Ever make the ultimate jackpot find after a seemingly futile day of plate hunting? Ever not know what to do with it? Ever give it away for free afterward? Well, gather ‘round and let me tell you a story.
One sunny day in late August 2003, I decided to go junkyard hopping, to see if I could find any plates. I teamed up with Eric Vettoretti, a friend of mine and a relatively new member of ALPCA. We figured that even if we didn’t find very much, it would be a fun way to pass the time and shoot the breeze. Neither of us had ever had much luck hitting junkyards around Ottawa, so really, we weren’t getting our hopes up. In this day and age, when everyone thinks you’re going to rob a bank, I figured we’d be lucky just to be allowed into a yard to look around.
Yard 1: Our first stop was a large salvage yard east of town, not far from the expressway. They have a good website with some aerial shots of their yard, which was both really big, and jam-packed full of derelict cars. Surely we’d find something there.
We walked in, and Eric told the guy we collected plates, and asked him if we could take a look around. He went into panic mode and told us that they all had to be returned to the Ministry (a common reason given, but not true). He also brought up the tired old bank-robbing worry. He had given us a stone-written “no” before we had a chance to mention that we were in a club, flash our cards, or show a copy of the ALPCA magazine that we carried. We walked out the door feeling annoyed, but not dejected. Yet.
Yard 2: We made our next stop at a smaller yard on a county highway. We missed the driveway the first time… it had an inconspicuous sign and the driveway seems to end beside a roadside bungalow. We found our way in, and walked up to the office. We were greeted by greasy, confused-looking faces. This time, I made the introductions and asked about plates. I was taking out my ALPCA magazine when they apologetically said no, because they didn’t have any plates. They said that they were all taken off the cars and returned to the owners. We thanked them anyway and trudged back to my car. On the way, we noticed about four smashed-up hulks in the immediate vicinity, all with plates (one of them was a tough-to-find dealer plate).
Yard 3: After two strikes, we were becoming a little annoyed. We stopped at an auto salvage yard in Navan and tried our luck there. Eric did the introduction again, and asked about getting some plates. The owner started to mention something about bank-robbing, but we had heard enough of that wimpy excuse. Eric, being a natural salesman, switched into sales mode and interrupted the guy by mentioning ALPCA. I figured that was my cue to take out the magazine, but Eric took it a step further.
“We have a cards, too, from the ALPCA.” He pulled out his wallet and smoothly offered his card. “See? We’re serious collectors, and we have cards.”
The owner scrutinized the card. He noticed the magazine I was holding and started to realize that yes, he was talking to a couple of big nerds, and not a couple of scammers. “I don’t know…” the owner mumbled. I pulled my own card out for the owner to see.
“Even with a card?” asked Eric, aggressively but politely. “Would you mind if we just took a look around?”
The owner relented. “Alright, you can take a look out back. But anything you find, we’ll need to see up here.”
We agreed, and headed out into the yard. It took us about an hour to tag-team the yard, and by the end, we had found about seven or eight plates between us… a couple of Quebec, and a few half-decent Ontario plates. Nothing either of us had to have, though.
We walked back into the office and presented our findings. There was another guy at the desk, but he had been told who we were and what we wanted.
“I’ll need a photocopy of your club cards, and a photo ID.”
That didn’t seem to be a problem.
“And any plate you take will be five bucks.”
That couldn’t be right. He must have meant five bucks for the bunch. We only had seven of them.
“Five dollars each?” we asked.
The guy nodded. Eric and I looked at our plates. There was nothing there that was worth $5, and we gave the plates to the desk clerk. “Thanks anyway for letting us look around,” I said sincerely. I didn’t want to burn the bridge… I could find a $5 bargain in there one day.
Eric and I hopped in the car and drove off. We were pretty much at the end of our rope. Being jerked around all day can be pretty discouraging. We were going to call it quits, but there was one more yard about a mile away. We were already in the area. Why not stop by?
Yard 4: Eric’s sales pitch seemed to work well for us last time. Actually being allowed into any yard can be tough, so he did the introductions again. The owners were friendly and didn’t mind chatting with us. They told us that they had a company policy of stripping the plates from incoming vehicles, and holding them for the owners. There was a small pile of plates behind the counter, all still valid, which they were holding. We asked if we could look around anyway, and they had no problem with that, as long as we stuck to one rule: Leave cars with tires alone. They hadn’t been stripped yet.
We spent about half an hour in the yard, looking for plates. Aside from one truck plate that was hopelessly crumpled, we didn’t find anything. At least the owners were honest with us-- they were stripping the plates as they came in.
Dejected, we walked back to the office and conceded that we couldn’t find anything. We were just about to thank them for their time, but one of the co-owners kept making small talk.
“You ever seen a plate from Iqaluit before?”
Iqaluit is the capital of the territory of Nunavut. “Yeah,” I said, “We’ve seen them once or twice, even on the road around Ottawa. Sure wish I had one.”
“Hang on a sec,” the guy said. “Wait here.”
He disappeared into a storage closet. Eric and I could hear the unmistakable sound of clattering plates; he must have been rummaging in the holding pile. I didn’t know what he was digging for. I figured it would be a Northwest Territories plate… probably one of those stupid triple-zero samples that you can find on eBay.
He emerged with a current, bear-shaped, blue-on-white plate.
It was not a sample.
It was not from the Northwest Territories.
It was a 2002 Nunavut passenger plate.
He handed it to me. I couldn’t believe my eyes. It was in almost pristine condition, with both stickers intact. A nice number, too-:11177N. Eric and I looked at it as if it was the Holy Grail.
“How about that,” I said, trying to play it cool. “You don’t see those every day.”
“You can have it if you need it for your collection,” the guy said. If Eric or I were any older, we would have had heart attacks on the spot.
We asked the guy if he was sure, which he was, and we thanked him profusely as we left. As soon as we got into the car and shut the doors, the celebration started. What a find! Neither of us could believe it.
There was a problem, however: We were two collectors, and there was only one plate. The plate was truly a joint discovery, and of course, we both wanted it.
So we sawed it in half.
There were a few options open to us:
Sell it on eBay and split the profit. But finding that plate was almost magical, and a plate with a story behind it is the best kind. Neither of us wanted to sell it to a third party.
Flip a coin and have the winner buy out the loser. But neither of us like the way that dollar signs are put all over plates these days, so we decided to leave money out of it.
Flip a coin, and winner takes all. For free.
We went with the latter option, but we played cards for it instead, in a best-of-seven tournament, in traditional hockey playoff style. We made the game up on the spot: Remove cards numbered 9 and higher from the deck, shuffle, and draw four cards each. Whomever had the highest total won the round.
We dragged the game out, putting the cards face down, draw-Poker style, and turning them over one by one. Soon enough, Eric was ahead of me, three rounds to one. If he won a single round more, he’d get the plate.
I narrowly won the next hand, and easily walked away with the hand after that. We were tied at three-all, and the fate of the Nunavut bear would come down to one final hand…
Jon: 2 (running score: 4+2=6).
Eric: 4 (running score: 4+6=10).
Jon: 6 (running score: 6+6=12).
Eric: 3 (running score: 10+3=13).
Jon: 8 (final score: 8+12=20).
Eric: 8 (final score: 8+13=21).
Do I care that I lost? Nah. Eric gave the Nunavut bear plate a good home. Besides, it makes for a great story!