A very smoky nonprofit | VailDaily.com

A very smoky nonprofit

Cliff Thompson
Shane Macomber/Vail Daily Premium cigar enthusiast Clay Carlton has been making and sending cigars to troops in Iraq and Afghanistan.

WEST VAIL – In January when Clay Carlton decided to send a box of 25 of his hand-rolled cigars to the troops in Iraq, he had no idea that his simple act of patriotism would become a mission.But that’s what’s happening. Carlton, who owns Timberline Barbers in West Vail, wants to take his cigar-rolling hobby from a simple one-man demonstration of support for the troops to a national mobilization.All it took was a story in this newspaper about his efforts, and donations began to roll in and his idea began to spread like the smoke from his aromatic hobby.”I hadn’t really expected all this,” he said, “But I’m not going to back down.”He learned the art of rolling premium cigars during a 10-day course beneath the watchful eye of a cigar-making czar in Austin, Texas.

Now he’s starting a nonprofit organization, Cigars to the Troops, so he can begin raising money to ship up to 10,000 cigars a month to members of the armed services in Iraq and Afghanistan. He wants to collect donations from individuals and corporate sponsors, he said.”A lady came into the shop and gave me a big hug,” he said. “She told me her husband is serving a second tour in Afghanistan. She gave me his address to send cigars and $50. She returned later with another $100.”The donations began to grow, so Carlton, 55, opened a bank account at 1stBank of Vail that now has more than $800 in it and he’s expecting more. He also is developing a Web site, http://www.cigarstothetroops.com.The idea to expand his effort germinated when he learned how many thousands of troops are in the two countries. “I realized I wasn’t even scratching the surface with just one box of 25 cigars a month,” he said. “In April I’ll be sending 10 boxes – 250 cigars. If I can send 10,000 cigars, I can make a difference.”His venture is making some veterans a little envious, he said.

“I’ve had local veterans stop by and ask “Where the heck were you when I was in Vietnam?” The response has just been fabulous,” Carlton said.In each box that he sends, he’s including a letter explaining his program and his cigars. He’s hoping that will information will be spread by the troops and will result in more donations which will create more cigars, Carlton said. Next week Carlton will be sitting down with a lawyer to establish the nonprofit organization, he said.He got the idea to send the troops cigars after reading in Cigar Aficionado Magazine about how troops in combat and danger zones might appreciate some premium cigars. He’s been rolling cigars – torpedoes, coronas and robustas – and selling them for $6.50 apiece at his shops in West Vail and in Denver’s LoDo near Coors Field. He likes a mild blend of tobaccos, he said. Each box of 25 cigars is humidified to 70 percent, then specially shrink-wrapped to retain moisture and flavor, he said. And each box contains three different types of cigars.If his mission to send thousands of cigars to the troops is successful, he suspects he’ll enroll the services of a cigar factory and warehouse in the Dominican Republic, he said. He said he can roll up to 50 a day, but that’s not going to keep pace with the demand he’s expecting to see.

Carlton isn’t a veteran but, he said, his new mission allows him and others to show support in a different way.”Not everyone supports the war,” he said. “But everyone supports the troops. This is something that’s a direct perk for them. It’s something that can be sent to a battle zone and enjoyed.”Staff Writer Cliff Thompson can be reached at 949-0555, ext. 450, or cthompson@vaildaily.comVail, Colorado

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