People ask me how I can work out in the freezing cold, when its windy, and the roofs are covered in ice and snow.
I much prefer working in the cold to working in the heat.
People smile when I say that, as if I must be joking.
But I’m totally serious.
Working in the winter cold satisfies my need for adventure, excitement, struggle. Carrying a ladder up another ladder when there is snow everywhere. Scrabbling up a snowy, icy propanel roof. Kicking the snow off my boots before I enter the house. Wearing gloves and a stocking cap, a turtle neck and a fleece vest and my work jacket with my logo stitched into the breast. I sweat.
I’m sweating out there in the freezing cold, just like I do when I ski hard.
I guess I can see why it might be hard for a lot of people to relate to, but I really enjoy it. I like the exercise, feeling useful, seeing my breath in front of my face, the rapport with the customers, how much they appreciate my work.
I like the views from the roofs of the mountains covered in snow.
This afternoon I was working in Arroyo Hondo, out on the mesa, and though I’ve spent lots of time out there throughout the years, something about the landscape, the pre-sunset blue and white mountains, almost took my breath away today. I was carrying a ladder along and I just sort of stopped for a minute and gazed at the mountains, wondering how it could be that I’d never noticed how great they looked from that particular part of the Hondo Mesa, suddenly understanding why somebody would build such a nice house out in the sage brush.
I thought about taking a photo but my only camera is in my phone and it never does justice to big vistas like that, and those photos/, when I take them, always seem a bit anticlimactic.
And its not like its really that cold. It’s Northern New Mexico. It’s not like we’re in Minnesota or something. Here the air is nice and dry. Its not that horrible wet cold like in Chicago where it feels like a million freezing needles penetrating you everywhere. And the other thing is, I’m not outside the whole time. I’m in and out of the house. So its not like this prolonged freeze-fest that never ends.
I try to remember as often as I can that its important to realize how good I’ve got it, living here in one of the most beautiful places in the world, where it gets cold enough in the winter so you can get that snowy winter thrill, and its still fun to work outside.
We respect your home. Our goal: your home will be cleaner when we are finished with our work, (whether its a chimney cleaning or a wood stove installation) than it was when we started.
We respect your time. We strive to show up when your appointment is scheduled, and if we get behind in our day, we call and let you know when we expect to arrive so you are not waiting for us, wondering if we plan on showing up.
We respect your individuality. We understand that everyone is different and that different people have different needs. We do everything we can to meet your needs when it comes to your chimney, your dryer vent and your safety.
We believe that service is a calling. Being of service is what we are here for. Our work can be difficult but the respect we have for service keeps us cheerful and positive.
This outlook enables us to serve you better.
At Bailey’s Chimney C&R, the number one thing we aim to provide is peace of mind.
The safety of our workers and our customers is of paramount importance to us; safety is our number one priority.
That’s why we invest so much time and money training and credentialing our workers, to make sure they have the knowledge and experience required to be safe on the job, and to keep you, the customer, safe from danger of fire and hazards associated with poor venting, such as carbon monoxide exposure in the home.
When we finish our work at your home, you’ll have peace of mind knowing that safety is one of our core values.
And to give all of us more peace of mind, our workers are covered by worker’s comp insurance and we are backed up by a $2 million dollar general liability insurance policy.
A lot of fireplaces have internal dampers; there is a handle that comes down into the fireplace; you pull the handle towards you to open the damper, and you push it towards the back of the fireplace to close it. When we sweep these chimneys, the creosote and debris ends up on the smoke shelf behind the damper.
For chimneys that lack rain caps/animal guards, there is usually an accumulation on the smoke shelf of various things, which can include leaves, twigs, bird carcasses and nests, milk cartons, chunks of plaster, rocks, pieces of steel: anything and everything that ever climbed, flew, fell or was dropped down the chimney…is still sitting there behind that damper.
When Bailey’s Chimney C&R cleans a chimney with an internal damper, we do it right. That means removing whatever is behind the damper on the smoke shelf. To do this, we have two options:
- Disassemble damper and scrape what is on the smoke shelf into a bucket, or
- Reach up into the smoke shelf with the vacuum hose and vacuum everything out from behind the damper.
Unfortunately, a lot of chimney sweeps don’t take this step, which is actually the most important part of the job.
We at Bailey’s, on the other hand, do it right.
Angie from Angie’s List says there are 15,000 house fires every year caused by dryer vents. That’s why Bailey’s Chimney Cleaning & Repair made the investment to become the only company in New Mexico certified in dryer vent technology. We offer a free dryer vent evaluation with every chimney cleaning we do.
THE BAILEY’S CHIMNEY STORY (Part 1)
How I got into, and then out of, and then back into the chimney business.
My grandfather, Lou Rose, came to Taos, New Mexico in the 1970’s, after squandering the family fortune.
Lou was a small man, barely over five feet, and he looked like a miniature, bald, version of the golden-years Sean Connery. When he arrived, he had his 95 year-old mother, Amu, with him.
Amu was hard of hearing to the point where you had to yell in her ear to be understood, and every five minutes or so she would ask what was for dinner.
Up to that point, Lou had spent his life playing golf, chasing women, and spending money. He’d never had a job, he was 65, and he was broke.
A friend of his opened a wood stove store, so Lou got certified to install wood stoves. He’d had never even finished high school and his chimney certification was the first credential he’d ever gotten.
He scrounged up enough dough to buy an old van at an auction, and some second-hand tools, and he became Taos’ main wood stove installer/chimney sweep.
He became sort of legendary. People couldn’t believe a guy his age would climb up and down ladders, cut holes in their roofs, and worm his way through attics.
The funny thing was, he loved it. He enjoyed installing stoves more than he’d ever enjoyed anything. He was proud to be doing something useful. In his later years he finally experienced the joy of doing service.
When I look at his life, I realize it’s a blessing that he lost the money, because he was a lot better off after he went to work, and it gave him a chance to redeem himself.
His customers adored him. I remember one guy in Angel Fire, whose chimney I was working on, said to me, “If you’re even half the man he was, you’re alright in my book.” Lou had installed his stove.
The chimney business is intertwined with a family redemption story, for me.
I still service those installs my grandfather did 30 years ago. They are perfectly done. I hold myself to that standard when I install stoves.
Lou died when I was 18. Seven years later, I’d been working as the cook for a dude ranch/hunting outfitter, when I moved back to my home town of Taos.
I was a playwright and a puppeteer. I liked seasonal work so I could save money and then take time off to write.
A guy named Wade Elston was looking to hire and train a chimney sweep. It seemed interesting, and seasonal, so I got a meeting with him and as soon as I told him who my grandfather was, Wade’s beady, bloodshot eyes got all big and round, and he said “You’re hired!”
The Bailey’s Chimney Story (Part 2)
Wade told me that when he started his chimney business, when he ran into problems he would call Lou, and Lou would talk on the phone with him in the evenings, “explaining how to attach a chimney to a wall made of beer cans and stuff like that, you know what I mean?” Wade said. “And even though I was his competition, he helped me a lot. You know what I mean?” Last I heard, Wade was selling time shares in Hawaii.
I was 30 when I started my chimney business. I had an old Toyota 4×4 pickup, some tools, and one of those voice mail services where you call in and check your messages.
That same year, after an 8 year absence, I also went back to college to finish my degree. I was certified by the Chimney Safety Institute of America, and within a couple of years I’d build up a base of customers and gotten my diploma from UNM, summa cum laude.
But none of the jobs available to a new college grad seemed as appealing as running my own business in Taos. I bought a fixer upper house, wrote a regular column for a newspaper, and settled in.
Chimney work is a trade, like plumbing or painting or electrical. A lot of people don’t understand that. I know the codes, I have the skills and the expertise to make sure your house doesn’t burn down.
In 2007, during the slow season, I started volunteering for a national political campaign, a presidential race. The campaign staff seemed to think I was capable, and so they hired me to run the Taos County operation. I closed the chimney business.
The other staffers were young kids mostly straight out of Stanford or Dartmouth or wherever, and then there was me, the chimney guy.
I was out of my comfort zone and in a lot of ways, out of my league. But that’s how you grow and develop. It was hundred-hour weeks of constant pressure, for really low pay.
But I never had joined the peace corp, I never joined the military; that campaign was a chance to serve my country. I acquired a set of skills I never would have known existed, and made lots of friends too.
In 2010, I created and coordinated a Congressional Campaign Fellowship Program for Congressman Lujan. The idea was to teach high school and college students how to be politically effective.
Then the Democratic National Committee hired me as regional field director for the 3rd congressional district.
My office was in Santa Fe, and I couldn’t help looking at all the chimneys everywhere. I did a little research and learned that none of the chimney sweeps in Santa Fe were certified at the time.
It seemed like an opportunity.
After the 2010 election, I was burned out on politics. I left the DNC and reopened Bailey’s Chimney Cleaning & Repair with a branch in Santa Fe.
I’d met Marc Black when he was volunteering for Brian Egolf’s campaign in 2010. He’d volunteered to teach the kids in the fellowship program how to canvass, and we clicked. I hired him, trained him for a year, and got him certified. His wife Jenn Kilbourn became our office manager.
In 2012 we had four employees.
Dryer vents are one of the leading causes of house fires, so I decided we should become the experts in preventing that kind of danger. We got certified in dryer vent technology, and we are the only company in New Mexico with that credential.
I still do the occasional political campaign, as a freelance campaign manager/consultant. My last client was a district judge in a Democratic Primary race. She won by almost ten points.
Some people think its strange that I’m a chimney sweep but I also do political work. I tell them there’s nothing strange about it: they are the two dirtiest businesses in the world.
In the meantime I apply lessons of political organizing to the chimney business, and sometimes it works.
Some of our customers will organize their neighbors for a day of chimney service in exchange for a screaming deal on our services.
Thanks for taking the time to read this, and I hope I get the chance to meet you soon.
This photo is by Heather Sparrow. She took it the first year I was in business, just after I started Bailey’s Chimney Cleaning & Repair, and I’ve been using this image in my promotional materials ever since. I’m a few years older now than when she took the picture, and a few pounds heavier, but I still enjoy the opportunity to help my neighbors be prepared, self sufficient, and safe. Bailey’s Chimney Cleaning & Repair does all aspects of chimney service: Cleanings, Inspections, Installations, Troubleshooting, Consulting, and Repairs. We are the only company in New Mexico Certified by the Chimney Safety Institute of America to service dryer vents. We are the experts in dryer Vent Evaluations, repairs, installation, and cleaning. We have offices in Santa Fe (505) 988-2771 and Taos (575) 770-7769. We serve all of North Central New Mexico.
My friend Dorie Hagler took this photo years ago on a way-below-zero day in Taos Ski Valley. That’s me on the ladder. She did a photo essay/article on my chimney work for the Taos News.