With the end of April comes the beginning of May. Or, put another way, first there’s the Acton weekend, and then there’s the Lindsay / Stirling weekend: One right after the other. It’s a lot to ask my wife and kids to let me go for a second weekend in a row, but I won’t be taking another plate-related road trip for a few months. Besides, the main event is on a Saturday, meaning I’m back home that night, to be spending Sunday at home.
It was Eric’s turn to drive, so he picked me up around dinnertime and we left town as quickly as we could, stopping for a burger about an hour along the way, in Perth. I had made a 22-hour, 333-song road trip playlist for last week’s Acton trip, but we’d only burned through the first 15 hours’ worth of songs, so I just resumed the playlist for more road-tripping rock-n-roll. The drive was totally uneventful this time——not like last year with a wind storm and blackout——and we arrived in Peterborough at about 10 o’clock. We forgot to book our room in Lindsay proper until the hotels were already full, so we stayed on the western side of Pete. Our hotel was attached to a Kelsey’s, so even though we had a burger earlier, we sat at the bar with a beer and pigged out on appetizers while the Dallas Stars slugged it out against the St. Louis Blues on the overhead TVs.
After an uneventful night’s sleep, we were ready to roll at about 6:30 Saturday morning. We’d be driving further east for a half hour before making it to the Lindsay Fairgrounds for seven. The show was now advertised as having an eight o’clock start, but the grounds were open and we found a good parking spot.
A guy handed us a card to say that the Lindsay Flea market would be held a few weeks later next year: May 23 and 24, the weekend after Victoria Day. My guess is that the AACA was not successful in drawing vendors to Lindsay and away from Stirling, which still continues to host its own strong antique flea market. If the AACA admits defeat there, perhaps they might now be setting their sights on supplanting the Barrie Flea market, which is only two weeks removed from the new Lindsay dates. In any case, this will be the final year of shopping in Stirling and Lindsay on the same weekend. I may have to choose between them next year.
Back to the present: A rain system was supposed to be moving out of the area to give us some sun in the afternoon, but the ground was still pretty wet, and some leftover drizzle would annoy us off and on through the morning. We pulled on our mud boots and decided to start with the indoor arena vendors.
Most of the vendors were still closed up, so we’d have to come back to the arena later, but we did find a couple who were open, with plates, and ready to go. The guy with all the neon garage clocks was there again. I like the clocks, and I always take a long look at them, but I don’t have a real spot for one. If I made wall space in my garage or basement workshop, I’d have a bunch of paint cans to relocate, with nowhere to put them.
We bumped into Chris Sterrett, who decided to try out Lindsay as a vendor. He was selling the various repurposed art pieces that he makes, plus a couple of boxes of plates for good measure. The arena wasn’t busy right then, but we knew it would be a zoo later, and hopefully Chris would be make some sales. I’m still enjoying the shop light, made from a fuel can, that I bought from Chris last fall.
It was nearly eight o’clock and there were still many vendors who were closed. “L8” vendors, as I noticed one plate say. Eric and I went outside to try our luck elsewhere. We walked down the hill from the arena to the race track, and across it, and into the central vending fields. Tarp Guy was there, in the same spot as before, and he had all his plates laid out in plain view. This was different from last year, when he just left them all jammed in dairy crates and left it to us to pull them out, which hurts the hands! This year, we could just scoot up and down the columns of plates he laid out. The vendor had apparently schooled his son on how to chat up customers, as he talked our ears off while we looked. “What year are you looking for? Oh, there’s a 1967. What number are you looking for? That one starts with E. That one you’re holding is from March…” We combed through, looking for YOM stuff, or die variations, or short numbers. The price was right, so we bought a stack of plates.
The field conditions were less than stellar. It was so muddy that a tractor kept making trips to and from a pile of wood chips, to dump the chips in a pile on the mud, so some guys with pitchforks could spread it around. Whether it worked or not, I don't know. My boots just sunk through the chips and into the underlying mud. The ground was probably still saturated from the recent thaw. I wondered if the field conditions might be better if this event was held later in May.
We hit up a few vendors for plates in the first hour, but our second hour in Lindsay was met with no success. One vendor who had an amateur repaint job started on a pair of 1953 plates was not interested in haggling and wanted a firm price of something like $40. I guess he felt that he needed to be paid for his masking tape, or his time spent in an unfinished project. We walked onward.
A little before ten o’clock, we had covered the whole market and there were no more plates to find. There were quite a few empty sections in the vending field. The indoor vendors were probably having a great time, as the arena was packed with shoppers who hadn’t brought boots and didn’t want to slog through the muddy fields. We strolled through the show lot, to look for cool cars or YOM pairs in use, but the rain kept a lot of them home. We decided that was it, and went to the car.
We took a southerly detour before going onward to Stirling. A distant relative of mine, who lives in Colborne and collects highway signs, told me about a shop there that has a curiously new-looking group of King’s Highway shields for sale. Neither Eric nor I had ever stopped in Colborne before, so we took the opportunity to do something new.
Colborne has about four antique places in its downtown block, and we did happen to find some reasonably nice plates there, at reasonable prices, but there was nothing we needed specifically. One shop had a crazy-weird painting that's waaaay out there on the "messed-up" scale. I promised Eric I wouldn’t spend time looking at records, but I found an original 1982 copy of Men At Work’s “Business as Usual” LP, with no scratches, for six bucks! That’s a classic deal.
We found the shop with the highway shield signs… there was one left. At $55, it would have been a great deal… if it was a real sign. But it looked like a reproduction to me. The cut-out edges of the sign felt a little rough and unfiled, and I saw what looked like pencil marks on the vinyl sheeting, as if someone was tracing and cutting it by hand. The sheeting wasn’t of a type that Ontario really uses, and the font of the “7” looked like it was Helvetica, which is often a hallmark of either fakery, or an amateur job done in a county sign shop. I left the sign behind, but we were were glad to have stopped in Colborne. It’s a nice little town.
We took a shortcut along the Trent River to get to Stirling, and we arrived at about 12:30. The market was in full swing. The sky was lightening up, with the rain seemingly behind us, and the field was jammed with shoppers and vendors everywhere… definitely a busier scene than in Lindsay.
There was lots to see for a collector of general “old things,” but not as much specifically in the line of plates themselves. There are a few vendors in Stirling who do have plates, but it seems that their stock doesn’t really turn over. Even though I’m there once a year, I recognize the same wooden box of plates or the same groups of farm plates as I’ve seen in previous years.
I was interested in one vendor. I wasn’t interested so much in the plates he had for sale as I was the way he displayed them. He hung long strips of duct tape from the rafters of his sales tent, and just stuck his plates to the tape. Simple, but very effective!
The Solmes bus was there, as usual, with restored plates all over the tables. Sometimes there’s interesting stuff to see, but other times, it’s mostly repainted plates with numbers that are unlikely to pass for YOM. Regardless, it’s always a colourful look-see.
We didn’t really buy much of anything in Stirling this time. Other years, we’ve unexpectedly hit the jackpot, but it was little more than an interesting walk and some exercise this year. It was much the same story with the indoor vendors at the Stirling hockey arena… Neat to see, but nothing that was “gotta-have.”
It was about 3:30 by the time we had made our full run of Stirling. The classic car show lot, which was chock full when we arrived, had largely emptied by the time we did our walk-through. Eric found one of his restored YOM pairs on a car there, but I didn’t see any of my own.
I remembered, about 15 years ago, having taken a wrong turn on my way out of Stirling. I ended up at a cool old swing bridge on the Trent Canal. The bridge looked ancient and road traffic was controlled by a set of really weird signals that looked as though they were cobbled together from spare parts. We found our way back there, but the road had been realigned and a brand-new bridge had been built to replace the old one. The water level of the nearby Trent River was very high, and moved violently under the county road bridge.
Left image: southbound approach, 2015, pre-construction (Google Street View) Right image: northbound approach, 2019, post-construction
We headed for home along another county road northeast of Stirling. The diffused sun was shining warmly behind us, making for an idyllic scene as we followed the road that wove through the drumlins. I usually enjoy being in the driver’s seat, but with Eric behind the wheel, I was free to rubberneck. Suddenly, on the side of the road, I saw an unusual rectangle of blue attached to an old power line tower. It flashed by quickly, but I saw enough of it to realize what it was.
Eric turned the car around and we headed back to the tower. It was maybe 20 feet off the road, and attached to it was an old cobalt blue porcelain warning sign… the kind Tom Zimmerman collects (albeit not directly from serviceable towers). According to my best info, they were made by the McClary Stove Company, which is the same company that made Ontario’s 1911 porcelain licence plates. One section of the porcelain had long since crumbled away, given the sign’s apparent propensity to bend in strong winds, but the rest was intact and in remarkable shape. The road followed these power lines for a few miles, and we could see a blue sign on every second or third tower before the road departed northward. It was strange that both of us had driven this road several times each, and yet never before had we noticed these signs. They had clearly been here for many decades.
On the way home, we took a different way to Madoc to join with Highway 7, and we found a small roadside antique dealer that we hadn’t seen before. It was set up shanty-style, with the doors all ajar, so we wandered in looking for plates. The proprietor was a pleasant woman and she had a bunch of plates in a wooden apple basket, but none that we needed. We made a mental note to remember her so we could check again next year. This leg of Ontario is a pretty drive, but largely devoid of places to find plates.
The time came to divide our day’s loot, so we stopped at the Silver Lake picnic area. We tried to use a picnic table, but we disturbed a swarm of mosquitoes, which we weren’t expecting to see, since the leaves hadn’t yet sprouted on the trees. We moved to another picnic table, and disturbed another swarm of mosquitoes. So we just laid our plates in the middle of the picnic area laneway (still closed for the season) and did our round-robin picks there.
We continued eastward, through Madoc and approached the Skootamatta River just outside Actinolite. On the north side of the present highway bridge, the cut stone piers of the original 1932 structure are still intact. “Hey, there’s that weird old bridge that we passed six days ago,” Eric said.
We chased a freight train past Perth as we motored homeward. We found another flea market with an “open” sign on the road, but it was locked up tight, although the huge market dog was eager to bound over and startle us. Eric kept his foot on the gas and got me home fairly quickly. My road trip playlist ended just as we were driving up my street… 333 songs and 22 hours of driving time later, we were done, done, done. Time to put the plates on the back burner, and wear the “dad hat” for a while.