When an unknown thief stole local handyman Rick Topp’s pickup from the Home Depot parking lot, it deprived the self-employed worker of more than his snowplow and tools — it deprived him of his livelihood.
Luckily, Topp’s affability garnered close connections with other handymen, who jumped at the opportunity to help a friend in need. Two days following the theft, Topp discovered a cache of tools sitting in the middle of his garage.
“I opened my garage door and saw a pile of tools,” he said. “I had no idea where they came from; I just thought, ‘Holy crap, that’s awesome.’”
The tools came from Topp’s generous friends. The friends often keep each other’s company, and all of them said Topp deserved better than to have his truck stolen. He is a generous, kind-hearted man who is willing to lend his expertise on any project, they said. The handyman has enough tools to get back on his feet, but his toolbox remains lacking.
Topp’s ’98 GMC was stolen on Dec. 6. He stopped at the store to buy some hardware needed to fix a heater. His now-stolen collection of tools consisted of an endless list of specialty pieces, but it didn’t have everything.
He knew exactly what he needed and where in the store it was located. He went in, bought the item and came out of the store within about 10 minutes. He had parked close to the building, near the contractor’s entrance. Only now, the truck was gone.
It contained everything he needed to make a living.
“My truck had just about every tool needed for my job: My snowplow, all the tools, which included saws and drills… you name it, I had it in there,” he said.
The Kenai Police Department has no leads on the stolen truck.
Topp’s fellow handymen spoke of the loss in solemn tones; they imagined how the loss would affect their daily routines.
“When they took the truck, 90 percent of what Rick had to do his job went with it,” said Greg Phillips. “He had a few things left at home, like we all do, but the majority of what he uses every day went with the truck.”
One of the few things left, an old pair of work boots, led Topp to the surprise pile of tools. He just returned from Nancy Lake; he drove there in a truck lent to him by another friend. His uncle Gene Topp donated a Boss snowplow. But without an immediate means to plow his route, yet another friend lent Topp a plow for Dec. 8’s heavy snowfall.
Before setting off to plow, Topp needed a pair of work boots. The newer, nicer boots he wore were stolen along with the truck. He had an old pair in his garage. Topp had no idea his friends were planning the surprise, he said.
“It was pretty cool,” he said. “I got choked up, a little bit.”
Erick Watkins, a former handyman turned real estate manager, employs Topp and others for the occasional odd job. After hearing about Topp’s bad luck, he began looking around at his unused tools.
Watkins called three others — Levi Bras; Rick Watkins, his older brother and a local handyman himself; and Phillips. The four gathered up extra tools, as well as money and gift cards to give to Topp. The list of tools is quite long.
“Nail gun, ladder, chainsaw, crimpers for stove pipes, extension cords, thousands of dollars worth of stuff; a ten-foot pile sitting in the middle of his garage floor,” Watkins said. “I was blown away by all the generosity.”
If anybody deserves such a donation, it’s Rick Topp, he said.
“We think the world of Rick, because he’s the first person who will come help us when we’re in a rut,” Watkins said. “It’s the least we could do to help him out. It’s what people are supposed to do.”
“And I can sympathize,” he said. “It’s not like a guy’s sports car was stolen. It was the tools of his trade stolen in a random act of crime.”
Phillips agreed that Topp deserves what little help the group could afford.
“Rick is one of the most genuine, honest and kindest souls I’ve ever met… He’d give you the shirt off his back,” Phillips said. “I’m sure I speak for the whole group when I say whenever one of us has needed something Rick’s always been there, whether it be lending us a hand or sharing his knowledge.”
Topp wrote his name on a lot of his tools and marked others. He’s visited the local pawnshops and explained what the marks look like, but he’s betting he’ll never see them again.
He’s got a long road to recover what he lost, he said.
“I still need a lot, but I should be able to make a little money with what I have,” he said.
Topp would like to thank the following people: His uncle Gene Topp for the new snowplow; Erick and Rick Watkins, Greg Phillips and Levi Brass for donating tools and money; Kay Tordoff for lending him a vehicle; Jamie Batchelder for lending him a snowplow; and Tim Streiff for helping attach his new plow to an old beat-up truck.
The clunker hopefully will hold up through the winter.
Jerzy Shedlock can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.