I’m exhausted! What a meet. Where do I start? And, as I’ll ponder later on, where do we go from here?
My kids are grown-up enough that I no longer have to chaperone them at their schools’ after-hours Halloween dances, and I don’t even have to wait until my wife is home from work. This year, I was able to leave Ottawa by about 4:30, which is a luxury for me. Several times I have not been able to leave until after nightfall, and I've arrived in Grimsby in the wee hours of the morning.
I drove through the evening in dry conditions, grooving to my fall swap meet playlist, and arrived in Grimsby shortly before 10 o'clock. I told Don Goodfellow that I would meet him at the church and help set the tables up. When I arrived, he was just getting started. There was a euchre tournament in the room that was just wrapping up, so we began to set up the tables on one side of the hall while the card players packed up and vacated the other end of the hall. We had all the tables set up in about 45 minutes.
I followed Don back to his house and he showed me a bit of his collection, including a very colourful Ontario plate that his daughter had decorated several years before. Don keeps his collection in the basement now, instead of the attic. He said it was getting a little too heavy to be up there! He has several display boards and picks a different one to bring to each fall swap meet. This year, he brought a board with a super-cool pair of mid-eighties Ontario passenger plates with the super-rare serif-J. My eyes popped because of the added super-coolness of the “SEPT 06” expiry sticker, which is an error. Ontario uses only three letters in its expiry stickers, but didn’t bother to recall / reissue the four-letter variant, which only ever happened this once.
I slept in the cozy attic guest room at Don’s house and got a solid 5 ½ hours’ sleep. We were up early for a bowl of cereal, and then headed out through the darkness toward our parked cars. There were no clouds in the sky, and I pointed out a couple of constellations. It turns out that Don, too, is an astronomy buff and we took turns for a few minutes, pointing out various objects in the sky. We were two days before a new moon, and a razor-thin lunar crescent hung low in the eastern sky, which had only begun to brighten into a dark purple from the forthcoming sunrise. The full disk of the moon was fully visible, with the unlit side being much darker than the sky around it. It was an amazing sight! But then, I reminded myself that there was a plate meet that we had to unlock.
We drove along King Street, the old colonization road that hugs the base of the Niagara Escarpment. To our right were vineyards and the lake. To the left was a colossal wall of rock, partly hidden by the dark tree canopy. We drove through sleepy Beamsville and finally arrived in Grimsby, still pre-dawn, at about a quarter after seven.
As usual, Joe Sallmen was waiting in the parking lot for us to unlock the doors, and wasted no time in setting up his tables, having used his spiffy new Subaru wagon to cart them northward from West Virginia. My table was already set up, so I sat at the registration table to collect admission and sign in as many meet-goers as possible before my table started calling me away.
I had seven full boxes of traders this time, all lined up on my three tables. I don't try to carry that much trade stock; it’s a by-product of the bulk purchases I make to stock my YOM business, and in some cases, upgrade my collection. I had a lot of high-quality Ontario passenger plates that had built up over the summer, plus some unsold traders from the previous year. I cut a lot of my prices and promised myself that I’d take home less than half of what I brought. More on that later.
Very early into the meet, I could tell that we might be in for another attendance record-breaker. The hall was choked with dozens of people. I checked the time: 8:15 am. The meet had been officially open for only fifteen minutes. I tried to stay at the registration table to collect admission and count heads, but Don ended up taking most of that work. We were a little short-staffed, with no spouses or daughters to help out. I was thinking that we might make a concerted effort next time to sign volunteers up for shifts. Or maybe that’s overthinking it? But the hall sure was filling up quickly. I hoped we weren't missing anyone at the door. Dave Colonna gave us a hand at the table, for which I was grateful.
I met Ross McTavish at my table, and he brought a conversation piece. He pulled a worn 1911 porcelain plate out of a bag, number 10131. It was intact without any big chips or gouges, although the finish had worn and faded to a muted navy grey-blue. He then revealed a fake plate with the same number, but this wasn't an ordinary fake. It was produced by GSW, which is the company that took over McClary Stove in 1926. The fake was apparently made on the same line as the original plates, but Ross said it was made in 1959! The fake certainly had the same weight, dimensions and colour as an actual porcelain, but the characters were clearly an approximation. It’s the errant character shape that would reveal its replica status to the eyes of a seasoned collector. Still, it’s interesting to see an artifact from the old McClary line.
The traffic at my table continued to build and I caught that familiar feeling of being pulled apart at the seams from multiple directions. I did my best to visit friends like Bill, Lynda and Karen Thoman, but it seemed that each time I wandered away, I was flagged to come back. That’s not a terrible problem to have, when people want to buy things from you.
Bill is still on the long road to medical recovery, but he’s come such a long way from Acton six months ago. Today, Bill was animated and strong, standing much of the time and seeming more like his old self. He looked terrific! Don and I had arranged a couple of tables against the wall for him, next to a power outlet for his medical gear to stay charged. Bill brought some goodies from his collection at home, and my eyes popped out when I saw his 1965 Ontario plate, number 888-888. Surprise, surprise-- it was a pair! I didn’t know that. I’ve only ever seen one of them on a display board. I jumped at the chance to induct them into my repeat number collection. I was also lucky enough to find a 1940 pump permit on Bill’s table… that’s an arcane type that I didn’t already have, but it’s also special to me because it came from Bill.
John Rubick came to Grimsby for the first time in a couple of years. While I was rummaging through his traders, I noticed a whole bunch of Ontario expiry stickers from the 1980s and onward that Chuck Sakryd was browsing. We both needed a bunch of them, but not necessarily the same ones, and there was plenty to go around. We bought the lot of stickers together and split them. Dave Grant also got in on the action. Three collectors shared the cost, and all three walked away happy.
I hung out with John for a while. He showed me his personal album of plate-related photos and newspaper clippings through the years. I find myself more and more interested in these sorts of things. I myself have a banker’s box at home that’s full of plate-related ephemera… clippings of my collection in the news, and various articles about other collectors through the years. Anyway, you may be aware that John co-hosted a recurring meet in Thorold through the 1980s, and that’s an era that is, sadly, lost to history for the most part. With no news articles archived online, and photos taken on film, it’s now a rare opportunity to peek in at this time period to see what was going on. With John’s permission, I took photos of many articles and snapshots.
We took the group picture a little after ten o’clock. There was lots of furious trading going on, and I felt like a bit of a chump for interrupting it, but traditions are traditions. As with last year, I curtailed any announcements before they happened. There’s just too much going on in the hall to expect people to stand still for a half hour and listen to various presentations. But on the other side of the coin, some people do valuable research and want to share their findings, and I would like to try and provide some sort of forum for it. Maybe a bulletin board or some kind of online forum.
Tom Zimmerman made the journey to Grimsby from Ottawa and brought a display of his passenger run spanning the years 1916 to 1943 (plus a 1944 trailer). I recognized a few of the plates from my trade boxes of the past year. Tom purchased a 1934 passenger single from me to upgrade his display, and switched out the downgrader then and there. I’m glad when people can bring displays. Mike Franks brought a display of BC plates and US graphic optionals. I meant to corner Mike and ask him for some advice on cleaning a badly oversprayed trailer plate using his Vim trick, but I forgot. I even brought the plate so I could hire him to do it for me!
Paul Frater made the meet, having made a well-timed trip home to Canada from Germany. He’ll be in Ontario for the rest of the year, so hopefully he can make it over to Ottawa for a long-overdue beer. He scored a few nice pairs of Ontario plates while on the floor in Grimsby. Frank Crooks made the trip from Montreal. He’s a long-time ALPCAn and not new to the collecting scene, but he’s a relatively new regular participant in Grimsby, and it’s nice to have him aboard.
Sam Mazmanian came to the meet with the goal of keeping his purchases perfectly in line with his sales. He came upon my table around the time that I announced my half-price sale. He knows a good deal when he sees one, so rather than calculating costs, he just gathered up what he wanted. When he was done, he took out his calculator and started crunching some numbers. He would be taking more than his budget would afford, but I was glad to be relieved of some surplus weight on the trip home. Sam paid me what he had in-pocket, and got a few nice plates for free. I got a picture of him after the deal was sealed… I call it “Sam Breaks Even.”
The crowd began to thin out very gradually. By about eleven o’clock, my half-price sale had run its course, and my table was empty enough that it wasn’t drawing any more attention. I could finally wander around and visit people that I hadn’t been able to see. I went straight over to Terry Ellsworth’s table. Terry has had his hands quite full over the past couple of years with family matters, and hasn’t been able to engage much in his hobbies. It had been a couple of years since I’d seen him, so it was nice to catch up. He always has interesting traders at his table, and I bought a nice matching pair of 1930 trailers to upgrade the rusty single in my run. While we were talking, he pulled a few additional plates from a box under his table. One grabbed my attention immediately——an original 1924 dealer plate. Before I could ask Terry for a price, he broke my heart with the news that it was just for show and not for sale. Still, it was amazing to see such an old and rare type. He pulled a couple of other plates from the box. One was a nice 1938 single plate. It was a short plate, and had an X-suffix, denoting a dual-purpose (station wagon) issue. I knew that Dave Steckley had been looking for one of these for many, many years. I looked around for Dave and his wife Evelyn, but I didn’t see either of them.
“I think he just left,” said Terry. “I saw him with his jacket on saying goodbye to people a couple of minutes ago.” I had one chance. I asked Terry if I could take it away from his table for just a minute, and try to find Dave. Terry and I have known each other for nearly twenty years, and I guess I’ve shown him through the years that I’m trustworthy… he was fine with it.
I took the plate and ducked out the rear hall doors and into the parking lot. I saw Dave and Evelyn across the way, putting a couple of things into the open trunk of their car.
“Dave!” I called.
He turned to face me.
“It’s good that I caught you,” I said. I smiled slightly, but didn’t say anything else. Dave looked at me quizzically, wondering where this could be leading. I decided to let the plate do the talking, so I revealed it to him from behind my back.
Dave’s eyes widened as soon as he saw the blue rectangle, orange numbers, and the letter X. He was gobsmacked! I explained that Terry had the plate under his table. Whether it was for sale or not, I didn’t know, but I couldn’t simply do nothing. We walked back inside to Terry’s table. Both Dave and Terry are gentlemen, and it didn’t take long for Dave to make an offer, and Terry to accept. Dave was humbled, and I was just pleased to have been of help to him——and to Terry as well, who was happy to give a plate a good home (and make an unexpected sale).
The hall had emptied out markedly by this point. I received a couple of kind invitations to lunch, but all the tables were still in place. I wasn’t able to work the registration table as much as I’d hoped, and I didn’t want to leave Don holding the bag any longer, so I declined the invites and stayed behind to help stack up the tables. Norm Ratcliffe and Will Loftus gave us a hand. I had missed the chance to shoot the breeze with them earlier, so it was nice to catch up a bit while rolling the table caddies around the floor.
By two o’clock——an hour after official closing——the tables were put away and all remaining stragglers had either vacated their tables or were well on their way out. I briefly considered dropping in on the Judge and Jester to see who was still there, but I promised my wife and kids that I’d be home around eight. In contrast to the awful homebound weather last year, today was warm and sunny. If I took the 407, I would fly past Toronto with time for a coffee somewhere along the highway, and I’d still get home on time. I had sold well over half of my traders, so it was no sweat in loading the remainders. I topped off the tank at a nearby gas station, where Joe Sallmen found me, and he walked over to wish me a safe trip home.
I talked to Don the day after the meet, and the official attendance tally was 97, which includes collectors, plus their spouses, non-collecting friends, and various other hangers-on. It blew the old record of 71 out of the water, and we were still missing a few collectors, such as Eric Vettoretti, Jim Becksted, Andy and Mike Shone, Jacques Allen, and Joe Romanowski, among others.
We had trouble fitting 97 people into the small parish hall of St. Andrews Church. A handful of the regular attendees have mobility difficulties, and it was tricky to accommodate them this time around because of the resulting crowds. Collectors with tables at the west end of the hall by the back doors were pretty tight for space. The crowd of people in the hall made for a lot of shuffling and side-stepping to keep people from bumping into each other. Attendance is trending upward, so Don and I are looking at larger venues in the Niagara region for next year’s meet. I’ll give an update once we have news to report.