Friday evening: Rain beginning overnight. Risk of thunderstorms. Amount 15-25 mm.
Saturday: Rain ending in early evening.
That ain’t what I want to read in my long-range weather forecast when I plan to attend the Barrie auto flea market, but that’s what every media outlet said. The forecast didn’t even change as the weekend drew nearer. Sometimes it’s revised, since long-term forecasts are somewhat of an inexact science—but by the time I was ready to leave, the forecast was dead-set on giving me rain, and the radar images seemed to concur. But come hell or high water, nothing was going to stop me from driving to Barrie on Friday night, nor looking through the flea market on Saturday.
There was no way I could sleep in a tent this time. I did a test-fit of my air mattress in my car, with my fold-down seats folded down. The driver’s seat doesn’t fold, so one corner of my mattress was propped up toward the ceiling of the car, but I had barely enough room to lie down and, maybe, if luck would have it, get some sleep. However well or badly the sleeping accommodations would work, there was one certainty—I would stay dry.
The rain started while I was getting dinner at a drive-through in Renfrew. The marble-sized drops tapped my window and beat my roof as I drove slowly to avoid hydroplaning along highway 132. The sky was gray and misty, and although it was too soon for nightfall, the tree-lined corridor around me was silhouette black. The red of the taillights ahead of me was the only colour I could see. So it stayed until I reached Bancroft—at which point night had fallen.
The rain tapered off, and I dared to bring my speed up a bit. The road eventually dried up, and I resumed my usual nighttime driving habits. I was worried that I might hit a deer and no one would find the twisted wreck of my car until I was long dead, but the only wildlife I saw were frogs and a fox. Soon enough, I arrived at the Oro Family Campground across the highway from my ultimate destination. I slept, albeit not well.
In the morning, the rain was steady. I drove across the highway and into the back parking field of the market property. The rain was cold, and I didn’t have anything suitable to wear, so the first place I went was the Country Store, where I picked up an overpriced emergency poncho, made of the same stuff as your Wal-Mart bags, for $5. It was money well-spent, as it fit right over me and kept my backpack marvelously dry.
I was worried that my poncho might be my only purchase of the day, as the rain was coming down far too steadily for most vendors to open their sites. Puddle-laden tarpaulins covered the tables in an attempt to keep things dry. My biggest challenge was to simply find things for sale.
“Are you looking for something in particular?” the vendors would ask.
“Just looking for vendors who are open,” was my reply. I must have had six or eight conversations that started with this exchange of words.
The first hour was not particularly exciting or fun. Many vendors were closed right up and I just moved through the green, yellow and brown fields while sticking to a single row at a time. When you combine the straight-line distance across those three fields, it’s over 500 metres for each row. If you move down one green-yellow-brown row and then back along another, you’ve walked about a kilometre. Multiply that by the number of rows in the back end of the sales field, and you’ve got some exercise!
The show lot was devoid of vehicles, but the sales lot in the orange field was populated by a few. There was a neat 1953 Ford pickup, painted in gray, looking sharp, except for one detracting feature: The plate was repainted by a six-year-old. At least, that how it appeared. They even featured a white border for some reason. The plates weren't stickered, which meant that they had not been approved as YOM plates, and were just there for show. That didn't come as a surprise-- I doubt a pair of plates painted so poorly would ever pass inspection. Also of interest in the sales lot was a 1920 Model T, with a nice 1920 plate on the spare tire rack (sans spare tire, however).
Just as the rain began to let up a little, I found a really nice pair of ’67 Ontario plates. The vendor had other years as well, but I liked the 67s. I decided to buy them, if only to keep my poncho from being my only purchase.
Note to selves-- never buy used electronics at Barrie. You should have seen all the old phones, stereos, TVs, and VHS tape rewinders that were sitting in puddles. They’ll dry out and be offered for sale again next year on a sunnier day.
Suddenly the rain stopped. I talked to a guy who had heard the weather report, and the local radar was showing that we’d be getting a rain-free window of no more than a couple of hours in duration. The vendors jumped at the opportunity to open their stalls, and I spent much of the following hours in the brown field, looking for deals. Ordinarily, the brown field tends to have little in the way of plates, but it was a gold mine of YOM chances today. It was fortuitous to have such luck concentrated in the brown field, since I had such a short rain-free window. I wouldn’t have had enough time to find what I found, had it been dispersed among the other four fields. I found pairs I liked from 1949, 1955 through 1958, and 1961 through 1963, and a few 1967s. I was desperate – DESPERATE – to find some nice 1966 pairs, but once again, I couldn’t find any. I have no idea what it is about 1966. I saw sellers with lots of 67 and 65, and pretty much any other year, but 1966 plates seem to have vanished. I guess I already bought them all.
The rain began again after the promised two hours. I pulled my poncho back on and tried to pick up my pace a bit—I was worried that the vendors would panic and close up again, so I wanted to catch as many as I could. While at one vendor with hum-drum plates in the yellow field, I ran into fellow collector William Loftus. He told me about Dick Patterson’s display boards and the incredible 1914 to 1918 Ontario motorcycle plates that were displayed, and presumably for sale. We chatted for a bit until the rain intensified. Will was the only guy I encountered whom I knew. Dave Steckley was in the field as well—and enjoyed the two-hour rainless window, just as I had—but his path didn’t cross mine.
During the downpour, I combed the upper fields for the first time. When I passed Dick Patterson's sales site, he was presumably waiting the weather out someplace dry. No one was around, but the display boards were still up and being rained on heavily. I was astounded and shocked to see the 1915 cycle that Will had described to me—attached firmly to the board, and in great original condition, but exposed to the driving rain. I braved the downpour for long enough to grab my camera and snap some pictures before moving on.
I was pleasantly surprised to see that the glossy ads for Ontplates.com that I had stapled to the pay phone boards back in June were still intact, and in good condition. I didn't expect to see them again-- I came ready with more posters and my staple gun, but there was no need.
I didn't buy any more plates for my collection, although I came close. I saw 1942 pair number Y1119 for sale, and in pretty good shape, too. That may not seem very exciting, since 1942 is such an easy year, but I own 1942 pair Y1111 from Barrie maybe 4-5 years prior. The Y1119 plates weren’t expensive, but I opted not to buy a second-string pair. The only collection item I did buy was an old illuminated downtown Toronto "BAY ST." street sign with municipal address number 1. The electrical guts were still intact—although it needed cleaning and re-wiring, but overall it was in great shape. It wasn’t exactly priced to sell quickly, and the rain probably reduced the number of potential buyers who walked by, thus explaining why something so cool was still for sale by Saturday afternoon. The seller worked for the City of Toronto and was a member of the crews that took them down when Toronto Hydro started billing the city for the power used.
I’d had my fill by then, and given the uninterrupted torrent of rainfall that was saturating the environs, I proceeded with haste to my automobile, and began driving south on the 400 toward Toronto. The rain ended south of Barrie, and by the time I exited onto the westbound 407, the sun had begun shining. As I motored onward, a giant patch of blue sky opened up directly above me. There were walls of thunderheads on the horizon in all directions, but the patch of clear weather somehow stayed over me for the duration.
I was heading to Welland to pick up some VW parts I had ordered from John’s Bug Shop. I had made an appointment to stop by at five o’clock on Saturday, when the shop was closed, but the owners were happy to meet me there. I bought a trunk carpet kit, a spare tire, some spare oil change parts, and a shirt. There were a couple of seventies-era Bugs parked out front, so of course, I snapped some photos.
I left Welland shortly before six o’clock, after having had a bite to eat, and got home by midnight with two OnRoute stops. Whatever storm had soaked me in Barrie had passed onward, and a sea of stars looked down on my car as it zoomed homeward.