Jon Upton : The Back Bumper I will soon be removing columns older than 2011. Read up while you can!
I didn’t sleep all that well on Monday night—I could hear some angry voice 14 floors below at street level cursing up a storm through my windows, so I grabbed my ear plugs and salvaged what sleep I could. When I awoke, it was a little after nine. I walked over to my window and looked down at the parking lot. The pavement was drying off from rain the previous night. The sky was overcast. I figured that there might be more rain a-coming, so I quickly got myself ready and went down to the parking garage.
As soon as I opened the stinky stairwell door into the parking garage, I saw buckets and boxes and crates and piles of license plates on the ground—So naturally, I started to take pictures. One of the most unusual plates I’ve ever seen was the first one I noticed. It was a Florida sign permit (presumably for a billboard of some kind) that was embossed on a state-shape plate, with the characters stamped vertically. I resisted the temptation to buy on impulse—the best things (sometimes) come to those who wait. But with this being the unofficial parking lot meet in advance of the convention proper, I was really in an early-bird situation. Still, I kept my wallet in my pocket for the time being.
The hotel had told the club that we were allowed to use the top level of the garage only for our pre-convention madness, but with the rain that had fallen earlier, about half of the participants were using the second-to-top level (covered). There was no enforcement on the part of the hotel, so trading proceeded uninterrupted on the top two levels.
I’m always on the hunt for Ontario plates, but I wasn’t really finding any. There were far more Northwest Territories bear plates to be found, old and new. The new reflective ones, in nice shape, are going for $100 a pop. I peered into a vehicle with a trunk load of them. They were interesting, but it’s just not a “gotta have” for me. I finally found a really interesting Ontario plate that I really liked, but it was attached to the rear of a red Ford. The number, with the interestingly-placed crown, plus the expiry stickers 20 years removed from each other, told me that fellow Ontarian and retired teacher Dave Wilson was in the house. Indeed he was. He strolled over and we discussed the usual stuff that we Ontario guys discuss— including the omnipresent “How was the border crossing for you” discussion whenever we venture into the US for a license plate convention. Dave, back in the day, would re-order his own-choice vanity plate each year with variations in the crown placement. It only used to cost $35 or something similar to do it. The cost went up and up, and now it’s more than $90 after tax, and of course, of you want your graphic re-done, that’s an additional $50. Dave stopped ordering to his heart’s content when the prices went up, so now, he’s pulling his old plates out of the vault each year and using them again—hence the interesting juxtaposition of the June 1995 and June 2015 expiry stickers on the same plate.
Paul Frater, Ontario expatriate now living in Berlin, walked over to say hello. As it turns out, he had never met Dave before. Paul had brought a Berlin frontier sign to swap at the meet. I'd seen it earlier and didn’t realize it was his, because the trunk of the car was open and I couldn’t see the skyward-facing plate on the lid. Paul’s father is a dentist, and the car has “230” on its Ontario plate (Tooth-hurty). Paul lamented the fact that the coveted all-numeric vanity plate was suffering the symptoms of poor manufacturing quality, with peeling and bubbling of the reflective background.
Joe Sallmen was running around the parking lot, wheeling and dealing. I intercepted him just as he was acquiring a rare 1916 Saskatchewan garage plate – made of thin tin wrapped around a wire frame, probably from the MacDonald Company of Toronto—the same outfit that produced tin plates a hundred years ago for Ontario and other provinces such as Nova Scotia, Manitoba, Alberta, and BC. Joe showed me a three-digit Ontario 1905 rubber plate that he had brought for the Favourite Plate voting on Friday. The white numbers were in remarkably good condition. He also had on hand a four-digit rubber plate where the numbers were in considerably lesser condition—it was wrapped in plastic or paper (I forget which) and the rubber had somehow melted to the wrapping. It seems that the numbers are the first to deteriorate. I have engrained dirt on one of mine, and I’ve seen a sort of crystallized bubbling emerging from the numbers of the rubber plate from the Hartung auction a couple of years ago.
I had a job to do, so I left the parking lot for the time being, but not before seeing a really cool lime green Camaro with a single-digit “Go Green With Chiropractic” Kentucky plate of the exact same colour. Talk about coordination!
What job could be so important that I was leaving a swap meet? Well, I had a deal in the making that I wanted to complete. I previously got wind of the fact that a major collection in New England was being sold off by ALPCAn Corb Moister. The collection was that of his long-time friend Conrad Hughson. Given that I had traded some high-quality Ontario plates to Conrad a number of years before, I figured there would be other Ontario plates available, so I had gotten in touch with Corb the week before to express interest in any older Ontario plates that he might be in a position to bring to Rochester. Corb gave me his room number as a preferred customer and had invited me to come on up at my convenience once I was in town. I had previously acquired a 1915 Ontario from Corb at the Niagara convention in 2002, and it remains in my run, as I have never yet seen a nicer one.
I made my way up to suite 1400— the same floor as my room, but on the diagonally opposite corner with a great view of the Kodak building. Corb’s suite was expansive, and there were boxes of early plates from all over North America spread out against the walls and windows of the room. He had mentioned that there was a stellar 1912 available, plus an above-average 1913, a 1915 with a great number, and various high-quality plates up to about 1940. I sat down and flipped through them.
The 1912 was a no-brainer. It was the nicest I’d ever seen, and a four-digit number to boot (the one currently in my run was in lesser condition with five digits). The 1913 had its issues, but the pros outweighed the cons and I decided to take it as well. Corb had a really nice 1914, but the condition was substantially the same as mine, so I passed. The 1915 was really cool—I’m a sucker for round numbers like “2000”—but the condition wasn’t close to the one already in my run and there was no way I wanted to just hang onto two of them. I admired it thoroughly, but let it stay with Corb. There was a better 1917 than the one I had—priced a little steeply, but the condition was superb. I browsed through the rest of the plates, and really hoped to find the 1926 that I had traded to Conrad years before, but it apparently had been chosen to upgrade someone else’s run. No matter… my consolation was that there was a great 1936 shorty that would easily go into my display.
Corb was dealing with another customer, so to bide my time, I flipped through the boxes of Yukon and Northwest Territories plates. The Yukons went all the way down to the 1920s, the best of which was an absolutely mint 1927. It was bright, shiny, still in wax paper, and even had the manufacturer’s stamp on the rear. As a plate collector, you become accustomed to seeing dull colours with little gloss and crackling finish on plates of this era, but this one looked exactly like it had just come off the line. But this was no restoration… it was the real deal. As a plate restorer, I’ve trained my eye to identify the subtleties between original and restored finish, and this was all real. Ditto with the 1948 NWT plate that was also available—shiny, bright and real. Some of you might be wondering the values of plates like these, but I will say only that they were each four figures (and if purchased together, the sum would still be four figures).
I came to terms with Corb for the Ontario upgraders, went back to my room, and swapped out the downgraders in favour of my upgraders—that was, except for the 1917. The write-up on my display actually made reference to the uncut corners of the 1917 that I had just upgraded (a variation of the earlier plates from that year), but my upgrader from Corb had the more typical rounded corners. I elected to maintain the continuity of the display write-up and keep the lesser 1917 plate on the display board. It wasn’t a big deal… the upgrade in condition wasn’t huge, and the lesser 1917 was by no means a weaker sister in the grand scheme of things.
It was about 1:30, and I hadn’t yet eaten, and my stomach was letting me know. I wandered down to street level to find something to eat, but a rain had started. A club member in a van that was too tall to fit into the parking garage had set up a table outside the hotel entrance, and there were few people browsing through his plates. Nothing for my collection, as it happened, so I turned to walk away, but then a heavy downpour started quite suddenly. The wind gusted violently, and it caught the folding canopy that was installed over the plate tables. The canopy lifted up and knocked a bunch of plates over, including an Eisenhower-Nixon inaugural—the kind with the delicate portrait decals of the two men. The plates clattered to the pavement and began to get wet. The seller was busy trying to keep his canopy from taking off and warping beyond use, but he wasn’t fully successful. I bent down and picked up the inaugural plate, plus any other rarity that had no business being on the ground in the blowing rain. The only place I could put them to keep them safe was in the opened rear of the van. There was still some rain blowing in, so I grabbed a newspaper to cover them. I went over to tell the seller what I’d done, but he was really pissed off at the situation and was cursing up and down. I held a leg of the canopy steady and helped someone shift one of the tables out of the rain, but the guy was too angry and wouldn’t stop yelling at the unfairness of it all. The wind and rain died down after a minute and I made a discreet exit.
My lunch turned out to be a double feature. I stumbled upon Thai Quick Noodle, a lunch-only joint that was only open from 11-2. I like Thai food, so I went for a plate of noodles. The price was right, and the noodles were good, but not spectacular, and I wasn’t quite full when I left. I crossed Main Street and found a street side food vendor at the corner of Main and Exchange. I was about to pass him by when I noticed the magic handwritten words on the menu: “BEEF STEAK SANDWICH W/ PEPPERS/ ONIONS/ CHEESE $4.50.” How could I say no to that? He used fresh ingredients and made the sandwich from scratch. It was amazing! Food vendors back home only offer sausages and hot dogs that have been simmering away for an hour for $4.50. To have a sandwich like this made to order (which wouldn’t happen back home anyway) would probably cost $9. There’s a Philly cheesesteak vendor in the Barrie Auto Market fields that charges that much, but he uses Cheez Whiz. In Rochester, my sandwich came with Provolone. My trip here was reaping its rewards.
The sun had come out again, and with a full stomach, I went back to the parking lot meet. There were fewer people remaining, but still lots of action to take in. I bumped into Pierre Rondeau from Montreal, who sometimes buys common Ontario plates for resale back home. We agreed that the Canadian pickings were a little slim, but he showed me the small stack of plates he had just acquired for peanuts. Among them was a plate I recognized instantly—a natural 1983 Ontario, VKN-411. I myself had removed that plate on a sunny day from an auto scrapyard in Sault Ste. Marie, where I grew up. I even remember where in the yard the junked car was. This plate was on my display at the 2002 Niagara convention. I’ve long since upgraded it, and I have no idea to whom I may have traded it. It sure was strange to see that plate again in downtown Rochester, of all places.
I was photographing the carnage surrounding Jeff Francis’ trailer – plates were strewn all around it as if something had exploded – when my phone chimed. It was a text from my hotel roommate, Eric Vettoretti, who had arrived in town and was heading into the hotel parking lot. I told him to make his way to the top level. I waited for a while, but no Eric. Then he texted again to say that he was heading to the front desk. I told him I’d meet him in the lobby, so I headed there and sat in a comfortable lounge chair. Still no Eric. Then he texted me again to ask where I was.
“In the lobby,” I texted.
“Aren’t we at the Hyatt?” Eric texted back.
I LOLed. “We’re at the Radisson, across the street,” I texted.
Five minutes later, an exasperated Eric appeared in the Radisson lobby, and was a good sport to my ribbing. I helped him bring his stuff to the 14th floor and then took him to the waning parking lot meet, where we saw some early Alaska sample plates and a few other odds and sods.
Our first proper dinner in Rochester was in the hotel pub. A decent meal, but not that memorable. I received fries with my burger instead of the rings I’d asked for, but my meal came five minutes after everyone else’s, and I didn’t feel like delaying things further by making a stink. We were at a big round table with Dave Steckley, Norm Ratcliffe and Will Loftus, who we bumped into in the lobby, as well as retired state trooper Mike Crosby from Massachusetts, retired state trooper Tom Lindenberg from Michigan, and 2014 ALPCA Hall of Fame Inductee Chuck Sakryd. Chuck’s wife, Cyndi McCabe, has been elected as a club director, and she missed dinner because of a board meeting. Chuck recounted a “move” he put on Cyndi during their second date. In order to make sure she was the right girl, who would put up with him being a professional picker and collecting a lot of stuff, he used a line on her that he might have only ever used before as a 12-year-old: “Do want to come to my place to see my license plate collection?” Well, Cyndi agreed, and thought it was awesome. “Look at that! That’s so neat! Oh, and look at that! Wow!” Chuck knew then and there that she was a keeper.
Eric was pretty tired after the day’s drive, so he preferred to relax in the hotel after dinner. Having had two lunches and a big burger for dinner, I put on some sweats and went down to the fitness centre to burn some calories on the elliptical. The TVs there were all out of whack and stuck on some weird channel selection mode. I had to call the front desk for help because I needed to know which channel carried the MLB All-Star game. They sent a person down who couldn’t figure it out, but he searched for hotel management for the answer and came back 20 minutes later with the answer: Channel 62-dash-1. He apologized for the delay, but I was happy that he’d gone digging for the answer. I extended my workout just to watch more of the game.
Our hotel room was cramped, what with seven folded display boards stuffed against various walls, and already a bunch of new-to-us plates crowding the tabletops. The convention was officially opening the next day at 11 am, and we couldn’t wait. I wouldn’t have to wait for long, because sleep came easily to me.
Some previous instalments of My
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)
Rochester 2014 - The Monday (Jul 21/14)
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