The man who knew the ins and outs of cigar-making machines probably better than anyone else in the world died this week. Armando Garcia passed away in his sleep on November 28. He had been ill for a short time, but had recovered, even going to dinner the previous evening with his sons with the intention of returning to work next week. He was 86.
Garcia had worked for the past 10 years at J.C. Newman Cigar Co. in Tampa, fixing, modifying and maintaining dozens of cantankerous old machines and ensuring that Tampa's cigar-making tradition carried on.
The cigars rated in Cigar Aficionado are made by hand, but many more are made each year by machines. Most machine-made cigars are made in the form of cigarettes, but higher-quality versions are made on old machines that use real tobacco leaf wrappers, a homogenized tobacco leaf binder and a mixture of chopped filler tobacco made from the leftovers of premium cigar production. These were the types of machines Garcia kept working.
Massive and painted a faded green hue, the machines look like relics from the Industrial Age. Created in the 1950s, each requires serious maintenance to keep working. Workers sit at the front, stretching out wrapper leaf over an aluminum plate with air holes before a die cuts out the proper shape. The wrapper is then moved to the rolling area. A hopper then vibrates—shaking the floor with its movements—and chopped tobacco leaf is then dispensed into a scale, which is then dumped into the proper place to go into the homogenized binder. Finally, a cigar drops into a tray by a mechanical arm, ready to smoke.
"It's impossible to get parts," Garcia told Cigar Aficionado in 2009. He made most of the parts himself in a machine shop within J.C. Newman.
Machines of this nature require constant maintenance to keep working, and that's where Garcia excelled. One of Garcia's many accomplishments was modifying a cigar machine to make a 71/4-inch-long, 52-ring cigar on a machine, which J.C. Newman president Eric M. Newman said was the largest cigar ever made on a machine.
Garcia—who wasn't a cigar smoker—began working around cigar machines in the 1940s in Puerto Rico, working for American Machine and Foundry (AMF) and instructing other mechanics how to operate and maintain the large devices. He spent many years at Havatampa Inc., one of the giants of the mass-market cigar business, and for the past ten years he worked at J.C. Newman.
Garcia's hands touched cigar-making machines all over the world, and he traveled far and wide to help other cigar manufacturers keep their machines running smoothly.
"Armando's whole life was cigars," said Newman. "Armando was still regarded as the ‘Master Mechanic to the World.' As recently as a month ago he was still fielding calls from cigar manufacturers from all over the world searching solutions whenever they had a problem with their cigar machines. Armando will truly be missed by the cigar industry."