Sonoma Stories: Tubbs fire survivors transform a hand truck into something new, and almost Tiffany Blue

A steel dolly was just fire junk until a daughter and a man who died twice before the October disaster made it into something else.|

The hand truck was just another flame-blasted household item destined to be scooped up and hauled away from what had been the Fountaingrove home of Belinda Payne Turnbow’s mother.

But each time Turnbow drove from her home in Ukiah to do something at the fire site in Santa Rosa, she’d pause where the garage had been and eye that steel dolly. Her mom, Donna Payne, must have put a million miles on it lugging garden supplies and such all around the sloped yard.

Turnbow’s father used the dolly, too, until he took ill and died two months before the October fires.

Joseph Payne lived most of his life in Santa Rosa, graduating from Santa Rosa High in 1953 and working 50 years for King’s Office Supplies.

“He was the best dad you could ever have,” his daughter said.

She’d look at the sturdy, common hand truck, its paint torched away and tires liquefied, and remember her mother or father pushing or pulling it with a load of whatever, oftentimes with one or more of the five grandkids or four great-grandkids scurrying alongside.

“I just kept thinking I should take it home,” said Turnbow, who’s 61 and a grade school paraeducator.

At last, the self-coaxing got to her and, without telling her mom, she placed the dolly in her car and relocated it to Ukiah. She would’ve had a hard time explaining exactly why, or stating what she was going to do with it.

Not long after the fires, she and her sisters, Lisa Payne and Lori Abbott, took their mother on a long-planned trip to New York City. While there they did a bit of shopping at Tiffany & Co.

Turnbow found herself fixated not on a glistening necklace or bracelet or ring or some other pricey bauble. There on the sales floor, in use by staffers of the jewelry store, was a glorious hand truck painted Tiffany Blue.

“That was my inspiration,” she said.

She would restore her folks’ fire-scarred yard dolly into a from-the-ashes keepsake, a memorial and a tribute to renewal.

Turnbow initially imagined doing the sanding and painting herself, but then she got a grip. She needed professional help.

She checked around and opted to take the dolly to Custom Coatings of Ukiah. She chose a color a mite greener than the patented, robin-egg Tiffany Blue.

The Custom Coatings crew cleaned and prepped the hand truck.

Then, Dave Bologna was assigned the spray-application of a powder consisting of pigment and resin.

Alerted that the hand truck was finished and ready to go, Turnbow stepped back into the shop and swooned.

“It was just beautiful. Amazing,” she said.

She’s grateful she had a chance to speak with the 37-year-old and sociable Bologna. His demeanor revved when she told him she’d salvaged the dolly from the remains of her mother’s Fountaingrove home.

“He kind of told me his story,” Turnbow said.

Bologna shared with her the night the Tubbs fire struck he was just down the hill from Fountaingrove, all busted up but pleased to still be alive and wondering what on earth was going on.

He was at the Kaiser Permanente hospital. “I’d died a couple of times,” he said.

Bologna, it happens, is an aficionado of older Italian motorcycles. A couple of weeks earlier, he recounted, he was riding a 1970 Moto Guzzi Ambassador in Ukiah and the driver of a Ford F-250 pickup pulled directly into his path. The motorcycle and truck collided, hard.

Bologna recalls nothing of the helicopter flight to Santa Rosa. He said he was comatose for a time and sustained serious injuries to a leg and hand, and to his ribs.

By the night of Oct. 8 he was able to walk with crutches.

“The staff at Kaiser Santa Rosa nicknamed me Baby Wolverine because I healed so rapidly,” he said.

The night of the fires, Bologna said, “I was all hopped up on all sorts of medications.” His recall is a little hazy, but he knows it was a crazy night.

“They told me to get on a Santa Rosa city bus and they evacuated me,” he said. At one point, he said, “Some dear soul gave me a wonderful Mexican blanket. I’m convinced she was an angel.”

Bologna ended up at the Kaiser medical center in San Leandro. He was released in mid-October and returned home to Mendocino County, and this past spring went to work doing powder coating.

Belinda Turnbow gave him a hug right there in the Ukiah shop.

Later, Bologna wielded the term “tickled pink” to convey how he feels to have been of service to fellow veterans of the Tubbs fire simply by spraying an old, blackened hand truck with a color close to Tiffany Blue, but not so close as to constitute patent infringement.

Today the dolly stands and shines, delights and evokes in a corner of the Cotati rental Donna Payne resides in pending reconstruction of her Fountaingrove home.

A utilitarian yard aid for years before the inferno, the hand truck has come back as something quite splendidly different.

You can reach Staff Writer Chris Smith at 707-521-5211 and

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