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License plate collection is a passion for Townsend

Summer Bonnar, NLJ Reporter

One man’s trash …
Wyoming is a unique state due to its varying terrain and statewide small-town charm, and, according to Collin Townsend, its license plates also set it apart from other states. 
Townsend has been collecting Wyoming license plates for a decade, which he says is a measly comparison to the license plate collectors he trades with — some of whom have been enjoying the hobby for 60 years. 
He started collecting as an accident and, since then the collection has gotten out of control. Townsend said he initially found a license plate that had his favorite number on it, and that is what drew him in. Shortly after, he found an old 21-county plate, and that’s when the collecting really started. 
Townsend told the News Letter Journal that Wyoming license plate collectors are kind of hoarders, and he shows that in his own collection. His basement houses his prime collection containing all but seven truck license plates and three passenger car plates from Weston County. He sells everything that isn’t a 21-county plate, and yet he still has over a thousand duplicates in his garage on the wall. He is running out of wall space, but his passion isn’t running low.
“There’s history behind each plate, just knowing that somebody had that plate,” Townsend explained.
Townsend said he likes to find a fitting home for the duplicate plates. A book from 1960, printed by the late Francie Rossman of Newcastle, holds the names of the individuals that owned each vehicle and the corresponding license plate number. That book has helped Townsend to reunite some artifacts with family and friends. Using the book, he searches for each license plate that isn’t necessary for his collection to see if there is anyone out there with any connection to the plate. 
“People don’t care about history anymore,” Townsend said. He places an importance on history and preserving it, and his efforts in that regard are through his license plate collection. A part of collecting that he really enjoys is the history behind each plate, and the fact that each one is different. 
For example, license plates from war times are often made out of different materials because the metal was needed to produce bullets and other resources. The Weston County Treasurer’s Office has a license plate collection of its own, and among this collection is a plate from 1944 made of cardboard, due to war efforts. These plates were only made for one year because animals were eating them. 
That is why these collections are so interesting and valuable.

“Most of the Wyoming collectors are after the history behind the plates,” Townsend explained.
The collection in the treasurer’s office includes 80 license plates, all but two of them from 21 county. The collection in the courthouse was started by former Treasurer Don Hansen, and it has continued to grow since it first started thanks to the treasurers who carry on the tradition. 
Townsend’s collection, however, has become more of a team effort. 
“In the beginning, it was just me and auctions,” he said.
Once his family was made aware of his collection and goals, they lent a hand. Townsend had a cousin tell him about a yard sale containing old Wyoming license plates and Townsend had one reaction to that with no hesitation.
“We’ll buy them all,” he said.
Since then, another one of Townsend’s cousins has been traveling, and along the way gets license plates for Townsend whenever he sees them. Townsend’s sister also took to Facebook and let the community know of his collection and goal to complete his own personal collection, as well as a second one for the local museum. 
With these sources and Townsend’s sights set, the collection is well underway, but he has encountered some obstacles. Not only is he collecting passenger car license plates — like the treasurer’s office does — but his collection also includes trucks. This makes it harder because there are more to get obviously, but Wyoming has and has always had a lower population, so some of those plates are harder to come by. 
“The only way that it will ever get finished is if someone’s grandparents have a big auction and clean out the garage,” Townsend opined.
People have been cleaning out their garages and barns looking for license plates for him, but none seem to be the pieces he is missing. Those belong to the treasurer’s office — which doesn’t want to trade and jeopardize their own collection along the way. 
“[Townsend] comes in here just about every time he’s in town,” said Susie Overman, the county’s treasurer.
The treasurer’s office has a similar motive. While the plates also serve as great decoration, they are also sensible. 
“It’s neat to have the license plates in the treasurer’s office because that’s what we do,” Overman said. She and her coworkers also enjoy the attention the wall of plates gets from all who come into the office. The staff notices that people come and go to just sit and look at them, or parents go through them and play “where’s the bucking horse” with their families. 
These collections work to grow public interest and encourage people to look at history through the years through all the different plates. Townsend understands that it might be an empty dream to get all the plates, but he is going to try. 
“We dismiss older things way too quickly today, where we could save it and preserve history, and teach people about it,” he said.
Townsend cautions against what he calls license plate waste, because they are personal items.
“Don’t throw it away because it was probably important to somebody at sometime,” he said.
This mind-set has not only aided Townsend in gathering and maintaining one of the most complete collections in Wyoming, but it has also helped him see and appreciate what he is collecting. Although eager to finish his collection, Townsend’s main agenda isn’t just to conclude his search. He really finds interest in the plates and believes they are important to the state and its history.
“That’s my only goal in life, to start reuniting some Wyoming history,” he said.

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