By Melchizedek Maquiso
Collectors can sometimes be compared to alcoholics.
“Once it gets in your blood, it’s almost like being an alcoholic, you can’t stop,” says Norm McWaters, historian of the Ontario Studebaker Drivers Club, and the owner of approximately 3,000 pieces of Studebaker-related memorabilia.
“I’m sort of an incurable collector,” he adds with a chuckle.
The memorabilia ranges from signs, pins, certificates, model cars and clothing. “There’s probably $5,000 worth of stuff sitting there,” says the 75 year old who started collecting five years ago.
Will Norton is the president of the Ontario SDC. He says McWaters’s collection is pretty in-depth. “He’s got items from the early 1900s all the way up to 1966 when Studebaker closed its factories,” he says.
Studebaker was a South Bend, Indiana-based wagon and automobile manufacturer founded in 1852. The company introduced the famous “bullet nose” styling in the 1950s. The company ceased production in 1966, rolling out its last vehicles from the company’s Hamilton plant.
McWaters’s first encounter with a Studebaker was in 1955 when he, through the help of his grandfather, bought a 1950 Champion shortly after graduating from Ontario Agricultural College. He called the Champion his “girling” car. He used it for dates.
Several years after owning the car, he sold it and went on to own many different makes and models.
Despite owning and driving several non-Studebaker cars through the years, McWaters’s interest in Studebakers never waned.
“My appreciation for Studebaker never abated. I always wanted another one,” he says.
It would be four decades later when he got to own another Studebaker. He was leafing through a magazine in 2006 when he came upon a 1956 Commander up for sale in Lethbridge, Alta. He eventually had it shipped and restored to him in Belleville. The car is currently stored in a warehouse in Trenton and McWaters is eager to take it for a summer drive.
It was during this time he started accumulating Studebaker memorabilia.
“When I bought the 1956 Studebaker five years ago, I started to collect Studebaker stuff. I just started with one manual, one brochure for my own car then it just grew and grew and grew from there,” he says.
McWaters says he buys his Studebaker mementos in the United States and Canada.
Shortly thereafter, he became historian of Ontario SDC. His car and collection are regularly displayed at local shows.
McWaters approached organizations that might take interest in his collection.
“I asked the museum in Stirling if they wanted my collection. They said, ‘We would take your collection if you would have a building you could put it in.’ Well, I can’t afford that,” McWaters says.
“I’m concerned about what’s going to happen if I pass away because honestly, I’ve got a lot of valuable stuff here.”
McWaters is no stranger to collecting. Prior to amassing Studebaker memorabilia, he collected stamps, T. Eaton items, old antique gas engines and dairy memorabilia.
“I have been a collector all my life,” he says, summing up his diverse collecting experiences. At the moment, he’s sticking to Studebakers.
Asked what will make him stop collecting, McWaters replies without hesitation: “Probably when I die.”