By Meaghan Proudfoot
As the world turns, so do the pipes at R.G. Hardie & Co. Founded by Robert Hardie and John Weatherston in 1950, the company has been turning beautiful sets of pipes through decades of thick and thin, during the good times and bad, and always with steady hands and the utmost precision.
And though the pipes, the pipes will keep on turnin’, the end of an era quickly approaches. After 49 years of dedicated service to creating some of the finest sets of pipes ever played, Duncan Campbell will retire as Head Turner at the end of January.
Duncan’s first day on the job was in April 1962 in the shop’s original location in Crowhill Rd, Bishopbriggs, Glasgow. It was a trade, he says, that he entirely “slipped into by accident.” Still in his teens and just recently out of school, Duncan had simply been tagging along with his brother and a friend as they went to check out the shop’s offerings. A bit of chit chat lead to Bob Hardie discovering that Duncan already had some experience as a machinist, and Hardie’s so happened to be looking to hire one.
Hardie offered Duncan the job on the spot, but Duncan was hesitant. He wasn’t a piper himself and the last thing he expected that day was to be offered a job. “Bob said to give it a few days thought and then let him know,” remembers Duncan. “Sure enough, I was back a few days later and have been here ever since.”
Hired by R.G. Hardie himself, eh? What was it like to work with him? “Bob was one of the good guys,” says Duncan. “He was quiet and soft-spoken, but when he did speak, you listened. You could say that he didn’t suffer fools gladly.”
As one of the 10 or so staff in the shop in 1962, Duncan learned his craft directly from Hardie and Weatherston, whom, he says, were in the workshop all the time. “Bob would be there every day, making and testing all of the chanters himself, until 1973. That’s when we took on making Hendersons as well and Bob moved himself into more of a business role.”
Over his 49-year stint as a bagpipe maker, Duncan has handled African blackwood – an increasingly expensive commodity – in every state of its pre-musical-magic being: from sawing down a freshly delivered log, to roughing the blocks of wood (the process of prepping the wood for aging by creating a hole through the length of it . . .