Flea Fall

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It’s official title is ‘AACA National Fall Meet, Eastern Division’ — no wonder everyone simply calls it ‘Hershey’. It’s probably the biggest autojumble and car meet anywhere, and it’s, odds-on that anyone who collects automobilia or restores cars in the US, Europe and even Japan is either here or has someone out scouting on their behalf.

Held early in October at the town of Hershey, Pennsylvania, where the chocolate comes from, the event dominates the area, cramming every motel room and camp-ground for miles. There’s a thriving market in “accommodation futures”, as reservations made last year become priceless commodities before the event; it was only through a friend in the business that I managed to find a room this time, and that was 15 miles away. Anyone taking a camper or motorhome is quite likely to find stowaways on board. Traffic queues begin several miles away, though the extensive parking means that they move reasonably smartly; but note that you can only drive onto the show fields themselves with an exhibitors pass, and the gates are closed from 1pm-2pm.

Don’t underestimate the vast size of this gathering. Yet another field had been added since my previous visit, and it’s doubtful whether you could cover everything in the three official days, especially if you want to see the concours on Saturday. And walking is mandatory — bikes and buggies are reserved for officials and disabled visitors. If you’re searching seriously, you need to stay on the field overnight for maximum time (some stalls are trading at 7am) and to avoid the entry and exit queues at the gate; then a mere autojumble turns at dusk into an extended fresh-air party, coloured by barbeque smoke, music, and torchlight illuminating the rows of stalls, tents and campers. But make sure you pal up with someone who has a shower in their Winnebago — the official facilities are emphatically not luxurious, and a wet October can turn the place into a mudbath. And try to find someone with a full fridge — on-site offerings are pretty limited: hot-dogs and donuts, plus, of course Hershey chocolate in infinite variety.

Every conceivable part or attachment, model or car-related artifact is here: petrol pumps and gaskets, derelict sedans and tinplate toys, cogs, blocks, brochures, hideous ashtrays, beautiful sculptures, clothing, tools, tune-up kits, car candy. . . I even found a dealer trading solely in records of and about cars and trucks: I was especially tickled by Just Leave Me 40 Acres To Turn This Rig Around.

But it’s not just parts to buy: one-make clubs, racing organisations and historical societies are all rooting for business; museums boast their wares and magazines tempt with free offers. Miracle answers to window-cleaning and body waxing abound, but are not as intrusive as at an indoor show thanks to the huge acreage, while the organisers strictly forbid the sale of anything not connected with cars — none of the veg-slicer salesmen you get at Earl’s Court. Children overwhelmed by the distances (and the repetitiveness of so many stands touting hubcaps and chrome trim) can be distracted by a visit to Chocolate World, where the production of candy is turned into a spectacle, with attendant funfair. There are also tours for nonautomotive family members, including to nearby Lancaster County, home of the Amish community and well worth a visit, as well as evening films and shows in the Ice Arena, so a trip to Hershey can be a family event.

Though Day One is officially Thursday, dedicated flea-marketeers (the word autojumble is not widely used in the USA) arrive on Tuesday in order to scour the stands for their particular Holy Grail during set-up on Wednesday. Regulars wear hats, T-shirts or sandwich boards proclaiming “Wanted — Pierce Arrow parts” or “Will buy anything Triumph”, while little boys do good business in the transport line, following collectors round with hand-trucks for hire. The atmosphere is busy but cheerful, casual strollers mixing with serious professionals with a shopping list. Although the number of stands has increased, traders report that though the recession is easing over there as over here, turnover is still down in its wake: there are fewer impulse purchases, and hagglers are winning major discounts.

Nearby, the Car Corral provides a vast exhibition space for private sellers to display their cars, though what’s on offer is not generally the rare and valuable; more like our Sandown Park auctions than Coys Festival.

Saturday is concours day. From early morning enclosed trailers ferry cossetted cars into the precincts of the Hershey Stadium which doubles as a sports and parade ground. All entries must complete a parade lap, enlivened by some brief opposite lock bravado from the midget and quarter-racers, unsilenced Offenhausers bellowing around the stands, before being marshalled into ranks in the car park for judging in one of over 40 classes. The quantity of entries is overwhelming, but the range is surprisingly narrow: rows of Model T, A and B Fords, but scarcely a Duesenberg in sight; entire classes purely for Corvettes, but you’ll be lucky to see two Cobras. A function, perhaps, of the concours d’etat approach, with judges removing interior light lenses to check if the bulbs are correct. Winners from here move on up to higher levels according to their points score, but it’s hard to compare an Avanti with an Alfa on any quantifiable basis. Aside from some tiny US Austins, non-American representation was restricted to a class for European sportscars, mainly lags and Healeys, several Rolls, one Ferrari, and an imposing Sindelfingen Mercedes 500. But I did notice an interesting Aston roll past on its tall wheels: UMC 66, the first 2.6-engined DB II prototype, driven by Johnstone and Brackenbury at Le Mans in ’49.

But the concours is for the general public; the enthusiast will probably not even get over there. No matter how thorough you think you’ve been, there’s always another stand which seems to have popped up overnight, just crammed with those De Soto tail-lights you desperately need… This year’s dates for Hershey are 5-9 October 1995; entry is free.