Cullman () - For the fourth straight week, an incident involving a missing trackhoe has dominated the front page of the Cullman Times. Apparently a Komatsu trackhoe went missing from the site of some new sewer work on Gold Mine Road just outside the city of Good Hope. The trackhoe (a 2001 Komatsu PC100-6) was last seen by Cullman county deputies who had been called to the site the night before the disappearance by an area resident. Greg Kimbrough was driving by and saw someone climbing on the Komatsu. He called the sheriff's office, but the trespassers fled before the deputies arrived.
"We took the keys from the Komatsu for safe keeping and were going to return them the next day," said deputy Cliff Sweets. Unfortunately the officers were unaware of the weakness in that security precaution. "Everyone knows that all Komatsu PC100s use the same key," said Bill Stewart a local grading contractor. "The company should have had their equipment secured better."
Good Hope Grading, the contractor in charge of the sewer excavation, says that they took the normal precautions to keep their equipment safe. "We parked the Komatsu with the bucket on the ground and facing into the ditch," said owner Hardy Bishop. "Plus there is a very narrow burm you have to drive on to get the thing out of there. Someone would really have to know what they were doing to even get it out to the main road." Bishop was surprised that a thief would even have access to a driver and trailer designed to haul such a large piece of equipment. "It just doesn't make sense."
The sheriff's office has posted pictures of the trackhoe in public offices and the post office and has been keeping track of new ads in Equipment Trader
. "Unfortunately, all of these Komatsus look the same," said Sheriff Tyler Roden. "They didn't paint logos or anything on theirs when they bought it, so all we have to go on is the serial number. We can't go shutting down every construction site in the county looking for one Komatsu."
Painting the Komatsu probably wouldn't have done any good according to the latest Times article. Thieves often repaint stolen equipment immediately and ship it out of state before trying to sell it. Equipment is often listed on sites like EBay in a completely different part of the country. Serial numbers are not required for such auctions, and buyers often do not ask.
The Sheriff's Office has not dismissed the possibility of an errant repossession operation. "A bank or equipment dealer may have mistakenly picked up the wrong Komatsu," said Roden. "There are several construction sites in the area." The Times plans to report on this possibility in its next issue.