I have a busy home life, with lots of child-related things to take care of. It’s a far cry from my life ten years ago. I could simply book time off whenever I wanted and go to whichever flea market, swap meet, or ALPCA Convention I chose. Normally, I would choose to go to them all. I remember when I'd show up at the Barrie Automotive Flea Market at 7 am on Thursday morning, just to try and hog all the good finds. I’d spend three days there and head home after combing the field on Saturday. No one to answer to, no schedules to keep, and—to quote Gordon Lightfoot—“I’ll think about Monday when Monday comes.”
Now, I work inflexible hours and cannot take time off during mid-week to indulge myself. Even if I did, I’m the only driver in my family, so someone’s got to drive the kids to their various destinations. My wife, even though she’s a non-driver, is just as busy as I am. When the weekend arrives, I have to make sure I have enough “points” accumulated before I can get the OK to drive off into the sunset for an evening, headed toward a car show somewhere the following day.
On the weekend of May 4, we had booked the Sears steam cleaners to come to the house and do the carpets, to try and make the house more presentable for our kids’ grandparents, who would soon be visiting. We needed a way to keep the kids out of the house while the carpets were drying out, and I had a win-win-win solution: I would bring them both to the big flea market in #Stirling, Ontario. The kids would have fun and get exercise, I would get to hunt for plates, and my wife would get a quiet house to herself with clean carpets.
The American Antique Car Association had long been the organizer of the Stirling event, but after last year, they packed up and moved their show to Lindsay, nearly an hour west of Stirling—closer for people in the GTA, but farther for people like me in the eastern reaches of Ontario. Not to be left in the dust, the town of Stirling has continued to host an event, as the 1st annual Stirling Antique Car Show and Flea Market. It appeared that the vendors might be split between the two. I’d find out first-hand on the morning of May 4.
I got my kids up before dawn—they’re easy to rise—and we wolfed down some McBreakfast before heading down the highway. As with any car trip where the kids need some distraction, I had the DVD player going with some of their favourite movies. They were fine, and the excellent new ONRoute stations along the 401 made washroom breaks a snap. We rolled into Stirling at around 8:30 am. The main streets were choked with traffic, just as they were in past years. As I approached the Stirling arena and fairgrounds, I could see that the front parking lot was filled with antique cars, and the vending field, or what I could see of it, was as full as it had ever been.
We were directed to one of the rear fields, over the bumpy grass, to park the car. Thus began the parental supervision. I had forgotten to bring a stroller, but my son is three and seems to enjoy walking as long as his surroundings are interesting. My daughter would be turning seven very shortly, and she’s usually easy going. I promised them that they could each buy a toy if they were good. Within five minutes, my daughter found a naked Barbie doll with a dog-chewed hand and messy hair. I narrowly succeeded in conveying to her the “best things come to those who wait” idea. The naked Barbie was left behind.
I found that the vendors this year were pretty much the same as last year. If I hadn’t already known that the show was in its first year without the AACA mothership, I wouldn’t have suspected anything. The field was full, with many vendors of car parts, junky toys, rustic antiques, old signs, and yes, license plates. Early on, I found a ’51 pair and a ’69 pair that found their way into my collection. I also found some flapwheels that I often use to restore plates. The only good place to get them is a flea market like Stirling or Barrie where they cost two bucks each.
The kids became hungry during mid-morning, so we jumped on a snack shack that had no line—people generally don’t want their fries at 10 in the morning. Sure enough, a mere hour later, the same shack had a line that was twelve customers deep.
Roy Solmes’ plates were at Stirling—without Roy, though, who I guess has retired from vending and bequeathed it to his son. The same green bus was there, with the same displays and repainted plates. I don’t know what else to call them without referring to Roy. I don’t often buy there, and this year was par for the course.
I found a neat Beetle parked in a vendor lot with a board of license plates propped up against it. This vendor had a healthy selection of early Saskatchewan plates, plus some mid-60s US Forces plates. Interesting to look at, to be sure, but I don’t collect either jurisdiction. There was a time when I would have been less picky—the 1996 ALPCA Convention comes to mind, when I apparently decided I was going to collect a run of Illinois plates and came home with 30 of them—but I’m almost exclusively an Ontario collector now, even to the point where if I see a $20 out-of-province plate for $10, I’ll just pass.
Noon hour had arrived. I had about twelve plates to show for my morning. My daughter had found a pair of binoculars, and my son was cradling his new-to-him Matchbox cars. The kids were getting tired. They had done well all morning. I was a lucky man. We headed for the show lot to see the classic cars on display before calling it a day. I found a ’65 Mustang featuring a pair of mint doctor plates that I had sold as a YOM pair the previous summer. I only had my phone, and the lighting wasn’t great—direct sunlight never is—but I snapped some pictures. I also came across a 1940 Chevy sedan delivery, bearing YOM plates that were sort of from me. Back when I offered restoration services a few years ago, a guy sent me his 1940 plates and I repainted them. Five years later, they’re still looking good—I guess I know what I’m doing!
I took the kids to an ice cream stand in downtown Stirling to unwind before packing them in the car for the three-hour trip home. They watched more movies, pointed out weird vehicles on the highway, and my son napped. On the home stretch of the journey, a ’71 Plymouth Satellite entered the highway in front of us. We gained on it for a few minutes until I could see what I suspected… it had a blue set of ’71 YOM plates. Not only that, it also happened to be one of the vehicles that I feature on my Ontplates testimonials page! More and more, I’m seeing my own handiwork on the road. It’s rewarding, but not as much so as being a dad to two great kids.