Larry Klusener was searching for Ford Model A parts when he stumbled on a homeowner wanting to unload some old license plates.
“They had a box of car tags from the late ‘20s and ‘30s that no one was bidding on and I bought them for $4,” he said. “That got me started. I thought that might be an interesting hobby to get into.”
Klusener of Great Bend started collecting license plates more than 40 years ago and he’s a longtime member of the Kansas License Plate Collectors Association.
He’s part of a statewide celebration of 100 years of Kansas license plates. Kansas will celebrate a centennial of state vehicle registration and license plates July 1.
When he started collecting, Klusener traveled to auctions and yard sales to begin his collection. He’s always acquired his plates by seeing what he’s buying.
“I’ve had pretty good luck finding old plates at sales and auctions,” he said. “I figured it would be nice to get the Kansas license plates from the beginning.”
Once he joined the Kansas License Plate Collectors Association, Klusener found it easier to trade for plates he might not own. The KLPCA conducts annual collectors meetings in April in Great Bend and in October in Lawrence.
“I’ve always enjoyed collecting Barton County tags,” he said. “You have pretty good luck if you attend the annual meetings finding plates you’re missing.”
Klusener also enjoys trivia about Kansas license plates.
Kansas license plates were made at the Hutchinson Correctional Facility for many years. When Barton County was assigned No. 33, the county was the 33rd-largest county in Kansas. The No. 33 was assigned to Barton County plates from 1930 to 1950.
In 1951, Barton County plates were designated with a BT. New license plates were required until 1977 when stickers were assigned to license plates.
“The 1942 Kansas license plate with sunflowers is one of my favorites,” he said. “I like to collect the original tags rather than restore or repaint them. If you restore and repaint them, they can look brand new.”
Kansas license plates were issued every year from 1913 to 1976. Of course, the oldest license plates are the hardest to find and could be worth up to $500. Klusener completed his first set of complete license plates 15 years ago when he found a 1915 Kansas plate.
“Anything in the early years from 1913 to 1915 are very hard to find,” he said.
Klusener’s personal collection of several thousand license plates is kept in well-maintained boxes, but he knows of KLPCA members who probably own more than 40,000 license plates.
“What I enjoy is hearing the stories from members who find a license plate in an abandoned home or an old barn,” he said. “There’s a story behind every license plate.”
Klusener of Great Bend has also restored a 1929 Ford Model A and takes pride in his restored 1966 Ford Mustang with vintage license plates.
“The great thing about the Mustang is since it’s more than 35 years old, it qualifies as an antique car,” he said. “The Barton County Courthouse will accept a tag on the original license plate for that year.”