No two Grimsby swap meets are the same. Each journey always leaves something unique by which I remember it. There was 2009, when a stranger, whom I only ever met once, sold me a green 1945 Ontario prototype. There was 2013, when Eric and I unwittingly crashed a post-hunting redneck party on the way to the meet. There was 2016 when I visited Bob Cornelius after the meet and delivered his last plate. And now there's Grimsby 2018, which I almost missed, and then re-locked… which was a good thing, because I had a lot of stuff to sell. But this is the year I almost didn’t make it home.
The previous Friday, seven days before the Grimsby meet, our household hot water tank blew up. Luckily, my wife was at home at the time and managed to shut off the inlet valve, thus preventing the ruptured tank from flooding the basement. But in ending our tank rental and arranging for a company to install a "we-own-it" replacement and bringing the venting up to new code, we had spent the whole week with no hot water. There was a chance the repair work would be done on Saturday the 27th, which would have kept me from being in Grimsby. But as it happened, the work was scheduled for Monday, so I was free to head to Grimsby after all.
Driving night came. I was expecting to leave Ottawa after 8 pm, but the family situation changed in my favour, and I was able to leave at 6:30, which was a godsend. It meant that I would arrive at the hotel in Grimsby by eleven, instead of the ungodly wee hours that I feared. It was an uneventful solo drive along the 401 and through downtown Toronto——always with the correct music, of course——and the weather stayed dry all the way to Grimsby. I knew it wouldn’t last, though.
The coffee kept me awake for an hour after turning in, but I managed to get an unbroken six hours’ worth of sleep. I showered——a luxury to any member of my family this week——and went to the hotel’s breakfast room to meet Mike and Alannah Franks, and Dave Grant. They showed up for breakfast and we gabbed about plates and collectors for a while. I had a heavy load of traders to manage, so I left a little early and headed to the car. It was raining heavily, which seems to be a recurring theme with most Grimsby meets.
I got to the hall to find the doors open and our host Don Goodfellow setting up the entrance table with his daughter Katie, who is now 14. She dutifully managed the cashbox and tallied the attendance. Joe Sallmen was already set up on his favourite tables, and Dave Steckley was there also. I had seven heavy boxes of trade stock to bring in, and I wheeled them in quickly before the rain could soak in.
I like to get away from my table as much as I can, but I had so much to sell that I was pretty much tied down for most of the meet. I had a lot of quality that I knew would move, and a lot of volume that I hoped would move. I had purchased no fewer than four collections of plates over the summer, two of which I used to make substantial upgrades to my own Ontario passenger run of matched pairs. So five of my boxes were full of either plates that didn’t quite upgrade my collection, or high-quality downgraders that were in my own collection until recently. Among those was an excellent pair of 1911 porcelains, and good 1913 and 1915 singles that had been in my award-winning display at the 2014 ALPCA Convention in Rochester. I also had two single rubber plates, but I had previously made private arrangements with two collector friends, so they weren’t visible to the public in my trade boxes. I also had some excellent trailer plates, including several 1944 and 1952 issues, and many other matching Ontario and Nova Scotia pairs. I was able to move quite a few of them, but there’s still much left.
Keith Murphy made the trip to Grimsby from Alberta. He was in the GTA for a couple of days prior to the meet to find and buy plates. Keith kindly picked up a batch of plates that a seller had been holding for me. Keith and I randomly share an unlikely mutual friend (the daughter of my dad’s roommie in early 1970s Toronto). I had never met Keith in person before. He handed me my bundle of plates and introduced himself at the same time. That’s a great way to do it!
Newcomers are told to show up early by experienced Grimsby-goers, and by 8:15——fifteen minutes after the official opening——the hall was quite full of people. Eric Vettoretti showed up unexpectedly. His young daughter’s birthday conflicts with Grimsby, but he planned a family getaway to visit nearby relatives to celebrate, and managed to get a couple of hours of trading time in. Thomas Zimmerman came to Grimsby for the first time and had a blast. So did Chris Sterrett, who is an artist as well a collector, and he brought some interesting hanging lamps made from repurposed antique gas cans. I really liked a smaller one made from a Canadian Tire Motomaster can from the 1940s, and I bought it. Chris also had a pair of exempt truck plates set aside for me (fire truck or ambulance, but I can’t remember which it came from).
I did my best to look for older commercial plates during the times that I could get away from my table. Frank Crooks made the trip from Montreal and had a trio of truck plates that I added to my collection: 1924, 1926 and 1929. While I was looking through Martine Stonehouse’s traders, I found three Sault Ste. Marie-issued dealer plates that had originally come from me. I let them go years before because I wasn’t actively collecting dealer plates. I guess I’m still not trying very hard to put a dealer run together, but a fire has lit under me to collect as many Soo-based plates that I can. These plates have the dealership info either painted or stuck to the back, so I was only too happy to repatriate them into my collection, this time to stay. Sam Mazmanian had some really awesome truck plates with round and repeating numbers, but they were just for show-and-tell. They were sitting on his trade table with his actual trade stock, so I thought for a minute I was going to make a great find, but Sam’s keeping them. Oh, well. Maybe one day.
Don and I interrupted the trading a couple of times to call out some winning ticket numbers for door prizes. I actually won something while calling out numbers, which I don’t recall happening before. Between the shopping that Don had done, and some generous donations from John Powers, we gave away plates, ALPCA magazine bundles, jumper cables, plate covers, and fuel discount cards. The trading action in Grimsby was pretty frenzied, so I sometimes feel like a chump when I shut down the activity to start calling out numbers, but we managed to keep the interruptions short.
Sometimes people have pet-project or hobby-related announcements they wish to make, but time was getting on and we had to get the group photo taken while we still had everyone’s attention. There have been meets, at both Acton and Grimsby, when several announcements have bloated up into a 30-minute ceremony. Given the limited time available, I made a spur-of-the-moment decision to pre-empt these announcements and get the group picture taken right away. Then, those folks with announcements could make them afterward to anyone interested in hearing them. The bare truth is that not everyone is interested, and some people have to leave, and we don’t have a long enough time to spend on mandatory, extensive monologues. At a swap meet where four hours goes by in a flash, I believe it’s too much to require all paying attendees to stop the trading they’ve come to do. Those with announcements can make them during the post-photo lingering to those who are interested. And if that doesn’t work: Have a flyer ready and hand it out.
We made one more brief interruption to give out a long-distance award, which is a first at the Grimsby meet. It was crafted of polished stainless steel by Neb Ilic, and donated to the meet. Steve Schneefuss came from Alabama, and Keith came from Alberta, but Jon Ilnytzky made the trip all the way from BC, so he was the lucky winner of the award.
The hall had thinned out, and by noon, there was breathing room. It all happens so quickly. I didn’t get to browse all the tables. I missed Jacques Allen’s table completely, and could have used the 1960 motorcycle plate that he had available (only spotted after the fact in my photos). I barely got a word in with Norm or William. I hardly saw Jim Becksted, but that was OK, because a large group of collectors went to lunch at the Judge and Jester, which seems to be turning into a post-meet tradition. Jim and I sat across from each other, so it was nice to catch up.
With the long drive ahead, and a detour to make, I had to get going. The morning rain was merely the leading edge of a storm system that was moving into central and eastern Ontario. The forecast originally called for snow overnight into Sunday, but the snow was now expected this evening. It would be heavy and was expected to accumulate. I left the pub at around 1:30, with plenty of time to get home. The wind was already picking up and I could see the waves crashing violently on the shore as I drove over the Burlington Skyway.
My detour took me north to Aurora. I splurged and took the 407 most of the way there, reasoning that time was precious. I made my stop, acquired the plates I’d arranged to buy, and headed for home. With the snow on its way, I wanted to outrun the storm… but therein lay a decision: Which route?
I decided to take the quieter and more northerly Highway 7 home from the GTA to stay away from any lake-effect snow, plus avoid possible mayhem or traffic paralysis on the much-busier 401. All it takes is for one vehicle to ram into the back of another, and I didn't want to be a part of a pileup, or be caught in a standstill with a highway closure looming ahead.
I passed through Port Perry at about five o’clock, with the rain already having turned to snow, albeit not heavy. Peterborough was much the same, although the sky was beginning to darken. I was making decent time… so far. But the snow continued, and the sky grew darker. I checked my speed and reduced it a little… I was doing 80 in an 80 zone, instead of the usual 90-plus. I stopped for a quick coffee and snack in Madoc, where the last of the daylight waned, and the flurries began to intensify at an alarming rate.
I got back on the road and was hammered with snow, which soon started to accumulate on the pavement. I slowed down even more. As I passed Marmora, I considered looking for a motel room. It was as dark as night, although it was only 6:30. I wasn't tired and reasoned I was alert enough to be careful. I was doing 65 and found myself in a small convoy of vehicles that dared not to go faster. No one used the passing lanes and we kept pace with each other. However, the road was unplowed and the snow got deep enough that I was spinning my wheels and drifting while climbing hills without snow tires. I was doing about 40 km/h at this point. I had to keep an eye on the speedometer because the needle would shoot up to 70 from 40 as the tires kept losing their grip on the inclines.
I stopped in Sharbot Lake to get the gas tank topped off. There were no accommodations in the area, so if I became stranded, I could still idle the engine all night to stay warm. The drive was painfully slow. I shut off the overdrive to try and keep the wheels from spinning and fishtailing up the inclines. The snow kept coming. My headlights were showing me nothing but streaking snowflakes as I plowed along. Visibility was very poor. If not for old tire trails from a vehicle a few minutes ahead of me, I wouldn't have been able to tell where the road was. Sometimes, there were no tire trails to follow, no guard rail to crash through, and no other lights anywhere. I wasn’t much more than guessing as to where the pavement was.
After I had been approaching Carleton Place for close to an hour, I noticed that I could see the yellow centre line again. Soon enough, the blizzard thinned so that I could see a strange light in the haze ahead, alternating between blue and yellow. A snow plow! I settled in behind it, no longer having to guess where the roadway was. The worst was over. Still, as the highway widened to four lanes, I didn’t dare go faster than 70. I hadn’t seen anyone in the ditch yet, but I didn’t want to be the first. Tom Zimmerman was travelling Highway 7 on a bus about an hour behind me and saw cars in the ditch. Dave Grant was travelling home from Grimsby with his family and took the 401 toward Ottawa. He got as far as Trenton by 7 pm and decided to get a hotel for the night.
All told, I got home just after 10 pm. It took nearly four hours to get to Ottawa from the Madoc McDonald's, in October, with leaves still on the trees, through an inch of the white stuff, with no snow tires. It was one of the most tricky and exhausting drives I’ve ever done, with white knuckles on the steering wheel most of the way.