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McPhersonSentinel - McPherson, KS
  • Collector reflects on 100 years of license plates

  • Automobiles have come a long way since they first rattled the roads of Kansas.
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  • Automobiles have come a long way since they first rattled the roads of Kansas.
    While previous transportation wasn't much louder than the snorting of a horse, engines made their mark on society with a bang. By 1913, Kansas legislators required all of these speed demons to have registrations and plates. July 1, 2013, marks the centennial year of this law.
    McPherson resident Harris Terry owns a license plate from that year. For him, license plates are more than just a sheet of metal with numbers and letters. They represent a year in history, describe a location, and foster storytelling between collectors around the world who appreciate their intrinsic value.
    The McPherson resident has been collecting plates since 1959, when he bought his first car, a 1949 Chevy.
    Since then, he has traded plates with collectors around the world, and at one point had 4,000 different tags and 6,000 trading stock. Now his collection - housed in his garage - totals between 200 to 300.
    “It's just a unique hobby to have. It's a fun hobby and it doesn't have to be an expensive hobby,” he said. “I guess it's just the variety of the tags that Kansas itself has, as well as vehicles around the country and around the world.”
    Terry has a habit of keeping a hold of things - including cereal box prizes, stamps and coins. This collection, however, has more color, flare and reflective quality than the others.
    “I like to be able to display them for people,” he said. “Most of the time people walk into the garage and say, “Wow, I've never seen so many tags.'”
    His display includes tags from all 50 states and Washington, D.C. He also owns plates from around the world, such as Mexico, Canada, Germany, England, the Virgin Islands, and Saudi Arabia. They belonged to cars, trucks and motorcycles.
    For a time, he belonged to an international group called the Auto License Plate Collectors Association. Now he is part of the Kansas License Plate Collectors Association.
    Terry is a book of knowledge when it comes to license plates - Kansas ones especially - and has many examples of the evolution of tags over the years. For example, for several decades, Kansas residents were required to use two tags per vehicle. By the 1930s, counties were included on the plates, first my numbers, then by letters.
    Some of his favorites are from the 1950s, where the metal was cut out in the top right corner, showing the line of the Missouri River.
    He also enjoys several from the years of the Korean War and World War II, which show the short metal supply. Some plates decreased in size. Others used small metal squares to replace the year, much like plastic stickers are used today.
    Page 2 of 2 - Other unique non-Kansas plates are a taxi cab plate and another plate made from pressed soybeans. Both are from Illinois.
    Terry said he enjoys how plates from other states include landmarks and pictures.
    “I enjoy history, and some of the tags that you have with the different states display part of their history or their attractions,” he said.
    But Kansas plates weren't always so colorful. Terry's plate from 1913 is brown and cream, has five numbers, and the letters “KAN” on the right side.
    At this time, registration fees were $5 for passenger cars and trucks, and $2 for motorcycles.
    The first plate went to W.W. Web of Topeka. The second went to J.R. Burrow of Topeka. The 13th went to Dr. J.C. McClintoc of Topeka, but he returned it because his family refused to ride in a horseless carriage with an unlucky number, according to the Kansas License Plate Collectors Association.
    “I imagine some people were a little scared,” Terry said of that year. “I'm sure the early days were very negative as a whole, because here all of these years horses were transportation.”
    But time has indeed changed that perspective.
    “Now in our part of the country, it's just part of everyday life,” he said. “The number of cars a family has compared to the 50s and 60s even has changed.”
    Millions of vehicles are now on the roads, and Terry looks at each one he sees.
    “I'll glance at that car while I'm passing or being passed just to see where it's from and say, 'Well, I don't think I have that in my collection,'” he said.
    Contact Jenae Pauls at jpauls@mcphersonsentinel.com and follow her on Twitter @PaulsSentinel
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