With dad in tow, Peter Refermat of Amherst has the license to pursue out-of-state cars

With dad in tow, Peter Refermat of Amherst has the license to pursue out-of-state cars

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  • Peter Refermat, 10, and his father, David Refermat, Tuesday at Hampshire College. —JERREY ROBERTS

  • Peter Refermat compiled the photos of himself with all of the license plates in a book called “These 50 States.” JERREY ROBERTS

  • Peter Refermat, 10, and his father, David Refermat, Tuesday at Hampshire College. —JERREY ROBERTS

  • Peter Refermat, 10, and his father, David Refermat, Tuesday at Hampshire College. —JERREY ROBERTS

  • Peter Refermat, 10, and his father, David Refermat, Tuesday at Hampshire College. —JERREY ROBERTS

  • Peter Refermat of Amherst, with the help of his dad, David Refermat, set out five years ago to find cars bearing license plates from all 50 states. SUBMITTED PHOTOS

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  • Peter Refermat, 10, and his father, David Refermat, Tuesday at Eric Carle Museum of Picture Book Art. —JERREY ROBERTS

  • Peter Refermat, 10, and his father, David Refermat, Tuesday at Hampshire College. —JERREY ROBERTS

  • Peter and David Refermat say they had good luck finding a variety of plates at each of the colleges in the area. JERREY ROBERTS

Staff Writer
Published: 5/24/2016 5:09:09 PM

Peter Refermat of Amherst might have a future in law enforcement: He’s only 10, but he’s already pulled over his first car.

While his father, David Refermat, drove up next to the other driver, Peter and one of his two sisters gestured at the driver to stop the car.

Peter didn’t issue a ticket. He did, however, have his photo taken beside the car’s Mississippi license plate.

The traffic stop was part of a long-term project to get pictures of Peter in front of plates from all 50 states.

David Refermat explained that quest to the Mississippi driver: “He turned out to be a Navy vet.”

David, a hand surgeon for Baystate Medical Center in Springfield, is himself a former Marine battalion surgeon. The Navy veteran readily agreed to his plate’s photographic debut.

That kind of friendly interaction, says David, has been typical. “It really speaks to the kindness of strangers.”

Particularly, he explains, when their methodology became a bit more cloak-and-dagger, even potentially suspicious to out-of-state drivers. “Sometimes, we’d have to follow them, and wait for them to park so we could get the picture.”

A mission is hatched

The project took a bit more than three years, starting in late 2011. Though Peter comes from a large family — he lives with his father and his mother, Mary Refermat, plus 5-year-old twin brother and sister John and Rebecca and 11-year-old sister Annie — the plate quest was primarily a father-son enterprise. The end result is a book by Peter, “These 50 States.”

Those 50 plates, presented in order of their discovery by Peter and David, are augmented by a couple of bonus plates from Canada, and even one European plate.

The venture began in Stockbridge, on a visit to Peter’s grandparents. “I was really into states and capitols,” Peter said. That led to his noticing the states on plates.

“I was at the Red Lion Inn, walking around with my grandparents and I saw their license plates, and then I saw other license plates. I was like, ‘What’s that? A different license plate?!?’ ”

Then and there, he started posing in front of the non-Massachusetts plates in the Red Lion parking lot. Back in the Valley, he started noticing how many other plates were around, particularly at Hampshire College.

The other area colleges provided some of the rarer finds. Peter is a fifth-grader at the Smith College Campus School, and it was Smith that provided two plates that proved elusive, Arkansas and Alaska.

“We started obsessing about plates,” David said. “We even got kind of hypervigilant.”

Sometimes, he says, they had to get familiar with their quarry beforehand, searching online to see what a plate looked like in order to keep an eye out.

The last one they found, Oklahoma, was particularly good, according to Peter and David, with its image of a Native American shooting a bow.

It’s among Peter’s favorites. “I like Massachusetts, because I live here. But Arkansas has a diamond, and I really like diamonds. There were a lot of really bright ones, too.”

It was in part those bright plates on the backs of cars that led Peter to his current fascination, cars themselves. “I like Cadillacs and Porsches,” he said.

He admits, with a smile, that what unites his favorite things is their flashiness: “I like shiny things.”

Persistence pays

At first, Peter says, the license plate hunt was fairly easy. They made regular forays to local colleges, and kept an eye out the rest of the time, too — even on vacation. But things slowed down once the list narrowed to the really tough ones.

Peter stuck with it. “I never got tired of it. It was something fun to keep going and stick to. It was fun to have a big project.”

Sam Intrator, Peter’s principal at the Smith Campus School, is a fan of students undertaking such big projects. “Now and then you hear about dads and sons on these quests, things like, ‘We’re gonna visit every Major League Baseball stadium.’ This project has that spirit, too,” Intrator said. “It’s the kind of learning we love to see children do.”

There were times when David and Peter thought they might not be able to finish. “South Dakota I thought we’d never find,” David said. It turned out to the one plate they couldn’t find in the Valley. They finally spotted it while they were on vacation in Florida.

And then there were Alaska and Hawaii. Alaska proved easier than they thought, thanks to a couple of Smith students who’d undertaken the epic cross-continent drive. David and Peter spotted those plates, David says, simply through “being observant” on their rounds.

But Hawaii?

“Thank heavens a student shipped the car,” David said.

They considered adding all the Canadian provinces to the list, David says, but “that’s the varsity league.”

What’s next?

Now that his plate quest is complete, Peter has moved on in his fascinations. Beyond cars, he’s a fan of math, and just got done with a project about the life of inventor Nikola Tesla, the renowned inventor, rival to Edison and champion of the still-standard alternating current electrical grid. Peter’s also got some thoughts about what could provide the next big thing:

“What would be fun is to try to eat something from every state.”

James Heflin can be reached at jheflin@gazettenet.com.




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