Could this be a story about the big one that got away?

The big fish that for decades marked the entrance to Trout’s Nightclub in Oildale is still missing.

The sign that many believe is a valuable chunk of local history that belongs in Bakersfield and to Bakersfield — whether or not the nightclub ever reopens — was taken down in mid-May, apparently by longtime nightclub proprietor Thomas Rockwell, who said in a Facebook post May 20 he was having the sign refurbished.

But Rockwell has disappeared. He hasn’t answered multiple calls from me and other reporters, and his Facebook account appears to have been deleted.

According to one Bakersfield native who knows Rockwell and claims he spoke with him last week, the sign is never coming home.

“That sign is gone, and it is never coming back,” said Glenn J. Pogatchnik, 68, a former local who now makes his home on California’s Central Coast.

Pogatchnik, the coordinator of a website called That Bakersfield Sound, said Rockwell took the sign to his childhood home in Northern California.

After first saying he would help find the sign, Pogatchnik called back the following day and told me Bakersfield had abandoned Trout’s and treated Rockwell badly, and therefore didn’t deserve the sign.

“Trout’s is over with. It died the same death the Blackboard did,” he said, referring to the storied Bakersfield bar where Buck Owens and Merle Haggard cut their musical teeth in the 1950s and early ‘60s.

“Rockwell feels Bakersfield let him down,” he said. “For 17 years, he put all his money into it.”

But Carol Donnelly, who tended bar at Trout’s for nearly seven years, until leaving two years ago, said she could write a book on “that man’s shenanigans,” referring to Rockwell.

She said there’s no way of knowing where the sign is, but suggested it could be in a local rental storage unit.

“He is the king of storage rentals,” she said of Rockwell. “He’s had so many all over town.”

Will Stuart, of Los Altos-based Milestone Financial LLC, is overseeing the real estate asset, Trout’s, for the new ownership group, Thurman Investments LLC.

According to the deed dated May 11, there was a notice of default and an election to sell. Mortgage Lender Services, which earlier had foreclosed on the property, sold it in a public auction to Thurman Investments on May 9, just before the sign disappeared.

“I think we know who took it,” Stuart said.

“Everybody should be looking for it. Thurman Investments is the owner of the sign. It’s a fixture of the building.”

Stuart said he is considering filing a police report, but as of midday Wednesday, he had not.

Meanwhile, rumors of the whereabouts of the grungy but iconic sign have even reached Music City.

“Have You Seen the Trout’s Trout?” asked a headline in Wednesday’s Nashville Scene.

“The bar, which hosted performances by Merle Haggard and other architects of the Bakersfield Sound, has fallen on hard times, with rumors flying about its closing,” the story notes, incorrectly suggesting that Haggard had once graced the club’s stage. “The property is for sale, according to The Bakersfield Californian, and to add insult to injury, the beloved fish sign has gone missing.”

If Nashville cares, maybe Bakersfield and Oildale will care, too. But it’s hard to tell sometimes. Bakersfield has a history of discarding cultural icons, the old for the new, with a casual air.

There are places in Europe that have more admiration and respect for Bakersfield’s country music history than Bakersfield itself.

But, who knows. Everything old is new again. Anything can happen.

In the meantime, local real estate broker Alex Balfour, of Cushman & Wakefield, has listed the old Trout’s property for sale, with an asking price of $395,000.

Anyone wanna buy a big fish?

Steven Mayer can be reached at 661-395-7353. Follow him on Facebook and on Twitter: @semayerTBC.

(9) comments

amtfor attorneys

STOP WITH THIS DUMP ITS BEEN OVER FOR YEARS IT WAS RUN INTO THE GROUND SOME OF THE PEOPLE THAT WORKED THERE WERE JUST ALFUL TO DEAL WITH I DIDNT LIKE GETTING RIPED OR SHORT CHANGED AT THE BAR I DONT MISS A THING ABOUT THIS PLACE TOBAD I USE TO GO THERE ALOT AND THESE ARE SOME OF THE THINGS THAT HAPPENED TO ME AND THE SAME OLD BAND WEEK AFTER WEEK YEAR AFTER YEAR THEY WOULDNT STOP . JUST ALFUL

Stephen

So Mr. Rockwell says Bakersfield treated him badly therefore we don't deserve the sign. It's hard to not notice he never gave any specifics as to how he was treated badly or how Bakersfield had "abandoned Trouts." This sort of blame is typical of the scoundrel trying to pass the blame for the results of their own bad behavior by blaming others when, in fact, they are the author of their own misfortunes.

Annie Kidwell

You sound as though you know him Stephen.

amtfor attorneys

boy u r so right about that guy his hat got to big Im glad he's gone now maybe other clubs won't be harassed anymore the rusty nail that poor couple use to be harassed so much wonder by who if u asked her she would tell u she died now and her husband

amtfor attorneys

YOU ARE SO RIGHT SOMEONE FROM THIS PLACE TOLD ONE OF MY BAND MEMBERS IF U DONT PLAY FOR ME U DONT PLAY IN THIS TOWN WONDER WHO THAT WAS WE PLAYED ON ALL THE WAY TO VEGAS

Nevermind

You let me down, therefore I'm taking my ball and going home. Signed.....Loser.

Annie Kidwell

Exactly

amtfor attorneys

your answer is a shock completion was someones problem wonder who

amtfor attorneys

love it who cares about the sign he can stick it where the sun don't shine its over he failed glad he's gone

Welcome to the discussion.

Keep it Clean. Please avoid obscene, vulgar, lewd, racist or sexually-oriented language.
PLEASE TURN OFF YOUR CAPS LOCK.
Don't Threaten. Threats of harming another person will not be tolerated.
Be Truthful. Don't knowingly lie about anyone or anything.
Be Nice. No racism, sexism or any sort of -ism that is degrading to another person.
Be Proactive. Use the 'Report' link on each comment to let us know of abusive posts.
Share with Us. We'd love to hear eyewitness accounts, the history behind an article.