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Driven to collect

Johnstown man has thousands of license plates

October 23, 2011
By RODNEY MINOR , The Leader Herald

JOHNSTOWN - In a sense, one can walk into Russell V. Pollard's garage and practically take a trip around the United States.

Covering the walls in the garage at his home are about 250 motor vehicle license plates. Every state is represented and there are multiple plates for quite a few, Pollard said. He also has multiple plates for many Canadian provinces as well.

However, what is hanging in the garage is just a small part of his collection.

Article Photos

Russell V. Pollard of Johnstown stands in his garage holding two motor-vehicle license plates with more plates displayed on the walls behind him on
Thursday. The one in his right hand is made of porcelain.
The Leader-Herald/Bill Trojan

Inside the Pennsylvania Avenue home he shares with his wife, Alice, Pollard has thousands of license plates. In the basement, he has boxes - neatly organized, many in individual plastic sleeves - with plates from across the United States, Canada and Europe.

Pollard, 86, can still fondly recall how he got some of the plates, and the people he met while pursuing his hobby. The plates are not just numbered pieces of painted metal to him.

"These are mementos from the life I've had," he said.

Pollard got a small start collecting license plates when he was about 18 years old. A neighbor in his native Norfolk, Va., gave him a couple extra plates.

Of course, at that age, he had plenty of other interests to occupy his time.

Pollard, who had a long career as a teacher in the Greater Johnstown School District, first came to the city in 1953. While here, his hobby continued gradually, as he was able to pick up license plates "here and there."

However, his collection really started to grow when he joined the Automobile License Plate Collectors Association in 1972.

According to the website for ALPCA - - is an organization "dedicated to the promotion of license-plate collecting and research, the exchange of information and plates, as well as all the benefits of sharing a common hobby interest with others throughout the world."

The organization has about 3,000 members from 19 countries, the website said.

Pollard said the size and variety of his license plate collection increased tremendously after joining ALPCA. He was able to trade plates with other enthusiasts, and met people from all over the United States, and even outside of it, who shared the same level of interest in the hobby as himself.

"I ended up with plates I never dreamed I would have," Pollard said.

His collection includes regular motor vehicles plates, custom plates, and "mint plates" (which are unused issues, similar to uncirculated coins).

Pollard's collection has grown and changed through donations from people with extra plates, buying plates that are not needed, and even trading plates with his fellow collectors.

Pollard - a former member of the Fulton?County Board of Supervisors - also helped design plates for New York state, including the current custom plate for amateur radio enthusiasts.

When he retired from teaching in 1983, Pollard had time to go to ALPCA's annual meetings. Not only was he able to get more license plates, he also was able to travel with his wife and meet people all over the nation.

Pollard has photos from his trip to one such annual meeting in Texas in 1997. On the way to the meeting, they were in Groom, Texas, when they saw the freestanding 190-foot cross that is next to Interstate 40.

"It was a huge surprise," he said with a laugh.



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