Having a great time. Wish you were here.

Here is the basement of Michael Plant's modest split-level house in Wheaton, where, in four shoe boxes, he stores a collection of 2,600 Maryland post cards. From Aberdeen to Zion, it's all here, a picture portrait of the Free State from the turn of the century to modern times.

Baltimore before its current renaissance alone fills an entire shoe box. There are eight views of the oyster dredging fleet that once occupied the now glitzy inner harbor. There are more than 40 views of Sparrows Point, a once thriving steel and shipbuilding center and company town east of the city.

Post cards of pre-high-rise Ocean City add up to a four-inch stack, numbering more than 150 views on and off the boardwalk or beach. "This is better than Syracuse," wrote Flo from Ocean City on Sept. 12, 1911, to a friend over in Delaware, "and don't you say it isn't."

There are 28 post cards whose only Maryland connection is an "obsolete" postmark, representing post offices and, in some instances, places that no longer exist. These include such train stations as Sellman and Frederick Junction and other obscure locales such as Rover, Elvation, Fowblesburg and Jennings.

"It's a beautiful day here," a card writer noted on Sept. 7, 1906, from Zion, wherever that is. There is no longer such a post office, but the card offers a clue: a street picture of tree-shaded Maple Avenue.

Plant, born and reared in the District, started collecting post cards around 1960. At the time, he was working for the Bureau of Engraving and Printing, from which he retired in 1973 as head of the management services branch.

After collecting for a while, he found himself with a surplus of cards and started trading. Trading led to dealing and, in retirement, Plant sells antiques and collectibles at Carl's Antiques Village in Olney.

From time to time, he also does antique shows, setting up not-for-sale displays of post cards depicting the area.

Southern Maryland post cards are the hardest to find, Plant said, because the region was isolated for so long and therefore did not generate many.

Before groups of collectors, known as deltiologists, Plant gives a "before the Beltway" tour through the post cards. It's a look at today's suburbs of Washington when they were still small country towns.

"This is a nice little town but it is so quiet," wrote Edith to her Aunt Sarah in Baltimore on Feb. 18, 1920. She was speaking of Rockville, of course.

The Montgomery County seat could hardly be described the same way today, but some things don't change. Still in business is Chestnut Lodge, a private psychiatric facility, which a post card described as "a place where your patients suffering from nervous and mental diseases may be treated without publicity."

The Potomac River portion of the before-the-Beltway tour runs from Glen Echo on the north to Marshall Hall in Charles County on the south -- both old-fashioned amusement parks.

"Am here a little while," a woman named Dora wrote from Marshall Hall to her friend Claire in Martinsburg, W.Va., on Sept. 7, 1908. "Came up on the boat from Washington. Having a fine time. Will see you soon."

The cards contain images of seemingly carefree summers in bygone Chesapeake Bay resorts, from Tolchester and Betterton on the Eastern Shore to Chesapeake Beach and North Beach on the Western Shore. Betterton, served by steamship, is well represented with 78 post cards. When the Bay Bridge opened in 1952, highway access to Delmarva ocean beaches doomed the Bay resorts.

One correspondent may have captured Betterton's high point in the summer before. "How this place has grown," the writer reported on July 20, 1951.

Here, too, are the forgotten mountain resorts of Western Maryland, accessible by road, train or streetcar: Braddock Heights, Pen-Mar Park, Mountain Lake Park, the Chattolanee Spring Hotel and Blue Mountain House, nothing more than a large hotel and lake on the Pennsylvania line.

One vacationer described Pen-Mar in September 1908: "Surpasses words to express the quality of the view as the sunshine falls upon mountain and valley."

Forget about Virginia. Bygone Maryland, at least, was for lovers: "This is the lover's lane in Edgemont, Md. Wish you would come to keep me company," was the printed message on a card Minnie sent to a friend in Baltimore. On the back, she added, "I miss you so much. I dreamt about you last night."

In Elkton, the Cecil County seat and marriage capital of Maryland, the Rev. W.F. Hopkins was obviously dreaming about business when he issued a 1940s postal card advertising "marriage services performed night or day by Rev. W.F. Hopkins, marrying minister. Do not stop elsewhere, come direct to MARRYING PARLOR AND OFFICE" just "one mile north of Elkton on U.S. Rte 40."

Military Maryland is also in the cards. Pictured posts whose active duty years are history include Fort Washington, Fort Howard, Fort Holabird, Camp Arcade and the Bainbridge Navy Training Station. Camp Meade, built for World War I and renamed Fort Meade in time for World War II, is also there.

"Camp life is great," wrote one gung-ho soldier from Camp Meade on Nov. 22, 1917, to Eva Erdman in Bucks County, Pa. But less than a year later, another doughboy scribbled home to Pennsylvania on June 22, 1918: "Believe me, there is no place like home . . . . I pray the war is soon over."

The post cards also portray disasters, especially spring floods. The Potomac River flood of 1924 and the Susquehanna River rampage of 1910 are documented.

If the cards are often colorful, the messages are usually bland. The weather is a popular topic. Card-writers also used the small space to send good wishes, ask after others and suggest meetings in the near future.

Card-writers frequently report they are having a time variously described as grand, fine, swell or dandy. (Late 20th century adjectives like "awesome" are nowhere to be found.) Notably, nobody ever admits to having a bad time.

Then there was the message Marian sent in 1929 from Cardiff, close to the Pennsylvania line in Harford County. "Maryland is a fine state, but it can't beat God's own country," she wrote to her friend back home in New Jersey.