My 2 Cents
Jon Upton : The Back Bumper             I will soon be removing columns older than 2011. Read up while you can!


Five years in the making: The waiting I've done before attending my next ALPCA Convention.

17 years in the making: The complete Ontario passenger plate run that I've assembled.

History in the making: This year’s party in Rochester will go down in my personal history as the pinnacle of all conventions. There will be no topping this one… not a chance.

I guess I’d better get on with it, then?

The stars and planets had aligned for me to attend the 2014 ALPCA Convention in Rochester, New York. Not only is Rochester close enough for me to drive, and not only was the show held in July (I can’t get away from my job as a school teacher when it’s in June), but my parents graciously came to stay in town for the week to babysit my young kids, thereby releasing me from all domestic and parental responsibilities. A family vacation to an ALPCA Convention would never work in my household. My wife has limited time off and absolutely does not want to squander it on a trip to a medium-sized US city while I run off and add things to my collection in a convention hall. I can hardly blame her for that.

With this being my big chance to fully “do” a convention for the first time in what seems like forever, I decided to leave on Monday, be there for the parking lot meet on Tuesday, and then attend the entire show. I knew I’d be bringing my Ontario passenger run again—the third time I’ve brought one—but this was different because I now have all the plate bases going back to the beginning, and I have natural stickered plates for the modern end of the spectrum. To my knowledge, a full run going back to a leather plate has never been displayed before at a convention, and for a completist like me, this run basically “clinches” what I’ve always wanted to do. If I ever go to another convention and bring a display, I’ll be doing a different theme with different plates.

My display was built and folded in the back of my station wagon, along with a few odd tools I would need to set it up. I packed my suitcase with six days’ worth of clothes, kissed everyone goodbye, and hit the road a little before 9 am on the Monday.

I drove south and crossed into the US at Ogdensburg. The traffic lineup there was short, but slow-moving. As I passed through customs, I was asked where I was going, and what all my pegboards were for. I explained, and let the guard open the back door for a closer glance. I had brought my convention registration form, as well as a letter from the club explaining my intent to bring the display and return it to Canada after the convention. My passport was scanned, and a couple of routine questions later, I was on my way. I stopped inside the welcome centre, which was an older whitewashed brick building, and picked up a couple of tourist booklets.

I wanted to go and visit the Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum in Cooperstown, and while I was in the area, I wanted to visit Canajoharie to see their dummy traffic light, which I’ll explain later. It was 10:30 and I had time to spare, so I stuck to state route 37, a two-lane highway that would take me along the St. Lawrence River toward I-81. I passed through the village of Hammond and noticed a yellow vehicle of interest parked in a yard on the other side of the highway—A Volkswagen Thing. I pulled a U-turn and doubled back to check it out. It was a sun-faded shade of yellow, and although the tires were inflated, there were wildflowers growing around it, and it given the body rust, it was clearly just rotting there. Looked like somebody didn’t want to keep a good Thing going. They’re ugly, for sure, but being an air-cooled VW fan, I appreciated seeing it.

After some leisurely country driving, I ended up in Watertown, where I began following state route 12 south through Lowville and Boonville toward Utica. I needed to get onto the New York State Thruway (I-90), and my GPS sent me through a really complicated interchange where I entered I-790 and travelled a mile before getting off the Interstate and up a city street to enter I-90 to get my toll ticket. I wasn’t expecting to use a city street in order to switch from one Interstate to another, but sometimes blind trust in an aging GPS unit is the way to go.

My first geek destination of the day was the town of Canojaharie, where I arrived at about 2:30. It is the home of one of a few remaining “dummy” traffic lights in the US (three, apparently, are in New York state). It’s a single, small, four-way signal head that is mounted on a pillar in the middle of an intersection where Church, Montgomery, Mohawk and Canalway all meet in a five-direction crossroad. It was first installed in 1948 and was operating until a collision with a construction truck during a paving project a couple of years ago. The damaged signal head was beyond repair, but they’ve since refurbished a different, slightly smaller Crouse-Hinds four-way signal head, and fitted it with LED signals. The pillar and supporting rods are pretty much the same, and the signal itself is also quite similar, with the differences only being apparent to geeks like me. What’s remarkable is that the powers that be have allowed this single traffic light to control a weird intersection in modern times, and the town of Canajoharie went to some trouble to rebuild the same kind of signal after it was smashed. This wouldn’t fly in Ontario—Every interesting old signal back home is or will be replaced with bright plastic LED signals that all conform to present day standards. It was so cool to see this one in use. It wasn’t a terribly busy intersection, so I popped out into the street to photograph the light from close up. No one seemed to mind.

I drove uphill along Shaper Avenue out of downtown and admired the old homes, which were well-maintained. It’s a pretty little place. I took Ridge Road, which switches names to Clinton Road after crossing the village limit. A few miles later, my GPS told me to make a right on Marshville Road, and when I looked to my right, I could see that I was on the crest of a hill and I could see the lower farm country in the distance from where I’d driven. It was one of those scenes that just made me go, “Wow!” so I stopped the car and got out to just listen to the breeze and take in the view. There were no houses here, no village name to memorize—it was just a random crossroad somewhere upstate. The roads here are impeccably paved, with mowed grass right up to the edge of the blacktop, twisting and undulating with the contours of the land. It felt as though I were driving across a living thing.

The farm country gave way to forest and cliff sides as I wound my way along the eastern side of Otsego Lake and into Cooperstown. The road turns sharply to the right and the village just appears around the corner. Many tourists strolled down the sidewalks and crossed the street. I found a parking spot on the street and walked up to the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum.

For a small village, it sure buzzes with activity because of the museum. The museum itself has three floors, plus the Hall of Fame, a theatre, a research library, a big gift shop, and other things I didn’t have time to see. Being an Ontario guy, my team is the Blue Jays, but there isn’t a lot to see for a Jays fan, since they’ve only been around since 1977. The museum’s main focus is on the history of the game, so there are many artifacts that pre-date the Jays. You’ll see lots of Yankees, Reds, Red Sox, Cubs, Dodgers (both), and other older uniforms. I did see a jersey worn by Roberto Alomar during the 1992 season when the Jays won their first Word Series, and the fielding helmet worn by John Olerud (a precaution stemming from the fact that he had previously recovered from a brain aneurysm). What drew the most attention was probably the number 3 uniform worn by Babe Ruth the day his number was retired by the Yankees—the same uniform seen in the famous Pulitzer-winning photograph.

I enjoyed the museum and visited the Hall of Fame to see Alomar’s plaque. I took the chance to buy a bag of souvenirs for my kids, and then looked at the clock… it was nearly 5 pm, and things were about to close up. It was time to get myself to Rochester.

I found the quickest way back north to the Thruway, via the village of Mohawk, which sits at the very bottom of a large hill, with the narrow two-lane state route 28 dropping down for two miles beforehand. This highway had something I’d never seen before: a brake check area. At the top of the hill, before the slope, trucks and cars with trailers are required to pull in so the driver can follow some instructions on a large sign and check the brakes. It’s not staffed, so it works on the honour system. I’ve been down a few steep-ish hills before, but with nothing as ominous as a brake-checking turn-out. I proceeded with due caution.

At the top of the hill, signs appeared for a runaway truck ramp ahead. I get a kick out of those… I don’t see them very often, but I find them interesting in the way they’re built… an off-ramp of soft gravel and water barrels designed to grind a careening truck to a halt before “30,000 Pounds of Bananas” is re-enacted. As I passed the ramp, the highway curved slightly and steepened even more before there was a sharp right bend that led directly onto flat and quiet Columbia Street in Mohawk proper. Any vehicle going too quickly would never make the turn. I wondered to myself how frequent the crashes might have been on this stretch of road—and how many houses might have been levelled—before the emphatic signs were posted atop the hill.

My two-lane adventures were at an end. I took an entry ticket on the Thruway and stayed on it for the 150-odd mile distance to Rochester. The toll for that distance came to only $6.20. For a toll highway, to me, that’s a bargain. See, I’m used to the 407 in Ontario where a 100 kilometre trip (60 miles) can cost $30 with video charges and the stupid “account fee” that they charge. $6.20 is what I’d pay if I got on the 407 and went only a short distance. The rest stops along the New York Interstates have been rebadged as “text stops” with signs reading “IT CAN WAIT – TEXT STOP 5 MILES.” Seems like a pretty good public awareness campaign.

I got to downtown Rochester at sunset and managed to score a luggage trolley to wheel my display boards up to my room. I wouldn’t be able to take them to the convention hall until Wednesday, and I didn’t want to simply leave them in the car in the meantime. As I was unloading my boards, I noticed an Ohio plate with a Superman logo on it, number 222222. When I see things like that, I know I’ve come to the right place.

My room was way up on the 14th floor—second from the top—and although the room was a bit small, I had gotten the fridge and microwave I requested (for dinner leftovers) and I found that I was right on the southwest corner of the building, and I had window views in two different directions. To the south was the Genesee River, with three interesting looking bridges in the distance (two older stone bridges with multiple arches, and one newer span arch bridge. They would all prove to make for memorable sightseeing in the coming days. To the south was the parking garage. On the top level, I could see a familiar trailer with a tarpaulin over it—undoubtedly Jeff Francis’ trailer, loaded tightly with bulk plates.

I went to return the trolley and found my room smelling like pine lumber from my display when I returned. I was exhausted—I hadn’t the energy to wander downstairs and see if I knew anyone at the bar—so I retired early. The parking lot meet would be starting at sunrise.

Some previous instalments of My 2 Cents  

Credit Where Credit Is Due (Jan 31/09) 
YOMPlates (Mar 29/09) 
...A Man Alone... (Apr 26/09) 
Stir-Crazy (May 10/09) 
Watson, Steam, Nash and Fun (May 31/09) 
Oro Express (June 14/09) 
Weary in Erie (June 29/09) 
Weary in Erie 2 (July 6/09) 
Weary in Erie 3 (July 15/09) 
Walking the Walk (Aug 19/09) 
Gettin' My Fillia in Orillia (Sep 20/09) 
Destination Super (Oct 29/09) 
Auction in the Country (Dec 31/09) 
Wintertime Update (Feb 20/10) 
Plates and Parenting in Acton (Apr 25/10) 
Ketchup (Aug 17/10) 
Mileage May Vary in Barrie (Oct 2/10) 
Grim Pickings (Nov 2/10) 
Oppression (Nov 27/10) 
Virtual Display (Dec 26/10) 

Variable Virtual Value (Feb 27/11) 
7 2 1 3 (Mar 6/11) 
Police Thyself (Apr 17/11) 
Twofer One (May 12/11) 
100 / 1000 (Jun 8 /11) 
Cruising and Shopping in Merrickville (Jul 11/11) 
Bert's Barn & Bug (Aug 1/11) 
Hot & Bothered in Bothwell (Aug 23/11) 
Summer's Last Gasp (Sep 16/11) 
Some Facts About Fakes (Oct 24/11) 
You Had To Be There (Nov 4/11) 
Load Runners (Dec 24/11) 
Load Runners - The Sequel (Jan 16/12) 
In Search of the Canadian Car (Feb 20/12)
Passing Time (Apr 1/12)
These Magic Moments (May 19/12)
Seller 57, Where Are You? (June 16/12)
Moseying in Merrickville (July 11/12)
Doors Open 2012 (Aug 13/12)
Let It Rain, Rain, Rain (Sep 15/12)
Volksfest 2012 (Oct 1/12)

Why I Skipped Grimsby (Nov 11/12)
December '95 (Dec 2/12)
Five Oh Eight (Dec 31/12)
Ontario Leather Plates: Fake or Not? (Jan 26/13)
Photobox (Feb 24/13)
Half Acton (May 7/13)
Kids' Day Out (May 26/13)
Overcharged in Oro (Jun 16/13)
Merrickville 2013 (Jul 19/13)
Bugging (Aug 27/13)
Opengo-Monck Travelogue (Sep 11/13)
Friday Night in the Garage (Sep 29/13)
Long Time Coming (Oct 29/13)
August '97 (Nov 23/13)
Behind the Bars (Dec 28/13)
Peoria '96 (Jan 18/14)
Bleak Midwinter (Feb 15/14)
Photobox '14 (Mar 12/14)
Lightning Striking Again (Apr 5/14)
Acton in the Arena (May 5/14)
A Gran Torino Day Out (May 28/14)
Daddy - Daughter - Barrie (Jun 8/14)

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