Cigar-Maker Shows How It's Done
John E. Kranich is pictured above at his work bench in his two-room cigar "factory" in the rear of his home at 1113 Pontiac St. He first learned the trade 65 years ago in Detroit, and can recall when Ann Arbor had nearly a dozen cigar factories. As far as he knows, he is the only local craftsman left in the cigar-making trade.
Three A Day 'On The Government'
Last Of Craft, Kranich Still Rolls Cigars Here
In an unassuming little brown shingle house just a few feet from the railroad track that bisects Pontiac St. near Longshore Dr. there lives a 78-year-old man who is the lone Ann Arbor craftsman of a business that once kept nearly a dozen local factories busy.
John E. Kranich, of 1113 Pontiac St., started work as a cigarmaker at 14, some 65 years ago, and today finds him still at work at his trade, in a tiny, cluttered two-room "factory," in the rear of his home.
"This was once the best trade there was," recalls Kranich somewhat nostalgically, "but now it is the poorest."
By poorest, the cigarmaker doesn't mean his own business, which provides him with a steady, albeit modest living, but to the state of the trade in general.
"Ann Arbor used to have 10 or 12 cigar factories," says Kranich. "They weren't big ones of course, but each one employed from five to 20 men."
'Great Places To Work'
"They were great places to work, always with lots of joking and good talk going on," declares the cigarmaker.
Kranich himself first became interested in the trade when a relative got him a job in one of the Detroit cigar factories. Born in Ethel, Canada, he came to this country when he was 11, with his father, who was a Civil War veteran. After working for a few years in Detroit, he and his mother came to settle in Ann Arbor. Kranich's father having died in the meantime.
In 1887 John Kranich went to work in the C. F. Kayser cigar factory at 111 N. Main St. Twelve other men worked there, making the fragrant smokes that men of the period used to buy.
In December, 1921, Kranich bought out Kayser and in 1927 he moved to his present quarters. The changes that marked Kranich's own business life were parallel to the changes in the cigar industry itself. By the 20's cigaret smoking was becoming more and more the custom, displacing the "stogies" that the younger generation labeled old-fashioned.
Cigar-making, as done by Kranich, looks easy. Actually it is a highly skilled process, in which care must be taken in selecting the proper tobacco filler - kept damp in a zinc-lined box - and the tobacco leaf binder which forms the outer wrapping of the finished cigar.
The leaf is divided at the stem into left and right hand sides with a few deft strokes of the cigarmaker's short stubby knife. Stems are kept in a bin for weighing later so the amount of tax on this wastage can be deducted from the full tax paid on the tobacco when it is bought in bulk.
After being rolled into shape, the loose ends of the partly finished cheroot are twisted and the future smoke placed in a wooden form.
"The cigars remain in this mould for about an hour," explains Kranich, "after which the uneven ends are chopped off and a drop of a special, imported gum from Spain is used to seal the binder ends in place." The cigars are encased in cellophane and then placed in boxes marked with the two brand names which Kranich uses, "Charlie's Pets" and the "Marca Superfinos," the "U of M" make.
During busy times, when Kranich worked in the Kayser factory, he could turn out 300 cigars in his eight-hour working day, or about 40 cigars an hour. Now that he isn't pressed for time, he rarely makes more than 100 or so a day.
Kranich himself staunchly refuses to have anything to do with cigarets. He smokes at least three cigars a day "on the government" as the trade term goes.
This phrase covers the unique practice whereby men who work as cigarmakers are allowed three tax-free cigars per working day.
"This is not counting the ones you can smoke revenue free 'for experimental purposes' though," says Kranich with a conspiratorial grin.
Cigar-Maker Shows How It's Done