HOLLISTER, Calif. — Louk Markham has retired from pupil transportation, but he still has a lot on his plates.
Markham, a former transportation supervisor and school bus driver, has amassed an impressive collection of school bus license plates from all 50 states, plus Washington, D.C., Puerto Rico, and all 13 Canadian provinces and territories.
Markham's plate display — which itself is designed to look like a school bus — won a first-place award at the Automobile License Plate Collectors Association’s 2017 international convention in Ontario, California, earlier this year.
Markham took an earlier version of the school bus license plate display to the National Association for Pupil Transportation’s 2007 conference in Grand Rapids, Michigan, and to the Museum of Bus Transportation in Hershey, Pennsylvania, in 2009. He said that plans are underway to show the collection at the Pacific Bus Museum in Fremont, California.
Markham, who worked in pupil transportation in California and Michigan for more than 40 years, has been collecting license plates for more than 50 years. His hobby began on a cross-country family vacation in 1966. In his school bus license plate display, the oldest entry is a 1950 Oregon plate. The newest is a 2010 plate from Nunavut, the northern Canadian territory. The Nunavut entry is the last plate that Markham collected for the set, which he and his father, Wendell, started working on when Markham started driving a school bus in 1974.
As for where he finds these metallic treasures, Markham lists a hodgepodge of sources.
"In addition to regional plate club meets, I've been through dumps, garages, barns, and antique/junk stores. Friends give them to me. I could go on and on," he said.
In the description for the school bus license plate display, Markham noted that some states and provinces assign government, exempt, commercial bus, or passenger car plates to school buses.
“In the cases of car plates, the ones displayed were actually issued to school buses in that area,” he wrote. “The set includes three alternate state-issued plates available to the general public … depicting a yellow school bus, the only ones known to exist.”
Another rare gem in the display is a 1950s vintage Gillig Brothers license plate frame. For a school bus trivia buff like Markham, that’s a noteworthy artifact. As he wrote in the description for the display, “This is the only California school bus builder known to have produced a license plate frame.”