In 1973 Michael Kabik followed the invitation of Mel Baker, the owner of a chain in Virginia Beach called Tobak Ltd., to shift his CHP-X pipe workshop from Phoenix, Maryland to Virginia. The CHP-X brand was given up, and they decided on the new label Sven-Lar.
The first year Kabik had assembled a crew of three full-timers working out of fairly cramped quarters. By the second year, Mel Baker had built a large warehouse with a lot of extra space for our studio. Things picked-up considerably with the acquisition of one of the biggest distributors in the United States, Associated Imports, and the distributor for GBD pipes. Demand grew so much that, for the first time, Kabik had to consider hiring another “cutter” or designer to handle the demand. In this situation he obtained a young man named Glen Hedelson who was on a Navy work program for those about to finish their stint.
Kabik and Hedelson became friends fast, and some of Kabik's best memories are of bass fishing with Glen in the Dismal Swamp and Inter-coastal Waterway of Virginia on weekends and occasionally camping out. Hedelson brought fresh ideas to the design work and devoted himself to learning the craft making considerable progress. He very quickly became one of the freshest and best pipe cutter / designers in the world. The relationship was so tight, that Kabik insisted that the pipes Hedelson cut have his name stamped on them.
Together they improved pipe production to 200 pipes per week along with perhaps 20 pipe sets, nearly double the former CHP-X pipe production. Along with this substantial improvement in output they also improved the quality of the finished product.
A few years later Mel Baker brought in a father and son from New York to set up a machine-made line of pipes. Kabik, seeing trouble down the line, decided to leave. Hedelson joined him, now more a partner than an employee, moving to Maryland to a farm house in Glen Rock where they converted an old chicken slaughtering shed into their new studio. Tobak Ltd. contracted them to continue making Sven-Lar freehands. This lasted about a year and a half before, as Kabik had foreseen, Tobak closed up the pipe-making facility.
Shortly thereafter Wenhall Pipes Ltd. out of New York approached them to create a line of freehands called Wenhall. The partners got a bank loan and set up a studio of 2000 square feet in a fairly new industrial park in Bel Air, Maryland. They took on the name Vajra Briar Works. Wenhall initially wanted 500 pipes a week! Kabik & Hedelson doubted that they could move that much product and told them they would produce 250 pipes per week. Happily, some of the old crew from Sven-Lar joined them at Vajra Briar Works, and thus they rather quickly met the production demands.
During this time, Wenhall requested to create a line of pipes consisting of 12 different shapes. The line was called The Presidential and, while they repeated the same 12 shapes for this series, each one was freehand cut. Although they came up with interesting designs, mainly developed by Hedelson, especially Kabik was never really happy with the line or the concept, but, by this time, they had nine people on full-time payroll.
The stint with Wenhall lasted a couple years, at which time they asked them to join Wenhall in a move to Miami, Florida. But by this time Kabik and Hedelson felt very uncomfortable with the owners of Wenhall and decided that they'd rather close the shop than make the move. Time proved that decision very wise, as Wenhall folded shortly after the move. All the same they had to close Vajra, but scaled down to the two of them and moved the operation to the farm house Glen was currently living in.
By this time, tobacco pipes had suffered greatly due to the anti-smoking campaigns and the huge rise in popularity of cigar smoking in the 1980's. So Glen Hedelson finally quit on pipemaking, went back to school and became a high school science teacher in Bel Air. Kabik managed to keep earning a living making pipes, in large part due to the return of Associated Imports as a distributor and also re-acquiring the Sven-Lar name from Mel Baker at Tobak Ltd.
Pipe brands, Glen Hedelson worked on with Michael Kabik:
- Sven-Lar (distributed by Mel Baker of Tobak Ltd.)
- Tobak (for Mel Baker of Tobak Ltd.)
- Vajra (Vajra Briar Works)
- Wenhall (for Wenhall Pipes Ltd., NYC)
- The Presidential (also for Wenhall)