Over the Christmas holidays, I received a message from a person in the Huntsville area. They had a batch of licence plates, given to them by an elder family member, and they were interested in selling. Of course, plate junkie that I am, I expressed my interest in seeing some pictures. Often, when this happens, I expect to see plates with varying degrees of rust. I’m continually looking for restorable pairs for my YOM business, and sometimes the plates are workable, and other times they’re either singles or so badly damaged that there’s nothing I can do to save them. When the pictures arrived, I expected to see rust, somehow, somewhere.
There was no rust to be seen. There were quite a few quarterly truck plates, and although they’re a dime a dozen, they looked to be in near-mint condition. As I looked closer, I saw that the red ones were not, in fact, June truck plates-- they were diplomatic plates! There were a couple of consular plates and some foreign embassy staff plates as well. I looked through the pictures with renewed interest. There were some non-passenger plates from 1944 and 1952-- commercial permits, school bus, and motorcycle plates -- and I recently decided to start type sets of those two hard-to-find years. They were in great condition, all of them. The rest of the pictures showed other various Ontario plates that could very well upgrade those in my collection. Others from elsewhere in Canada were beyond my collectible interests, but still worthy traders. I took a breath and scanned the pictures for YOM candidates-- only one or two, but I decided then and there that I wanted to buy this lot, mostly to improve my own collection.
I came up with a value that I felt was fair to the seller, based on all the high-end plates in the lot, but workable for me. Although I’d probably be looking at making a winter road trip to pick up these plates, it would be worth the effort. These plates were too “up my alley” to decline.
I put two-and-two together from my dialogue with the seller and determined that these plates were coming from a fairly prominent Huntsville collector who often vended at the Barrie Automotive Flea Market. The batch I was buying was relatively small compared to the renowned scope of his collection, which raised some curiosity in my mind, but I decided to save my questions for later. We agreed to terms. I would have to wait three weeks until I could pick them up, so I voluntarily paid a deposit in the interim.
My wife is never thrilled when I spring these impromptu trips on the family, so I planned carefully. I’d get up before dawn, get the plates by mid-morning, and be home by early afternoon, to minimize the pater in absentia aspect of it all.
On the morning of January 14, 2017, I awoke a little after five o'clock. I made a coffee and took note of the outside temperature: Minus 26 Celsius. Since I’d be spending most of my time driving on a two-lane highway through fairly remote territory, I brought along some additional layers of clothing, my deep freeze boots / hat / gloves, and my parka. I brought a big fat candle and a lighter, just for good measure. Three-quarters of my route would be along Highway 60, for a duration of three hours' driving time each way. During all that time, I would be passing through only four or five small towns, as well as Algonquin Park. I hopped into the car and off I drove into the waning night.
It was a very cold morning, but I drove under a clear sky and a bright moon, along empty highways, through sleeping towns... just beautiful. I caught some spectacular colours behind me nearing the town of Douglas-- a rich, navy blue sky with a bright band of orange-red near the horizon. I wasn't expecting such an awesome sight. I pulled over and did my best to take pictures of the eastern sky. Clouds had moved in from the west by the time I reached the town of Wilno, which was after sunrise, and it stayed overcast for the duration. I stopped for coffee in Barry's Bay-- It had warmed up a few degrees by then, but the temperature was still in the minus teens. The air was thick with the smell of woodstove smoke, and the roadside Tim’s was full of coffee-drinkers, with nary a place to sit. Not long after, I found myself in Algonquin Park, which I had never before seen in winter. It was pretty, but it’s prettier in the summer.
I arrived in Huntsville around 10, and pulled into the Tim Horton’s to wait for the sellers. I was a little early, but it was a chance to stretch out my legs. Soon enough, I recognized the colour and make of their approaching car. I checked the plates out-- all there, or course-- and counted out the currency with them. We chatted for a bit, but it was quite cold, and we cut the conversation short. I inquired as to the health of the collector from whom the plates had come. He is slowing down somewhat and retiring from active collecting. The lion’s share of his collection-- including two leather shields and a number-one 1911 porcelain-- is staying with the family, and no other plates were being made available for sale. We were starting to shiver, and I had another four hours of driving ahead, so I said goodbye and drove down the road to refuel. I resisted the temptation to poke around the town, since I had a family waiting, so I wasted no time and returned home via the same route.
The drive home was tricky because there was black ice on the right side of the eastbound lanes all through Algonquin Park, so I had to ride the yellow line to keep all wheels on bare pavement. But there was no traffic, and I wasn’t moving too quickly. The anticlimactic ride home was a bit of a bore, with a box full of tin in the back that I couldn’t admire-- and wouldn’t be able to for a while after getting home.
About a week later, I finally got around to pulling plates from my collection and upgrading my runs, and organizing the remaining plates for eventual resale. A couple of the more high-end items are spoken for, but as for the rest… Let’s just say it might be worthwhile to attend the Acton swap meet this coming April!