For 18 years, Butch Darden operated one of Snowmass Village's most well-known restaurants, Butch's, at the Timberline Condominiums, serving lobsters, oysters and a range of high-quality seafood dishes.
But before and after those restaurant years in Snowmass, Butch also has operated a chimney sweep business.
Butch moved to the Roaring Fork Valley in 1975 from Massachusetts. A buddy was going to the School of the Mines in Golden and invited Butch out for a visit. They headed up to Aspen for the weekend, where he ran into another friend who was working in a sporting goods store, something Butch was familiar with because his father ran a sporting goods store back home.
Butch took one look around Aspen in 1975 and thought it was a fun place to be for a single guy. He worked a number of jobs, but in 1978 he saw an ad in the "Mother Earth" catalogue for chimney cleaning equipment, and Butch bought a package.
His first job was at The Gant in Aspen where he was a bellman. His chimney cleaning training consisted of unpacking all of the tools from cleaning package and unfolding and reading the directions. Within minutes, Butch was a chimney sweep.
Old movies and television shows have given us the idea that chimney sweeps are skinny little boys who climb down the flue of the chimney and brush away the soot.
"No, we don't climb inside the flues," explained Butch. "The large, old chimneys in England had flues that were large enough for a small person to climb down, but not the ones we work on. In fact, someone tried to break in Carl's years ago by climbing down a chimney and they got stuck."
Instead of climbing into the flue, modern chimney sweeps use steel brushes that are attached to long, flexible, fiber glass rods.
When you sweep or clean a chimney you are trying to remove the black build-up on the inside of the brick called creosote. You remove the creosote because it is flamable and can catch on fire. Creosote is oil in the wood. When the wood burns it's like water, and it evaporates like steam and rises. When it cools it solidifies on the brick walls of the chimney flue and has to be removed. The tallest chimney Butch currently cleans is about 50 feet.
How often you need to have your chimney swept depends upon how often you use your fireplace or wood stove. A lot of condominium complexes clean them once a year. Butch's rule of thumb is that a fireplace or wood stove should be swept after each chord of wood, especially if you depend on your fireplace to heat your home.
In addition to cleaning the flue, Butch also cleans out the bottom of the fireplace, or box. And over the years, Butch has acquired additional cleaning equipment. For some fireplaces, he cleans from the bottom, using flexible fiber glass rods with an attachment on the end that looks like a weed eater. He pushes the rods up the chimney, hooks on to the drill, and the spinning action knocks the creosote off the walls. Some chimneys take up to a couple of hours to clean.
Butch finds that old-fashioned fireplaces are the most complicated. In addition to the firebox on the bottom, there is a wall damper, smoke shelf, smoke chamber and the flue. The smoke shelf prevents wind from whipping down the chimney and sending hot embers into your living room.
Wood stoves also have to be cleaned. Fire smolders and burns cooler in a wood stove when you use a damper, and this creates creosote when it solidifies.
Butch does do some private houses, but mostly his clients in Snowmass, Aspen and the rest of the Roaring Fork Valley are condominiums. He does most of his chimney work in the summer and fall months, instead of winter when it is icy and snowy on those tall condominium roofs.
He doesn't believe he will ever have another restaurant, but he still likes to cook. In the summer, he operates Butch's lobster shack in a portable "shack" trailer in Basalt next to the Phillips service station.
He is married to Shari Darden and they have a 16-year-old daughter, Lauren. When he is not cooking or chimney cleaning, Butch likes to travel, spending time last summer in Alaska.
For more information on Butch Darden's chimney cleaning business, call 970-618-3306.
Steve Alldredge is the former associate editor/reporter for the Snowmass Sun. He now runs a local communications company whose clients include Related Colorado. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.