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First started as "My 2 Cents" in 1997, I have written posts numbering into the hundreds. It will take some time to resurrect the older posts, so keep checking back. They will include meet reports, travelogues, and news of interest to Ontario licence plate collectors.

Red-eye plategeeking

Updated: Oct 3, 2020

The 4th annual St. Catharines Tinchasers swap meet was my destination this past weekend. For weeks, I had been planning the trip and preparing my traders. I was planning to carpool down with Eric Vettoretti, but tragically, he caught the flu and wasn’t able to go. We were going to take his car, so the fact that he was down for the count was nearly a fatal blow to my hopes of attending my first swap meet in a year. However, I have a very understanding wife and daughter, who allowed me to take the car against their better judgment. On Friday, after work, I stacked my crates of traders in the trunk, packed some clothes, and grabbed a few CDs for the trip, and off I went. It’s about a six hour drive to get there from Ottawa. In the past, I’ve stayed at Jim Becksted’s place the night before the meet, but I figured that a last-minute crash request would be rude. I kept the St. Catharines motel reservation Eric made and spent the night about a mile from the location of the meet. I prefer to stay at Jim’s, even though it’s an hour from the meet and we have to get up at 5:00 to get there on time. But this time around, I slept in until a relatively late 6:00 and took my time.

It was still dark when I arrived at the meet, about 15 minutes early. The door was open, so I began moving my stuff in. Our host, Don Goodfellow, was there as well as Jim, plus Joe Sallmen. I moved my stuff in and spread out along two fairly long tables in the centre of the hall, across from Joe. His trade stock has become very interesting over the years, and he always gets a lot of business. I figured I’d do well to catch some of the foot traffic, since I had more than doubled my own trade stock since the last time I stood in that hall.

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I bought two job lots of plates at estate auctions over the summer, and I've also been thinning out my collection for the past few weeks. All told, I had a lot of new stuff into which plate geeks could sink their teeth. Joe wasted no time in selecting some international plates from my pile. Joe had a ’73 Ontario Tax Review Board plate available, and I was able to negotiate it as part of our trade. I had never seen one before, but recognized the letter combination right away. It’s exactly the same as any other ’73 Keep It Beautiful base, but featured the letters TRB (which would otherwise never be seen on that baseplate). Boring stuff to most anyone else, but I’m still happy-dancing over that find.

One of the coolest plates available this year was an Afghan plate from Kandahar, which was given to Bill #Thoman by his son, who served there recently with the Canadian military. Bill apparently obtained others in this way, so this one was up for sale. Don Goodfellow was the lucky guy who acted the fastest and added it to his collection.

In a continuation of the trend I’ve noticed, there were fewer sellers with tables than last year, but there was more foot traffic with a considerable number of newcomers or curious visitors. That’s great if you’re a seller, but not so much if you’re in the mood to buy or trade. Nonetheless, there were enough tables of plates to keep everyone busy for a few hours.

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"#Sam" Samis wasn’t able to attend this year, and local boy John Rubick was also conspicuously absent. I thought Norm Ratcliffe and Will Loftus were missing as well, but it turns out they were just fashionably late. ALPCA member John Northup made the trip from Michigan to attend—I believe he’s a new face to the Tinchasers meet.

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There’s always a memorable moment for me at these meets, and it happened with a potential customer while I was tending my table. An older bespectacled gentleman whom I had never seen before was checking out my international plates, inquiring as to the identity some of them. Most of what I had left at that time were plates from France, Australia, the Netherlands… interesting to look at, but fairly commonplace. The prices on many of them were $5.

“Can you do any better on them?” he asked.

I replied, “Not really. For international plates in nice condition, 5 dollars apiece is the cheapest you’ll see them.”

“I’ve seen cheaper,” he countered. Not bloody likely, I thought. This guy was obviously a newbie. He couldn’t tell they were French license plates even though they had dealership names along the bottom and I had even written “France” on the back. How can you see them cheaper if you’ve never seen them before?

Anyway, he shifted his focus to another plate at this point. It was a 1956 Pennsylvania car plate in good condition, some scratches around the edges. The price was a paltry $2. I figured he was going to buy it-- that’s what people typically do with cheap plates in decent condition. He pulled some change from his pocket and started fumbling through it with his fingers.

“Can you do any better on this one?”

What the hell’s with you? I thought. I wanted to tell the guy to get lost, but that seemed redundant, since he seemed pretty lost already. I sighed and simply said that for a two-dollar plate, I wasn’t going to knock anything off the price. But given the fact that he only had a few dimes and nickels in his hand, he seemed to be looking for freebies, or something close.

“Oh, OK, then,” he said pleasantly. I got the impression that I had made my point and he was just going to fork over the token amount due. Instead, he put it back. “Thanks anyway,” he said, before moving on to the next table. Probably just as well… had I relented and agreed to 65-whatever cents, this guy was the type who would probably ask if I would accept a fast-food coupon in lieu of cash.

With the exception of Cheap Charlie, the folks who browsed my table were handing me cash left and right. I made nearly $250, which meant this was a fully profitable trip, even including the motel room and the three tanks of gas I used. I let go some long-time staples from my collection, including a ’67 Quebec prototype, a bunch of international plates, and part of my Ontario dealer run. I’ve decided to give up running some Ontario types like dealers and doctors, because a simple D-prefix isn’t exciting enough for me to pay a premium. In any case, these were plates that I never had room to display.

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I had a lot of looks at the eye-candy on my table—that is, my 1913 pair of low numbered (565) Ontario tin plates. I originally bought them for my run in the hope that the condition would be better than the one in my run currently, but it wasn’t to be. Although there were lots of admirers, there were no offers on the pair. I wasn’t surprised; it wasn’t the kind of meet where you would expect to find big-ticket items.

I bought an Ontario road sign from Bill Verbakel. It was an older M-C Freeway sign, white on blue, which used to adorn the sides of Highway 401, but have been discontinued. You can still see them on the 401 in Eastern Ontario, but they are slowly disappearing as they are knocked over or removed for construction. It’s already tough to find them; it’ll be next to impossible in a few years. I’ve always wanted one, and now, it hangs in the garage with my other King’s Highway shields (3, 11, and QEW trailblazer).

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The meet began to wind down at 11 o’clock. I wish people would stay for longer, especially given the relatively short distance many of them drive, but early exits are pretty normal for regional swap meets. The hall didn’t become comatose until after 1 o’clock, which is when I packed up and left. There’s so much trading and chatting to do that it’s a whirlwind for the fleeting hours that everyone is there.

Toronto was nuts to drive through on the way home—the Eastbound 401 had three accidents, the 407 had bridge construction that backed up traffic, and the Gardiner was closed for the weekend. I figured that if I was going to be stuck in traffic, I’d keep it interesting, so I drove through the city and stopped at various locations along Memory Lane, as well as one of my favourite eateries (Salad King Thai Food, on Gould at Yonge). I arrived home at about 10 o’clock on Saturday night. Another red-eye swap meet in the books.

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