KERN COUNTY - The Kern County Sheriff's Department said it has never seen a theft quite like this. Hundreds of antique oil well signs were stolen from the fields and sold online, sometimes for $500 a piece.
Deputies say it was the work of an oil field service man. They say, overall, six companies were hit and more than 250 signs taken.
"Well, we've got some very observant lease operators," said Mike Schweitzer, Operations Superintendent of Central Resources Inc.
Schweitzer said those lease operators first noticed a couple months ago that some oil field signs were missing from Central Resources' oil fields.
"They were old antique Atlantic Ridgefield signs," said Schweitzer.
Many of those signs were made partially of porcelain many years ago.
"There were some that were some that were 30, 40, 50 years old, if not older," said Sr. Deputy Victor Keesey, Sheriff's Department.
The sign's age makes the markers worth a lot of money to a thief, but even more to the oil company.
"It's actually an identification for the well. It's like a Social Security number," said Schweitzer.
According to Schweitzer, that number tells repair companies which wells to service. So, when the signs were stolen Central Resources had to replace them immediately.
"What it is, is a huge expense," said Schweitzer. "It will cost us $20,000 to fix."
Central Resources wasn't the only company hit. The Sheriff's Department said Occidental Petroleum Inc., AERA, Chevron, ENB Natural Resources, and Crimson Resource Management also fell victim. Overall, 266 signs were missing from six companies, worth a total of $30,000.
"We're not aware of any cases like this, at least to this point. So, this is kind of a unique deal," said Keesey.
Rural crimes detectives found many of the stolen signs at the home of an oil field service man. The resident, 35-year-old Dustin Drake, was arrested for possession of stolen property, but is not charged and is out on bail. We tried to speak with him at his home, but Drake didn't answer the door.
As far as the rest of the signs, deputies say Drake sold them, three at a time, for $50 to an undisclosed Bakersfield pawn shop, which then tried to sell the signs on eBay.
But thanks to the Rural Crimes Unit, the posts were flagged before the signs were bought.
"It actually was only a couple day period before they knew what was going on. They did a fantastic job," said Schweitzer of the detectives.
Drake is scheduled to be arraigned July 30th.