My trip to Acton this year was a little abbreviated. I always hope to rise early on the Saturday and take my time checking out junk shops along the way. This year, I was tied up at home, wearing my “dad hat”, until midway through the afternoon on Saturday, which meant I’d have to make a direct, non-stop drive in order to get there at a decent hour. This year, Dave Grant rode shotgun with me. For ease of writing, I’ll refer to him in this installment as DG (you’ll figure out why in a minute). DG brought a display, but no traders—whereas, I brought traders, but no display.
The drive to Acton was fairly uneventful, aside from some ongoing construction on the 401 near the scene of a major pileup and chemical spill back in March. The road is down to one lane, and traffic backs up as a result. I’ve heard that’ll be the case for a few months, so DG and I went along the Thousand Islands Parkway as a bypass. It was very scenic, and worked like a charm.
We arrived in Acton around 8 pm on Saturday. I had a trade brewing with Dave Steckley, our meet host, and he had been itching to show off his displays ever since putting them up on the basement walls of his new home. Dave had generously agreed to let DG and I crash at his place for the night, as well as Eric Vettoretti, who had been spending the day hunting for plates in the Barrie area.
I pulled into the driveway of the Steckley residence and saw Dave standing with Eric up near the house, Eric’s trunk ajar, and various plates piled around. Eric’s trunk contained a plethora of Ontario plates from a lot that we had bought together a few weeks before. Dave had helped us connect with the seller in the first place, and as thanks, we gave him first pick of the loot that we didn’t need. It looked like Dave had just finished making his picks when DG and I arrived.
We chatted in the darkening twilight for a little while before heading into the house. Foremost on our minds, of course, was Dave’s collection. I’ve known Dave for about 20 years, but had never actually seen his collection, which is exhaustive as far as Ontario is concerned, and covers many Canada and US jurisdictions back to 1950, with a few golden oldies from some of the more interesting Canadian provinces. My jaw dropped when I stepped down into the basement. So many cool plates, and so much space to put them.
I finished my trade with Dave, in which I acquired the glass-affixed 1952 windshield sticker that I’d been missing, along with a Windsor Police decal on the same piece of windshield glass. I also upgraded two weaker sisters in my passenger run, gaining near-mint 1938 and 1939 plates, plus a 1973 passenger from Renfrew, which I gave to DG. Heading Dave’s way were a mint 1937 doctor pair, and a pair of 1922 trailer plates. I admit that the trade is slanted in Dave’s favour, but I subscribe to the “good home” theory, and Dave was very kind to offer a place to sleep for DG and I on short notice.
We hung around in Dave’s basement for a couple of hours, just chatting, taking pictures and enjoying the jewels on the walls. Before long, it was close to midnight, so we retired to our four respective rooms for the night.
The next morning, Dave was up in the kitchen making coffee as the rest of us awoke. He had a couple of things to do before leaving, but told us we should go on ahead. We got to the parking lot of the Acton arena a little before 7:30. There were a few vehicles parked out front. It was a cold, overcast morning, so DG and I stayed in the warm car, rather than getting out and growing cold in the lot, waiting for the doors to be unlocked. A few minutes later, I noticed a couple of people entering the front shuffleboard hall through the wrong doors, just as Dave pulled up in his own car. The first rule of the swap meet is that you wait for the host to give the OK for entry, rather than finding an unlocked door and helping yourself. Anyway, we shut the incorrect doors and opened the correct one to allow people to unload.
Eric and I had a dozen boxes of plates to sell, so we nabbed a couple of tables right near the entrance door. No sooner were our boxes arranged on the tables than did people start flipping through the plates. We had previously organized plates by value in tiered boxes marked $2, $5, $10, $15 and $20, with coloured stickers to match, in order to make totalling easy. By about 8:10, an official ten minutes into the meet, the hall was flooded with people. The Acton meet had previously been held, for the past three years, on the concrete pad of the curling rink. But this year, the ice came out late due to a long playoff run, so we were given the original hall as an alternate. To have so many people in that room, as compared to previous years, speaks volumes about the rising popularity of the Acton meet. Pretty much all the regulars were these this year—no one had other commitments to keep them away from the meet this year (except Dave Wilson, who was once again travelling the world as he often does, and Paul Frater, who was working in Europe). Below is a 360 degree video of the meet hall, filmed a few minutes after 8 am. The hall is already packed:
Matt and Holly Embro proudly introduced their infant son, Dallas, who had been born over the winter months. I couldn’t help but remember my late friend Bob Cornelius, who had been hoping to make it to this edition of Acton. If he had, he would have taken quite a shine to little Dallas, who stared wide-eyed and calm at his surroundings amid the hustle and bustle of his first-ever swap meet.
Eric and I eventually bit the bullet and announced a half-price sale on our dwindling pile of plates. As expected, the masses made a beeline for our table, with arms reaching across the table, hands removing bundles of plates, feet shuffling around, and people approaching me with piles of plates to add up. After the dust settled, there were some boxes gone, some boxes nearly empty, and small piles of plates left randomly on the table.
I wasn’t able to chat with people very much—at least, not outside the context of selling plates from the table. It seemed that every time someone would hand me a few bucks and move on, there’d be someone else within seconds to take their place. That’s a nice problem to have, but it did keep me from chatting at length with a number of platefolk. So Jim, Alan, Chuck, Norm, Will… sorry our chats were so abbreviated. Before I knew it, it was close to 11 am and time for the group announcements.
Gary Edwards announced that there were a few more MTO-100 plates available to those who didn’t get one six months ago in Grimsby. Ned Flynn once again supported our meet and gave us some news about the upcoming ALPCA Convention in Ontario (California, that is—swimming pools, movie stars). There were a couple of surprising presentations made, and the door prizes were passed out.
DG's display featured a small portion of his 1973 Ontario base run. His theme was "Seeing Double", with a title card drawn by his daughter, Leah. The left side of the display shows repeating letters in the first two positions arranged alphabetically, whereas the right panel features repeating letters in the last two positions, also arranged alphabetically. The algebra nerd in me noticed the pattern instantly.
I did talk with ALPCA President Cyndi McCabe at length about her idea of an educational outreach to kids—creating easy-to-use lesson plans for teachers, in the areas of math, geography or history, and incorporating old or new license plates into the lesson. Basically, just something that could be used in a classroom, but also spark an interest in our hobby. It’s a grassroots approach, and one that won’t require a lot of effort to maintain once it’s established. The lessons could be made available through the public portion of ALPCA’s site, or be offered freely through other curriculum resource portals. It’s worth a shot—a new idea that could potentially cultivate new members.
It was approaching noon and there were still some leftover plates left on the table from the half-price sale, nearly an hour before. Eric and I were ready to leave and we wanted the rest of the plates gone. One fella we didn’t know came up and asked to haggle on individual pairs. I figured there would never be a better time, so we offered all the remaining plates on the table for $15. He accepted, and with that, the table was empty.
DG and I were starving and wanted to take some time to eat. Eric was under some time pressure and had to leave, so we settled up our earnings, and I wished Eric a safe trip. I drove into Milton with Alannah Franks, while her husband Mike drove his fancy pickup truck ahead of us, with DG (who LOVES trucks) riding shotgun. Pierre Rondeau joined us, and we all had lunch at Kelsey’s. The service was fast, the food was hot and tasty, and our waitress refilled our drinks constantly (with no spillage, either). We talked plates, hockey, baseball, and all kinds of other stuff. By 2:30, Dave and I really needed to get going, so we said goodbye and hit the road. The 401 cost us about 40 minutes of driving time due to the stop-n-go caused from a collision, but we did end up back in Ottawa early enough to put our kids to bed. That’s a lot of driving in 27 hours, and of course, I was exhausted. As much as I would love to bang out a 2Cents article immediately afterward, my late-night stamina isn’t what it used to be. It took three days to write this time!