"They (the renters) left three dogs there for a week and came by just to feed them," Brown said.
Dunlap said he goes to church and considers himself a nice guy, but sometimes, customers go too far.
One time, a man summoned Dunlap because the man had locked himself out of his Corvette, which was running. Dunlap purchased a special tool for the job, opened the Corvette, and asked for the price the two had agreed upon, about $200.
"He said, 'I'm not paying that!'" Dunlap said. "So I threw the keys in the running car and pushed the lock down. I wasted my time and money. He said, 'OK, OK, I'll pay you,' but I left. He could call another locksmith."
When Oberle installed a new ignition for a man who had his car stolen, the man paid him with two paper bags of cash.
"He paid me 200 dollars in one dollar bills," Oberle said. "He wasn't a stripper. He had a vending machine business."
Once you've been a locksmith for a while, you learn who's on the level, and who's trying to pick the wrong lock.
Because he handles automotive locks, Byrd gets his share of young men who call him wanting Byrd to access a car.
"They'll say, 'My buddy got picked up for DUI over the weekend and my term paper is in the car'," Byrd said. "It's a judgment call on some of that stuff."
Oberle said he gets calls from young adults or adolescents who want him to make keys for their mom's car or their friend's car.
"I had a kid less than a week ago trying to get me to make a key for his dad's 2012 Corvette," Oberle said.
Some of the calls that aren't on the level are easy to detect, Baroni said.
"You get the pranksters," Baroni said "Like, 'My wife is handcuffed to the bed and can you come and look at it?' or 'I dropped my keys down the toilet.' I tell them to call a plumber."
Sometimes the trade is passed from father to son or mentor to apprentice. Oberle learned the trade from his dad, Jerry Oberle, who passed away earlier this year. Don Brown, 60, president of Nason's Lock & Security in Oxnard, learned about locks from mentor Howard Nason, then took over Nason's business after Nason died.
Brown employs a female locksmith, but area locksmiths and the executive director of ALOA, Mary May, agreed that it is a male-dominated profession, despite members like her. May said she believes that's because locksmithing was one of the trades taught to veterans, and the majority of veterans during the last century were men.
Those who do become locksmiths, male or female, go through rigorous security checks and must be licensed in California, so consumers should check www.findalocksmith.com before hiring a locksmith, according to May.
"There are a lot of scammers out there right now," May said. "They'll quote someone $29 over the phone, then charge them $200 or $300 and mess up their locks."
Oberle was once changing locks for a woman when an unmarked van pulled up. Oberle quickly figured out it was an unlicensed locksmith the woman had canceled. He kept pressuring the woman to pay him despite her protestations.
"She said 'But I canceled with you guys,'" Oberle said. "I had to walk him to his car ... I'm 6-foot-7, 215 pounds. I'm an imposing guy. She was an 80-something-year-old."
After the 1994 Northridge earthquake, a Realtor hired Oberle to re-key a Topanga Canyon house that had been vacated by the tenants because of earthquake damage.
It had just rained, and it was dark and muddy. Oberle couldn't pick his way into the front door, so he went around to the back door, even though he had no flashlight.
"Then something told me, let's not do this tonight. It was muddy and I was tired," he said. "I decided to go back at 7 a.m."
He returned in the daylight and followed his muddy footprints around to the back of the house. There, inches from the last footprint he made the night before, was a 500-foot drop-off. If the drop didn't kill him, lying there for days might have, he said.
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