It’s a question I’m often asked. “How did you get into this, what made you become a chimney sweep?” The quick, fast answer is “unemployment” followed by a chuckle. Of all the professional sweeps I’ve met over the years, I don’t think any of them woke up one day and said “I want to become a chimney sweep”. I was certainly no exception. Like most, I kind of stumbled into it and just kept going.
More than a few years ago (about 18 at the time I write this), I was in my mid-twenties and found myself ‘between jobs’. That’s a polite way of saying I was out of work. I knew a professional sweep by the name of Chris Brown—Brownie to his friends—who was deep in the middle of his busy season and had just lost his helper. I asked if I could come out with him a couple of days a week while I looked for another job. He reluctantly agreed. I say reluctantly, because he knew I didn’t know a hammer from a screwdriver at that point in my life. At the same time I did the same thing with an electrician friend of mine. Between the two part time jobs, I figured I could keep going until I found a full time job.
With all due respect to my electrician friends, I found electrical work to be mind-numbingly dull. I knew right away it just wasn’t for me. But Brownie, on the other hand, was driving all over the North Shore, meeting new people, doing cool jobs, and generally having a fair bit of fun every working day. I kept working with him throughout the fall months, learning more and becoming a helper he could depend on and trust. He, in turn, kept teaching me more about his profession. He told me when I started that he’d probably have to lay me off in January. At the time, we were still very much a seasonal business. But when that time came around, he was still busy enough to keep me going. The idea of getting a ‘real’ job disappeared; I was going to stick with sweeping.
Months turned into years. I kept working with him, going from part time to full time to overtime. We developed a trade-traditional master/apprentice relationship while also becoming very close friends. His business grew to the point he had me out in my own truck with my own helper. For ten years we worked ourselves ragged to make his company the best in the area. Sadly, it wasn’t to last. Seven years ago, Brownie passed away after fighting cancer for over a year. He is constantly missed by the many, many people who knew and loved him.
Before he passed, Brownie helped me and another employee start our own chimney sweep company. With his blessing and support, we founded a company in Marblehead. Of course I was nervous, but I knew Brownie had given me the skills to succeed. We ran that company for about six years. Working for my own company—with all the joys and headaches associated with that—really sharpened my skills. I was faced with challenges that I hadn’t encountered before, but my partner and I worked through them to perform some truly excellent chimney work.
Finally, about two years ago, I was faced with some extraordinary and exciting changes to my life. I was getting married and finishing construction on my dream home. I felt that my work life had to change also. I had an itch to be a one-man show. I was going to take all the skills I had developed and make something that was 100% mine. Although it was a terrifying thought to essentially start from scratch after all these years, I had the full support of my wife and family and friends. My business partner and I brokered a very amicable split of our company. Thankfully, he understood where I was coming from and we avoided any hostility. He is still a successful sweep in this area, and I consider him a valued friend.
Thus was Marblehead Chimney born. I’ve built success upon success and skill upon skill into a company I am very proud of. I never planned to become a chimney sweep. But when I look at the company I’ve built, the work I’ve done, and the enthusiasm from all my customers, I can’t really imagine doing anything else.
Best of Sweep’s Luck to you,