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‘Next to a death’

Meeker couple reflects on shop fire that took vintage automobiles, family collections

Bridget Manley

— The building that once sheltered Del Turner’s dreams now sits abandoned, a blackened blight against the newly fallen snow.

On Jan. 10, three vintage trucks and one limited edition Harley-Davidson motorcycle sat in Turner’s 150-square-foot shop next to his home near Meeker.

The next morning, warped frames and melted metal stood in their place – remnants of nearly 10 years’ work and a lifelong passion that began when Turner was in his teens.

“I was preparing to retire,” Turner says. “This was my shop to putt around in. This was my lifelong dream.”

Crusty ashes and fire-blackened concrete crunch beneath his feet as he walks between the charred remains.

“It’s been something next to a death,” Turner said. “It’s a sense of loss.”

Taking stock

Meeker Fire and Rescue personnel responded to the fire a few minutes after midnight on Jan. 11, said Kris Borchard, Emergency Medical Services director.

A spark igniting a portable propane heater is believe to have caused the fire, said Michael Joos, Rio Blanco County undersheriff, adding that the Sheriff’s Office has not definitively identified the fire’s cause.

An explosion from the shop woke Turner and April, his wife of 14 years, during the pre-dawn hours that Friday morning, Turner said.

The explosion caused the shop’s walls to balloon outward, tossing the garage door off its hinges and onto the hillside at least 50 feet away.

No one was in or near the shop when it burst into flames – a fact for which Del and April say they are grateful.

Yet, while Turner’s property insurers try to determine the fire’s source, he and April take stock of the collectibles and daily necessities the fire took from them.

The reminders are numerous.

Empty clothes hangars, suspended by a beam in the 17-foot ceiling, mark where extra clothes once hung in a loft. Blackened tin cans show where the couple stored a two-year supply of food, a bulwark against lean times.

The pile burned for days after the fire, April said.

Christmas ornaments Del’s great-grandmother had brought to Colorado in a covered wagon, quilting fabrics April had collected for nearly 20 years, coin collections, Del’s high school yearbooks, his daughter Emily’s baby clothes – small things woven over with memory, they said.

“I’ll never live long enough to collect all the things that were lost,” Turner said.

And the vehicles – three trucks and one motorcycle – that represented more than four decades in auto sales and a lifelong passion for cars, Turner said.

At 19, he landed his first job as a car salesman when he beat a Ford dealership owner in a game of pool. He quickly worked his way up the ranks, he said, eventually establishing his own dealership.

“I can’t do anything else well in the world but the car business,” he said. “I’ll keep on going until God don’t let me do it anymore.”

Throughout nearly 10 years, he restored a 1976 Ford F-150, a 1987 Toyota Four-Runner and a 1985 Chevrolet Silverado.

“These were really fancy units,” Turner said. “I’ve owned them for years, restored them for years – they were finally done.”

The highlight of his collection was an 85th Anniversary Special Harley-Davidson Ultra Classic Electra Glide. The motorcycle, manufactured in 1998, was one of 150 the motorcycle company manufactured.

“The Harley is irreplaceable – just irreplaceable,” he said. “The nearest one we can find is in a museum.”

The loss gave Turner two options.

“I can believe God, or I can believe what I see with my eyes,” Turner said. “When what I see with my eyes doesn’t make sense : I continue to believe in my God.”

“How I stand with God is more important than my physical things.”

He believes a larger plan underpins melted metal and the ruined shop.

So far, that plan isn’t coming clear.

“I still don’t see how any good comes out of it, but it’s really none of my business,” he said. “Who am I to question God?”

Bridget Manley can be reached at 824-7031, ext. 207 or bmanley@craigdailypress.com


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