Sunburn at the Hershey Old Car Meet

Crosley Small

After a steady diet of cars all day at work, what does the truly sad car geek do on his days off? Go see some more cars, that’s what.

Which is why I burned 3 vacation days a couple of weeks ago to attend the Hershey old-car meet. (Although, the fact that I’m now blogging about the experience perhaps means that those days should count as work days. And that my expenses should be reimbursed . . .)

The fall Hershey car show and swap meet is the biggest collector-car event in the country, and I had never been. That’s mostly because Hershey, in southeast Pennsylvania, is a good 8 hours from Detroit. The pain of that nearly-500-mile slog, spent mostly on the cop-infested Ohio and Pennsylvania turnpikes, was alleviated somewhat by my mode of transport, Automobile Magazine’s long-term Infiniti M45.

Tip: If you’re driving in from the west, avoid the triple markups on local lodging by staying 70 miles west in Breezewood, the PA Turnpike’s city of motels. Tip: In Breezewood, skip the depressing and horrible Ramada Inn, despite its free wireless and indoor pool.

Hershey is notorious for its rain and mud, and indeed I drove through plenty of rain and lightning on the way down. So I was glad I’d geared up with two different rain jackets, a small umbrella and a big umbrella, and hefty waterproof work boots. When I got there, though, the clouds parted and the sun beat down and I got fried with sunburn.

The massiveness of Hershey is a bit overwhelming. They say you can’t see it all in 4 days, but why would you want to? How many booths of old license plates and vintage gas pumps do you need to look at? The problem is that it’s hard to get to the things you do want to see. The car corral, for instance. I couldn’t find it. Finally, I broke down and bought a program ($3), which is essential. It has a overview map of the whole show (which I could have downloaded off the web site) plus maps with the space numbers in the individual fields, which you can cross-reference with the list of vendors arranged by specialty. It’s still challenging, though, because the fields themselves aren’t signposted, and even once you find your way to the right one, you need to decipher the logic of the space layout (“Okay, if this is row 2CF, and that’s row 2CG, then where is row 2C5?”).

I never made it to the show car field, but I did eventually find the corral of cars for sale, which is better anyway because I always find it’s more interesting to look at old cars when they have a price on their windshield. Those prices seemed absurdly high, but some were tempered by remarks like “cash talks,” “make offer,” “here to sell,” et cetera. The prices along with the wavy bodywork and bad paint jobs made the car corral seem better for window shopping than actual cash-in-pocket shopping.

In addition to the corral, there are cars for sale at the auction, as well as sprinkled throughout the swap meet. The latter seems to harbor the real oddities, such as an early Sixties Auto Union coupe that looked sort of like a knockoff of a ’57 Thunderbird, a white Rambler sedan that still wore its Bell Telephone staff car markings, and a Crosley station wagon that had been used by a Massachusetts radio station in the early ’50s and little changed since.

After a long day of nonstop walking, I’ve never been so envious of the grossly overweight and their little electric carts. I’d seen only a fraction of Hershey, but it was enough to think it’s worth coming to again. Next time I’ll know to bring sunscreen, but then it will probably rain.

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