10-Step Guide to Enjoying Spring Carlisle to the Max

Carlisle is a small Pennsylvania city famous for such things as the U.S. Army War College and the Carlisle Tire Company. Spring Carlisle is the event that kicks off the old-car season for many hobbyists who live in the East and the Midwest. It also draws people from as far away as Florida, Texas and California.

This year’s show is scheduled for April 23-27 at the Carlisle fairground. Spring Carlisle includes a large car and truck swap meet and a giant car corral housing collector vehicles for sale. Thousands of vendors offer hobbyists everything from parts and literature to classic car insurance.

The fairground where the car show is held sits alongside the Pennsylvania Turnpike and between two major highway exits. It covers hundreds of acres and is designed specifically for old-car events. There are indoor and outdoor spaces and countless food concessions.

Here are 10 tips to help you enjoy the event:

  1. Staying Power. One of the easiest things to plan for any trip to Spring Carlisle is where to stay. Carlisle Events has a special phone number for hotel information. Call (888) 560-7666 and you’ll get instant help in finding rooms in the area. Don’t wait until the last minute though, since the rooms are likely to be gone.
  2. You Can Always Go Downtown. While you can get to the show from two directions, the best exit to take is the one that brings you off the highway to the downtown section. From there it’s a short hop to the show grounds and you’ll be going in the back way. There’s likely to be far less semi-truck and collector-car traffic if you approach from the downtown direction.
  3. Bring Small Bills. Parking spaces are at a premium around the show grounds, but if you arrive early and get lucky you’ll find space in the parking lot or on somebody’s lawn just outside a gate. Since it’s hard to pay for parking with a C-note, make sure your wallet has some smaller bills so you can pay with “exact change.” You might be able to negotiate a little that way, too.
  4. Tramming It Up. Carlisle Events operates trams to carry wearied swappers around the show grounds. These colorful amusement park refugees are fun to ride on and will give first timers a great idea of how the grounds are laid out. In addition, your tired footsies will appreciate taking a break.
  5. April Showers? The third week in April can bring unpredictable weather patterns to central Pennsylvania, so come prepared for anything when you pack for Spring Carlisle. Check the weather online for long-range forecasts before setting sail for the Keystone State. (By the way, there’s often beautiful spring weather that weekend).
  6. Bin There! Done That! Spring Carlisle isn’t a concours, it’s more of a marketplace for hobby projects, so come prepared to bag some good parts. That means having a way to get them back home. Canvas bags are “standard equipment” and if you’ve got some project cars cooking, you might need a cart or wagon to haul home all the goodies. We love that club that comes down from New England on a chartered bus and fills the luggage bins with old car parts. If you’re flying in, you should check with the airline about current baggage regulations. Security is a lot stricter today and may affect your plans. Avoid hassles by planning in advance.
  7. List, But Not Last. You wouldn’t go to Wal Mart without a list of items you need to buy, so why go to a big automotive flea market without writing down your wants and needs? We know one collector with 150 cars that keeps a computerized “wants” list. Even though you probably have fewer cars than he does, you may need even more parts. So make your own list.
  8. Good Reading. Every Carlisle event has its own directory featuring show information, a roster of vendors and parts suppliers by name, space and category, advertisements and even a few articles. You can’t tell the score without a scorecard and you can’t tell the show without a show directory. It’s a good idea to plan on buying one, especially if you’re making your maiden cruise down the aisles.
  9. Dress For The Occasion. Many years ago, a new car-collecting magazine was launched at Carlisle and the representatives for the publication donned tuxedos and put up a white linen tent. They didn’t get much business that weekend. Later the magazine took a more casual approach and it’s become well respected today. Moral: Don’t over-dress at Carlisle. Wear comfortable clothing, put on sturdy shoes and just relax and have fun.
  10. Virtual Visit. Today, before trekking to the Carlisle fairgrounds (or any other car show for that matter) it’s a wise idea to make a “virtual visit” on computer. Most events have professional websites that will let you know what you need to know and show you where to go when you get there. In the case of the 11 Carlisle events in 2003, just go to Carlisle Events.
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