View Full Version : Empire Builder

03-06-2004, 03:45 AM
I recently received my Empire Builder replete with Brain Cell for my 15" Al PB, as well as the optional shoulder strap.

The bag is, to say the least, impressive. Every aspect of owning this bag has been a delight. Even the presentation of the bag as I opened the package oozed of quality and pride. The build quality is outstanding. Every clasp and zipper is extremely sturdy. There are more compartments than I'll ever possibly need.

The interior of the bag is perfect for what I use it for (I am a grad student and keep my PB, one 1000+ page textbook, as well as several notebooks in there at any given time).

To those that think that this bag might be too big, I would say to think again. I really don't think that it is too big at all. The last thing you want to do is invest money in a bag that can't carry all of the stuff that you need it to. If you spent upwards of $3000 (or even more :eek: ) on a PB it deserves one of these bags.

I would also encourage everyone to buy the brain cell and shoulder strap. With how heavy my bag gets the shoulder strap is a major asset. It is, by far, the nicest strap that I've seen.

03-10-2004, 05:18 PM
Thanks for the great review Jason. The Empire Builder (http://www.tombihn.com/page/001/PROD/TBP/TB0730) seems to have a cult following, but it's crazy how popular the Absolute Shoulder Strap (http://www.tombihn.com/page/001/PROD/TBP/TB0505) is. We're always trying to think of new color combinations for the Empire Builder. Have any suggestions?

Also, could we post your review on the Empire Builder page?

It can join the ranks of other classic reviews such as this one:

"For those of you quickly scanning: This is a hell of a fine computer bag and I heartily recommend it. For those of you with too much time on your hands, here is the enthralling saga of me and my Empire Builder.
I am an LA writer, and before that an actor. 32 years in one aspect or another of "The Business". As a result, for three decades, I've always carried a lot of crap with me daily. Books, computer, research stuff, newspaper, Walkman and later CD player, a magazine or two, daily trade papers, sometimes an umbrella etc.

Even back in my actor days, I was never without a loose-leaf notebook with a batch of 8x10 photos & résumés to hand to casting directors, an umbrella, novel to read on the subway, sweater, maybe even a hairdryer for those humid New York City August auditions. For the past 18 years, I'd used a large canvas Lands End shoulder bag, I think called the Square Rigger Deluxe. It held a lot of stuff, got the job done. I was about to wear out the second one. I wanted a change. I loved my Brain Cell (called the Lap Dog when I bought it.) Solid materials and workmanship. So I was pre-sold on Tom Bihn. Visited the website. But I was torn between the Empire Builder or The Brain Bag. Visited the site more times than I'd care to admit and studied the info on both over and over. But ultimately wondered how often I'd really use the Brain Bag as a backpack.

Been carrying a shoulder bag since I first bought a Danish book bag at Chocolate Soup shop in NYC or so, then another at the Zen Center when I moved to LA. I liked the quick access to stuff while walking or standing in a line, which a backpack simply doesn't provide. And rarely had to walk terribly far while carrying it. When I ordered my black Empire Builder, I knew it was out of stock, then the ship date on the website kept shifting. When I contacted Darcy by e-mail to ask what the story was, she gave me accurate info and graciously threw in some extras when it did ship. (God bless her.) I'll be honest -- my initial reaction when the Empire Builder arrived was slight disappointment, as I had thought it would be much bigger, from the website picture of a guy wearing it and walking down the street -- maybe not as big a guy as I thought. The current photos are much more clear. I know, if you actually look at the specs on the website, this was a dumb assumption. But there it was. Seemed to be a smaller capacity than the old Lands End bag. I debated returning it for a Brain Bag, then thought let's give it a whirl. Lo and behold-- tho I still wish it was a bit bigger, it does in fact hold pretty much everything I need it to hold.

And all in a tidier, easier to handle package than the Lands End bag. The overall construction is well-crafted and strong. I think this bag will last a long time without losing its looks, shape or durability. I love the way the handles stay available and are easy to grab quickly. I also love the way the bag holds its shape and sits up, even when it has little in it. While I still wish the main compartment was wider and maybe even taller -- say bigger enough to also fit in a sweater -- still the main compartment fundamentally works for me in terms of holding Brain Cell with G4, crammed 1&1/2" loose-leaf notebook, magazines, folders etc. The open back flap pocket is a decent size and holds a lot of last minute stuff without getting stretched out. Outside pockets of big front flap hold my sunglasses case, CD player and ear buds.

To my surprise, I got used to and now love the way the front flap lifts like a saddle-bag to reveal the other largish compartment with its pen and cell phone pockets etc. above the larger space. That larger space holds power adapter, phone cord, Atek mini-mouse, and also serves as my metaphorical junk drawer and catch-all. And I heartily endorse the Tom Bihn shoulder strap-- flexible, non-slip and truly the most comfortable I've ever used. Buy it, you won't regret it. So overall, great design and execution with the Empire Builder And if Tom Bihn ever builds one that's basically the same idea but larger -- say a cross between briefcase size and a carry-on over-night bag -- I'll be the first in line to buy that one too. -- Chip"

03-10-2004, 07:01 PM
My review may be used in any way you like. The bag is fantastic. People I work with joke about how much I love the bag. It is incredibly well thought out with compartments that seem to have been custom built for my PDA, cell phone, etc.

As far as the colors go, I really can't think of any color combinations that should be added. I wanted the black/black/smoke combo but that color wouldn't have shipped for a couple of weeks so I went with the crimson interior, which is fine. In all honesty, as much as I know that a sincere effort is put into the styling of Tom Bihn bags, this bag is all about utility.

Thanks again.

03-11-2004, 01:21 PM
Where my briefcase used to be a all-business hip tumor that signalled to the world my indentured servitude, my Empire Builder has become office, workshop, playground and incubator, all in a rugged satchel that I rarely let get more than about 50 feet from me. Is it the bag? Is it the contents of the bag? Is it a strange obsession with weapons-grade zippers? (http://www.webslog.com/gallery/view_photo.php?set_albumName=album06&id=rot29314) Maybe it's all of them.

Either way, here's my 2-month review, complete with pictures, of the Empire Builder. (http://www.webslog.com/gallery/view_album.php?set_albumName=album06) Take from it what you will.

1) I spent obsessive hours flopping between Trager's Courier and the Empire Builder. Both had features I liked. In the end, I went with the Empire Builder for two reasons. A) it was the more structured of the two and would stand up by itself whether stuffed to bursting or empty. B) As much as I fancy myself the wandering digital nomad, I still have to tether my camel and come into my office or those of my clients on a daily basis. I know I look in judgement at whatever someone is toting when they walk in the door for a meeting, so I have to assume that others may be as shallow as I am. :D The fact is, the Empire Builder fit my personality better.

2) Capacity -- One thing I've had to teach myself with this bag is "Just because you can doesn't mean you should." I could tote enough to require a staff chiropracter and still have room. I've emptied the bag for the pictures, but contents typically include digicam, cellphone, Griffin iMic, power cord, iBook in a flame red Brain Cell, project folder for a website redesign, USB cableage to connect all of the above to each other, a magazine, 8 pens, business cards, a supermini maglight, a wireless mouse, 1 each of a CompactFlash card, CDR, Zip and floppy disks, a composition note book for taking written notes, a not-approved-for-airline-use pocket knife, extra dbl-A batteries, a Rio 256 and wraparound headphones and the business section from a January 31st edition of our local paper that may have been relavent at some point in the past. Even with all this, there's still room for the handful of legal-length pocket folders that I cram in there on any given morning. It all slides in with a reassuring "whump" and with a zip of the adsurdly sturdy zippers, I'm ready to go.

2) Square Size: I carry layout boards to clients on a fairly regular basis. I'm sort of anal about the way boards look when they get pulled out of the briefcase. For the few times I carry standard-sized 22"WX18"D mounted boards, they can slip short-end into the bags outer pocket. 18X11 sheets (much more common for presenting logos, layouts, etc) go into the back itself. The closed-cell foam and degree of finish in the inside of the bag ensures that my boards slide in and out flat every time. Moreover, the included file dividers protect the edges and corners for crisp corners and un-bruised edges. One added bonus ... the file dividers are held semi-captive by a bar of closed-cell foam (http://www.webslog.com/gallery/view_photo.php?set_albumName=album06&id=res29308) (wrapped and finished in the same fabric as whatever you choose for the interior) making it easy to flip through the contents of the bag. My file drawers should be this well built.

3) Boom Boom Bah-Boom, Out Go The Lights: I didn't think that lining the pockets and interior of the bag would make that much of a difference in my TBE (Total Bag Experience). But the bright blue interior of the pockets does make it easier to see inside the bag. More importantly, having a little surprise on the inside of the bag is sort of like the feeling you get from jersey knit sheets or finding a five-dollar bill in the pocket of a long-unworn coat ... a completely unexpected and totally personal little luxury.

4) The front-flap/pocket/organizer thing: Admittedly, this was the portion of the bag I felt most tentative about when I purchased it. However, as I explain in excrutiating detail in the photo section (http://www.webslog.com/gallery/view_album.php?set_albumName=album06) , this set-up of pockets, flaps, zippers and buckles is damn near ideal.

5) Fit and finish: The handles are are amazing. Besides feeling like they're anchored to the center of the earth itself, the wrapped/contured design means that regardless of which way I grab them, they're comfy.

6) The intangibles. I like companies that like being small. I believe the way to help America's economy grow is to buy American-built stuff. I appreciate companies where the bordering-on-megalomanically-titled President and Directeur Generale :D makes time to read and respond on the boards. I'd like to think that Port Los Angeles and its environs are a little bit better for my having spent money with the company.

So that's about all for now. It's a beautiful bag. You can't go wrong. Buy one now. Thank me later.

03-11-2004, 01:38 PM
Now there is a review that really spells it out nicely. Good work!

Tom Bihn
03-16-2004, 05:35 PM
When I first introduced the Empire Builder last year, it was not met with immediate acclaim. And I was a little crestfallen. However, it seems to have garnered some respect after all, and now I can sleep at night again.
I thank all of you for you continued interest and input - it makes my job of designing bags for the real world more challenging but also more rewarding.

03-16-2004, 05:54 PM
but like every good sleeper, its virtues went overlooked by the masses and loved to abstraction by the passionate few such that here, 22 years later, college kids who weren't even born when The Wall debuted, are popping the CD in, firing up the Wizard of Oz and watching the two simultaneously, thinking there's no WAY their parents would every have been cool enough to listen to something like this.

All real classics take time to grow into their shoes.

04-08-2004, 05:31 AM
Isn't it "Dark Side of the Moon" that goes with the Wizard of Oz, and not "The Wall?"

04-08-2004, 07:13 AM
Yup. I HATE when I do that (mess up a cultural reference). It makes me feel out-of-touch. That said, are you going the get an Empire Builder? It's the last bag you'll ever need.

04-08-2004, 09:09 PM
I ordered one on Wednesday, webw.

04-09-2004, 08:11 PM
Originally posted by CharlieL3
I ordered one on Wednesday, webw.

Congratulations! I'm sure you'll be very happy with it.

04-18-2004, 10:46 PM
Originally posted by CharlieL3
Isn't it "Dark Side of the Moon" that goes with the Wizard of Oz, and not "The Wall?"

As an unrelated side note, you can also synch Dark Side of the Moon with 2001: A Space Odyssey with surprising results. It takes a few tries to get the timing right... you have to start playing the CD at the title page for "Jupiter And Beyond," right before it goes into the psychedelic trip through space.

The results are rather surprising... they can be very exact, the music shifting right in time with the shifting of the colors, and when he lands in the white room, that's exactly the point where the music goes nearly silent and your hear footsteps.

It's intriguing, and I can never find any other references to it. But I have done it, and I can attest that it works, though the subject is a little more vague and abstract than the Wizard of Oz synch.

04-19-2004, 05:57 AM
I'd pay for a DVD of 2001:ASO with a second audio track already synchronized with DSOTM.

05-01-2004, 07:45 PM
[QUOTE]Originally posted by Darcy

We're always trying to think of new color combinations for the Empire Builder. Have any suggestions?

I recently purchased my first Tom Bihn bag (a Black/Plaid Medium Cafe Bag) and couldn't be happier with the high standard of design, quality of materials and excellent workmanship it displays.

At some point in the next few months I'll be upgrading to a new PowerBook (probably the PB 15" Al) and have therefore been doing a little preliminary market research on appropriate bags. I've settled on the Empire Builder, based on its general appeal, the excellent reviews it's received, and my (admittedly limited) experience with Tom Bihn products.

That brings us to colour combinations. What I'd really like to see is a Black/Charcoal/Sapphire Empire Builder. Additionally, I'd suggest that the Brain Cell (Size 3) would look good in Charcoal too.

I disagree with JasonL's comment elsewhere in this thread -- whilst Tom Bihn bags are (and certainly should be) about utility, in my view the element of individualisation provided by choice of colour combinations is highly significant. If at all possible I'd suggest that making that choice even more varied by offering a 'custom-built' facility (at least in terms of choice of colour combinations) would be a very welcome addition to the service offered to Tom Bihn customers.

06-06-2004, 02:22 PM
Originally posted by Darcy
We're always trying to think of new color combinations for the Empire Builder. Have any suggestions?

I would like to see a Black/Black(or Charcoal or Steel)/Very-bright-colour. (for me blk/blk/saphire)

Maybe you already offered this as I do see the Black/Charcoal/Crimson, but the Saphire interior from the Gageteer review was quite nice. As well, a bright yellow might be nice, or even a brain cell with racing stripes :p

I think most people respect the for-business exterior, but want the inside to be an individual. Probably just like many of your customers :D

ex machina
11-13-2009, 10:57 AM
Thanks everyone for these excellent reviews. Very helpful! :D

One added bonus ... the file dividers are held semi-captive by a bar of closed-cell foam (http://www.webslog.com/gallery/view_photo.php?set_albumName=album06&id=res29308) (wrapped and finished in the same fabric as whatever you choose for the interior) making it easy to flip through the contents of the bag. My file drawers should be this well built.

I am still unclear as to what the filing system is like in the Empire/Zephyr. webw's pics are no longer linked. Does anyone have a clear picture of the dividers and the capture bar, perhaps both in and out of the bag?

Also, in the tri-color listings for the bags, is the third color the lining for the entire bag, or just the side gussets?

Is Cayenne going to make a comeback as a lining in the Empire Builder, or Zephyr?

Thanks all for the help. :)

11-14-2009, 10:54 AM

(Sorry, I don't have the actual picture you want, but I can give you a description!)

Look at the Cayenne picture. You can clearly see the dividers in that picture.

The side bellows are padded with stiff foam, perhaps 1/4 to 1/3 of an inch thick (photo b on the Zephyr shows this) and extend to near the bottom third of the bag. (Oooh! Just checked my Zephyr and it doesn't do what I think it does!) Near the bottom, just before the bellows ends, this foam is double thickness. This creates a nice little edge for the dividers to hold on to.

The bottom of the dividers is shaped like one side of an arrowhead meeting an arrow, and fits neatly against the bottom of the bellows. The foam is flexible enough that if you want to remove the dividers you can, but otherwise they stay firmly in place.

2 observations about this.

1. The dividers themselves are heavy. I don't use mine for just this reason. They're made of a solid black plastic.

2. You can get up inside the lining of the bellows from the bottom of the bag. I think this would make a fantastic place to hide spare cash when travelling!


PA: I did find the photo!


ex machina
11-14-2009, 07:42 PM
Thanks Falconea, for your very helpful description! I had seen that pic but it was inadequate without your description. BTW, here is another (http://www.tombihn.com/Merchant2/merchant.mvc?Screen=PROD&Store_Code=001&Product_Code=TB0504&Product_Count=&Category_Code=) (I found C and D the most helpful.) :)

So, for future searchers:

The file dividers run the depth of the bag.

The file dividers are held in place via pressure exerted by closed cell foam rails.

The rails sit in a notch toward the bottom of the divider.

The dividers are plastic.

No animals were harmed in the making of this post. :P

09-15-2011, 04:26 PM
Doesn't look like a lot of activity on the thread anymore. I have owned my EB for many years and believe it to be a great bag. My only compliant has always been that the bag tends to fall over on me. I wish that it would stand upright better than it does.

09-17-2011, 05:44 PM
Thanks for reviving the thread, jonhoffm.

We've just posted new photos of the Empire Builder (http://www.tombihn.com/page/001/PROD/700/TB0730), including photos of all new color combinations. See them here. (http://www.tombihn.com/page/001/PROD/700/TB0730)



10-03-2011, 12:20 PM
I ordered my Empire Builder on 28 September, 2011 5:02:48 PM EDT and it arrived at my Hamilton, Ontario door just past noon today. This is the black/navy/wasabi with 4Z brain cell and Absolute strap. Followed the tracking online and went home at lunch to swap out my American Tourister for the EB. This was my 2nd American Tourister and while it was a decent bag, the rear stiching began to fail (same as 1st) around where the strap attaches to the bag. Failure is from daily use with various amounts of stuff packed in - the bag owes me nothing as it served well, but when I was looking to replace the 1st AT, Tom Bihn was at the top of the list. Unfortunately, I needed the replacement in a hurry so I went back to AT with the promise I would buy the EB "soon"... Well this time I orderd at the first sign of trouble and shipping was extremely quick. Having received the TB EB today, I really wish I had purchased it sooner. The quality of the bag is quite apparent when it's in your hand. It seems quite well thought out with easy access to all items. The Absolute strap is truely gravity defying. What was a hefty load before lunch, transformed into an easy to carry load after lunch. I had debated Zepher vs Empire Builder because most reviews comment on how "big" and "cavernous" the EB is - turns out it wasn't a real choice because my laptop 15.4 MBP doesn't fit the Zepher. Still, I was worried about this "big" bag. It honestly is not that big. It feels less bulky than the AT, but easily consumed everything I was previouly carrying... and there's more usable space to go. The AT had no end of pockets, but the EB has them better organized. All-in-all, awesome bag. Wish I had made the move sooner.