Design Con 2015

Hams and flea markets

-May 13, 2013

One thing that hams all have in common is that they are cheap. Not frugal, not price-conscious. Cheap.

That’s never more in evidence than at electronics flea markets. Paul Rako recently wrote about the Silicon Valley electronic flea market (which I think used to be called the Foothill Flea). I went there once a long time ago with Jim Williams and scored a couple of nice big variable capacitors for an antenna tuner I was contemplating building and a bag of transmitting-type fixed capacitors for some bandpass filters I had planned. Note – the tuner finally got built, some 5-10 years later, but when I decided to build it, I had the parts! I still haven’t built the filters. And yes, I haggled over the prices.

I knew one ham who had a lot of money … enough to drive a new fancy car every year and own multiple homes in the Boston area and in the Caribbean. But I once observed him haggling over the price of a microphone adaptor. New price in the stores was $20. It was marked $10 on the table. “Will you take five bucks?” “How about 8?” “Deal.” Cheap.

The big flea market here in New England for ham radio and other electronics stuff (NEARFest)  is held in Deerfield, NH twice a year, once in May and once in October. It is not uncommon to see stuff bought in May for sale again in October. There is another smaller, flea market at MIT held on the third Sunday of every month, May through October.

Silicon Valley is also blessed with a bunch of stores selling surplus electronics to the public. We only have a few here in New England. For many years, whenever I was in the valley on business or vacation, I always got in an afternoon of cruising the “junk stores” with Jim Williams. Halted, Excess Solutions, and even Weird Stuff were always on the route, and even a stop at Fry’s to pick up whatever new thing I needed. Our last tour was just a couple of months before he died.

I was out West last month for the International DX Convention, held in Visalia, and stopped in the Valley for a visit on the way. I had planned a tour of the surplus stores – always looking for interesting stuff, and with a short list of things I needed.  Several of my ham friends joined me, and I made up T-shirts for everyone declaring the morning to be the “Jim Williams Memorial Junk Store Tour.” And yes, I bought some stuff.

Back of Junk Tour shirts, the fronts read: Jim Williams Memorial Junk Store Tour

This month I’ll be attending the Dayton Hamvention. There is a huge flea market there, a bit smaller than it was 10 or 20 years ago due to eBay and other ways of disposing of junk online. One of my friends said a few years ago “I haven’t seen this much gear from the ’50s and ’60s since the ’50s and ’60s!” I got Williams to attend one year to scour the grounds for old Tek scopes and I think he bought a couple. And I think he haggled some.

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