23 October 2006

When Hershey Means More Than Chocolate

As far as you can see, there are tents, awnings and portable tables filled with automobile parts of every configuration. There are pristine 60-year-old boxes with factory parts, grease-stained service manuals, rust encrusted fenders and doors, and everything in between.

To the world at large, Hershey means chocolate. But to anyone deeply involved in the old car community, it refers to the world’s biggest automotive swap meet. At the beginning of October every year, around 250,000 people converge on the small central Pennsylvania town of Hershey from at least four continents. Most of them know enough to bring their boots and rain gear because the event is notorious for its wet weather. Fortunately, thanks to recent paving, many of the fields that once turned to mud-filled swamps now offer firm footing in most weather.

Hershey – or to be correct, the AACA Eastern Division National Fall Meet – combines automotive flea markets, with a car corral and a large AACA judged car show. Although there are many other big AACA events, none comes close in terms of the breadth of the vendors of new and old parts and literature or the sheer number of spectators.

Finding a carburetor or a fender for a Model A Ford is likely, while spotting a magneto for a Bugatti isn’t out of the question either. But, any seasoned Hershey goer will tell you that it takes a lot of walking and comprehensive knowledge of exactly what you’re looking for. There are four massive fields to cover: Chocolate, Green, Red and Orange. And to make matters more complicated for veterans, the layout of the grounds is now different than in the past, largely due to the paving of most fields – which usually serve as parking areas for nearby Hershey Park, Chocolate World, the Hershey Stadium and the Giant Center indoor stadium. If the layout is unfamiliar in the newly minted Orange and Red fields, at least when the inevitable rain came pouring down, there was no deep mud to suck your boots off of your feet.

If you’re there just for impressions, strolling down the center of a row will work fine. But if you want something specific, from a cylinder head to a filler cap, you’ll need to look on the tables, under the tables and inside the tents. To the casual observer, many of the parts may look like junk, but if you need just the right spare tire clamp or temperature gauge, there’s no substitute for careful inspection of every vendor spot.

There’s another big element to Hershey and that’s the people. Lots of folks go to Hershey just to meet up with their friends. Groups roam the swap meet by day and head out to dinner at night. Many folks also head to the Hershey Auction at the Giant Center to see the collector cars cross the block, or to the Bonhams & Butterfields automobilia auction at the Hotel Hershey. Many of these folks have been coming to Hershey faithfully for 20 years or more.

By the time Saturday rolls around, many of the hard-core parts searchers are gone. But, that’s when the show cars roll onto the field. Hundreds of cars from Model T to Jaguar and Willys come to be evaluated by AACA trained judges and viewed by thousands of spectators. When the weather is good, the turn out is terrific. Surprisingly, many cars and viewers do show up when the weather turns damp.

Whether you’re searching for that special brake drum or sales literature, meeting up with friends, buying a collector car or just viewing the rows of beautiful cars, Hershey offers it all. It’s also one of a very few events – along with the Pebble-Beach Concours d’Elegance and Barrett-Jackson Collector Car Auction (coming in January) – that simply has to be experienced at least once.

 

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