A 1939 Studebaker COE truck, all ready for Coca-Cola deliveries. Click image to enlarge
Story and photos by Jil McIntosh
Okay, so what do you do for fun? Being not-your-average-female, my idea of a good time is to set aside a week each October, drive 650 km to Pennsylvania, and spend three days walking through mud, rain, brain-baking heat, finger-numbing cold or even snow – over the last 13 years I’ve experienced all of them – at the Antique Automobile Club of America’s (AACA) Fall Meet, or as it’s better known, Hershey.
Believed to be the world’s largest automotive flea market, Hershey covers some 300 acres and includes 9,000 vendor spaces, 1,000 car corral spaces, and an average of 1,500 show cars. It pretty much takes three days to see it all; a local newspaper estimated that if you walk up and down each vendor aisle and look at every car, you’ll walk 56 km. It’s held on the grounds of Hershey Park, which now contains an amusement park, Hershey Chocolate World tourist attraction, and Giant Center arena.
Hershey comes a week after a similar but smaller event in nearby Carlisle, and many enthusiasts attend both. Carlisle originally began in 1974 as a protest against Hershey, which then had an extremely strict rule that anything offered for sale on the grounds had to be older than 1946. Of course, you can find anything now – and thanks to a 25-year sliding scale for show cars, I even saw a Gremlin, Lincoln Versailles and Chevrolet Vega in the field. (Don’t laugh; odd as it sounds, seeing one of these in mint condition is kinda cool.)
Some love ’em, some shudder: Brewster was a custom coachbuilder that built cars on various chassis, including Ford and Rolls-Royce; this one is built on a 1934 Ford. The company folded in 1937. Click image to enlarge
Hershey began in 1955 strictly as a car show, but when seven people asked if they could show up and bring some parts to sell, they were given a bit of space by the arena (the event has been in the same location ever since). Some AACA members still consider it to be a car show with a flea market attached, but most participants think it’s the other way around. And there are a lot of them: estimates are usually around 100,000 people, from around the globe, although no one knows for sure because there’s no admission fee.
The saying used to be that if you couldn’t find an item at Hershey, it just didn’t exist. Not that long ago, it did seem to be true; when I first started going, it wasn’t unusual to see numerous parts for such long-defunct names as Pope-Hartford, Stanley, DeDion-Bouton or EMF. But that was before eBay, and even those of us who lament the passing of the “good old days” have to admit that it makes a lot more sense to type in a request and find a rare part in minutes, than to tramp 300 acres hoping that someone will have one for sale.
In the 1940s and 1950s, GM built 12 “Futurliners” for its Parade of Progress travelling show. Most went to the scrapyard, but this 1953 model (top) has been painstakingly restored. Its progress can be viewed at www.futurliner.com; A scale model of the Futurliner sits within the real one. Both front and rear axles use dual wheels. Click image to enlarge
Memorabilia is more common than parts now, since it can be more of an impulse buy. But a great number of vendors still haul their parts out, since there are still a great number of people who prefer to see and touch items before they hand over their money (especially since the definition of “mint” can vary widely). Some also arrange to buy large parts such as fenders or windshields over the Internet, and then pick up these tough-to-ship parts in person.
Ironically, as the pickings get slimmer, Hershey gets better: until recently, it was almost entirely on grass. Well, grass would have been fine, but since October and rain go hand-in-hand, what you usually ended up with is mud, and lots of it. The famous “Hershey mud” is sticky red clay that once pulled me right out of my boots; trucks and motor homes would often have to be winched out with tractors, and one year they even had to be pulled into the field on the first day. (Most sane people would have turned around and gone home, but we old-car folks can be one crayon short of a box sometimes.)
General Motors displayed several vehicles from its Heritage Collection; this 1926 model is the very first Pontiac ever built. Click image to enlarge
With construction of the Giant Centre, most of the fields have been paved, with only a few small remaining fields to remind participants of the years when that low spot in the Blue Field could swallow a truck, or if you got into the Yellow Field, you might as well have stepped into quicksand. Ah, the good old days.
Even so, October can be dicey, and last year’s event received so much rain that almost everyone went home two days early. This year, there was a shower on Friday morning, but once it cleared up, everything went well.
A lovely 1934 Duesenberg J with custom Derham body could be yours for just US$450,000. Click image to enlarge
The car show itself is on Saturday, and it’s a great event as some 1,500 cars pull through the gates. In addition to the 25-year age limit, the cars must also be original, and no hot rods are allowed. The exception is original race-cars which, if the weather holds, must make a few low-speed track laps to qualify for judging.
All cars must drive onto the show field, since trailers aren’t permitted, and this is one of the highlights of Hershey: getting to see and hear them run. With many rare models, it might be the only chance ever, and showgoers line the road on Saturday morning to watch. If you’ve never heard a Whizzer whiz by, or a Stanley Steamer puff its way in, or a Chandler chug along, you don’t know what you’re missing.
Among the standouts at this year’s show were a 1914 American Underslung – so named because its frame is “slung under” the axles – a Bricklin, Lincoln limousine, an extremely rare 1949 Kaiser convertible and, because it’s so ugly it’s cute, a 1973 Volkswagen Thing. The show also attracts vehicles you might not think anyone restores: city and highway buses, tractor-trailers, milk trucks and even a cement mixer.
On the other side of the flea market, the car corral was also a busy place, with all manner of vehicles for sale. I wanted a rare 1962 Chrysler New Yorker Briarean hearse (I told you I wasn’t typical), which was priced just a shade high at $8,200 (all prices U.S.); much more of a bargain and equally coveted was a 1948 Willys wagon, at $4,200. Slightly out of my price range, a line-up of classics included a 1942 Darrin-bodied Packard at $335,000, a 1929 Delage at $239,000, and a 1934 Duesenberg J at $450,000. (It scares me to think what my garage would look like if I had money.)
My vehicles are done so I don’t need any parts; instead, I picked up a number of items for my already-too-substantial taxicab memorabilia collection (I used to drive a cab many years ago, hence the interest). One of the great things about building up a collection gradually is that you never sit down and do the heart-stopping math over what you’ve spent. My husband, on the other hand, came home with a rare (and accordingly priced, unfortunately!) square 1961 Plymouth steering wheel, brand new and in the box. That’s the sort of stuff you find at Hershey.
And I also came home with next year’s dates: October 10 to 13 (for regular attendees, note that this is now the weekend after Thanksgiving, rather than leading up to it as it usually does). For more information, visit www.aaca.org.