Retired Truck Driver in Petaluma Finds Second Career Building Beehives

After a career selling Harley-Davidson motorcycles and driving trucks for Clover Stornetta Farms, John McGinnis became enchanted with honeybees.

After a career selling Harley-Davidson motorcycles, driving trucks for Clover Stornetta Farms, and managing the vehicle fleet for a local plumbing supply company, John McGinnis became enchanted with honeybees.

Suffice to say the fit 70-year-old grandfather of three isn’t really retired. From a 60-acre ranch on the western slopes of Sonoma Mountain outside Petaluma, he now builds and sells high-quality beehive components, captures and relocates wild swarms (45 swarms last year alone), and raises bees of his own: a dozen healthy hives at present. And from the insects’ bounty, he and his wife, Darlene, produce and sell honey, candles, soaps, and lip balm. “It’s an interesting hobby. I always tell everybody, ‘It’ll change your life,’” McGinnis says. “It definitely changed my life. It’s an amazing thing.”

Darlene Gambonini-McGinnis dipping into honey created by Buzz Off Honey. (Erik Castro)

The land on which he and Darlene live and work, overlooking the Petaluma Valley straight to the bay, is dubbed Goah Way Ranch. That’s ironic, it turns out, given how friendly they are.

Set on a larger parcel owned since 1959 by Darlene’s father, who at age 82 also helps build hives, the ranch is in fact the best place to pick up the McGinnises’ various locally and lovingly handmade hive parts and bee products. That’s by appointment only, assuming one doesn’t take to heart the name of the couple’s honey brand, Buzz Off. Also sold in neat little jars at the nearby Penngrove Market, Buzz Off Honey is pure and natural to the utmost degree.

But it’s the affordable, made-to-order hive components for which John and Darlene are better known. Their catalog features a full range of wooden parts beekeepers need, including follower boards, wired frames, screened bottom boards, vented top covers, top feeders, telescoping covers, and hive stands. Everything is built from scratch except the frames and the hive boxes, which come unassembled.

John McGinnis holds a honeycomb at Goah Way Ranch in Petaluma. (Erik Castro)
John McGinnis holding a pile of propolis, the resinous material collected by bees from the buds of trees and used as a cement in repairing and maintaining the hive at Goah Way Ranch in Petaluma. (Erik Castro)

Many of these components, most notably the bee-friendly “double deep” hive, are constructed according to designs developed by local beekeeping legend Serge Labesque, whose classes at Santa Rosa Junior College have taught generations of Sonoma County beekeepers. It was Labesque’s classes that first inspired McGinnis to build his second act around bees. “They’re amazing creatures,” McGinnis says, “and we want to keep them going.”

To purchase hives, buy local honey, or get help with a spring swarm, contact Goah Way Ranch, 707-478-9787 or