Do you know what today is?
My birthday? No. Your birthday? Probably not. Some obscure license plate anniversary? Well, maybe that’s getting warmer.
Today marks precisely ten years that The Back Bumper has been online. I financed some HTML lessons with my winnings from a profitable night of gambling, designed a rather basic site, and launched it on the 17th of September, 1997. My 2 Cents, one of this site’s most popular features, was an original feature and made its debut with some long-irrelevant diatribe called “Plate Geeks Unite.” As I recall, one of my first comments was a poorly-worded retort from some guy (probably with no job or girlfriend) who resented being called a geek. My 2 Cents is retroactively cutting-edge material, if you’ll excuse the apparent oxymoron: It’s essentially a blog that’s older than the term “blogging” itself.
So, Happy Birthday to The Back Bumper. Here’s to ten years of talking about license plates.
And now, on with the show: Specifically, the #Barrie show.
After a summer of mostly work and little play, I decided to take some time out to go to this fall’s Barrie auto flea market in Oro Station. I hadn’t been to Barrie in what seemed like three years, so it was nice to get back there. I found in the past that Thursday and Friday were the best days to get the biggest finds. I arrived on Saturday morning, so I kept my hopes of finding great deals in check.
It was a slow start, for sure. I got there right when the gates opened at seven in the morning, and while all the vendors had arrived and set up, most tables were covered in tarps, with last night’s beer cans sitting on tables outside their tents and campers. Nonetheless, I made my way through the field and scanned the open vendors for license plates.
Every time I find plates, no matter how rusty, I always stop to check them out. One never knows what could be at the bottom of the pile. My first purchase happened at about seven thirty—A vendor had a box of plates with a blanket price tag of $5 each. I picked up a couple of pretty good 1946 plates. There were others from the 1950s as well, but they had their flaws and wouldn’t be worthwhile to pick up simply for trade.
Two hours passed by, and while people woke up, brewed their coffee, and uncovered their tables, I continued doing the rounds, and finding very little. The beverage of choice at Barrie is coffee… but only until about 10 am, at which point, people put their mugs down and switch to beer cans instead. A few groups of enterprising kids were hauling wagons around collecting cans to sell for scrap. I wasn’t finding much, but it might have been because I was combing the brown field (full) and the orange field (a third full). I have rarely made any good finds there.
The owner of the park came on the speakers and addressed us in his meandering, hit-and-miss speech. “Thanks loads,” he always says to the vendors, who apparently now have to pay $135 for a single spot on the field (most need two or three, so the pressure’s on them to make sales). At $135 each, “thanks loads” is right. I found more vendors willing to bend on their prices this year, maybe to maximize their sales to make up for their own increasing costs.
I came across some worthwhile finds in rapid succession—I picked up pairs of 1961 and 62 plates, as well an in interesting vanity plate, older style, with the letters RMHD, which was $5. I offered $4. The woman who was selling the plate said she couldn’t take $4 for it because it used to be $10, and besides, it was a royal motorcade plate. I knew she was BSing me, but I asked her how she knew, more for my own amusement than anything else. She pointed to the sticker on the plate with a renewal number from 1996 (which should have gone on the ownership papers, and not the plate), and said that was the real plate code, but all the motorcade plates had RMHD on them, which stood for “Royal something Highness something.” I decided not to call her on it because it doesn’t pay to argue with vendors who may turn out to have something good later on. But for $5, I still wanted the plate, so I forked over a blue Laurier and put his Royal Highness in my bag.
I don’t consider myself to be an active highway sign collector, but seeing how the number I have in my garage now stands at eight, maybe I am after all. I found some older porcelain signs at one vendor who was selling mostly hubcaps, with some plates as well. The signs were smaller than the King’s Highway shields of the same vintage, but they were shaped the same had the “ONT” legend at the bottom. One had a large L, the other an R. They seemed to stand for “left” and “right”, but I had never heard of a shield existing with these letters. Some porcelain was chipped off of both shields. The vendor wanted $40 for the pair. I thought about it, but declined in light of the condition. He also had various other modern King’s Highway shield signs, but wanted $80 each. I found a much better deal elsewhere for a nice highway 9 shield ($25).
I spent a lot of time doing YOM prospecting, and I came across some other promising pairs. My mind for numeric patterns and memorization is paying. I get asked in e-mails, “how do you tell if it’ll clear for YOM?” I’m tempted to reply that it’s the autism at work. In any case, I came across some promising pairs over the next few vendor rows and picked them up if the condition was good and the number passable. And then, the big discovery happened.
I was near the north end of the blue field, when I came across a guy with crates of plates just piled all over the place. I actually saw his red ’72 Impala first with Ohio tags, and was admiring it from afar, but the rest of his wares got my attention when I was close enough to see them. I spent nearly half an hour there talking with the guy and going through the plates, which had come from an ex-transit director who had collected plates over the years, including those from his own bus fleet. Among the goodies I picked up were some 1950s and 60s Alaska, plus a nice 1965 Northwest Territories. I picked up a nice pair of June 64 quarterlies that had been used on a bus, and included the registration slip to prove it, plus some strong YOM possibilities. Much of his stock consisted of the ex-bus plates, many of which were in bad shape, but there were still some nice ones left after I loaded my backpack. I was thinking about coming back to get more if I didn’t find anything else, but the vendor left early, and that was that.
I came across fellow collectors Terry Ellsworth and Dick Patterson, and stopped to chat for a while. Dick had apparently bought a really nice barn collection (meaning plates hanging inside an old barn) the night before, and had some really nice pairs from the teens and 1920s. The highlight was a 1911 Ontario porcelain in great condition. Terry had brought his laptop and was going through some plate photos he had taken. I don’t think Dick uses the internet, but his continual discovery of rare plates in unknown collections just goes to show that you don’t have to be online to be well-connected. An ear to the ground works wonders, too. Other collectors I know were apparently at Barrie, but Terry and Dick were the only fellas I ran into.
I finished my first pass through all the fields at about one o’clock. I restarted the areas where most vendors had been closed early in the morning. I found a few more goodies, such as a newer pair of historic vehicles (for “CHEEP”, as a sign said).
By the end of my second walk-though of the field, I had been on my feet for over 11 hours and my feet were complaining loudly. I went back to my tent and ate a dinner of Spam and beans… a salty way to end a salty day. I was facing Highway 11 and its continuous whistle of speeding traffic. The repetitive drone of the stock cars on the speedway punctuated the evening as I cleaned my dishes and recounted my plates.
I returned to the vendor fields the following day, and found that some of them had already packed up. There were still a lot of folks left, and I spent the morning looking for a chrome plate frame to use with a YOM pair I was selling online. I found one after searching exhaustively. I didn’t land any additional plates, and left for home at about noon.
At the end of it all, I had scored several YOM pairs, lots of great deals to put in my trade box, and a few goodies for my collection itself. Definitely a worthwhile trip! If going to the fall Barrie market is worth it even without arriving early on Thursday, then maybe I’ll try making an annual post-Labour Day sojourn.
See you in St. Catharines!