Soot, Glorious Soot [Berkshire Magazine]
Chim chim-in-ey, chim chim-in-ey, chim chim, cheree!
As published in Berkshire Magazine, Issue 4, October 2012
“A sweep is as lucky, as lucky can be.” With a twinkle in his eye, Douglas Reveley explains how the lyrics to Mary Poppins’ “Chim Chim Cheree” were inspired by English folklore that says chimney sweeps are carriers of good luck. With 35 years of sweeping under his belt and nary a fall, no doubt Reveley is, in fact, a very lucky man.
“I remember going out to get something out of my truck,” Reveley reminiscences between chuckles, “and these two neighbor kids came over and they were very shy, and they each had a brand new penny. And they said, ‘Our grandmother said that it’s good luck to give a chimney sweep a new penny!’”
Reveley runs his one-man Blue Moon Chimney Service from his home in Becket. He did not inherit his unique trade but rather fell into it at a young age simply because “it seemed like a good idea.” He jumped into the profession head-first—purchasing equipment, training at the New England School of Chimney Sweeping, and beginning his business in 1977. “To this day, I remember putting up the ladder [on my first job site] and thinking, I really hope I like this!” recalls Reveley, now 63. He has never looked back.
While he may not be tap dancing across the skyline like Dick Van Dyke, Reveley is definitely easy to spot in a crowd. His white mini-van looks like any repair-service vehicle as it pulls up to a home. But time ticks back a few centuries when the driver—Reveley—steps out of the vehicle, appearing as if he came from an era when sweeps were as common as today’s plumber. Keeping with tradition, he wears a frayed top hat and sports a long, bushy, salt-and-pepper beard. “In the early days I wore a tailcoat, but it kind of would get in the way; especially if it was windy, the tails would be flapping around,” he says. “So now I wear a shirt with a formal front screened on it.”
When he was 20 years into sweeping chimneys, Reveley was contacted by a distant relative in Texas who had been tracing the family lineage, and he had the opportunity to forward a short biographical paragraph to her list of Reveleys all over the world. It was then that he realized that sweeping had been in his family for generations. “I got emails from guys in England who were sweeps and whose fathers and grandfathers had been sweeps,” he recalls. “There were people in the Reveley family who were sweeps, and it went back into the 19th century. I’ve got soot in my blood.”
Offering numerous services, including masonry repair, safety inspections, relining, and stove installations, there is no typical day on the job for Reveley. Late summer through fall is the busiest, when homeowners start thinking about winter. “As soon as they have to put a sweater on, that’s when the phone starts to ring,” he says. And he takes his job very seriously—the dangers of a chimney fire increase tenfold when the chimney is not properly cleaned and cared for. A well-versed veteran of all things chimney and wood-stove related, he could write a book on proper upkeep practices. But, for time’s sake, his top tips for chimney owners boil down to keeping the pipes clean, knowing what the chimney looks like when it’s clean versus dirty, and, most importantly, understanding how your stove works. “The more you know about it, the better,” he says. “And ask questions when the chimney sweep comes—we like questions!”
Although Reveley is edging toward retirement age, he doesn’t plan on turning in his sweep anytime soon. He’s just having too good of a time. “I get to wear funny clothes and hang out on roofs,” he adds. Who can top that? Somewhere in the distant past, perhaps working alongside one of Reveley’s relatives, another sweep shares his sentiment.
“Though I spends me time in the ashes and smoke, in this ’ole wide world there’s no ’appier bloke!”
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