Thursday, February 10, 2011

A Bit About License Plates

The Nevada state license plate change in the 1980's (about 1982) took away a key identifying feature from vehicle license plates by removing county identifiers that had been issued on Nevada blue plates starting in 1969. (Judging from some of the plate photos linked to here, there were county designations on Nevada plates prior to 1969, in the 1950s and early 1960s.) Out in the field, it became difficult for exploration geologists to distinguish mining and exploration trucks from local and ranching trucks. Prior to the change, one merely had to note the letters with which the plates started with: for passenger vehicles, “W” meant Washoe County (i.e. Reno and Sparks), where most of the mining and exploration vehicles in Nevada were registered; “LA” meant Lander County, where ranching trucks might be registered; and “C,” and other myriad letters Las Vegas and Clark County used before they ran out of letters and forced Nevada out of the county designation mode, meant... Clark County. Elko County ("EL") was one of those up and coming mining towns at the time (prior to the license plate change), so it had a mix of mostly ranching trucks with a growing number of mining trucks.
Note: County designations by letter for trucks were somewhat different than the car designations I've referred to here (see list below), making things a bit more complicated. I don't know whether light-duty trucks were given truck plates or passenger plates. Reading the NRS is a bit complicated.
In those days, if you came across a Washoe County truck while you were, say, out in the California Coast Ranges — a long way from Highway 8A or Reno — it was easy to deduce that you were dealing with an exploration truck and probably not just some Nevadan on vacation, and likewise, if you ran into a Washoe County truck in Lander County, Nevada, you would be prone to come to the same conclusion. If you encountered a Lander County truck on a dirt road in Lander County, or on almost any dirt road anywhere else in the state, you could be fairly sure you were looking at a truck owned by some rancher.

When plates no longer gave you a clue about where a vehicle had been registered, it was no longer easy to discern what type of individual was driving a particular truck out in the middle of nowhere, and these sorts of clues were considered important. Matters became a little easier later, though, when some western exploration geologists (AKA explorationists) started registering their trucks in Idaho, Montana, or Colorado. In Nevada, Utah, southern California, or Arizona, these foreign trucks were easily recognized as exploration vehicles, except when you happened to also be dealing with winter snowbirds in the Arizona and southern California deserts.

Photos of some early Nevada plates:
Nevada Passenger Plates 1962-1976
Nevada 1976 Page
Nevada Trucks and Commerial Plates

List of County Designator Prefixes:
Churchil: CH, CHA-CHZ; trucks: AA-AZ

Clark: C, CA-CZ, CAA-CZZ, TAA-TZZ; trucks: BA-BZ, YA-YZ

Douglas: DS, DSA-DSZ, DAA-DZZ; trucks: DA-DZ

Elko: EL, ELA-ELZ, EAA-EZZ (except ESA-ESZ, EUA-EUZ); trucks: EA-EZ

Esmeralda: ES, ESA-ESZ; trucks: FA-FZ

Eureka: EU, EUA-EUZ; trucks: GA-GZ

Humboldt: HU, HUA-HUZ; trucks: HA-HZ

Lander: LA, LAA-LZZ; trucks: JA-JZ

Lincoln: LN, LNA-LNZ; trucks: KA-KZ

Lyon: LY, LYA-LYZ, LBB-LZZ; trucks: LB-LZ

Mineral: MN, MNA-MNZ, MAA-MZZ; trucks: MA-MZ

Nye: NY, NYA-NYZ, NAA-NZZ; trucks: NA-NZ

Ormsby, until 1969, Carson City after that: OR, ORA-ORZ, OAA-OZZ; trucks: OA-OZ

Pershing: PE, PEA-PEZ, PAA-PZZ; trucks: PA-PZ

Storey: ST, STA-STZ; trucks: SA-SZ

Washoe: W, WAA-WZZ (except WPA-WPZ), KAA-KZZ; trucks: WA-WZ

White Pine: WP, WPA-WPZ, ZAA-ZZZ; trucks: ZA-ZZ

County designators were initially approved sometime in the 1950s and continued into the early 1980s: see 1956, 1979 and 1981.

Related Posts:
Why Highway 8A?
Single Digit Highways

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