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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.

Lights-out in Lindsay (and everywhere else)

Updated: Oct 3, 2020

A mere five days after arriving home from our sojourn to Acton, Eric and I were at it again, although with a more mercenary mission, this time.

Our respective YOM businesses can only thrive if we can feed them with restorable YOM stock, and we basically have four chances each year to find some. The Acton meet is opportunity #1, and that was the previous weekend. Opportunity #2 is the #Lindsay and #Stirling automotive flea markets. Opportunity #3 is the September Barrie market (the June one is terrible now) and opportunity #4 is the Grimsby meet at the end of October.

We had planned for a while to do an all-business trip to Lindsay, like we had attempted to do during a rain storm last year. The weather for Lindsay Saturday was forecast to be sunny and about 20 degrees. It would be the first time either of us had done “Maximum Lindsay:” Meaning in good weather, with no kids to entertain, and with the market having picked up steam a good five years after its debut. Lindsay isn’t all that big, so on the way home, we’d be doing Stirling as well. This “all-business” trip would be exactly that: Using a limited amount of time to cover as much ground as possible and take home as many finds as we could. There would be no social lunches or lingering with folks like at Acton, because our wives were not happy with our back-to-back weekend outings and they had let us go under duress… and that’s putting it mildly.

I got behind the wheel after kiddie bedtime on Friday night, at around eight o’clock. We needed to stay the night in Lindsay so we could be on the field at opening time. The most direct route would be the two-lane Highway 7, which cuts much of its distance through very rugged Canadian Shield. We were under a wind warning as well. The weather outlets were forecasting gusts of over 100 km/h in some places, and the sustained winds were rocking the car around pretty well as we started through the relatively flat Ottawa Valley. I filled up with gas in Carleton Place because it’s the cheapest gas anywhere near Ottawa. That would turn out to be a wise decision, and not because of the lower price.

As we headed into the Shield, the hills sheltered us from the wind and I didn’t feel as much of its influence on my driving. The sky darkened into night as we plunged into the forested hills. The first sign of trouble was the flashing light, appearing periodically from an ambulance about a kilometre behind us. It was travelling faster than we were, but it wouldn’t really get close to us for a few minutes. Once it came to within about 400 metres, I pulled over early so that it could fly past without waiting for me to leave the lane. The bright lights cut through the darkness and pulsed ominously as the ambulance moved ahead of us. It moved eventually out of sight, leaving us alone again.

We rounded a curve and saw the ambulance lights again. It seemed to be slowing, and there were more flashing red lights ahead. We slowed and stopped behind the ambulance, which was in the middle of the road next to a police car with its lights on, heading the opposite direction. We started looking in the ditch for a vehicle that had left the road, but as it turns out, the drivers were only exchanging information. They continued on their respective ways after a minute. As the ambulance gained some distance from us, three other responding emergency vehicles passed by in the opposite direction. It seemed that whatever was happening, it was behind us. Or so we thought.

We talked about collectors and plates and business, and the music was good, so we weren’t bored enough to notice how truly dark it was. A blue rectangular sign reflected ahead of us. It read: Kaladar.

Kaladar? That’s the first major town we expected to see after an hour’s drive. But it was unrecognizable. There weren’t any lights to see. No lit highway standards, no flashing yellow beacon, no lights at the giant Shell station, no lights from the houses. Not even an emergency backup light was visible. We passed the local OPP station, figuring that it would have some kind of visibility, but even the station was pitch black, without even an oil lamp in the window.

The blackout continued as we drove toward Madoc. Finally, after another hour of driving, there were some signs of life. The local Tim Horton’s was open, but strangely, the McDonald’s across the street was closed. We stopped for a hot beverage. I asked the girl behind the counter whether they lost their power. She said they were dark for five hours, with the power coming back on an hour ago at about 10 PM. The gas station at the Madoc junction was still dark and closed. I was glad to have a hot tea, and I was especially glad that I had gassed up in Carleton Place. If I hadn’t done so, we’d have spent the night in the car at Madoc, or run out of fuel further down the road while looking for an open service station.

Eric checked the news on his phone, and we learned for the first time that the blackout was widespread from east Toronto all the way to Montreal, with over 200 thousand customers in the dark. We kept our fingers crossed that our hotel in Lindsay would be able to process our reservation. Norwood, when we drove through it, was totally dark on both sides of the main street. The traffic lights were the only light to see anywhere-- we figured that they were running on batteries.

Peterborough seemed to be on a separate grid and it was all lit up, aside from a couple of isolated pockets, but as soon as we passed the western city limit heading out of town, the lights were out again. So it stayed until we arrived in Lindsay, which seemed to be powered normally. We arrived after midnight and the hotel staff got us into our room right away. It was large, comfortable, and immaculately clean-- a far cry from what happened to us in Guelph the weekend before.

We woke early Saturday morning and noticed an immaculate Oldmobile Custom Cruiser station wagon in the hotel parking lot; a 1973 model, by my guess. I love old wagons. I snapped some pictures before we made the short drive over to the fairgrounds. The weather was beautiful. There wasn’t a cloud to be seen——last night’s wind had blown them all away——and it was warm enough that we didn’t need jackets... Not at all like the rained-out Woodstock re-enactment that was the 2017 market.

It was seven o’clock, and the vendors were opening up. Eric and I went into the event hall first to see the indoor vendors, who are typically ready for business right at opening time. We found plates right away; the first vendor we visited had three boxes full. We crouched down and heard the familiar clacking sound as we flipped through the plates from front to back. A good plate box always has enough room that we can “turn the pages” easily without having to pry a jammed stack of plates apart. There were pairs of YOM candidates, quarterly buses, older singles, newer graphics from the USA… something for everyone. We picked up a few plates at this first stop before moving on through the hall.

The petroliana vendors typically set up inside with their porcelain signs to keep them dry. One vendor had a porcelain King’s Highway 8 shield sign. It had some bangs and chips, and it was priced to move. I liked the sign, but I’m more of a casual collector of them. I have one porcelain shield already, and that’s enough for me. For now, anyway. One day, if I have more display space at home, maybe I’ll branch out.

We made our way outside and started at the west end of the field, where Tarp Guy vends. He was there both of the other times I visited Lindsay. He has several milk crates of plates and they spread easily over his orange tarpaulin. With a blanket price of $10 per plate, there are definitely some good finds to make, while separating the wheat from the chaff, so to speak. The plates were not in any order, and no doubt there were hidden pairs where the mates are separated, but it would have taken us a couple of hours to sort through it all. We spent about 20 minutes there and picked out a few odds and sods while Charlie Ryan’s 1955 song “Hot Rod Lincoln” blared from the PA system.

Lindsay isn’t a huge event, but it’s unique from the Barries and Stirlings of the flea market circuit because the vendors are all required to have classic auto parts, thanks to the host rules of the AACA. There were no vendors selling just plastic garage sale junk, broken toys, or new-in-box aftermarket stuff for the Acura crowd. Each vendor had greasy boxes of tools, used parts, signs, plates, and many other things to make your hands dirty. Literally every vendor could potentially have plates, so we were thorough and scored very well. After going through just half of the Lindsay field, we had more loot than we brought home from an entire day in the fall Barrie market, which is four times the size and long had the reputation of being the one “can’t miss” source for old car stuff. I’d say that Lindsay has taken the lead in that department.

Eric and I were remarking at how fruitful our trip had been, and it was only 8:30 am. As if further proof were needed, we stumbled on a vendor with a cardboard box of plates. A few caught our attention, and we asked how much they were.

“You can take the whole box for 25 bucks, boys,” was the answer. It was less than a buck per plate, and they were all in good shape. We paid for them and brought them back to the car to lighten the load.

On the way back to the field from the car, I spotted a vendor who had long european plates sticking out of a box. There as a cool French passenger pair with a very short number. The vendor told us they were five dollars each, so I took the pair, plus an older Spanish motorcycle plate from 1978, which I suspected was a temporary issue (the ALPCA Archives don’t have a perfect match, but that remains my theory).

You know you’re an an automotive flea market when you pass by a 1914 Model T with a $45k price tag. It was immaculately restored. Oh, to be rich.

We continued around the field, doing some opportunistic YOM prospecting. The morning was wearing on-- we planned to be out of there by eleven o’clock so that we could still have time to browse at the Stirling market, an hour away. My final Lindsay purchase was for a 1983 public vehicle attachment plate, number 222, complete with number-matching ownership copy to show that it was issued to a brand-new 1983 GM bus, with the TTC fleet number 2318. There are a lot of Canadian transit enthusiasts online, and when I Googled the VIN, I found that the bus was rebuilt in 2001, renumbered 8818, and ultimately retired in June 2010. I even found a picture of the bus while it was in revenue service, although I couldn’t find a rear-angle shot of the bus where my 222 plate would have been visible. But that’s smoking-gun enough for me.

Eric and I checked out the show field. I’ve had good luck spotting my own YOM restorations at Lindsay in the past, but there was only one set of YOM licence plates to be seen today, and they had come from Eric. But the day was young.

Four hours in Lindsay, and we pulled out a lot of worthwhile plates. It was nice to be king again. We headed back down the highway, going the opposite direction from last night. There were several traffic lights that were stuck on flash cycles, with some masts twisted askew from the previous night’s wind. Surprisingly, the power was still out for the first two gas stations we passed. The sunny weather belied the situation. Eric checked the news and there were still hundreds of thousands without electricity. I had a quarter of a tank of fuel left, and I wondered when I might see a gas station that was open.

We passed through Omemee and saw a log shed covered with old signs. There appeared to be a store on the property, so we took that as our “in” and pulled in to park. On closer inspection, the store was closed. There was no one around. I noticed an old ‘48 Chevy pickup rat rod parked nearby, with a familiar-looking set of 1948 plates, properly stickered and in use under the YOM program. I checked my business sales records on my phone, and as it turns out, the plates came from me. The owner wasn’t around to talk to, but I snapped some pictures of the truck and the shed before we left.

We passed through Norwood again. Its power was restored, but the gas station on the highway was absolutely jammed with traffic, which was starting to spill out onto the road. If we stopped for gas, we’d easily be half an hour. Eric was our navigator, and he was about to send us off the highway toward Stirling. I figured there might be an alternate choice for fuel.

We turned at the lights and continued for a minute. The town petered out into countryside, but just before we left the town limit, we came upon a gas station. It was open, and there wasn’t a lineup! So we gassed up. While we were stopped, a woman pulled in and called to the attendant. “Please tell me you’re open? I’m on fumes!” The attendant cheerfully said it was business as usual. “Thank you, thank you, thank you!” the lady said.

We arrived in Stirling a little late——around 1:30——and wasted no more time in shopping through the field. We’ve never had a bad outing in Stirling, but in contrast to Lindsay, there wasn’t as much to find. It had been picked over to a degree, and as it’s a collectible and antique market, some vendors were selling items outside the realm of automobilia. We bypassed a number of vendors who clearly had nothing we were looking for, whereas we stopped and looked at each vendor in Lindsay.

We stopped at the Solmes plate bus and were recognized by the proprietor, who was told somehow that he could expect the “two guys from Ottawa” to show up today. The prices were too steep for my taste, even though I found a few plates that I could use. Eric and I split a pair of 1928 trailer plates.

By three o’clock, we had combed what we could out of the field. A few vendors had had packed up for the day. One vendor, who had been selling old plates, had already packed them up. We could see them in the cab of his truck while he sat waiting for something. We weren’t going to ask him to open back up for us. Next time, we’ll just get there earlier.

Throughout the day, I had been looking for old Ontario Motor League annual editions of the Road Book. The covers were different each year, and I don’t know what some of them look like, which makes them harder to spot. I finally saw one in the waning minutes of our stay in Stirling, but it was from 1956. I’m looking for older editions from 1942 and earlier.

We were spent, in terms of money and stamina, so we returned to the car for the trip home. It was a great day, and a healthy haul. Lindsay had definitely borne more fruit than Stirling, but we’ve both hit the jackpot in Stirling before, so we can’t necessarily conclude that one is better than the other. It helps to arrive early, but we were having such a great time in Lindsay that there was no way we were going to hit Stirling at its zenith.

The drive home was uneventful, although the sky had clouded over and rain looked quite possible. We noticed a few roadside trees had fallen down from the wind storm, but none fo them would be of any consequence to highway traffic. We arrived in Perth a couple of hours later, and a swath of the highway was cordoned down to one lane each way so that the local hydro trucks could prop broken posts in place while their replacements were being assembled on the ground. Some restaurants and gas stations in behind these fallen power lines were still closed. What a lights-out trip!

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