Chim chim cher-ee

Bob Ferrari

Photo by ken smith

The extent of what most Americans know about chimney sweeps comes from a song in the musical Mary Poppins. Bob Ferrari, owner of White Glove Chimney and Air Duct Services, has learned considerably more in his 30-plus years in the business. Ferrari has traveled the world cleaning chimneys and indulging his other passion, mountain climbing, having been introduced to the business at the end of his free-wheeling younger days. He met wife Marina on a commune in Texas in the early 1970s and settled in Redding when he and his then-pregnant bride hitchhiked into town from the Trinity Alps. In 1983, the Ferraris bought the Redding-based business Flue Season, and two years ago changed the name and expanded into Butte County.

What services do you provide?

We do chimneys, which entails cleaning all wood, gas and pellet systems. Not all chimney sweeps do all that; some are just swabbers who run a brush up and down and call it a day. We’re licensed contractors and do installation and repairs. We also clean and service air ducts on commercial and residential HVAC systems. We clean dryer vents because they catch on fire also, and when they get clogged up, it can cause carbon monoxide issues. Our belief is you don’t just want a clean chimney, you want a chimney that’s safe to use. So if we sweep it, we also inspect it to make sure it’s not damaged and installed correctly. We work on swamp coolers, too.

How do most people perceive chimney sweeps?

Obviously, everyone’s seen Mary Poppins, and they think we climb on roofs and walk around dirty all the time, and there are beer commercials of us shooting soot out of our mouths. That’s kind of the image, and it’s not new. Robert Louis Stevenson once wrote, “I hung out down at the wharfs with sailors, thieves and chimney sweeps” and that his “companionship was constantly altered by the actions of the local magistrate.” Not all of the chimney sweep’s heritage is good.

How did you work on chimneys in other countries?

There’s kind of a brotherhood of chimney sweeps. They’re called The Brothers in Black. I’ve met people all over, stayed with some of them and went on chimneys with some. I swept a chimney in a castle in Scotland and saw some really weird chimneys in Greece and other places.

A few years ago, I took the whole company to the Spazzacamini [chimney sweep] Festival in Italy. There were 1,000 chimney sweeps from 27 different countries. Something like 20,000 people show up to this small village. They have a big parade through town, and each country marches behind a banner. We had people chanting “USA! USA!” and lowering bottles of wine down to us. When you get to the main square, there are people in medieval garb firing off blunderbusses and blowing off cannons. We all just looked at each other and said, “Wow, plumbers don’t do this.”