CLEVELAND, Tenn. — As a soldier just back from the Korean War in 1952, Jim Finley noticed the license plates in his uncle's garage.
He became a lifelong collector.
And on Saturday, Finley became the 25th person in the Automobile License Plate Collectors Association hall of fame.
During his career as an educator, Finley took license plates, part of a collection that went back to 1923, to school. The plates inspired a hobby day, encouraging kids to explore their own special interests.
"There was one eighth-grade boy at Oak Grove School. One day he noticed license plates along the roof line in this garage and asked if he could have one. He brought me a 1922 tag,'' Finley said.
Finley kept extending the collection. Now, with a 1916 Tennessee tag, he is missing only 1915, the very first tag issued in the state.
Before 1915, he said, the state issued a number to be displayed.
"It was up to you to fix the tag, following their specifications,'' he said.
When Hollywood came to town to make the 1960 film "Wild River,'' the movie people came to Finley for a 1935 tag that they could use to make copies for the film's vehicles.
At Saturday's annual car tag show here, Finley showed off one of those imitations, with many drill holes around the edges where the plate was removed from one vehicle and attached to another for scenes.
"We felt he is very deserving of the hall of fame,'' said John Kelley, a club member who helped compile information from Finley's wife, Ve.
"She's been a part of this collection over the years herself,'' Kelley said.
Saturday's show at the Tri-State Exhibition Center was the 23rd local annual gathering, said association member Joe Sharp. Finley has been at all of them. This week also marks Finley's 60th year with the association.
Saturday also marked the formation of a new region for the international association, Sharp said. The Appalachian Foothills Region covers Georgia and Southeast Tennessee.
Randall Higgins covers news in Cleveland, Tenn., for the Times Free Press. He started work with the Chattanooga Times in 1977 and joined the staff of the Chattanooga Times Free Press when the Free Press and Times merged in 1999. Randall has covered Southeast Tennessee, Northwest Georgia and Alabama. He now covers Cleveland and Bradley County and the neighboring region. Randall is a Cleveland native. He has bachelor’s degree from Tennessee Technological University. His awards ...