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License plate directory is a gem from history

Staff writer

Imagine, if you will, someone cutting you off in Hillsboro or Marion and being able to quickly find out who did it by checking license plate numbers.

In 1969, you could.

“Marion County Car and Truck Directory,” published and sold by the Lions Club of Hillsboro, is a step back to a simpler time.

The goldenrod-hued directory lists plate numbers of vehicles registered in the county.

William Warneke, president of the club back then, handily explained why the directory was helpful in an introduction he wrote for the book.

“First of all carry the book in your car or truck. Some concerns have a copy in each company car,” he wrote.

Then, Warneke got down to the nitty-gritty.

  • Parts men use the book to know the make and model car the customer drives.
  • Identify owners of cars parking wrong or in private drives.
  • To encourage careful and considerate drivers by identifying the discourteous and wreckless (sic) drivers.
  • Handy reference for salesmen, real estate, etc.
  • In case of accidents or traffic violators, identify the car owners.

Hillsboro Police Chief Jessey Hiebert can imagine the trouble such a directory would cause today.

“The minute the public figured out whose vehicle they wanted to complain about, it would hit social media…” Hiebert said. “I could see this turning into a potential for personal attack and violence. 

“But if you turned the coin over, it would assist us when we get those complaints with tag numbers that sometimes aren’t correct.  If the individual had the directory, they could confirm the vehicle with the tag number prior to reporting the incident. 

“It would take the guess work out of those wondering, ‘Who is visiting my neighbor . . . ’ ”

Marion Police Chief Clinton Jeffrey said he could remember traveling as a child and trying to find a license plate from all 50 states. Alaska and Hawaii were the most difficult.

“That being said, going to the levels of that pamphlet nowadays would most likely increase road rage incidents and definitely get a lot of calls from … vigilante motorists,” he said in an email.  “We would need a whole fleet of traffic officers just to respond to those calls, LOL.”

Fifty-three years after the club’s sixth annual publication of the directory, a man in Wisconsin came across a copy that had been owned by Pauline G. Schimpf, R.N.

Her name is stamped on the cover in capital letters along with her address: “Marion, Kansas, 66861.”

Jonathan Kirn didn’t know Schimpf, but he owns her directory now.

“I can’t say I have any intriguing stories to tell about my acquisition of this piece,” Kirn said. “I buy piles of paper — among other things — to resell on eBay. My guess is that I got this in an online auction in Missouri.”

Kirn has seen directories even more intrusive than the 1969 one put out in Marion County.

“One,” he said, “was a directory from 1890s Milwaukee that listed all the movers and shakers in town with complete addresses — people like the Pabst and Miller families.

“It would have been a fundraiser’s or burglar’s gold mine.”

A city directory from 1910s Connecticut similar to Hillsboro’s “had all the license plates of everybody in town and also included their addresses,” he said. “Not that many people had cars yet, so it was doable. Never fly today.”

The directory is on sale for $29.99 on eBay.

Last modified Sept. 28, 2022

 

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