Chimney sweeps clean up

Many Americans will be happy to hear that "Big Oil" isn't the only business cleaning up financially because of the energy shortage. Reports out of Maine as well as others in recent months from as far south as Missisippi and as far west as Oregon tell of an increasing demand for chimney sweeps. With energy- saving wood-burning stoves and fireplaces seeing far greater use this winter, these entrepreneurs with their top hats and tails, throwbacks to medieval Europe, seem to have finally hit pay dirt in the United States.

It is no doubt fitting that these romantic, happy-go-lucky figures, immortalized by Charles Dickens in the early 1800s as town paupers and orphans wearing hand-me- downs from undertakers, should rise to the top and have their image polished up after all these years. In Europe chimney sweeping has remained at thriving business for centuries. In Norway, for instance, chimney sweeping is a service provided by government, which recognizes that reducing the number of potentially dangerous chimney fires has much to do with the availability of reliable and experienced "professionals" not afraid to get their hands -- or their top hats -- a little dirty.

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