Meet Gene Padgitt of HearthMasters, Inc. in Independence, MO. This long-time member of NCSG shares his experience as a chimney sweep and accomplished Certified Heater Mason.
What is a question you get asked most about being a chimney sweep/chimney sweeping/the industry?
These days it is "How old are you?" I'm 63 and still working, which includes climbing ladders and scaffold, which surprises some people. But I love doing this work and will keep on doing it until I can't any more.
How did you get started in the industry?
I got laid off from Safeway foods and was thinking about starting my own business when I saw an ad in Mother Earth News that described how much money you could make as a chimney sweep. I asked my future brother-in-law, who was a chimney sweep in Seattle, what he thought about the idea and he said it could be very profitable. I decided to spend the $1,600 and ordered the August West system with the giant vacuum and manual that described how to do the work. Turns out it was a little more complicated than that.
What advice do you wish you had received when you were getting started?
I wish I had joined the NCSG earlier and had gone to every single convention, as well as work with another seasoned chimney sweep for a year before I started on my own. I had to learn the hard way for the first few years. I believe that my first NCSG Convention was in 1989.
What is the biggest challenge you face on the job? What are your best strategies for overcoming it?
I'd have to say the biggest challenge is designing scaffold, roof protection, and roof scaffold for large jobs and tall chimneys. Some of the roofs, such as the 12/12 or 12/16 pitch roofs are very difficult to access, especially when the chimney is in the center of the house. When we do large restoration projects, we need to have the scaffold set up just right. So I am on the job to supervise this portion to make sure it is done exactly right.
Who was your most famous customer?
Frank White, the KC Royals player. He had peacocks on his property that screeched all day long, but Frank was very nice.
Have you ever attended NCSG Annual Convention & Trade Show? If so, what was your favorite takeaway?
Yes, many times since 1989. Always learn something new and different, like the latest Chim-Scan Camera.
What is your proudest accomplishment?
Learning to build masonry heaters and brick ovens and becoming a Certified Heater Mason. This is a real art and I love designing and building heaters and ovens. Got a lot of help at the Masonry Heater Association. I've won 13 awards for my masonry work, so that's pretty cool, too.
Have you ever had to make your own tool to solve a particular problem?
Yes, several. I made a tile inserter/breaker tool 30 years ago and we still use it today. I never patented it, but my wife wants me to do so.
Weirdest thing you have ever found in a chimney?
A photo from the 1880's. Amazing that it survived. I left it with the homeowners.
What do you like to do outside of work?
Restore old houses to their original condition, then sell or rent them. This is more of a second job because it is our retirement income. I also raise chickens for fresh eggs and have an organic garden. And fishing, of course! I just wish I had more time for fishing. Maybe when I semi-retire in two years I'll get to do that more often.
What is, in your opinion, the most valuable part of being a member of the National Chimney Sweep Guild?
The camaraderie with other sweeps from around the world is the best part, especially at conventions. It's nice to hear how people do things and what challenges they face in their regions.
Thanks, Gene! We love to hear about all of the awesome things our members are doing. If you or someone you know should be the next Meet a Member, then we want to feature them! Send an email to Annemarie Stockton at firstname.lastname@example.org with your nominations.
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