Back in 1977, David Tolson and his sister, Anna Neace, started Chimney Sweep Cleaners.
They had seen a story in the Messenger-Inquirer about chimney sweeps in another state donning black coats with tails and top hats, traditional chimney sweep attire that dated back to the 1700s in England.
So, they tried it here, driving a 1951 Studebaker from job to job.
And the romantic image of chimney sweeps, inspired by the 1964 movie, “Mary Poppins,” caught on.
By 1985, the company was handling 25 to 30 chimney and fireplace repairs a week.
Chimney Sweep Cleaners was a success and today Roman Tolson, David’s grandson, still operates it.
But the name has been changed to Chimney Cleaning & Repair.
Tolson said he started working with his father, Kelly Tolson, in the business in 2012 and took over the company the following year.
“Customers ask why I don’t dress up,” he said. “I try not to get too uncomfortable when I’m working. And that attire isn’t comfortable.”
Top hats do keep things from falling down a chimney onto a sweep’s head, Tolson said.
“I do have a top hat,” he said. “But I don’t wear it.”
It takes about 45 minutes to an hour and 15 minutes to clean most chimneys, Tolson said.
“Technology has really improved,” he said.
Two years ago, when his father was dying of pancreatic cancer, Tolson said he took time off to help care for him.
And then last year, COVID concerns shut him down for much of the year.
But Tolson is back in business this year.
“I have regulars who have me clean their chimneys every year,” he said. “But if it doesn’t need cleaning, I’ll tell them that at no charge.”
He doesn’t accept credit cards to keep his expenses down, Tolson said.
“It’s a pretty good business,” he said.
But Tolson is also working on a bachelor’s degree in information technology, which he started last year when COVID precautions prevented him from working.
“I like working for myself,” he said.
In addition to cleaning chimneys, Tolson also rebuilds them and replaces bricks when they need it.
He notices that there are more pre-fab chimneys today.
“People don’t seem to be as skilled as they were years ago,” Tolson said.
He said he works in about a 55-mile radius around Owensboro in Kentucky, but he doesn’t work in Indiana.
“My goal is to eventually have a crew,” Tolson said. “But I want quality over quantity in my work.”
Chimney sweeps sometimes find more than soot in a chimney.
“In 2017, I found a chimney full of bats,” Tolson said. “But it was illegal to touch them because it was breeding season.”
He said, “I’ve pulled animal skeletons out of chimneys, but never a whole carcass.”
Tolson can be reached at 270-925-0947.