License Plate Memories

I have a collection of license plates that collectors keep trying to buy. I’m not into collecting useless stuff (my wife begs to differ), but this began as a matter of money. I was assigned to Belle Forche, South Dakota by the Boeing Company in the spring of 1963. In those days, in Washington, we lined up at the courthouse (or authorized auto parts store) every January 1st to buy our license plates. When we arrived in South Dakota, shortly after buying our new WA plates, we had to buy new SD plates immediately. The rule was: Wherever you work, you must license there. With shiny new SD plates on the VW, the ‘52 Ford panel and the boat trailer, we arrived in North Dakota three months later to find out that they were no good; new ND plates are required right away. I had spent so much money so far for ‘63 plates that I couldn’t bear to throw them away. Here’s where my collection started.

North Dakota was creative in their plate fees; they held a special session of the state legislature to move the date up to catch all of us Boeing folks before we could leave to our next assignment. Troopers at the border made sure that we had new plates before we could leave. Upon arrival in Missouri, we had 48 hours to buy new plates or be cited. We added a 42 ft mobile home to the fleet, another plate to buy when we reached Nebraska three months later. Three months later, we moved to Wyoming, removed the shiny NB plates and installed new WY plates all around. This added up to quite a bit of money. I stuffed these costly but useless tin plates into a bag and hauled it around with us, adding to it as we moved.

Later, we settled down and bought a 1908 house in Everett, WA. My wife and her brother built a lovely two-story barn/garage to match the house. I dug out the plates and fastened them to the barn doors. As friends saw them, they began to donate more. One brother-in-law gave me the 1960 Connecticut plate he had when he started with Boeing, fresh out of the Navy. He also gave me the 1961 Florida plate from his first Boeing assignment (Bomarc). In my mother’s garage, I found the plate from my old ‘36 Ford, a relic from my life before USAF and marriage. Other friends came over with tin reminders of life before Washington State; a set of Alaska plates, several sets from California, Ohio, Illinois, Hawaii and more.

One day at a yard sale, I noticed plates nailed to a garage wall. “How much are the plates”, I asked, not really needing any more. “What plates? I never noticed them, they were here when we bought the place, I guess. How about a dime apiece?” That‚s how I got the 1927, 1928, 1929 plates along with a very heavy 1917. I bought another stack at a yard sale for $10 that included a matched set of 1936 and 1939 Plates.

They also bring back memories of traveling this beautiful country, from my carefree single days in the ‘36 Ford with every thing I owned in the back seat to the ‘52 Ford F-1 truck, straining to pull that 42 ft trailer across deserts and over mountains. I haven’t found a place for them to be mounted at our current place, but NO, they are not for sale!