Iowahawk swap meet

I was excited when Ryan asked me to guest blog at the Jalopy Journal, because I knew this would be my opportunity to address the silent killer of hot rod projects: lack of swap meet skills. How often have we all seen the tragedy of a young hot rodder getting halfway into a project — coordinating his cuffs, his tats, his pomade — only to realize he forgot to buy actual car parts? Sadly, this situation could have been avoided had our young rodder only spent a few dozen Sundays scrounging through his local swap meets. Okay, maybe there’s eBay, but where’s the sport in that? Mister, in my book a real hotrodder excavates his parts out of the fairground mud. Now that it’s the thick of the season, I have assembled this easy-to-follow, printable guide to successful swappery. Memorize it, and you’re well on your way to swap meet black belt!

Tomorrow is the big day – the big monthly swap meet. Before you head out into that remorseless fairground jungle, assemble a mental list of the items you’ll need to build your dream rod: shift knob, motor, wheels, shift knob, tach, maybe even a cool custom shift knob. Itemize these in a handy notepad to bring to the swap meet. If you don’t have a notepad, make sure to write “notepad” on your mental list. Above all, remember to pack a spray can of industrial disinfectant for the potential risk of exposure to fairgrounds toilets.

We swap meet pros know that the best bargains go to the buyers who show up bright and early, so I recommend setting your alarm for 4:30 AM. When you get to the gate at 5:30 AM and discover that the swap isn’t open yet, locate the nearest McDonalds and join the other early birds for coffee and car BS-ing. Don’t worry, you’ve got plenty of time. The gates don’t open until 7 am, and it’s only 8:15, and… damn! Quick, hop in your truck and join the traffic jam at the fairground entrance. While you are idling in line, grab a Sharpie pen and write your parts list on an un-tattooed area of your arm because you probably left your notepad at McDonalds.

Finally! You’re at the walk-in gate. As you pull out your wallet to pay the $10 entry fee, you will realize you emptied it at the bar last night. Don’t panic! Most swap meets now have convenient ATMs that will dispense up to $100 in cash for fees as low as $3.50. To locate it, look for a long line of people in front of a steel box with a TV screen, and the guy in front is slapping it. To avoid the wait, drive your truck to the other side of the fairgrounds and hop the fence back by the abandoned hog pavilion. Once you are in, locate “Mother Nature’s ATMs” – the guys you bought beers for last night.

Good! You’re in, you’ve got your simoleans, and you’re ready to rock. But here comes the first pitfall: nature has assembled a vast cornucopia of treasures before you – row after row of priceless Chinese tools, billet polishing ointments, plastic “Trans Am Parking Only” signs, and rare $3 Hot Wheels you haven’t seen at Wal Mart in over 6 months. It takes a steely determination and focus to survive this gamut of bargains with your cash wad intact. The question you must ask yourself is, “do I really need that?” and the answer is always “probably.” Remember, the more you spend, the less that $10 entrance ticket seems. And when you spot a $75 original Deuce grille shell and realize you’re short of cash, remember that you still have that awesome chrome testicles trailer hitch cover.

Aha! You’ve spotted your prey: a one-of-a-kind part that, when your hot rod is finished, will make it the toast of the 2017 Autorama. Let’s say it’s a pair of rare 1923 1/2 Locomobile brake drums. Sure, they’re rusty and incomplete and those 7-bolt lugs will need some slight machining, but they’re marked only $100. Your first inclination is to lay down the dough, but hold on there partner – the name of the swap game is negotiation. “Marked price” is for chumps and goldchainers! Instead, parry the vendor’s price tag with a reasonable counter-offer:

YOU: Would you take $3?
VENDOR: *#%$&!
YOU: Okay, how about $28?
VENDOR: *#%$&!

Eventually he will stop cursing, and you will have worked him down to $85. And that’s like a free $15 you can spend on beer! Unfortunately, due to your previous purchase of chrome trailer hitch testicles and Harbor Freight pliers and $2 swap meet sodas, you probably don’t have $85 left. No problem! Simply give the potty-mouthed vendor a twenty to hold the part, and locate another ATM. When you get back to the booth and he’s about to sell those brake drums to a Locomobile restorer, now you’ll have enough to cover the new $150 marked price.

Congratulations, Indiana Jones! You’ve found something you needed, and an amazing amount of stuff you didn’t even realize you needed until this morning. All that’s left now is to get your quarry home to the parts pile, and come up with some good excuses for the wife, because she will probably have a few questions why you spent her birthday at the fairgrounds buying a $250 bent milk truck wheel. A good answer is usually “um, I was going to make it into a garden planter for you.”

Once she has calmed down (or is safely handcuffed in back of the police cruiser) kick back with a celebration beer and open up the Speedway catalog, where you’ll find a new repro of your part for $30 less than you paid.

Finally, take your new treasures to the garage where you realize you don’t have any more room. But don’t worry – there’s another swap meet coming up next month, and vendor stalls are only $100.


Editors Note: If you dig Iowahawk’s rant and want to keep up with him on a regular basis, visit his blog.

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