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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.

Field of dreams

Updated: Oct 3, 2020

For the first time, I’m writing a My 2 Cents article about a plate-collecting journey before it actually happens. That’s because changes are afoot at the event park where the #Barrie Automotive Flea Market is held. On the right is the realigned park in 2015.

The owner of the Burl’s Creek Family Event Park has sold the land and there are changes in progress to turn the park into a more permanent venue for concerts. Word has it that there are stages or bandshells being constructed for this purpose, over top of the northeastern fields where part of the market was held. Information has been hard to come by this spring about the changes. I subscribe to Old Autos, and there is typically a glossy map insert that comes with the issue immediately before the market occurs, but there was no map included in this week’s issue.

The Barrie market itself, apparently, is run by the same people who organized it previously, with the major difference being that they no longer own the land. On looking at their web site, a new map of the park reveals some substantial layout changes. I've done some photoshopping of the old and new maps, equalized the scale, and placed them side-by-side here for ease of comparison. The red and blue fields, which were previously located directly down from the barn (e.g. the first fields you would hit after entering the market) have been moved toward the rear of the property, and they now occupy the space that we’ve previously known as the yellow and green fields. The food vendors and country store have been relocated.

The new yellow and green fields are pushed rearward even further. They will now be located offset from and behind the new red and blue fields, across a small access road in an area that was previously fenced off and not used for anything. The brown field is no more-- looks like it's been designated for camping. Given the empty vending space I saw in the rear fields last spring in Barrie, any vendors displaced from the former brown field could easily fit into the yellow and green fields. The result will be a realigned and more compact area with less walking, and hopefully, fewer empty spaces, although the overall market layout might be a bit less logical, especially to regulars like me who live in the past and can't get used to changes. I've noticed that the vendor site labels don't make sense-- the leftmost vendor plots in the blue field, for example, go from 1A1 to 1A2 (should be 1A10, as there are 10 plots in a full row-- must be a typo).

It's really a stroke of luck that I was able to go to Spring Barrie this year. A late invitation for my son to an unfortunately-timed birthday party nearly kiboshed the whole trip, but my saintly wife agreed to bring our boy to the party by taxi, thereby making the trip possible. Lucky me! It had been a full year since my last time at Barrie. I had to miss the Fall Barrie market last year to make up for leaving my family behind for a week in July while I went to Rochester for the 60th ALPCA Convention.

I left Ottawa at around 5 o'clock, with my playlist fired up. Westbound traffic out of town is actually not bad, now that Highway 417 has been widened. I enter the highway after the worst of the mid-town bottleneck is finished. Construction is under way to extend the twinned 417 past Arnprior. What was an annoying stretch with railway crossings and too few passing lanes for its volume will eventually be a pleasant cruise. One day, it'll extend all the way to Renfrew, where I make my exit into the forested back roads of eastern Ontario.

Usually, feeding oneself when going to Barrie is not generally a problem. However, I went hungry for more than half the journey westward. I generally stop in Renfrew for a bite to eat, but the drive-through of my chosen establishment was choked with cars. The lineup inside for the counter was also very long. I would easily be there for 20 minutes, and I didn't want to wait. If I did, I’d be even later in arriving at my campground, where I’m always the last to arrive, and I didn’t want to unduly keep the proprietor awake waiting for me. I drove onward. Perhaps fortune would smile on me and I would find some fish and chips at that wonderful stand I discovered a couple of years before in Denbigh.

The drive was very pretty, particularly along Highway 41 where the yellow sun seemed to light the greenery up to a glow. It helped to keep my mind off of how hungry I was. When I passed through Denbigh some 40 minutes later, I watched on my left for the fish-and-chips stand, but in its place stood only the "Betty's Fries and Fish" sign watching over a vacant lot.

I hung tough, and continued Westward to Bancroft. I would be arriving there after 7 o'clock, after the supper rush, and surely I would be able to get some food there. When I pulled into the McDonald's, I was dismayed to see a bumper-to-bumper line in the drive-through, wrapping around the entire building. The lobby was similarly choked with people. I tried my luck at Tim Hortons, and astoundingly, it was a ghost town. I ordered a sandwich and a coffee, which was served promptly. Dessert would come in the form of a milkshake at the Kawartha Dairy. I sat outside and enjoyed my shake, which I had been waiting a year to purchase, because no one makes ‘em like Kawartha does. Although this was the height of mosquito and blackfly season, there was enough of a breeze that I wasn’t harassed by a single bug. It was great.

Being late spring, the sun sets late, and things didn’t really start to get dark until I was past Norland, a brightly-lit cluster of stores where I cross Highway 35. By the time I reached the Oro Family Campground, there was a just trace of light left in the sky. I pitched my tent in the dark, and although the bugs were bad, I somehow managed to prevent them from entering the tent. I didn’t bother with the tent’s rain fly, as there was no rain in the forecast. I did a little bit of reading and writing as the trees reached up toward the starry sky above me. The constant flow of traffic along Highway 11, as usual, provided some oddly soothing white noise. It makes me sleepy, but once I shut the light out, I have to wear earplugs, or I can’t actually drift off.

I woke up to a chilly morning, but the air was dry and there was no dew covering the tent. I was glad-- I hate taking that thing down when it’s wet. I got my stuff in the car and headed down the highway for a short distance. The Esso station at Line 7 has a mini-Tim Horton’s (news to me), so I got myself some coffee before heading up to Line 8 and the usual parking lot. I waited in line until they started letting us in, which was a bit after seven. In previous years, they would let us park early and allow us to wait at the market gate until it opened at 7 o’clock. Once I parked, I could see the changes that were unfolding on the property.

In previous years, I’d cross the road and pay my admission right at the front gate, walk through a small show field, and start shopping. But this year, I had to walk down Line 8 for a couple of minutes before turning onto the property and continuing for what seemed like nearly half a mile. The actual entrance gate was closer to the back of the old field than the front of it. The vendors behind the gate were sparse and scattered, and my first impression of the market was very poor-- there was empty space in all directions, patches of sand and dust where the buildings and beer tent used to be, and several vendors were isolated with no neighbours anywhere. In previous years, the front of the market was a hive of activity with excellent vendors crammed in. To see so few vendors this time was appalling-- I feared my trip here would be a waste. But as I moved further into the market, I gleaned more of a lay of the land. The high-quality vendors were in the far back of the new field, as was the show car field, and the vehicle sales field. All of these were much closer to Line 7 than Line 8. I looked at the map again and figured out that the new parking field for future markets is probably going to be accessed from Line 7. It appears that the market is going to flip its orientation, and we simply entered from Line 8 because the new parking lot isn’t ready yet. Indeed, much of the land where the old market fields lay has been re-graded. The topography is now different-- where flat fields existed last year, there are now gently sloping knolls creating a sort of concert bowl facing the old barn on the northeast end of the property. And that barn has had a major facelift-- the walls and roof have been replaced, with new windows installed. I’ll bet dollars to doughnuts that I’ve entered the flea market from Line 8 for the last time, and we’ll all be using Line 7 by fall to access the market. (Looking at the maps above, Line 8 is at the top and Line 7 is just off the maps along the bottom). But enough about that-- I was here to shop, and not so much to evaluate the venue (can’t help it, though).

Below is a small section of a panoramic shot I took of the rather desolate fields toward the northwest gate nearest Line 8. You'll notice large empty spaces, dust patches, and fairly sparse foot traffic. Given that I entered the market at this point, this was my first impression of the "New" event. It did get substantially better!

There wasn’t a cloud in the sky, and the sun fired at me low from the east. It wasn’t going to be a blistering hot day, though, and it was still chilly. It was cold in just a T-shirt for the first hour or so. My first purchase of the day was a nice restorable set of 1937 plates-- perfectly flat and no rust, although they suffered from the typical fading of the red paint. It’s really uncommon to find a 1937 Ontario plate in glossy original condition. There was a short single on eBay the previous week that I wanted for my collection, nice and glossy, but I was outbid.

Not long afterward, a gentleman who I don’t recall seeing before was selling a substantial selection of plates, organized in boxes and laid on tables. He had a number of candidate YOM pairs, but they had all been sloppily repainted by someone. The price was right, given that I’d have to take the extra measure of using paint stripper before restoring them. He gave me a deal that made up for the lack of vendors I initially saw in the front (soon to be back) of the fields. I hastened my pace through the sparse old fields and crossed the half-mile laneway into the newly-minted yellow and green fields. They were full, with none of the dead space that I found previously, although the clusters of vendors were spaced more widely apart along the service lanes.

I came across a militaria vendor who was selling a 1970 Kaiser army crane truck, finished in flat olive, with all the utilitarian signage and devices that you’d expect to find on such a vehicle. I poked my camera into the cab and took a shot of the dash, with all of its cool switches and warning notices. I also stumbled across a vendor selling a cool green 1972 Datsun 1200. These cars were all over my neighbourhood when I was a kid, but they weren’t really considered collectibles and very few survive today (kind of like the Ford Tempo). When I saw the Datsun parked there, it caught my eye in that throwback-to-childhood sort of way. Aside from vendors selling parts, shop tools or antiques, there were crafts, smooth-talking salesmen, and once again there was the “Stop Smoking” guy, selling people on the secret to breaking the habit. Behind his table, his ten-year-old minion piped up: “It works! I just started working for him. Why would I lie?”

The plate hunting was reasonable. I wasn’t finding anything for my collection, but I was doing alright at stocking my YOM business. I looked high and low for that elusive year, 1957, and found nothing. Why do almost none survive? I wish I knew. Actually, no-- I just wish I could find some 1957 pairs. I did uncover other useful years, such as 1932, 1966, 1967 and 1969.

My phone’s battery was rapidly draining, apparently from all the effort it was making to re-acquire my intermittent mobile network. I headed over to the show field to take pictures of cars while I still had the chance. There was a remarkably well-kept 1915 Ford Model T, plated and running, that was the oldest vehicle in the show by a couple of decades. There was a redone (repro?) 1915 plate on the front end, under the engine crank. I shot pictures of it from several angles. There was a YOM-plated ‘65 Mustang as well as a ‘67 Chevelle.

My favourite vehicle in the show lot was the same 1965 Buick Riviera that I had seen in Lindsay. The NOS 1965 plates had come from me several years before. I wasn’t able to get the picture I wanted in Lindsay because other vehicles were parked too close, but there was enough room today to crouch down and get the three-quarter angle I wanted from the rear. What a beautiful car. I’m not normally a huge fan of lowered suspensions on classic vehicles, as I prefer a more period-accurate stock look-- but to me, this Riviera looked better dropped slightly than at full height.

I was getting hungry, but the food options were limited in the new market setup. Gone were the fry shacks operated by the Oro Lions club and that Philly cheesesteak guy (or if they were still there, I didn’t see them). Most of the food vendors are now concentrated in a nook between the old and new fields-- there were only four vendors there, actually, and the lines were 20 people deep for each one. I’d be waiting an hour for a burger. I have no objection to waiting in line during high mealtime, but there were definitely fewer vendors to find, and I couldn’t spare an hour to wait for food. I am hopeful that this is just one of the temporary growing pains as the park changes its layout, and there will hopefully be more options in the future. More low-budget fry shacks, please! I don’t want to line up with the people ordering ribs.

The weather was really nice - not too hot - and I had no need to change into shorts (good thing, too, as my car was parked a mile away from where I was shopping). My phone had been unsuccessful in acquiring a mobile network, and I spent some time talking with Koodo tech support and getting nowhere. My pal Jim Becksted was at the spring market today for the first time, and I had been hoping to text something like “meet me under the POR-15 blimp” to say hello, but my cell network was intermittent and my texts were stalled. Sadly, my phone battery was going critical, and with my network still not detectable, I powered my phone down. I’ve been happy with Koodo for the past two years, but this was a really lousy time for a breakdown.

I wandered the rows for a while more, but I was just repeating myself, and it became clear that I’d found all I was going to find. It was mealtime, and given that the food lines weren’t shortening, It seemed to me that it was time to leave.

There were shuttle services from the makeshift entrance gate to the parking lot off Line 8. The shuttles consisted of a couple of tractor-towed wagons with steel cages to keep people from falling out. It reminded me of the movie Gladiator with all the prisoners being taken to their training camp. I opted to walk - and even though it was such a long way, I beat the slow-moving shuttle. When I got to my car, I plugged my phone in to give it some life, and fired up my FitBit app, which counts my daily steps from a wristband I wear. My total: over 22 thousand steps, equalling slightly more than 17 kilometres - or, over ten miles of walking. That thought made me hungry, so I drove off to Orillia for a burger at McDonald’s. The food experience was made better by my empty stomach, but part of the washroom was out of order, which was enough to kill one’s appetite. I took a picture of the malfunctioning fixture and redundant sign for the “Captain Obvious” files.

The market field had been really dusty in the north end, and my legs and arms had become caked in a mixture of sunscreen and dusty sand. I decided to stop at Moose Beach alongside Highway 12 for a swim. The highway runs partly along a causeway that separates Lake Simcoe, to the south, from Lake Couchiching, to the north. The beach is on the north side. There were lots of people there, on the first open weekend of the season. The water was cool and refreshing, and I felt a lot cleaner after having a quick dip.

I was making my drive home a little earlier than usual, so I took my time in Bancroft at the Kawartha Dairy - once again - this time, for a huge waffle cone. My wife is allergic to nuts, so I can only indulge in my favourite flavours when she’s not with me, which only happens on “mancations” like this one. I got home just after sunset, with plenty of time to play with my children and tuck them into bed, just as I’d promised. My son did well at his friend's birthday party - he loved the cab ride - and my daughter’s playdate at her friend’s house had gone so well that it had been extended to nearly seven hours. As for my wife - well, I have some husband points to re-earn in time for the next geek trip, but I’m good at that.

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