try my hand at a pipe. It would be a starter kit again. Would be asking for advice on what tobacco to choose but at least I have a pipe.