The Stirling auto flea market is held the first weekend of May each year, rain or shine (usually rain). It’s close enough to Ottawa that I can get there in the morning and return home by the afternoon early enough that my wife will decide not to call a divorce lawyer. I keep arriving earlier each year—partly to avoid the traffic jam on main street, partly to maximize the use of my day, and partly to see just how early good old Terry Ellsworth shows up (he still gets there earlier than I do, but it’s in his neighbourhood, whereas I have to drive for over two hours on the 401).
My pal Eric Vettoretti was gung-ho about going to Stirling, and he was even OK with me picking him up at 4:30 am, but he had one minor twist to overcome—he was on vacation in Vegas and would only be arriving home at midnight… as in, four hours and thirty minutes before I would pick him up. Needless to say, I expected him to conk out during the drive, but plate trips have a way of winding us both up, and neither of us would shut up, so we just bit the bullet and grabbed a pre-sunrise double-double from a lonely Tim’s somewhere in the darkness.
We arrived in Stirling at about 7:30 am… Early enough that many vendors were still asleep in their campers. As always, it had rained the night before, and it was actually rather cold, to boot. Rainwater had actually frozen into thin plates of ice, which cracked on the ground as vendors pulled their tarps away to open for the day.
We took a different approach to plating this year—and one that I would highly recommend if you’re a plate geek and happen to go with a buddy to events like this. Rather than buying plates individually and keeping the pressure of competition from going haywire, we simply put all plates we bought into a “pool” (unless one of us was disinterested in what the other was buying). We kept track of the amount spent, and whose pocket it had come from, and then split all the plates down the middle afterward and settled up, money-wise. It was really a nice system.
We went scouting for YOM pairs, of course, but we’re always on the lookout to add neat stuff to our collections. Stirling often isn’t a great place to find collection upgraders, but that’s more due to the small size of the market, as well as the fact that Terry often scoops us because he finds it earlier (and good for him). We did run into Terry early on, and he had landed a F-suffix plate from 1942 (domestic military base issue, with F standing for Forces). I would have been bright green with envy if it was one of the brown plates, but in 1942, Forces plates were just regular passenger colours. Interesting to me, but it’s the different colours that really pique my interest.
9 am rolls around, and we had bought a little, but we still had the whole day ahead of us—or so we thought. We passed Repaint Roy’s green bus with the tents out front. He doesn’t make the trek to Barrie anymore, as he’s selling off his plates and retiring, so to speak, but he still does Stirling, at least for now. Much of Roy’s prime stuff is beyond my interest and I tend to pay attention to the bins of rougher plates. There were about 15 crates of plates in a small trailer, so I started picking through them. Eric joined in, too.
“What year you lads looking for?” he said.
We gave him the standard answer about how we look for lots of years, pairs, or odd types. Then it happened.
“Well, I’m selling out here… you can take the whole trailer load for $250.”
Gulp. I played it cool a bit while I flipped through more representative boxes. I made idle chit-chat with him before he had to turn away to deal with another customer briefly. Then Eric said, quietly, “I’d be interested in splitting this with you. For $125 each, I think it’s a good deal.” I agreed wholeheartedly, and told Eric I wanted to jump on them, but I didn’t want to look like I was jumping on them. Overenthusiasm has backfired on me in the past.
We forked over $250 and I went to find my car while Eric guarded the stash. I returned in about five minutes and we easily loaded them all into the back of my station wagon (don’t knock wagons—this is why I drive one). There must have been 800 plates there. Mostly Ontario, a bit of Quebec, and odds and sods from points elsewhere.
It was 9:20 am. We had blown our budget after less than two hours. We hadn’t expected to collect such a big haul so early. My car was jammed full of crates of old license plates, rattling back and forth while I was trying to find a new parking spot. I was pumped at the prospect of going through them all, but as I mentioned to Eric, there was one inescapable consequence:
“Our wives are going to kill us.”
We combed the rest of the field, but we became quite picky. We left decent plates behind on vendors’ tables, knowing full well that we would have picked them up if we hadn’t bought Roy out. I did find an ancient road sign, an English-only “NO U TURN” sign in block letters, as opposed to the symbol we see today. I also picked up a pair of 1920 plates that Eric declined to pool.
It was early, but we decided to leave and head back to Eric’s place, where we could use his garage to spread out our loot and divvy it up. We arrived at Eric’s place three hours later, and took almost as long again to split up the enormous pool of plates we had amassed.
I now own probably five times the number of plates that I did at this time last year. I’m turning into one of “those people” who hoard stuff in their basement for the sake of doing it. I never thought I’d wind up with this much—hopefully, it won’t push me into buying a bigger house. After the daughter is in bed and the wife is reading her evening book, I put on my ratty T-shirt and go downstairs to wash more plates. I’m having fun, and the time I spend doing it is all in moderation. Well, that’s how I rationalize it, anyway. Am I crazy? Maybe.