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Conquer Carlisle

The Carlisle car show will swallow up the uninitiated. But if you want to enjoy yourself and see everything you want, all it takes is preparation and planning. We've got the tips to help you out.

Don’t feel overwhelmed when you hit the big swap meet this fall. Conquer the field!

How? It’s simple. Take a positive attitude, come equipped, pace yourself and follow a plan.

POSTIVE ATTITUDE: Very important! Make the swap meet an event for discovery. Don’t gripe or grown over prices, condition of parts, lack of things you need or the weather. Take what you find and make the most of it.

For swappers, that means being patient. If you don’t find what you want by the end of Day One, look forward to Day Two with renewed anticipation.

Be smart about your search. Let’s say you are looking for Mustang parts. If your shirt or jacket or cap had a Mustang insignia on it, or if you were wearing a sign that said “1965 Mustang Parts Wanted,” or if there was a Mustang cloth patch on your sleeve or a lapel pin in your cap, you could incur the attention of vendors. I heard of a man, his favorite make emblazoned on his shirt, who zipped through a vendor spot. He could have kept heading away from the treasure had it not been for the vendor who stopped him and said, “Hey, it’s a good thing you’ve got that shirt on — didn’t you see the sign I’ve got?” A deal was quickly made.

If you wear a sign, will it make sellers “up” their prices? Perhaps. But it is more likely they would prefer to sell to someone who will use the parts rather than buy them for resale.

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Countless times I’ve started my daily search at a swap meet with the idea that “there’s something wonderful out there for me to find,” and hardly ever have I been proven wrong!

COME EQUIPPED: It can be very chilly in the morning, then rise to 80 degrees in the afternoon. Come with layers of light clothing that can be discarded as the day warms.

Be sure your shoes are fit for walking. Boots are especially good if the weather is wet. Don’t chance a new pair of shoes or boots, hoping to break them in at Carlisle. You might limp around halfway through the meet. You could very well be walking several miles a day at a large swap meet!

Which raises another question about coming equipped. Strengthen your leg muscles. I’m not joking. If you wear down from the first day and suffer night cramps or extreme soreness, it can ruin your enjoyment of the event. So, take to daily walking a week or more before you come. A good brisk walk of two miles a day and avoidance of elevators in favor of stairs will make stronger muscles.

Naturally, some people have less ability to walk and may need to sit occasionally while on the field, or even use a scooter. Check with meet officials before you arrive to learn of the rules they enforce for motorized units on the swap grounds. You can bring your own little stool along, kept in a handy cart or combined into a cane-stool unit that folds open for a quick rest. The seat surface may not be large, cushioned or comfortable, but it could be sufficient to get you through the day.
One of the most essential things to have for a swap meet is a strong, lightweight bag in which you can place your newfound treasures (that is, unless you seek to buy large items like fenders, bumpers and starters—for those, a cart or wagon comes in handy).

Most swappers prefer a cloth bag, double reinforced, and capable of carrying approximately 25 pounds for prolonged periods. Realize that your bag will be stressed with every step you take when added weight is inside. You could be stressed, too, so pick out drop-off points among friends who are vendors and claim your loot at day’s end. Be prepared with a sturdy collapsible umbrella that you can stick inside a plastic bag and carry in your swap bag.

Bring the normal essentials (suntan lotion, a hat or cap, sunglasses, gloves in case you need to handle sharp parts, a small pocket tape measure and perhaps a light snack plus a bottle of water or a soft drink).

Some buyers who walk a large swap field all day have discovered the advantages of a two- or four-wheel cart or wagon. Plenty can fit inside, but a special liner might be best in wet weather or to protect loose parts and small items from falling out of the cart. Some buyers strap a new trash can to a two-wheeler and roll around all day, their items safely tucked under the lid. If large items are being carried, such as a bumper from a 1970 Buick, have several bungee straps available to safely tie it to your cart.

PACE YOURSELF: Walk at a pace that can last all day. Remind yourself to stop for refreshment or lunch. Drink enough fluids, especially when the temperature rises above 80 degrees and the sun’s rays are strong. Don’t over-exert. If your body says “slow down,” do it.

That pacing begins a couple weeks prior to the big event. Let me tell you the story of Jim, who went with me to a super-large meet one year.

Jim was working on an old car a few days before we hit the trail. Progress was being made, and he was looking forward to the event as he tinkered on his vehicle. For whatever reason, he inadvertently knelt on a pencil. It caught him at the knee and really smarted. Now, Jim was a man accustomed to pain and thought nothing of it. But the next day his knee felt stiff.

Soon we were driving to Hershey. Jim rubbed his knee a little bit every hour and noted it was stiffer. He attributed this to the long drive covered in two days (with selected stops along the route).

When we arrived the first day of the meet, Jim had a limp. By the end of the first day, his knee was swollen. We stopped for an athletic bandage for him to wear, but he never made it far into the field thereafter. He spent much time near the car and bemoaned the fact that he was not cautious prior to the trip. “Little things can come back to bite you,” he pondered.

A couple weeks later, his knee was fine. Thankfully, it was just a fluke occurrence. He realized he should have done all he could to avoid that situation. But hindsight is easy. So think ahead before you regret it! Pace yourself prior to your departure for the meet.

I could talk about getting good rest before you head to the meet, but you’re smart enough to know that!

Finally, FOLLOW A PLAN. Determine which vendors you wish to visit, group several stops in a certain area, and have your list of “wants” in hand. If what you seek is rare, carry pictures and measurements of choice parts you need. Having parts numbers is a real benefit. Large swap meets print vendor booklets listing specialties and car brands. If you know a vendor has what you want even before you hit the field, make contact even a few weeks in advance, then set up a day and time to rendezvous. It will maximize your success.

Don’t be overcome by the size of Carlisle. Divide the swap area into sections. Choose to cover a portion of one field in the morning and another portion in the afternoon. By all means, avoid having to come back to a vendor because he or she is not there when you want to dicker on a part, and a friend of the vendor says, “All I was asked to do it take the money. Come back tomorrow — I can’t do anything about the price.” Deal by cell phone, if possible, and settle the deal right away.

Have a small notebook in your pocket to jot space locations and potential items you wish to purchase. This can be an invaluable tool.

Conquer Carlisle! It’s easy and fun to do!

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