Inside a Hamfest: An Annotated Slideshow, Part III

October 13th, 2006 by Benj Edwards

RedWolf's 2006 Hamfest AdventureIn Part I of “Inside a Hamfest: An Annotated Slideshow,” I gave you an introduction to hamfests. In Part II, I told you about guys who try to sell utterly useless crap for too much money, but I also found some choice non-crap to purchase for very little money. We also met a Simpsons-like supernerd with a passion for redheads (himself) and video games. Below, in the concluding part of the series, we pick up exactly where we left off in Part II.

Hamfest 2006

The stuff to the left of the übergeek’s table was not his, but it was almost as equally cool in terms of its concentrated computer content. Let’s see…we’ve got a Mac Plus, a Mac Quadra of some kind, some Mac LCs, a few C64s, drives and accessories, a VIC-20, an IBM 5155 luggable, and old PC-compatible laptop, and some misc PC-clone stuff. In past years, I might have tried to grab most of it if it were reasonably priced, but since I am really cramped on space these days (also, I was just about to move at the time of the hamfest) and since there was nothing significantly unique about the stuff on the table (compared to what I already own), I just snapped a pic to show you and moved on.
Hamfest 2006

After all, there were still tables I hadn’t checked out yet, like this one, which was obviously manned by a “mac guy,” as PC-aficionados like to call them. With space concerns in mind, I didn’t even look at the all-in-one Macs on this side of the table. But there were three Mac Color Classics on the other side (which you can’t see in this picture) that got my attention. Even though I had a CC before this encounter, I always seem to be a sucker for the guys, as they’re relatively rare and wholly unique in the Mac pantheon. They are small in form factor while also possessing a color monitor, which was always like a crazy wet dream for any compact Mac user back when compact Macs were still a viable platform.

The seller wanted $25 a piece for two working Color Classics (one with an ethernet card), and he had another one that supposedly needed a hard drive that was free with the purchase of another Color Classic. I waited until right before we left the hamfest to make my approach, as at the end of every ‘fest, people are more desperate to get rid of their junk for cheap or free rather than having to haul it back to their car and store it in their house (you can read more about this phenomenon here).

Naturally, when the time came, I offered $10 for one working one and the “broken” one. The seller considered it, but there was a catch: to win the heart of this particular Mac lover, I had to pass a test. He leaned over the table towards me with a twinkle in his eye and slowly, but emphatically asked,

   “Do you love Macintoshes?”

Fearing this was some sort of trick question, I stammered.

   “Uh, yeah, I guess.”

He leaned in further and repeated his question, but slower than before.

   “No. I mean, do you love Macintoshes?”

There I was: the “great” haggler, frozen and unsure of how to properly respond. Should I show my cards and let him know that I really wanted them, or feign disinterest? It was at this point that my dad interjected.

   “Of course he loves Macintoshes, he probably has twenty of them at home and writes a web site about obsolete computers!”

   “Oh.” the guy said. “Then I guess you do like Macintoshes.”

I came home with two Macs that day, for ten bucks.

Hamfest 2006

Aside from Color Classics, I’m also a sucker for old laptops these days, especially if I can get them for dirt cheap. Seeing this table as a possible opportunity to snap up some compact PC goodness, I made my approach.

I was most interested in the Compaq Portable 486 (the machine sitting near the back of the table with a “Marquee” screen saver running on it). It’s not a laptop, but it’s awesome nonetheless. I asked the seller how much he wanted, and he replied (I’m paraphrasing) “I’m down to $120, but it’s a great deal. It runs Windows and everything!” Ai yi yi. I can see it now…

RIP: Here lies another poor fool who tried to sell a $10-$20 obsolete computer as if it were contemporary technology.

This sort of over-pricing is in a similar category of disappointment to the rip-off guys that I showed you before, except that in this case, I think that the price results from pure ignorance instead of greed. Some people are, quite simply, unfamiliar with the rapid valuation loss that computers intrinsically experience as a product class. They probably think, “Hey, I paid $5,000 for this computer, so it must still be worth a lot!” Sadly, those are the kind of people who first try to sell their old machines for waaay too much (at a yard sale, flea market, classified ads, whatever), but then they eventually just give up and dump it anyway when they realize no one will buy their stuff.

Anyway, this sort of thing is nothing new at hamfests. The laptops in this picture were similarly ridiculously priced. In less than thirty seconds, I moved on to the next table.

Hamfest 2006

Here’s another part of the hamfest (or just about any flea market, for that matter) that never goes away: the junk dealers. There are guys who sell “new” extremely cheaply made (read: poor craftsmanship) generic Chinese trinkets that really have nothing to do with hams radio, electronics as a hobby, or computers. Some of them sell really poorly made hand tools, though, so at least that’s somewhat on-topic.

You’ll find framed cliché sunset or surfing dog prints, weirdly shaped blue or pink lamps, dinky plastic toys, telephones, kitchen utensils, beer posters, squirt guns, butt-shaped clocks, jumbo novelty solar-powered calculators, calendars, key chains, buttons…well, it just keeps going. I don’t know who buys that crap, but it’s not me. Still, the hamfest wouldn’t be “the hamfest” without them.

Hamfest 2006

If I remember correctly, this guy had an amazing array of “new in box” vintage vacuum tubes and crisp vintage radio manuals in for sale, all neatly organized in those boxes you see on the tables. Contrast this with our next table, and we’ll see who’s got the more hamfest-relevant stuff…
Hamfest 2006

Oops, more crap. Come and get it! Who wants some grey market / counterfeit / slightly used / “refilled by Tom in the back” printer ink cartridges?

It’s true: the computer printer/ink industry these days is an absolute anti-consumer racket, but I think I’ll stick with Office Depot on this one.

Hamfest 2006

I likely took this picture as a final overview shot just before we left the fest. Who could guess that a building like this usually houses livestock shows?
Hamfest 2006

So here’s the finally tally. I got some stuff that I didn’t take pictures of at the fest itself, like a miscellaneous vintage blue serial keyboard of unknown origin ($1), a Motorola Alphamate II one-line serial pager terminal ($4), and two books: a guide to the 8088 microprocessor and one on packet radio ($1). The things I already documented in this slideshow are as follows: Amiga 1000 (w/extras) and SX-64 ($50), misc. box of Atari games ($10), LSI ADM 5 Terminal ($10), two Macintosh Color Classics (one with an ethernet card!) ($10), Starpath Supercharger (w/game), Star Raiders and Touch Pad controller, RCA Studio II (w/two boxed complete games) ($15). The total? $111 US, which is not too bad for all that great stuff. The icing on the cake is that my father bought it all for me as a birthday present. I think he, himself, spent around $300 on vintage receivers and related paraphernalia, which, unlike most vintage computers, are actually worth something.

All in all, this was my best hamfest haul in recent memory, in terms of the good-to-crap ratio. I got some rare stuff that I’ve always wanted, and I got some junk that I don’t need. But that’s what it’s all about: accumulating copious amounts of bulky worldly possessions which just so happen to be worth effectively nothing and yet take up most of the cubic breathing volume of your residence. And the thrill of the hunt. Each year I come back thinking I’m going to find that Apple Lisa I’ve been looking for since 1993 (I found one once, but I couldn’t afford it then). It’s that quest that keeps me going. I can’t wait ’til next year!

Anyway, thanks a ton for reading — I hope you’ve enjoyed vicariously living out my latest hamfest adventure through the magic of blurry digital photographs. Until next year (or tomorrow, whichever comes first), farewell, my friends.

Read Part I Now

Read Part II Now

6 Responses to “Inside a Hamfest: An Annotated Slideshow, Part III”

  1. Sonja Kelley Says:

    I would like to know when a HAMFEST will be in North Dakota area?

  2. RedWolf Says:

    I’m not sure if I can help you with that, aside from pointing you to a Google search. Good luck!

  3. KitsuneDarkStalker Says:

    Nice finds man, and great writeup! I;m definitely going to have to find one of these and go to it…

  4. K4DSP Says:

    Sonja (and anyone else interested),
    You can find hamfests by state or zip code at
    The next one in ND is February 3, 2007 by the Forx Amateur Radio Club and the Sioux ARC.
    University of North Dakota – Memorial Union Building (Ballroom)
    University Avenue
    Grand Forks, ND


  5. KJ4DZM Says:

    Hamfests or hamventions are the best. way better than ebay sine you can test the stuff you buy. I go to a semi big one in Huntsville Alabama i first went to it for computer stuff now i go there to buy radio and computer related stuff. I have always had a tradition of buying a PS/2 computer keyboard. i love this hamfest article, when i read this it makes me all hyped about hamfest. enjoyed this alot KJ4DZM

  6. Tipi Says:

    “I got some rare stuff that I’ve always wanted, and I got some junk that I don’t need. But that’s what it’s all about: accumulating copious amounts of bulky worldly possessions which just so happen to be worth effectively nothing and yet take up most of the cubic breathing volume of your residence. And the thrill of the hunt.”


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