Local sweeps headed to D.C. to help clean Uncle Sam’s chimneys

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Rick Montgomery, left, and John Ceaser strike a traditional pose with the tools of the chimney sweep trade – umbrellas, chimney brushes and top hats – iconic props from “Mary Poppins,” a movie that put chimney sweeps front and center. Photo/Carol Robidoux

MANCHESTER, NH – If chimney’s could talk, what a story John Ceaser would be able to tell after sweeping some of the nation’s most prestigious chimneys. He’s preparing to travel to Washington, D.C., later this week as part of an all-star crew hired to sweep the chimneys in the U.S. Capitol Building.

This year the bid for the job was won by Virginia-based Winston’s Chimney Service, which then recruited some top chimney sweeps from around the country to help clean the fireplaces – 62 in all. Chuck Hall, CEO of Winston’s and president of the Chimney Safety Institute of America asked Ceaser Chimney Service to assist, an honor and dream come true for Ceaser  – not just from an industry standpoint, but a personal one, as well.

“It was definitely a goal on my dream board,” says Ceaser. He’s read about the annual cleaning of the Capitol fireplaces each year in his industry’s trade magazine. “I always thought. ‘man, that would be cool’ – and now I’m actually going.”

Ceaser is also a member of the CSIA board of directors, which he says is dedicated to upholding the industry’s standards of professionalism and consumer education.

“These are the original fireplaces at the Capitol. We’ll set up tarps and vacuums and get the flue swept, and we’ll run cameras inside to check for any problems,” says Ceaser, who will be making the trip Oct. 26-28 with Rick Montgomery, who joined Ceaser 10 months ago as lead sweep.

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An autographed photo of Bert the chimney sweep (Dick Van Dyke) from Mary Poppins fame is one of John Ceaser’s prized possessions. Photo/Carol Robidoux

“It’s not a sweep-and-go situation, given the age of the fireplaces. Some of the Senators use them more than others,” Ceaser says. “Our biggest thing is safety and cleanliness, especially for a job like this one.”

The trip was delayed from last month due to the extended Kavanaugh confirmation hearings.

A combat veteran, Ceaser fell in love with the profession after leaving the military in 2009 and taking a summer job as a sweep. He was actually planning on becoming a Nashua cop.

“I never intended on this being a career, but one thing led to another,” says Ceaser. “It’s an interesting business to be in. It’s such a traditional business, and such an important service up here in New Hampshire, where almost every house heats through the chimney – whether they know it or not.”

He started his own business in 2015 and has been growing the company since. Working now with Montgomery – who was a neighbor and friend before he was an employee – has created a great sense of camaraderie – for one thing, now he has someone to wear the traditional top hat of the trade with.

Chimney Sweep pride – it’s a thing, and it’s evident in John Ceaser’s knickknack collection. Photo/Carol Robidoux

Montgomery, also a veteran, is a former Hopkinton police officer who left the force after a work injury. Shifting gears, from police work to chimney work, has been a welcome change, says Montgomery, noting that although he was proud of the work he did as an officer of the law, times have changed.

And Ceaser was glad after years of trying to convince Montgomery how cool it is to be a chimney sweep, that he finally came to his senses.

“There are still a lot of one-man sweeps. That’s how it was when I got started, but it doesn’t breed longevity,” Ceaser says. “My goal all along was to hire and train people so I can grow the business. And you have to be a certain kind of crazy to do this job. Rick fits right in,” he adds with a laugh.

“Oh yeah, it’s everything I dreamed of – crawling around on roofs,” says Montgomery, returning Ceaser’s playful volley. “I always used to look at roofers, these young guys climbing around on top of buildings, and thought, ‘you guys are nuts.’ But it’s actually a great job, and I’m glad to help my friend, and help his business grow.”

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Rick Montgomery, left, and John Ceaser of Ceaser Chimney Service: Friends, neighbors and now. fellow chimney sweeps about to sweep the fireplaces of the U.S. Capitol together. Photo/Carol Robidoux

With two sons in the wings – and a new baby girl due in early December – being a solo sweep isn’t something Ceaser needs to worry about in the long term.

The trip to Washington, D.C., coincides with busy season, especially for New Hampshire sweeps, but Ceaser is looking forward to the whirlwind weekend away – and his chance to make a small contribution to maintaining one of our country’s most treasured landmarks.

“Our phones ring off the hook once Labor Day hits, and for the most part, we’re booked out about five weeks, but this is going to be worth it – we’ll fly in Friday, work all day Saturday in teams, and then fly back Sunday,” Ceaser says.

He’s also looking forward to snapping a selfie from the Capitol to add to his collection of chimney sweep memorabilia, which includes a movie still of Burt the Chimney Sweep from Mary Poppins, autographed by actor Dick VanDyke – he calls it his “wall candy.”

“Oh yeah, when I saw that autographed photo was available I told my wife I had to have it,” Ceaser says. “Chimney sweeping in the U.S. is still a young industry – it’s only been around since the 1970s, but the tradition of it goes back a long way, and Bert represents that.”

Ceaser Chimney Service is located in Manchester. For more information call (603) 518-5773 or via email, info@ceaserchimney.com .

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About this Author

Carol Robidoux

PublisherManchester Ink Link

Longtime NH journalist and publisher of ManchesterInkLink.com. Loves R&B, German beer, and the Queen City!