If it feels good, do it. And if it works well, do it again. That was the theme for this year’s Acton journey.
Last year, before the Acton trip, I came to the conclusion that plate-hunting in eastern Ontario is pretty much futile. The antique and flea markets that might sell plates are few and far between. After years of trying to find plates, using various routes such as Highway 7, Highway 2, Highway 60, and various strung-together county roads, I hadn’t been turning up very much, either for the collection, or YOM-wise. I focused my 2015 effort on the area west of Toronto, and I had a lot more luck, and a lot more fun along the way… so when the time came to plot my course for 2016, I zeroed in on places like Cambridge, Hamilton, Woodstock and Norfolk. Of course, these kinds of flea markets are open on Saturday between 9 and 5. In order to do as many of them as possible during opening hours, it means leaving Ottawa at around 4 am. No problem!
I woke at 3 am, shook off the cobwebs silently to keep my wife and kids from being disturbed, and quietly loaded a few small boxes into the back of my car. My wife and I had cleaned our car of winter salt and candy wrappers the day before. I did the vacuuming, and she had done the dusting—even using Q-tips to get in the crannies. She warned me that she might have flicked some switches in the process, and not to be shocked if the wipers and high-beams were on. The dust-free dashboard smelled like a bouquet of flowers when I got in my seat to turn my key.
The engine was barely turning over. I scanned my instruments—everything went dark each time I cranked the engine. As I tried again, I made a note of all the lights that went dark during each crank… including both map lights embedded in the rear-view mirror. But what would they be doing on? I didn’t touch them. Then it dawned on me that the mirror was nice and clean, with no dust… my wife must have turned them both on accidentally while dusting. That was about 10 hours before, and they had apparently been lit all night long.
I shut both lights off, as well as the radio and cabin fan, to conserve current for the engine. I turned my key again.
It worked—I finally got the spark I needed to get her started. I had to go and pick up Eric – I was now ten minutes late – and I figured that the battery would recharge on the way to get him. I had jumper cables, so in a worst-case scenario, I could just have Eric boost me and then we’d drive until opening time, and then just buy a new battery at a Canadian Tire someplace.
I arrived in Eric’s neighbourhood, where he was waiting in his DeLorean. He was going to follow me to a specialist garage in Milton to have some tricky work done on it, and then I’d just drive us both for the duration, with Eric picking the car up in a few weeks when ready. I told him what happened to my battery, and quit the engine to see if it would start again. It turned over fine and started immediately, so with that glitch solved, we hit the highway in the darkness just a shade after 4 am.
The drive along the highway to Kingston was really nice. The road was deserted, and a full moon in the western sky lit up a thin layer of cloud that stretched all around. The sun wasn’t yet hinting at rising, but it was bright enough to see ahead even without headlights (not that I shut mine off). Soon enough, the sun rose behind us and we had arrived at the garage in Milton for 9 am. Eric chatted with his mechanic for a while, and showed the parts he’d bought for installation, and described some engine-based temperaments he hoped could be solved. We departed soon afterward, and headed to our first stop of the day in Freelton—a tiny hamlet that is now technically part of Hamilton, although being surrounded by flat farm fields, it didn’t seem to be the industrial, busy Hamilton that I usually picture in my mind’s eye.
We both breathed a sigh of relief as we entered our first junk shop of the day. many of these antique markets have a sort of musty smell to them, and it was nice to finally be actively looking for plates and other junk after hibernating all winter. In one small box on the floor, we flipped through a few unexciting quarterlies, but then a very interesting 1973 passenger pair revealed itself: AAA-223. It was priced at a pittance, so buying the plates was a no-brainer. They wouldn’t be any good for YOM, since they had been stickered into the mid-1980s, but we knew that our friend Alan Bones would be very keen on them. He’s made some generous trades with us both previously, so we decided to just give them to him as a gift. We’d be seeing him the next day at the swap meet.
Our next stop was the excellent Southworks antique mall in Cambridge. I discovered that place the previous year, and although it doesn’t have a lot of plates overall, it was the right kind of place to make such a discovery, with a lot of industrial-type collectibles and signage. We enjoyed our tour through it, but ultimately didn’t buy any plates there. I did buy some Blue Jays baseball cards – from various years through the 1980s and 90s, all in a randomized new-in-box package.
On our way out of Cambridge, we stopped at Fast Eddie’s for lunch and then headed onward to our westernmost stop of the day in Kintore. The town is basically a bunch of houses at an intersection in the middle of some farm fields. The only business in town is McRatterson’s Antiques. We knew they had plates before coming, and we were pleasantly surprised to see the exterior of the shop decorated with plates and old signs. We went inside and methodically went through pretty much everything they had. We didn’t buy a lot that day, since there were quite a few common years, but it was still a really neat store, even if it was out of the way.
Next up was One Of A Kind in Woodstock, which I had visited late in the day the previous year and didn’t get to finish. It’s billed as the largest antique mall in all of Canada. Housed in an old three-storey factory, the building is just as interesting as the market vendors. The building is faced with brick, but the support beams on the inside are made of solid wood, with hardwood floors everywhere. There were lots of belt-driven shafts in the ceiling that used to connect various machines to each other, and in the rear was a very old freight elevator that is still in use. There were a ton of 1972 plates, just like last time… and a short 1924 plate that was snipped to be even shorter… but we did uncover a few plates of interest in the hour or more that we spent exploring.
The afternoon was wearing on, and our last stop of the day was in Norfolk County, in a town called Waterford. Eric had visited a few years before and found a couple of interesting shops. We arrived after 5 pm, but the stores we wanted to visit had a closing time of 6 o’clock, so we weren’t pressed for time, but these shops would clearly be our last commercial destinations for the day. The stores felt right—like we’d turn a corner and find a pile of plates. We didn’t really find any, except in the very last section before heading for the door. We found a couple of pairs, including a 1931 that was YOMable, but riddled with drill holes. Either of us is good enough that we can restore them to their former elegance, but it’ll take a lot of bondo and primer to do it.
After we were finished shopping, we headed north out of Norfolk to Kitchener along Highway 24, and we were there in about half an hour. It amazes us that everything is so close together in this part of Ontario. We passed through the outskirts of Brantford and through the heart of Paris on our way. In the eastern portion of Ontario, it’s a much longer drive to get between two centres of interest. In Kitchener, I met up with a fella who was selling me a pair of interest. Our final stop afterward was in Oakville. A gentleman who had restored cars and collected automobilia for decades was slowing things down and selling off, and we had an agreement to purchase his plates. I missed my exit from the highway, and I fought with my GPS for the next 20 minutes, trying to stay off the 407 ETR and avoid its exorbitant tolls. We meandered our way to his house by sundown and had a very pleasant chat. Some of the plates included in the lot came from his own vehicles in the 1950s and 60s, including one of the 1953 plates that came from the very first car he ever owned—a 1949 Monarch. We talked him into keeping that plate as a memento of days gone by, and for that, he was grateful.
By this time, it was dark and we were getting hungry, so we threaded our way through Halton Region to our Motel 6 on Argentia Road in Mississauga. We’ve been staying at this place for about ten years now, with a couple of exceptions. When we discovered the hotel, it was newly-built in the middle of a wasteland. The road ended just in front of the building, and there were no other businesses in the area, save for Home Depot, and one gas station. We wondered at the time – why in the world would someone build a hotel here, of all places? As it turns out, Motel 6 was wisely anticipating the urban sprawl that would follow. 10+ years later, the area is fully developed, with car dealerships, restaurants, supermarkets, gas stations, retail stores, and anything else we could need. The first year I stayed there, I forgot my deodorant, and had to buy a terrible brand at the gas station for something like 8 bucks. Nowadays, I could do that at Loblaws, as well as withdraw money from my ATM and buy beer, all in one stop. The drawback of this development is that the hotel is always full now, and we have to book ahead—and there’s sometimes riffraff about. A blacked-out Infiniti was parked facing the hotel rooms, with its aftermarket LED headlights cycling through an ostentatious and annoying spectrum of colour all through the evening. We chose one of the numerous eateries and celebrated a fruitful Saturday of geeking with a couple of giant steaks. When we were done 90 minutes later and walked back to the hotel, the Infiniti was still parked there, still unoccupied, still cycling its lights.
We slept for about 7 hours and quickly lugged our stuff out to the car. The temperature had really cooled off overnight, and I wished I brought gloves. The Infiniti was still in its spot, with the colour cycling of its headlights having ceased, either due to a complaint, or due to the battery going flat (guess which one I was rooting for?).
We arrived in Acton at the stroke of seven o’clock, one hour before the official meet start time, and roughly half an hour before the doors opened. We pulled into the local Tim’s for a coffee and noticed the unmistakable black Volvo that belonged to Alan Bones. We went in and surprised him with the AAA-223 plates we had found the day before. Alan’s is the best home we could think of for those plates. He seemed to like them very much.
The Acton meet itself was starting to get underway. We moved across the street and began to unload our boxes. Of course, with each passing meet, there are more people to talk to and more memories to rekindle. Swap meets in Acton (and Grimsby, too) have become something of a whirlwind to me. I never get enough time to talk to everyone, and I’m not sure I got a chance to browse through all the trade stock.
This year’s Acton meet was jam-packed, and with good reason. After the passing of long-time collector George Sanders over the winter, his family put some of his collection up for sale, and some of it was available via silent auction (subject to sealed bids received beforehand). Eric and I had browsed through the listing and had a few items in our sights. Not all of them wound up appearing at the meet, but most did. I had an auction bid placed on a Canadian Forces plate set, complete with the “CANADA" topper plate with its maple leaf and F-oval, denoting a vehicle stationed in France. Also up for bids were some very early Quebec fibre plates, which were going to be selling into the thousands of dollars, as evidenced by some bids by a collector who had travelled a long way to be there. Quite a few new faces were present, including Mike Glauboch, a prominent ALPCA member who deals in large quantities of plates and travels widely to attend meets throughout the USA.
Norm Ratcliffe brought along his award-winning display of Arkansas police plates, and Dave Grant put together a nice display of Ontario plates with personal meaning to him. I finally brought along my “JON" Ontario passenger plate so I could pose for a long-planned picture with Bob Cornelius, holding his “BOB" plate.
The biggest group ever to attend an Acton meet was posed, with some difficulty, for the customary group photo. There was so much activity that we didn’t get around to doing the picture until after 11 am. Normally, people have left by then, but many were staying to watch the outcome of the silent auction.
The auction itself, I found, wasn’t all that user-friendly. It wasn’t clear to some people that advance bids had been made and kept sealed until after time’s-up at 11:30. In a few cases, the highest bid written on a bidding sheet was lower than a sealed advance bid, but there was no opportunity for in-person bidders to increase the amounts of their bids. As a result, there were several disappointed collectors who would have increased their bids, if only there was a chance. I do not judge the manner in which the sale was conducted—the family was overwhelmed with a wide array of plates and a swap meet was the ideal event to move them—and an auction format was ideal to get the greatest return—but there seemed to be more disappointment stemming from the secret nature of the advance bids, as opposed to the milder flavour of disappointment stemming from losing when a bidder gives up and doesn’t want to go higher.
I was outbid for the Canadian Forces in France plate set that I wanted—it went for $175, which was fifty bucks higher than my amount. The sale prices for the early Quebec plates were absolutely staggering: The 1912 pair went for $6800, the 1913 pair went for $5800, and the 1914 pair went for $3050. All the lots and their high bids were posted online shortly thereafter.
From there, the meet was pretty much finished, and people started discussing various lunch outings. Eric and I wound up at a pub in nearby Georgetown along with Mike and Alannah Franks, Jim Becksted, Susan Nash, Dave and Sayward Grant, and Mike Maloney. The food took a while to arrive, mine was cooler than I expected, and our server was standing behind me when she tipped her beverage tray over, thus instigating the Great Cola Incident of 2016, in which glass tumblers were broken around my chair, and my white promo T-shirt, customized with my business logo, was drenched in cola on the rear side. The mess was cleared up without much drama, but I was irritated that the establishment didn’t offer to make my meal gratis. I asked, and it was granted right away, but after soaking me with drinks and breaking glasses at my ankles, it would have been a classy move for the establishment to do so unprompted. It’s not like I’m in Georgetown very often, but in the future, I won’t be returning to this place if I’m in town and hungry with time to spare.
Speaking of time to spare—that’s what Eric and I no longer had. We headed south through Norval, and took a sideroad to the 401. I drove while Eric did the math to divide up our expenses. It took us nearly five hours, as usual, but we got home before sunset, which means that the dads were able to put their respective kids to bed. Another Acton done and gone.