There’s nothing quite like wandering into an unpicked scrapyard on a summer day. I’m not saying there’s nothing better, I’m just saying there’s nothing quite like it. It’s generally a once-a-year thing for me. Kind of like Christmas, except the weather is better and I don’t wind up with new socks.
Scrapyards that allow guys like me to take plates are a dying breed, so I’m secretive as to its location, although I will say that it’s nowhere near where I presently live. I used to have two places I could go until last summer, when the government’s environmental office discovered that a township dump was doubling as a wrecking yard, which apparently is a no-no (so the young bureaucrat from Toronto told the yard operator). He was ordered to get rid of the cars, and there’s pretty much nothing there but garbage bags now. My one remaining source for plates in the rough is in no danger of closing, but I figure I’m collecting on borrowed time… eventually, someone there will tell me that they can’t let me take plates. This was the first year I was actually charged money for them (five bucks for everything).
The first obstacle is actually getting permission to look. One you’re allowed in, though, you’re not home free. You've got to pass inspection on your way out, and if you get a different person, you could fall victim to the "good cop / bad cop" scenario and have your hard-earned plates confiscated. That's never happened to me, but I remain wary.
It’s weird, but I’ve started to recognize a couple of cars at this yard, because they have crummy plates on them that I’ve passed on for the past three or four years running. As I hiked up over the ridge to where the cars are stored, the first car I saw is the old LeBaron with 12-year-old plates (771-something) that have never been worth the effort. But soon enough, while walking between rows of cars and glancing at the bumpers, I hit paydirt.
I had been hoping to find a natural 2006 plate for my run, but no such luck. No worries, though… there were several 2004 and 2005 plates there, in really nice shape. I glanced the pairs over, and took the better of the two. I’m not allowed to take pairs from this yard, and I play by the rules in the hope that I’m welcomed back for years to come.
I generally don’t find plates that are from outside Ontario at this place, but this time I came away with a couple of blue Michigan plates in nice shape (too bad they weren’t the ones with the Mackinac Bridge on ‘em). I also found a new Ohio plate, “Birthplace of Aviation” in great condition. I was surprised to note that Ohio still uses heavy steel. Michigan used to, but they switched to lighter aluminum plates a few years ago. The Ohio plate, ironically, was from Franklin county. An old girlfriend of mine grew up there and gave me her old plates after moving out-of-state, when she met yours truly.
I tooled around the yard for over an hour, and collected about twenty plates… a good haul for this place. It has a few old double-decker tour buses, and it seems that I check them out for plates each year, but every time, they’re just the same old buses and contrary to my hopes, they don’t sprout new plates, even if it’s been years since I took the originals. One original plate remains, pictured below, but it's twelve feet off the ground. There were a couple of larger trucks there, and I did score a PRP plate (with left-side PRP decal).
Regular readers of this column know that I have a weakness for public transit buses, and there’s one at this yard, in which I used to ride when I was younger (this city being my childhood home). I missed the plates, but did take the destination rollsigns a couple of years ago. I climbed up into the bus and looked around. Not much left inside, although I suddenly had an idea. I walked up behind the driver’s seat, where the old stop bell is located. I pulled out my screwdriver and began opening the housing. The bell ran on 12 volts, and was easily removable. I unscrewed it from the bus and detached the wires, and added it to my loot. At the time, I was finishing my basement with the intent of displaying various plates and transit stuff I have in my collection. I can’t hear the doorbell from down there, and I was thinking that I could use the bus stop bell as a second door chime, which would be in keeping with the theme of the room. Besides, I must have rang that bell quite a few times during my childhood when the bus was still in service… Pretty neat.
After two hours of scrounging for plates and bells, the guy at the counter charged me $5 and asked me what the hell I was going to do with all them friggin’ plates. “I just hang ‘em on the wall,” was my only reply. I don’t say I’m a collector anymore. When you’re a collector, you imply that you’ll pay lots of money for what you want. In some cases, like this one, I’d prefer to be seen as an eccentric who hordes stuff.
I hopped into the car and listened to the delightful, unmistakable clatter of plates as I bounded down the road. As long as they keep letting me in, I’ll keep coming.
Note about the bus bell: It worked on 12-16 Volts DC, which is compatible with the 12-volt door chime system at home. The only extra problem was that the transformer that attaches to the breaker panel (which converts 120V AC into 12V DC, which is usable by your doorbell) wasn’t powerful enough (10 Watts) to run two chimes. There’s a simple fix for this: go to a lighting specialty store (Home Depot and Rona were no help here) and get a 30-Watt transformer rated for a second chime. I shut my power off, disconnected my old transformer, and installed the more powerful one, and reconnected the wires to it. Then, I mounted the bus bell in the workroom where I would need it most, and threaded some bell wire (solid, not stranded) from my main doorbell, down through the walls and into the basement. I connected the wires to the bus bell using the connection screws. Upstairs, I loosened the connection screws on the main chime and added the additional wires that lead to the bus bell, such that both my existing chime and the bus bell were connected in parallel. Works like a charm. Next stop, please.