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Dust, Rust And Chrome At Rhinebeck Car Show

Last weekend, enthusiasts from across the Northeast gathered to trade parts and stories at the Rhinebeck Car Show. Reporter Meg Heckman sent this audio postcard.

Hot rods, muscle cars and automotive echoes of the gilded age are the public face of the Rhinebeck Car Show, but look past the tidy rows of glittering bumpers and you’ll see something else: acres and acres of dust, rust and chrome. It’s the annual swap, where buyers and sellers come from across the East Coast to haggle over the stuff that old cars are made of.

“Some early ‘50s steering wheels, I’ve got a steering wheel off a ‘37 Ford...”

This is George Thomas of St. Johnsville, New York. He spent last weekend presiding over a long row of card tables covered in, well, just about anything a car lover could need.

“Flathead motor mounts, flathead water pumps and some ‘35 Chevy headlights and some gauges out of a ‘35 Ford truck  It’s just fun to be here and sell the stuff and meet people. It’s a real good show. I’ve been here for 25 years. I’ve had different spots. This is a great spot here because I get to see the cars come and go.”

Other vendors, like Skip Albright, of Glenmont, N.Y., have a narrower focus.

“We tend to sell antique garagiana, stuff from old petroleum stations, gas stations, repair stations. There’s some battery chargers and some antique test equipment. There’s a heating gun down there that they would use to heat up parts with. It’s kind of like a hairdryer, only it’s industrial.”

And if you need headlights, Donald Axelrod of Lynn, Mass. is your man.

“Come to me. I’ve got ‘em. From my finding them now, it’s mostly the old timers that are dying off. I’m buying them at estate sales from their heirs. It’s re-circulating within the hobby.”

That recirculation used to happen at junkyards, but with fewer yards -- and fewer old cards -- quality parts are harder to find. Just ask Howard Foulds of Wayne, N.J. He makes a living restoring antique car radios.

“All the large junk yards are folding under. The land is worth more now for development than it is for a 40 acre junk yard to hold old cars from 1940, '50s and so on. Parts like this are becoming fewer and far between. It’s really the only outlet other than eBay to get rid of this stuff or to buy it. People come from all over the world to these swap meets.

What was unique about these radios before lets say 1975, they were built for the car. The radio was molded to the dash. Contour, decorative, the knobs matched your wiper knobs. They went generic in 1978. ALl they did was change the knob color. It was one size fits all, so the demand isn’t there for the late model stuff. Early model, unique to the car. Some of the radios, you can name your price. A 54 cor-- I’ve had several of those -- it’s a $2,000 radio in  a heartbeat, and that’s not working.”

By Sunday afternoon, the swap’s tents and tables were a little less crowded with inventory, but George Thomas was still doing steady business.

“Bumpers and tires, we also have some ‘36 and ‘37 Ford grills, and some ‘32 Ford gas tanks, a radiator, some '48 Plymouth bumpers front and back. That’s pretty much the gold. And Hot Wheels. We have a lot of Hot Wheels.”