The Valley's Dirty Work
Sweep out the myths: That vision of Dick Van Dyke dancing like a crazy crow across the rooftops of London. Your image of chimney sweeps as rakish and carefree men in top hats and tails. The notion that they are men. It's Time to Sweep the Mindset Clean.
Photography: Craig Wolfrom
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LUCK BE A LADY
Rogers and Wallace arrive for this interview straight from a job. (“Cover your chairs, you don’t want us sitting on your upholstery.”) Rogers is energetic and frank, with volatile brown eyes and the let’s-take-a-look manner of someone used to poking her head up a dark, narrow flue. (Which she proceeds to do, by the way. Prognosis: Needs cleaning.) Her partner is more soft-spoken, quick to laugh and eager to be of help. They know they’re in an unusual line of work, and are used to people’s reactions: They get it all the time.
“Are people charmed by the fact that we’re two women, and doing this work? Definitely,” notes Rogers. “I think women in particular feel safe having women come into their house.”
“We were in Home Depot recently with my husband and Kim’s boyfriend looking at ladders,” recalls Wallace. “And we were testing out various weights and looking at technical specs, when the salesperson came up and asked the men if he could help them. The guys just pointed to us and said, ‘Ask them.’”
Between the two of them they’ve been up on many of the rooftops in the Valley. They’ve tackled “nightmare chimneys” with big elbows that are difficult to navigate with a brush, and even worse to clean up after. They’ve taken on a house with 12 chimneys, including several in bathrooms. They’ve scoured through whole condominium projects, and done favors for little old ladies. And they’ve continued to this day the tradition Byron began of treating employees well, taking time out for coffee, buying their lunches, and paying them during both breaks. “We’re very fortunate. We feel blessed in what we’ve been given,” says Rogers simply.
And then . . . there are the benefits of the job itself. A chimney sweep has the freedom to set his or her own schedule. Work is plentiful in slacktime: spring is a sweep’s busy season, cleaning out chimneys from a winter’s use. Falls are busy, too, as homeowners once more turn their thoughts to the comfort of a cozy fire on chillier nights. That leaves blissful winters off to ski and long summer days for playing or pursuing other jobs.
But the #1 perk? “Autumn on the roofs. We have the best views of the leaves, right at the top of the trees and it’s absolutely spectacular,” Rogers recalls.
And so perhaps after all, one old bit of chimney sweep lore is true: the notion that sweeps are lucky. At least in this Valley. At least in this day and age.