Inside a Hamfest: An Annotated Slideshow, Part II

October 10th, 2006 by Benj Edwards

RedWolf's 2006 Hamfest AdventureIn Part I of “Inside a Hamfest: An Annotated Slideshow,” I went through an introduction about amateur radio enthusiasts (hams), hamfests in general, and a bit about hams’ hacker-like ethos. Then, during the slideshow, I arrived at the hamfest, surveyed the scene, and made at least one major find. Below, in Part II of the series, we pick up exactly where we left off in Part I.

Hamfest 2006

I don’t know if this guy is actually a ham or not, but he was one of the many people peddling near-worthless or otherwise uninteresting stuff for 5-10 times its actual value. This particular guy specialized in IBM stuff.

So let’s see what we’ve got here.. used IBM brand hard drives (from who knows where, dropped or punted how many times), some used power supplies (working status unknown), motherboards, ThinkPad accessories, keyboards, mice, IDE cables…blah. I don’t remember the prices he was asking for this stuff, but I guarantee you it was ridiculously high. Say, for example, I wanted to buy one of his power supplies because I needed it for some reason. I might pay $5 for it tops, but he likely was asking $50.

Somehow I doubt that anyone buys things from guys like this, but they keep coming back every year anyway. Maybe there are some serious suckers in the crowd.

Hamfest 2006

Here’s some more of that good ole equipment, typical of the hamfest. We’ve got an ammeter, voltmeter, frequency meter, some power supplies, manuals, catalogs, and even more hardware.

If you were actually interested in this kind of stuff, you’d probably be excited. But I’m here for the computers and games, so let’s move along.

Hamfest 2006

My father actually took this picture while I was off lugging my ADM 5 to our car. This photo is very illustrative about how many hams feel proud about exercising their civic duty during natural disasters. During many catastrophe situations in the past when conventional communication systems were down, coordinated networks of amateur radio operators have been highly helpful in disaster relief operations.

This SUV is also funny because it’s loaded with antennas and other fancy-looking gear strapped to its roof, typical of any serious ham’s vehicle — although, granted, most don’t have weather gauges on top and “Storm Team” logos painted on the side.

Hamfest 2006

Ouch. Now this is the kind of emptiness I was talking about. Ten years ago, this area of the building would have easily been filled with tables of lovely junk and rows of lovely people. But now, due to shrinking participation, only half the building is used.
Hamfest 2006

Ok, so at this point I turned away from the emptiness and it’s back to the show as usual. The place was starting to fill up and I had a lot more left to look at.

My father and I usually make several passes through all the rows of tables: first, I like to make a quick pass right when I arrive, looking for the most obvious awesome stuff so I can grab it before anyone else. Then I go back over everything a few times in detail, mulling over whether to buy things I’ve seen and looking in less obvious places, like under tables and in moldy boxes — that’s where the real deals are found.

Much like the crockpot rule for thrift stores, for some reason there’s always a VIC-20 or an Atari 2600 to be found in a box under a table somewhere at a hamfest, without fail. It’s thanks to this rule that I have about ten of each of those items. But sometimes there’s an incredible hidden gem lurking in those dark corners, and it’s my job to find it.

Hamfest 2006

I love this sort of thing about the hamfest. Before you is KI4RK’s implementation of the honor system, no doubt put in place so he/she didn’t have to constantly man the table. Instead, KI4RK could happily wander around the building, talking and hanging out with his/her ham buddies. It’s not uncommon to find deserted tables for this very reason, and at least once a ‘fest, my father or I have to take some time trying to track down the person who’s actually selling the stuff on the table. Usually, the seller leaves a friend behind to watch their stuff who knows neither the price of anything on the table, nor the location of the seller. A terse blurt into a lapel-mounted radio handset, on their part, can usually remedy that situation (they are hams, after all). This year, one man left no one but his poor disabled, mute wife at his table who, needless to say, wasn’t much help. I never did find that guy.
Hamfest 2006

Now we’re talking! I really wish this picture wasn’t blurry, because this friendly fellow (and what looked to be his mother) was selling some of the best stuff I got this year.

The first thing I noticed at this table was the Amiga 1000, since I had always wanted a nice, complete Amiga system, but I had never found one for a reasonable price. Until then I only had a couple Amiga 500s and no software to speak of (people with Amigas tend to love them and hold onto them forever). But this fellow had a tricked-out original Amiga, with 8 megs of RAM, a plug-in hard drive controller board (in a sidecar), a 20 GB (!) internal hard drive, a few mice, and two big boxes of games and software on 3.5″ floppies. He originally was asking $40, but I got it for a $50 package along with a Commodore SX-64 (a somewhat rare all-in-one luggable Commodore 64), which you can see sitting to the left of the Amiga on the table. Both computers work well, so it was a great deal.

As I was walking away, I noticed a box of Atari games behind the table and asked to look at it. I didn’t feel like sorting through it (I wanted to get my new stuff to the car ASAP), so I offered $10 for the whole box. In the end, the surprise box turned out to be no prize, as it contained about ten common Atari 2600 or Atari 800 carts in it. But I did get a handy multi-tool pocket knife thingy out of the deal, which was also in the box.

Hamfest 2006

Wow; this is the first somewhat sharp picture in the bunch. I’m glad it’s sharp because you get to see the detail of this man’s intensely grey, curly hair that seemed strangely unnatural and slightly disturbing to me at the time.

This picture was taken as the seller was writing me a receipt for that little handheld computer thingy sitting on the table in front of him. It’s an Ericsson MC 218 with a greyscale touchscreen display that uses Symbian OS. It was marketed by Ericsson as an information terminal/organizer device to work in conjunction with their cell phones. As a result, a primitive web browser and an email client are included in the firmware. With the box, manual, and all its original accessories, it was a good deal for $10 — especially since my 10-year-old sister-in-law had a blast later on drawing weird Anime pictures with its built-in Paintbrush-like program.

Hamfest 2006

The guy in this picture strongly reminded me of the comic book shop owner from The Simpsons in his speech, manner, and appearance. But he had a son with him, so I guess I can’t take that analogy too far. Still, he seemed the übergeek of the ‘fest, with the most video game stuff on one table, all neatly rubber-banded together into small, related groups.

The guy told me that he was just cleaning out some of the doubles of his collection. They were some incredibly good doubles, though — especially for a hamfest — and to his credit, he was willing to let them go for very reasonable prices (yet another factor in which he diverged from his Simpsons counterpart). I bought all of the video game stuff on the table that I didn’t already have: a Starpath Supercharger with one cassette game (an Atari 2600 cassette interface which I’ve wanted for over 12 years), an Atari 2600 Star Raiders Touch Pad controller with overlay and a Star Raiders cart (the cart is common, but the controller is not), and an RCA Studio II with two boxed games and manuals! The total price for this tidy little list of juicy items? $15. I can’t complain.

Now it’s time to take a look at what’s on the table to his left…but that will have to wait for Part III.

That’s the end of Part II. Believe it or not, what you’ve seen so far is not all that I found at the hamfest this year. Stay tuned for the conclusion of my hamfest adventure and post-show goodie count, Part III, which will be published on VC&G on Friday, October 13th.

Read Part III Now

Read Part I Now

8 Responses to “Inside a Hamfest: An Annotated Slideshow, Part II”

  1. mgroves Says:

    This is good stuff, I look forward to part 3.

  2. J Hays Says:

    woah.. you can get that sort of stuff at a hamfest? That makes me want to get on the ball with getting my operator’s license.

  3. RedWolf Says:

    J Hays,

    I’m not sure which stuff you’re talking about, but you don’t actually have to be a ham to go to a hamfest. You could go to one right now! And I recommend it; they’re fun.

  4. KitsuneDarkStalker Says:

    A…AN…AMIGA 1000 WITH 20GB HD, FOR….$50???


  5. RedWolf Says:

    Yeah, and I got the SX-64 as well in the same package. This year was one of my best hamfest hauls ever. People are surprised by these prices because everybody’s used to eBay, where lazy people pay high prices to get stuff on demand. But if you just take some time to put the effort into investigating yard sales and flea markets, you can find incredible stuff for next to nothing. It’s beautiful.

  6. KitsuneDarkStalker Says:

    Yeah, screw eBay, all my finds have been in person, and will remain that way. Power to people!

  7. Jason Scott Says:

    “Ten years ago, this area of the building would have easily been filled with tables of lovely junk and rows of lovely people.”

    I dispute the use of the phrase “lovely” here.

  8. RedWolf Says:

    Hehe, you’re probably right Jason. I was being slightly sarcastic and loose with my use of language. 🙂

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