There are only two places I regularly go to rescue license plates from the rough... both of which are undisclosed locations in and around my childhood hometown of Sault Ste. Marie. Neither source has ever objected to me coming over to scoop some plates, which I try to do once every summer. I'm used to pretty slim pickings at both places... say, five nice plates, after an hour of looking in each yard. It's more a labour of love than anything else. If you're a plate geek, you'll understand.
I hadn't been able to visit my secret yards for the past two years because of some, shall I say, more upscale travel plans. So, when I was passing through this year, I figured there would be double the normal number of plates awaiting. I was wrong—it was more like quadruple.
Since I'm used to slim pickings in my junkyard adventures, it truly felt like a bonanza. As soon as I stepped into the first yard, I found a couple of nice recent Ontario plates. Nothing I needed for my collection, but very handy for my dwindling trade box. I threaded my way through the derelict cars, which were crammed together bumper-to-bumper and door-to-door. It's a rather compact yard, having once been a gravel pit. The uneven terrain makes the hunting a little tricky— I do a lot of ducking, climbing and crouching as I glance at the bumpers for a telltale glimpse of blue and white.
I noticed, this year, that the number of retired Ford Tempos has jumped considerably. Everyone bought them in the early 1990s, but up in Canada, they quickly turned into rustbuckets. I used to drive a Mercury Topaz—the Tempo's twin—and it met a similar fate a few years ago. Several of them lay in this crowded scrapyard. Most have sand and gravel visible where the floor should be, with the metal having rotted away. These Tempos have provided me with a disproportionate number of plates-- I look forward to next year when perhaps even more of them will await me.
The second yard that I visited is many times bigger than the first. But it only took about twice the time to explore, since the cars are more spread out. I can walk past them like I would in a parking lot, and see the remaining plates more easily.
I had a great time there this year. I found about ten nearly-new Ontario plates with just-expired stickers. I found a Michigan passenger, as well as a pair of Saskatchewan plates. My arm ached from turning the screwdriver so much. I didn't think to bring my electric screwdriver... maybe next year.
As I made my way to a lonely corner of the yard, I noticed three British double-decker buses standing side by side. I knew they had been used to bring tourists to key sightseeing locales, but I was suprised to see them in this scrapyard. I walked over and found a nice pair of new Ontario bus plates on one of them. I also found a plastic British license plate on the same bus. It was stuck on with adhesive foam, but I managed to pull it off without damaging the plate more than it was already.
I looked up at one of the the buses and noticed the rollsign window above the driver's seat. Bus rollsigns are another minor interest of mine, so I hopped aboard and climbed the stairs to the second level. I unlocked the access panel with a screwdriver and found a tattered piece of canvas which read "Thames Valley" in large, slanted letters. I tried to save it, but it had fallen victim to moisture and sunlight over the years... and it fell apart in my hands. I looked a little further on the other buses, and found a destination rollsign, which had been hidden because someone painted "Tour Bus" on the outside of the sign window. The rollsign was made of canvas. But unlike the previous one I'd seen, this one was clean, dry, and fully intact. I pulled the spools out and tried unrolling the sign a bit. It was was very long with probably a few dozen readings on it. I rolled it back up; I would check it out later. There was other interesting signage in the bus-- British manufacturers' plaques, 1930s-era safety slogans, and fare signs making reference to shillings and sixpence.
I got back on topic and resumed my hunt for license plates. I rescued a few more from the bumpers as I made my way across the yard-- a couple of trucks, but mostly just common passenger plates. There were a couple of old PCV plates, but I always leave them alone, since I don't collect them. I didn't take every passenger plate I saw, either. In general, I'll take anything very good or better, but I'll go down to fair condition if it has a nice sticker.
As my hunting came to an end, I stopped at another old bus. This one was a former Sault Ste. Marie Transit bus. I had raided it three years before, at which time I took the plates and front destination rollsign. I had left the side rollsign alone, and it was still there this time around. I figured I'd take home as much junk as possible, so I opened the crank case and took out the sign. The guys in the yard office were amused at the signs, but they're good-natured and let me take them. I think throwing a few bucks into their coffee fund helps.
I happily drove home amid the friendly clatter of aluminum and steel, which signifies a good day's tinchasing. As I was washing the dirtier plates, I decided to take a look at the British bus sign. It unrolled to about 70 feet down the driveway, and was loaded with borough and street names from around London. My name was almost on it... "Ufton" instead of "Upton."
It was a pretty cool day to be a geek.