It’s hard to describe the feeling I get about going to the fall Barrie Automotive Flea Market. It’s summer’s final offering, somewhat sardonically, as if I’m being given an undeserved, final road trip after squandering the rest of summer away. And so, I hop aboard for the ride and drink it all in, knowing that this is basically it for the confluence of travel, warm weather and old automobiles for another year.
Friday after work, after getting the family home and kissing the kids goodbye, I motored westward from Ottawa. One of my favourite aspects of going to Barrie has become the drive. It was about five o’clock, and, being late in the summer, I knew I only had about three hours of daylight left in which to make a five hour trip. I rolled across a new bridge in Arnprior, stopped at Mickey D’s in Renfrew, and headed into my convoluted cross-Ontario route consisting of a mixture of remote King’s Highways: 132, 41, 28, and 118. It’s a beautiful drive and it takes me to another world. When I pass the rolling hills with tall trees, cow pastures, and lonely inland lakes all around me, with no other cars in sight and the waning sunlight cascading downward, I feel like I’ve been there for ages, and not having just escaped from the city a scant two hours before.
I arrived at my campground by about 9:30. As we had arranged, Eric Vettoretti was there waiting for me. He had arrived at Barrie a few hours earlier, and we had agreed to split the campsite to share costs. He bunked in his big station wagon. I’m a taller guy than he is, with too small a wagon in which to sleep, so I simply roughed it in my tent.
The next morning, we got to the sale fields by seven and were greeted with blinding sunlight shooting almost horizontally. There wasn’t a cloud in the sky—a far cry from the torrent that fell on the show in June. We started into the fields and were pleased to see that quite a few vendors were open for the day.
We didn’t know what we’d find—one never knows in Barrie—but Eric had encountered another collector we know, the previous day, who apparently had made quite a find, but declined to disclose what she found. Did that mean we’d missed the boat on finding something for our collections? Only time would tell.
Of course, we’re there to use our combined algebra skills to scoop as many YOM pairs as possible for restoration. We’re pretty successful at it too. It’s a hard thing to do, YOM—you have to recognize number patterns, sort through disorganized boxes to look for pairs, haggle down to a workable buying price, get the plates home, strip ‘em, repair holes, rebuild any missing parts, prime them, paint the background, and finally, do the detailing on the raised surfaces. It has taken us years to master these aspects. Our first purchase of the day actually consisted of various buffing and sanding wheels, to be used when restoring YOM pairs.
Early in the morning, we went through a box of plates that Eric had pawed through the previous day, as there were some plates of interest to me. I was looking for some inexpensive quarterly truck plates for a collector friend in New York. As we flipped through the box, we passed a dusty 1943 plate that had some interesting creases near the top, around the “1943”. I blurted my first thought: “Is that an overstamp?”
For those who are unfamiliar, I was referring to a late 1943 issue where they reused 1942 turn-ins and sent them through the embosser again to make a new number for 1943. I pulled the plate out of the box, and it was definitely an overstamp. It was pretty dirty, but not really rusty—it would clean up pretty well. It had some of the black background paint rubbing off in one corner to reveal the amber-coloured 1942 paint underneath, which adds authenticity. The old 1942 number was still quite legible. It had been flattened as the new 1943 number had been embossed. A very interesting plate—with most of its overstamp features camouflaged by the dirt. It was an excellent bargain and will take its place in my collection.
One of the more eye-catching things we saw at Barrie was a “barn find” of a 1941 Dodge sedan. It had a 1941 plate bolted to the front end, with years and years of rust. The car itself seemed quite restorable, although it was too beat up to have been brand-new before it was stored in the barn. I didn’t think it had been in the barn that long, and I took a stroll around the car to see the rear quarter—and sure enough, there was a 1981 historic vehicle plate on the back. It was a barn find, all right—but it had been sitting in one place for 30 years, not 70. The historic plate shows that, in the 1980s, it was a handsome vehicle, maybe even already restored at 40 years of age. It’s a shame that such a vehicle could fall into disrepair in this way.
The Barrie market has a reputation of being a place to find some very obscure items—be they Ontario Motor League manuals from the ‘30s, Kawartha Dairy milk bottles, or—as this was the first time I’d ever seen such a thing—gasoline pump computer wheels from the days before electronic displays told you how much you owed for your fuel.
We sighted a motorcycle in the S-series, which to me, is the natural progression of YOM’s death sentence in Ontario. There were many 1969 pairs in the 12-34N series that were floating around, and available for YOM registration. But new motorcycle registrations have pulled that rug from under a YOMer’s feet, having gone through N, P, and R, which has killed off a plethora of possible YOM combinations. One ex-seller of YOM has a site still posted with some of the 12-34N series numbers for sale. I hope nobody bites on those.
As we combed the field looking for plates, we also picked up various other odds and ends—Eric bought a bottle of Evapo-Rust to try out when stripping plates, and a couple of metal plate frames to use when displaying some of his plates for sale. I picked up spiral-bound journal for my always-drawing daughter, and a fuel filter for my ’71 Super Beetle, whose rusting gas tank has become a source of aggravation, in that I’ve been getting debris build-up in my carburetor. The filters get dirty pretty quickly, and it’s already time to rebuild the carb—but I have a plan. Hold this thought for now.
When we were done shopping, we walked through the show & shine field to look at the remarkable autos that people have lovingly restored. A group of Model A owners were all collected at one end—maybe seven or eight vehicles in total, all from 1930 or 1931. Eric and I have seen these guys before, but it seems that the YOM program is catching on with them—most of the cars were sporting stickered YOM pairs. I once again saw my own handiwork in the form of a 1930, and of particular interest was a 1931 Model A that had low-number doctor plates registered to it.
Not far away from those marvelous Model As, the outcast of the show field was parked—a mid-90s Mazda Miata. Not rare, not impressive, not even old. It was only a step up from the scratched-up Subaru wagon I saw in Merrickville in July. My own ’71 Beetle isn’t exactly a show car, but it would have more of a place in a show like this. I just don’t see how a car that is just 15 years old, of a model that is still made today, can be considered classic enough to enter into a show.
Other cars that caught my attention were a ’68 Dodge Coronet decked out in Police livery, a ’73 Mini sporting what I assumed must be 1973 YOM plates, and a 1917 Model T – Touring.
And that was it for Barrie this year. Field-combing time: about seven hours. However, my journey wasn’t over quite yet. Eric headed back through the Hastings Highlands toward Ottawa, while I turned south down the 400, headed for Welland—nowhere near my home.
Specifically, I was heading for John’s Bug Shop, a garage that specializes in fixing old Volkswagens, and selling new parts for them. As I mentioned earlier, I needed a new fuel tank for my Super Beetle. John’s had one in stock, and rather than waiting weeks for delivery from BC, I decided to make the detour to pick up the tank that weekend—so I could have it installed sooner—and get some meaningful cruise time in before the winter storage season sets in. I called the shop a few days in advance and told them my predicament, and they offered to meet me at the shop after-hours on a weekend so I could buy the tank. I arrived in Welland at about five o’clock and met Jennifer, one of the co-owners. She had the tank ready and cheerfully gave me a couple of tips to consider before installation. While there, I picked up some oft-needed gaskets and a couple of extra fuel filters. I was very grateful that she had opened up just for me. Sure, it’s a guaranteed sale for them, but it meant a lot to me—and it left a great impression of the place. I’ll be back.
Once I was finished at the Bug Shop, with my new gas tank, my filters, gaskets, and all my plates from Barrie, I hopped onto the highway and headed for home. I had never been on the 406 before—it has some wicked curves with a reduced speed limit. My detour to John’s Bug Shop took me right past Grimsby, where I hope to be going at the end of next month for yet another plate swap meet, if I’m lucky. The rest of the drive along the QEW / 427 / 401 was quite uneventful, although I did spot a ’69 Cougar with YOM plates during a brief traffic jam—I pulled out my camera and fired it at the passing Cougar while I was stopped. Further along the journey home, I learned something new: Those new OnRoute rest stops along the 401 have WiFi. I brought my laptop in, and surfed the web in what felt like an airport lounge while I had a sandwich and coffee. I blew almost an hour in there—it was day when I entered, and night when I left. I finally arrived in Ottawa a shade before midnight. Total trip time: 31 hours