Nothing Could Be Finer (A pipe show experience)

I left my house early enough on April 12th that the birds hadn’t even started coughing yet, and pointed my car in a southerly direction . After about 14 hours of driving, I arrived in North Carolina and checked into my motel (tobacco blenders can’t afford hotels). On Friday I had an appointment with a manufacturer regarding a project that I can’t discuss for national security reasons (just kidding). On Saturday I headed to the state fairgrounds in Raleigh for the 2012 Triangle Area Pipe Smokers (TAPS) show.

Since this is a one day show, it’s a bit more hectic than the two day events as you have to set up and tear down all in the same day, but I’ve become an old hand at this and getting ready only took about twenty minutes.

I’ve been to this show before, and last year the traffic was good, and it was especially encouraging based upon the number of college-aged attendees who were enjoying the show and puffing away outside. But this year? The traffic, in my estimation, was about 50% greater than last year- truly incredible. But when you combine that with a similar uptick in attendance at the New York Pipe Show in March, I’m fervently hoping that it’s a trend, but I’ll have a better idea if that’s the case when I see the crowds at the Chicagoland Show.

The TAPS show (also commonly called the Raleigh show) is one of the friendliest. The club members make all of us feel welcome and they see to it that we have everything we need to have a great show. It’s not a huge show in terms of the size of the venue, but it’s a very bright and attractive site and the attendees are friendly people who appreciate the club for hosting the show, and the vendors for making the trip.

Of course, the show has a special appeal as it’s held in the heart of tobacco country. That’s why it’s a little disconcerting to be at a pipe show in the area where Brightleaf (Virginia) and Burley built the economy and yet we can’t smoke on the floor of the show. This is certainly no knock on the TAPS club or the wonderful folks of the Triangle (Raleigh, Durham, Chapel Hill) region, just the politicians.

That brings me to one of the greatest benefits and charms of this particular gathering. All day long, I have people coming by my table to talk tobacco, but at this show I get to chat with a whole bunch of people who have stories about growing up around and/or working with tobacco. A lot of the intimate details I have about the growing and processing of the leaf comes from discussions I’ve had with people who were raised with tobacco as part of their lives.

The weather was beautiful and comfortable which allowed me the opportunity to have a smoke and some conversation with a number of the gracious folks in attendance after the show. I was in a particularly good mood due to the positive vibe of the people and the warm sunshine. After making a bunch of new friends and having handed out a passel (a nice, countrified word) of tobacco samples, it was time to disperse. I packed up my car and met some of the folks at the Angus Barn. Although the name implies beef, I had no idea what I was in for. Just to give you an example, their signature burger weighs over a pound. The meal was incredible and the company even more so. I’ve only been back home for a few days and I’m already itching to go back to North Carolina for a visit.

Now, if we could only do something about the politicians…

About Russ

Russ Ouellette is the blender/creator of the Hearth & Home series of tobaccos for in Bethlehem, PA. He has been a pipe smoker and blender for over 30 years, and enjoys feedback from the pipe smoking public. You can reach Russ at or by calling 1-800-494-9144.