The Rutherford Report—Still Sweeping Up Business After 32 Years

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“Man never made any material as resilient as the human spirit.”

—Bernard Williams
Sweeping Up Business in the Mountains

Back in 1982, Gil Calkins passed on a full college scholarship so he could follow his entrepreneurial spirit and start a chimney sweeping business in Lake Arrowhead.

Gil had zero experience sweeping chimneys or working on fireplaces. But he had read a newspaper article that said the industry was heating up, and he certainly wasn’t going to let his dream go up in smoke just because he was unseasoned in the trade.

It didn’t take long before his business—Sweep’s Luck Chimney Service—was thriving in the mountain communities, which didn’t have the essential service locally at the time. With the help of companies that make chimney cleaning equipment, Gil developed the skills needed to keep his customers’ chimneys in tiptop shape, and as a bonus, he dawned a top hat and coat with tails like the chimney sweeps of yore while scrubbing soot from smokestacks.

Years later, as regulations and other technical requirements became bigger and bigger parts of the business, Gil decided it was time to dust off his hat and retire.

“He just couldn’t handle it anymore,” his son, Nolan, said. “He’s old school.”

Gil and his wife, Judee, bought a home in Virginia and found investors to take over the business, but the massive Old Fire in 2003 nearly doused their retirement plans. The investors Gil had lined up backed out. They feared the fire, which burned more than 91,000 acres and destroyed nearly 1,000 homes, would ruin the mountain economy and tank the chimney sweep business.

Nolan was living the dream life of many 25-year-olds in San Diego when his brother, Nathan, called him up and proposed taking over their father’s business.

“We just kind of went into it on a whim,” Nolan said.

Besides a phone number and a box full of papers, including some old tax returns, Nolan and his brother got a truck and chimney sweeping equipment to get started.

“My brother and I looked at each other and said, ‘Man, we’ve got a lot of work to do,’” he said.

The two brothers got busy learning the trade and figuring out ways to bring Sweep’s Luck Chimney Sweep into the 21st century and to expand their customer base. They bought more service trucks and equipment, hired more technicians, became nationally certified, earned a state contractor license, created a paperless record system and developed a website.

Later on, they added air duct cleaning to their list of services and became official distributors of a chimney restoration product called Thermocrete. In 2011, they purchased Buck Energy Center, a fireplace and stove company their grandfather, Fred Webster, started in 1983 in Rim Forest. The business—now called Buck Energy Fireplaces—sells and installs fireplaces, inserts, BBQs, patio heaters, gas logs and other accessories. They expanded their services again in 2012 with the purchase of All Star Window Cleaning, which offers pressure washing, gutter and roof cleaning services.

A longtime family friend started a Sweep’s Luck Chimney Service that operates in San Diego County, Temecula and Orange County, and the Calkins brothers have also opened an office in Big Bear and soon will be able to service the Inland Empire full time from Yucaipa to Rancho Cucamonga.

Find out more about this Second District business by visiting their website at
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