The Hudson Valley Pipe Club Holiday Gathering
Hosted by: S.M. Frank & Co. - Peekskill, NY

December 10, 2005

By Horace Harker

After hitting the snooze button for the third time, I finally succumbed to the alarm clock's continual pestering. I slowly slipped my feet out from under the covers and toward the floor in an attempt to retain the warmth of my bed covers as long as possible before facing the morning chill. Normally I'd enjoy a couple extra hours of sleep on Saturday but it's a four hour drive to Peekskill and we needed to make an early start.

I went through the usual morning ritual and was soon out the door and on my way to meet up with the others. Many of the roads were still encrusted with remnants of the freakish pre-winter storm we had the day before. The mixture of snow, rain, freezing rain, thunder, lightning and more snow must have been like hitting the lottery for our New England meteorologists.

When I arrived at the rest stop on Rt 128 I found Tim, Greg & Eric already there and enjoying a McDonald's breakfast. Rick showed up about 10 minutes later and we headed on our way. Tim, who so graciously offers to do the driving on many of these New York trips was driving again today and I knew we were in good hands. Rick and I went along as co-navigators (sort of) while Eric and Greg went in Greg's car. The plan was to meet for lunch at the I-84 Diner in Fishkill before making the last half hour leg of the trip to Peekskill and the Kaywoodie Factory. With little traffic and lots of good conversation to keep us entertained, the ride seemed to fly by. We had a good lunch at the Diner and before long were turning up the drive to the Kaywoodie Factory.

Like previous years Kaywoodie's main office had been reconfigured for entertaining. Holiday songs were were in the air, the buffet table was prepped and awaiting its spread, and Paul Bonaquisti, Joe Skoda and Mel Feldman had picked out a spot to display their holiday offerings. The Pocono enclave had already arrived and had begun the process of filling their corner of the room with a potpourri of tobacco aromas. For the next hour or so the room continued to fill with familiar faces. Many of these folks you only get to see once or twice a year but with each new year the bonds strengthen and friendships build. The Hudson Valley Pipe Club's Holiday Gathering is fast becoming an significant part of my holiday season, like putting up the Christmas tree, listening to Christmas carols and drinking egg nog. And it's a great opportunity to pick up a few holiday gifts for yourself (which is always a good thing).

We found a spot to call our own and mingled our way around the room. I was happy to be able to get the full scoop on Paul Bonaquisti's latest business venture. It is true, he's opened up a new shop in Clifton Park, NY called Park Lane Tobacconist and from what he tells me it sounds great. He's got a huge walk-in humidor and a comfortable smoking parlor where you can sit back and enjoy your purchase or just hang out with friends. Currently, he does not have a website but plans to get one up and running in the not too distant future. My curiosity was definitely piqued and we have now made plans for a road trip up there in the next month or two. You can be sure there will be a complete report with plenty of pictures to satisfy your curiosity. In the meantime, if you're in the area and would like to check it out yourself, the address is: 15 Park Avenue, Clifton Park, NY.

One great buy at this years event (if you were lucky enough to get one in time) was a book called "Pipes - Artisans and Trademarks" by Jose Manuel Lopes. This book, originally called "Cachimbos" and written in Portuguese has been translated into English with fifty new brands and pipe makers added, along with a forward by Ben Rapaport and introductory text by Greg Pease. Steve Monjure generously made available to those attending this year's gathering, a limited number of these books at a discounted price of $75 (a savings of $20) . The pipe pictured on the cover could not be mistaken for anyone else's creation but HVPC's own Rolando Negoita. Rolando has become quite the celebrity of late with his contest winning pipe being produced by Butz Choquin and now having one of his classic shapes featured on the cover the most up to date book about pipes and pipe makers. I hadn't yet seen Rolando today and when I inquired about him they said that with all the publicity he's been getting he was having a hard time getting his head through the door but he eventually made it. In addition to Rolando, there were a few other people present that were also mentioned in the book and were happy to sign their page for those who requested it. I'm sure these books will soon become a treasured keepsake of all who own it.

Around 5:00 PM the food arrived and everyone eagerly dug in for an unbelievable feast. I filled my plate to capacity (and maybe a little more) and everything was absolutely delicious....and I'm not just saying this to be nice... the food was excellent! The room grew extremely quite for about twenty minutes as everyone devoured what was on their plates.

The highlight of the HVPC Holiday Gathering is the pipe smoking contest. With everyone's belly filled to the breaking point, it was time to commence the smoking contest. The tobacco for this year's contest was four year old G.L. Pease Caravan in a chestnut brown Kaywoodie billiard (the nicest contest pipe so far... thanks Bill). The instructions were given, the pipes filled and with the strike of the match the contest had begun. A huge mushroom shaped cloud filled the room and I'm sure that if someone had walked into the room at that very moment they would be sure we were at war.

Paul was already professing his dislike for "slow smoking" contests but agreed begrudgingly to participate. Little did we know at the time, that he had devised a sinister plan with Mel Feldman to disrupt the continuity of the contest. The lengths he and Mel went to in order to pull this off were in my opinion... a little extreme. We were not five minutes into the contest when Mel (who was not participating in the event) decided to head outside for a breath of fresh air (I actually thought the air inside was much more enjoyable). Next thing you know Mel fakes a fainting spell by the door. Roland, totally fooled, jumps to his aid followed by none other than... you guessed it... Paul Bonaquisti. Luckily, April DiFiglio, the only woman present in the room (and also participating in the contest) was a biologist (talk about luck) who obviously saw through this little charade and did her best to assure everyone that Mel would be just fine. She must have been very convincing because everybody stayed quietly in their seats and continued to smoke their pipes, many never missing a puff. Paul's devious scheme to destroy our fun had been foiled and Mel finally realized the gig was up and decided to rejoin the festivities. (I must say though Mel, that was an excellent piece of acting. Have you ever thought about the theater? ) The contest was going strong and we were well past the five minute mark. Dock Perry, who was the first one out last year, lived up to his reputation again this year and was awarded a very unique, unnaturally carved, presmoked meerschaum pipe for his lack of effort. Nice going Dock, maybe next year you can make it a hat trick. Steve Gutz, our champion from last year was unable to retain his title and was out in mere 17 minutes or so.

Other than Dock, Steve, and one or two others it looked like most of the contestants had made if very close to the 30 minute mark... but soon the embers began to fade. When our host Bill Feuhrbach was the only one left smoking at our table he stood up and smugly said, "I'm going over to where the smokers are." and walked away. His pipe went out 30 seconds after he sat down with "the smokers." I guess there's some truth to the saying "what goes around, comes around," eh Bill? We were getting down to the wire. Dave Bull from the Pocono club seemed to have a strong lead and was a very close 2nd in last year's competition. Close on his heals were Tom DiFiglio, Mike Garr and Vernon Vig. There wasn't much tobacco left in their bowls so it might just come down to who literally was the best "briar" smoker. But after 1 hour, 2 minutes and 50 seconds the last wisp of smoke was produced by Dave Bull and a new champion was named. Congratulation Dave!


This year's contest was filled with plenty of suspense, excitement and drama. The pipes were superior to last year's but the tobacco was definitely not (IMHO). There were plenty of prizes to go around and many got to pick from the pile twice. But it was late and we had a long ride ahead of us and before long we were back on the road and heading East. Although there were plenty of things to talk about, the ride home felt unbelievably never ending (I'm sure the beer I drank had nothing to do with it). I pulled into my driveway at around 12:45 AM and headed straight for bed. In those three seconds I lay awake after pulling the covers up to my neck, it all almost felt like it had been one long, enjoyable dream. Thanks to Bill, Rob Denholtz and everyone who donated prizes, and helped to make this one event not to be missed. Can't wait to see what's in store for us next year.

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