Raring to go. That’s how I’ve been this fall. The Jays are in the postseason, the weather has been halfway warm, and I’d been looking forward to the Grimsby plate meet after aborting my Barrie trip the previous month and being too ill to do my Volkswagen show the month before. I was “all-in” for the card game that is Grimsby.
A word about the unusual date this year: The Grimsby meet has always been the Saturday that falls between October 24 and 30. That’s usually the last Saturday in October, six times out of seven, and it has never been held on Halloween before. That’s good, because anyone with kids who has to do more than two hours’ round trip would run the significant risk of being unavailable. Quite a few of us have young kids (or grandkids), including Don Goodfellow (the primary host), as well as myself (the co-host), as well as quite a few others who are regular readers of this column and attendees of the Grimsby plate meet. When Don booked the hall for 2015, he chose the “last Saturday in October” out of habit, which fell on the 31st. Back in the summer, when preparing the promotional advertising, I realized the meet was scheduled for Halloween. A decision was made to protect the day for families and move the meet. By then, our “should-have-been” date, the 24th, was unavailable, so we went back one week to the 17th. Naturally, there were people without kids who squawked about it, and of course, the plan was bound to backfire in the form of a few regulars who would no longer be able to make it. It was, admittedly, part inconvenience and part gamble. I was worried that my efforts to keep the attendance nominal would backfire. We made the change back in July, so that gave us plenty of time to contact people. I was crestfallen when, after we’d passed the point of no return, I learned that Mike Franks was getting married on the 17th—I had no idea.
Eric Vettoretti and I travelled to the meet together, having not travelled together since 2013 – the year we got lost in Leeds county at sundown, trying to buy plates, and ended up at a redneck kitchen party. We didn’t have any side-trips planned to score plates that night, so instead, we brought our passports and crossed into Ogdensburg, New York to buy paint.
Not just any paint, though—plate restoration paint. In the US, Walmart sells tall-boy cans of primer for less than half of what we pay in Canada for a shorter spray can. Even with the exchange rate being as lousy as it is these days, it’s still an incredible deal, especially if you’re already passing through the area.
The US customs officer was pleasant and allowed us passage without difficulty. I pulled into the Walmart and we grabbed a cart next to the cases of beer. I don’t think I could ever get used to seeing beer in a Walmart. The Ontario I’m from makes us go to The Beer Store, although the winds of change may adjust that particular scenario before too long. We walked down the length of the store, bigger than a football field, until we got to the paint section, where they had one entire aisle filled with spray paint (contrast that with my local Ottawa Walmart, which has maybe 12 feet of shelf space devoted to that genre of product). We found the stuff we wanted, at the price we’d hoped, so we piled 27 cans of spray paint into our cart, and paid a pittance for it.
On our way back toward the bridge, a straight, bright lightning bolt lit the scene, and the wind and rain picked up. We ascended the bridge back to Canada, and a loud clacking sound surprised us from the driver’s side of the car. It was hail, coming in sideways because of the howling wind, with an unhealthy mix of rain. I eased off the gas pedal and felt the car slow down as the bridge swayed slightly. Halfway across the bridge, at the moment we crossed the borderline and emerged back into Canada, the hail and wind abruptly ceased. I guess fortune was smiling on us, because we passed customs without having to pay HST on our declared purchases, and the weather was more or less dry for the westward trip along the 401.
Our diversion into the US had cost us about an hour, and since we hadn’t left Ottawa until after six in the evening, it was close to 8:30 before we had eaten and were in high gear toward the GTA with game 1 of the MLB ALCS on the radio, featuring the Kansas City Royals hosting our beloved Toronto Blue Jays. I was getting tired and drinking too much coffee, but it was pretty much the only option. By the time we got to Toronto, the Don Valley Parkway was pretty much empty, aside from a convoy of BMWs that zipped past us as we rolled under the Bloor Street bridge. The subway runs along the underside of the bridge, and we spotted its lights crossing the valley as we approached. Eric and I are both transportation geeks, and of course, we marvelled at the engineers’ foresight of 100 years ago of adding an underdeck that would allow present-day subway trains to traverse the valley. Our wives, sadly, don’t share our enthusiasm for these things. Traffic was light the rest of the way, and we found our hotel in Hamilton by 1 am. That left us with a mere five hours to rest up before the meet.
The following morning, we arrived in Grimsby a little after seven, to the sight of Don’s truck, as well as Joe Sallmen’s Cadillac. Don had just opened the doors, so we brought our stuff into the hall and loaded up our tables. I stopped actively carrying trade stock last year, but every six-month period of acquiring plates for my YOM business means that I have spares to get rid of, so my dollar crate had made its return, and I also had a few of the less common types placed on my table to trade, including my 1911 Ontario three-digit porcelain plate. It’ll trade for something someday.
By about 8:30, the hall was filling up with collectors. Bob Cornelius grabbed a table next to mine, and beyond him were Bill and Lynda Thoman. On the other side of me, Joe had set up his tables. Xavier Dubé and Eric were across from me, and I found myself back-to-back with Dave Steckley’s table. Martine Stonehouse arrived a little later and set up a few tables as usual.
There were a couple of newcomers to the meet who had brought older plates that were new to all of us. I went through their trade stock with gusto, and found some YOM candidates to buy for possible restoration. I find the prices can vary wildly. One seller was looking for $10 per pair, which is a good deal on plates that I can restore. Another seller was in the neighbourhood of $20, and yet another wanted $110. The money to be made in the YOM market comes not from dredging up restorable examples of old plates, but from actually restoring them and transforming them into registrable licenses. More on that later in the day.
Don and I interrupted the trading at 9 o’clock to hand out a couple of door prizes, and then again at 10 o’clock to do the group photo. The meet hits its zenith at this time, usually, so we take the picture then to have the maximum number of collectors participating. Lynda, as usual, took the pictures with poise and precision.
In my preparation for Grimsby, I had forgotten to pack a couple of things to show Bob. I wanted to show him the pair of high-numbered 1955 plates I had scored over the summer, starting with H. No one I’ve talked to has ever seen a 1955 Ontario passenger plate with a letter that high. F is as far through the alphabet as I’ve seen. I also forgot to bring my JON Ontario plate for a planned photo-op, so we improvised in a way that I could fix with Photoshop later. You can see the result in the picture on the left!
Ned Flynn had made the trip from his home on the New York side of the border to tell us about the 2016 ALPCA Convention in Fort Wayne. At this early juncture, the hotel rooms have been selling like hotcakes. Quite a few of us Ontario collectors will be making the journey. Will I be among them? Only time will tell. Martine took a few minutes to compare some 1911 Ontario porcelain plates side-by-side to show the subtle differences in manufacture by the company throughout the production run. Some are smooth, some less so; some have white numbers, some are more of a light gray; and high-numbered five-digit plates have slightly different date legends. It was fortuitous that I had brought my three-digit 1911 porcelain to offer further comparison.
The hour was getting late, and I was able to liquidate the rest of my GR8 CR8 before the crowd thinned out too much. When I picked the empty crate up, it left behind an amusing footprint of rust dust. When the hall had emptied somewhat, I gave Don a hand putting tables and chairs away. Quite a few folks stuck around to help us out with that. (Thanks!)
According to Don, we had a net increase in attendance, with 52 collectors. That was up from the previous year’s 47, and way up from a low of 36 a few years earlier when the meet was held on the 30th. The record is 65, so this wasn’t the most heavily-attended meet of the bunch, but we were successful in scoring a slightly higher than median attendance, while avoiding the family-related conflicts that would have resulted on Halloween. To spend several hours at a plate meet is not compatible with spending several hours with children while carving pumpkins, donning costumes, and trick-or-treating. To do both in one day is too much, given the travel time. The last thing Don and I did before I left was to check our 2016 calendars and agree on the next Grimsby date, which is Saturday the 29th. That’ll be officially announced later once it’s booked with the hall management.
Eric had a quick pit stop to make in Grimsby in order to buy a batch of plates that he had arranged to bring home. Ordinarily, these lakeshore neighbourhoods are populated by impossibly large houses, but this was an postwar-era neighbourhood of modest veteran homes. The house where we stopped was right on the shore of Lake Ontario, and the small park there offered a captivating view of the water, and in the far background, the skyline of Toronto some 50 kilometres away. I did take a picture, but my phone simply couldn't do justice to the beautiful scene.
We had a bit of extra time, so we drove through industrial Hamilton on our way to the town of Dundas, where we totally struck out at an antique market that advertised that it had plates, but had exactly zero of them. From there, we dropped in on an antique dealer on the way back to the highway. He had plates, all right, but wanted over $100 for a rusty pair of 1920s plates. When asked about the price, he said, “There’s two guys in Ottawa who sell them for $120. If you don’t believe me, just look on the web.”
Yup, we believed him, because, you know, we happen to be those exact guys from Ottawa. Honestly, it wasn’t worth the clarification or ensuing argument about the materials, time and detail work that goes into restoring a rusty set of plates into something that people will routinely pay $120 to buy from us. If we paid $120 for a pair of rusty plates as raw materials, we’d be trying and failing to sell them restored for $220. Haggling from such a high starting point is not worth the aggravation. We won’t be back. Does an art supply shop charge extra for a blank, white canvas – because of the work that an artist is yet to create? As the cash register said—No sale.
We stopped one final time at the Roadshow Antiques portion of the Pickering Flea Market. We combed through, and found one set of plates that was worthwhile. The market closed for the day after we checked out, and we found an isolated spot in the parking lot to divide the booty from our trip. I warmed the car up with the running engine while game 2 of the ALCS crackled loudly over the AM radio and blared at us through the open doors. The sun was setting and the wind was getting very cold as we flipped a coin and started our customary round robin picks. We spent too much time thinking about our picks, as the wind numbed our hands. We picked as carefully as we could—and maybe not as quickly as we could. When we were finished, half an hour later, the sun had set and we were shivering as we hopped into the warm car for the trip home. Much like my car, the Blue Jays also seemed to be on cruise control, but then they blew a 3-run lead in the seventh inning and never recovered. Luckily, my car remained steadily on cruise control and blew through nothing but fuel.