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.