A Pipe Dream.
- Words by Phil Jergenson
In 1968, I had one of those Eureka moments a few months after my first puff of that magic medicine. Gadgets were in; James Bond had them, how about one for us? How about a special pipe designed to do only one thing perfectly: smoke! A pipe designed with the right tools, like a poker! Car keys don’t work for that. How about a permanent screen? While I’m designing this, it needs cleanable tar trap. And just to make it the ultimate pipe, how about adding a storage pod? My mind took off with the ideas, so off I went chasing my pipe dream.
In 1971, I decided to move to San Francisco to the Mission District to become submerged by this new culture. The first pipe was called the smoking Contrivance–-it would become pipedream 1.0. After a year of learning how to scale up and have consistent production, it failed to materialize. Desperate for money, I got a carpenter job and took a gamble when I placed an ad in the Rolling Stone Magazine in 1972. I recall paying 200 dollars and after a month only had a few orders. A few months later, my brother Kent called to say my post office box was stuffed with orders, so I made pipes on the weekend to fulfill orders, but I had a commitment to my carpenter job. A year later, I finally had time to fully commit to my pipe dream.
In 1973, I made a batch of pipes using a gas generator for power and took them to Berkeley’s Telegraph Ave. I became a street artist and made enough to put a roof over my head. My brother Richard joined me from Denver, and he began street sales in SF. Richard made the second Contrivance pipe, specifically made for a left-hander. The contrivance was selling well, but as it gained public attention trouble began. While on the street one day, I was approached by an investor who said he wanted to market my design, when in reality he was actually trying to steal it. I gave him 50 pipes to help market the pipe, and they soon began showing up in headshops all over the Bay Area in tin cans labeled as a "Tomato"! What a stupid gimmick idea! But it did wake me up to the fact that the name Contrivance was also pretty stupid. But my pipe design was a keeper.
Still longing for the country, and with Ronald Reagan’s War On Drugs raging on, we moved out of the warehouse in Berkeley. Settled in a town called Willits and bought a warehouse on Franklin Ave. Our bold advertising combined with being the only visible part of the cannabis economy as “paraphernalia manufacturers,” and we were targeted and harassed by the local authorities. Not wanting to be the poster child of this war, we turned the business over to a friend who did not smoke pot and labeled it as a tobacco pipe. The only agreement was to let us back in when legalization was imminent. Proto Pipe was run successfully for a few decades but couldn’t keep up with the new technology that emerged: the internet. With no website, no new improvements to the company for years, and the "newly evicted" paper stamped on the front door... Proto Pipe diminished.
Fast forward to 2014: I now lived in the country off-grid. Bess, my girlfriend at the time, had removed that troublesome resin trap from her Proto Pipe and replaced it with a piece of tape. When I offered her a replacement, she refused since it clogged so much. The tape created a larger resin containment zone and easy replacement or cleaning. That’s what sparked a dramatic new improvement to this old design. Since I was pondering other design ideas, it seemed a good time to create a new generation of my classic design. Bess and I decided to launch the pipe with four new design improvements: a round bowl, a roach clip on the top lid, a bottom swivel lid, and a knurled collar. I kept the best qualities of the old Proto and improved on the outdated. Thus the Mendo was born, later renamed the Rocket.
Skipping to the present day, the original team, Larry, Richard and Phil are back together in the original warehouse on Franklin Ave. With new patents, pipes, team members, and web presence... we are reshaping Proto Pipe’s 50-year legacy into a bright future.