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Justin Bailey was at the National Chimney Sweeps Guild Conference in Portland, Oregon. April, 2018. Bailey has served as the journalistic reporter for Sweeping Magazine at the conference for the last four years in a row. Bailey had the opportunity at this conference to share his story about his journey to becoming a masonry heater builder in a presentation for about 150 Chimney sweeps.

The National Chimney Sweeps Guild supports it’s members by providing representation, proven standards, camaraderie and networking. This is done through education, industry specific publications and a yearly convention that brings the industry together on a national platform.

New Attendees:
By Justin Bailey

208 new folks attended the 2016 NCSG convention, according to NCSG Program Director Claire Rutledge. I decided to speak with a few of them. Two of them were Javen Martinez and Nicholas Graham, certified sweeps with my Bailey’s Chimney Cleaning & Repair in New Mexico. We got a photo of all three of us with NCSG President Jeremy Biswell, taken by the NCSG First Lady Biswell. Martinez and Graham really enjoyed Chris Prior’s seminar on masonry heaters, and CSIA Mark Stoner’s closing keynote inspired both of them. “I like meeting the other sweeps,” said Martinez. “Seeing all these people who are totally into it.”

During the trade show, I went looking for other first time attendees, and I found a couple of them. The first one I sat down with Chris Bevan, of Chimney Doctors in Bailey, CO. Chimney Doctors paid for his trip to the convention, along with four other members of the company. I was glad to meet someone from Colorado, because there are so few of us from west of the Mississippi who attend NCSG conferences. Bevan, 27, has long hair and some tattoos. He said he thought the conference was “pretty awesome.” “Everybody is trying to help out the other guy,” he said. “It is a brotherhood here.” He says he likes his chimney sweeping job “because I feel like I’m making a difference, helping people heat their home. My office is amazing, my view is hundreds of miles, I can’t complain about sweeping chimneys at all.”

After that, I spoke with David Steward, of Claremore, OK. Steward wears a Cowboy Hat. He works for a company called Chimney Man. He paid his own expenses to come to the convention. “The trade show has been amazing,” said Steward. “Its great to be able to come in and see all the products as opposed to just seeing the catalogs. The best part is meeting all the other sweeps. Network, learn, form relationships. And coming to Florida in February is never a bad idea.”

Eulogy for John Bordelon
By Justin Bailey
I met him at the NCSG convention in Columbus, Ohio in the year 2014. It was my first
chimney sweeps’ convention and I didn’t know anyone. I found myself sitting next to Mr. Bordelon
during the auction, 500 crazy chimney sweeps from all over the country, running around, wearing
costumes what
was the theme that year? Pirates? Polynesia? Puritans? I can’t remember. But I
remember Mr. Bordelon sat in a chair, his legs crossed, a gentle smile on his face. I think he could
tell I was feeling kind of lost. He had a drink in his hand, an easy smile, and we struck up a
conversation.
The auctioneer was doing it up full blast, moving the mountain of of chimney parts, chimney
tools, equipment, memorabilia, a solid glass lifesized
tophat
full of cash floating around the room,
books in foreign languages on the history of chimney sweeps, artwork featuring chimney sweeps,
chimney sweep quilts, chimney sweep mugs to hold the 12packs
of chimney sweep beer, and of
course the official chimney sweep uniforms from Germany with the famous double row of brass
buttons down the front.
Mr. Bordelon watched the whole thing calmly and told me about the chimneys of Lafayette,
Louisiana, where he lived. It made me feel right at home.
So when he sat next to me in the back seat of a shuttle van two years later, I remembered
his white hair and beard, his smooth Louisiana accent. It was the Meirs shuttle that runs from the
Orlando airport to the Rosen Plaza Inn. It was late at night.
Within a minute or so, he was telling me a love story.
It was good to hear that story after the day I’d had, driving through a predawn
February
blizzard in New Mexico in four wheel drive to catch a flight, thankful for the snow tires, while the giant
flakes accumulated on the pavement so quickly you couldn’t see where the road was. And then
running through airports and riding on planes until nearly midnight. And now we were almost to our
destination, the 2016 NCSG conference in Orlando, Florida.
Bordelon said, as we rode in that van together, that he’d attended his first NCSG Conference
in 1988, in New Orleans, when he was 33.
Less than an hour after he’d arrived in New Orleans for that convention, he was waiting for a
streetcar on St. Charles Street, and he met a woman. He never told me her name. She had a
suitcase with wheels on it, he remembered. He didn’t know if he had ever seen that before wheels
on a suitcase.
When the streetcar came, Bordelon got on with her and sat down across from her and when
she got off, he did too. He went with her to the locked door of the hostel where she’d arranged to
stay for her vacation. The hostel was closed, but they found a way into a garden in a courtyard.
“There, I gave her a foot rub,” he said.
Later that night, at the opening night banquet for the NCSG convention in a restaurant, a
restaurant that rotated, spinning slowly around, “I was drinking with both hands,” he said.
“Meaning you had both hands on one drink?” I asked. “Or a drink in each hand?”
“A drink in each hand,” he said. “Because back then they had free drinks, and we were
getting ready to go hit the quarter, so I wanted to be ready.”
His voice smooth and quiet, like some fallen aristocrat in an Anne Rice novel. They were
together for the week of the convention, he said.
“Then we spent the seven most passionate weeks either of us had ever known at my place
in Lafayette. And then finally one morning we woke up and looked at each other and we said, ‘We
can’t do this.’”
So she went back to Orange county, where she was from, and “once or twice a decade ever
since,” they would meet up for a week or so, including the time when he was at the NCSG
convention in Reno.
“She joined me there, wearing a red dress,” he said. “Somehow the dress got torn in the
hotel room. So she shredded it into long strips, and I wore the lace bodice around my head. I put the
hurt on her so bad in Reno that she came with me to Denver afterwards.”
They enjoyed a road trip through the rocky mountains and parted ways again.
“And just last month,” he said “She came to see me for Mardi Gras and we were at my place
in Lafayette and I took that red lace bodice out and showed it to her.”
He’d saved it, after all those years. They went to New Orleans and spent a week in a hotel in
the French Quarter, where by some stroke of sweep’s luck they had a room with a balcony
overlooking Bourbon Street.
“And I haven’t been able to get her out of my head since the moment she went back home,”
said Bordelon, as the shuttle pulled up to our hotel.
“That was exactly the story I needed to hear tonight,” I told him. “Thank you!”
And ever since, I’ve thought John Bordelon epitomized the romantic soul and the passionate
heart, the zest for life and the tenderness that it seems all chimney sweeps should have.
Rest In Peace, John. I’ll miss seeing you at the conventions.