Some families trace their history through photos, marriage licenses, newspaper clippings, etc.

Some families trace their history through photos, marriage licenses, newspaper clippings, etc.

The late Eugene W. Smith kept some of his personal history in the form of  tags from family cars from 1948 until his death in 1986. Now Dave Sorrick, his son-in-law, has arranged a wall display of the tags at Border Town Auction House, Mindenmines, Mo.

“The family gave these to me about a year ago when I said I was going to do a section of motorcycle tags here,” Sorrick said. “We completed this display about 10 days or so ago.”

He said that Diana Rank, Arma, took the plates and cleaned them, then painted a Kansas-shaped border around the collection and did the lettering.

“My father-in-law was born and raised in Pittsburg,” Sorrick said. “After serving in World War II, he married and they bought a place with about five acres of land between Pittsburg and Frontenac. The town has grown, and now the place is in Frontenac.”

On the homeplace Smith and wife Billie, who survives, raised two daughters, Mareta J. Smith, who became an attorney in the Kansas City area, and Marcia, who is married to Sorrick.

“Gene was a draftsman/engineer at McNally’s throughout his career, and raised miniature donkeys as sort of a hobby,” Sorrick said. “He was born in the late 1920s and was a very efficient man. He saved everything, and I think that may be because he was a child of the Depression.”

The tags also had sentimental attachments for him. For instance, Smith put a frame around the 1959 tag.

“That’s the year my wife was born,” Sorrick said. “The 1983 tag has a note on the back ‘MJS last tag in Kansas’ because Mareta was then in Missouri.”
He said that he had learned some things from working with the car tags and seeing the changes over the years.

“They went from using steel license plates to aluminum plates, and now we get one plate and they give us stickers every year,” Sorrick said. “In 1952 and 1953 they didn’t give out new plates, just small metal tags that attached at the corner of the old plate.”

The 1948 to 1950 plates were rectangular, but in 1951 they assumed a shape resembling the state of Kansas. The words “The Wheat State” appeared on license plates in 1949, and continued until 1961, when “Centennial” was put on the plates.

“There was no motto on them from 1962 to 1965, then ‘Midway USA’ came in until 1975,” Sorrick said. “Then they carried a graphic of wheat.”

The historic plates are displayed in a historic building.

“This was the old Bank of Mindenmines, until they built their new bank about five years ago,” Sorrick said. “We bought the building in 2007 and opened Border Town Auction House in 2007. We mainly do auctions of currency and coins, and have a coin auction on the second Tuesday of the month.”

He has old signs decorating other  walls, including one from the old Friendly Tavern in Pittsburg, but he’s most proud of the license plate display, which is placed so that those attending auctions will be facing the display wall.

“We’ve assembled them at our business for all to see as a tribute to Gene,” Sorrick said. “He was a family man, a church man, a salt-of-the-earth guy.”