Harry Robertson, known in Southwest Georgia as “Dirty Harry,” is one of the regions few remianing chimney sweeps.
ALBANY -- We've all seen the distinctive light blue 1951 Chevy panel truck driven by the distinctive man in a distinctive black top hat doing a distinctive job.
Better known by his professional moniker "Dirty Harry," Harry Robertson is a chimney sweep. Or, as he likes to say, "I specialize in chimney maintenance."
For the past 34 years, Robertson has plied his trade throughout Southwest Georgia. Ironically, it was a chimney fire that sparked his interested in the business.
"My parents had a chimney fire that nearly burned our house down," Robertson recalled. "That got me interested in chimney fires, and I did some reading on the subject. Later I tried to clean one (chimney) myself and made the biggest mess you ever saw."
But Robertson learned and acquired experience and better equipment.
"I worked at it part-time for about three years," he said. "But the phone calls reached a point where I said the heck with it and went full-time."
Over the course of the past three decades, Robertson has worked on all types of chimneys.
"Every day is different," he said. "I've cleaned chimneys in shanties and mansions, and never know what to expect. I've pulled a wad on money out of a wood-burning stove pipe along with just about every kind of animal you can think of -- both dead and alive. Also birds and all kinds of other critters and balls.
"Like I said before, you really never know what to expect."
While Robertson enjoys his job, he admits it does have its drawbacks.
"It's really filthy work, and during the summer it is especially hot and nasty work," he said. "Often there is also heavy lifting involved. Sometimes I have to pull stoves out of the fireplace to get to the chimney. Those things can weigh 500 pounds each -- and my back is not what it used to be.
"But at the same time, the work is rewarding because I feel like I have definitely saved a bunch of homes from possible fires."
Since seeing first-hand the devastation that can be caused by a chimney fire, Robertson takes chimney safety very seriously.
"Fire safety is most definitely part of the job; it's not just cleaning chimneys," he said. "I tell people not to jam old Christmas trees into their fireplaces and light them ... that just not very smart. I tell folks to use common sense and burn good, dry wood. That keeps the creosote to a minimum and helps prevent buildup inside the chimney."
Yes, indeed. It's a distinctive job for a distinctive man.