As in Mecca, throngs of the faithful make their annual pilgrimage to Central Pennsylvania each fall. Each year since 1953, thousands of antique auto enthusiasts and restorers have flocked to Hershey, Pennsylvania for the National Fall Meet of the Antique Automobile Club of America. Likewise, those interested in slightly later model and modified cars return annually to the neighboring community of Carlisle. If you plan to attend either or both of this year’s shows, whether it be your first time or you’re a veteran, we hope these helpful tips and bits of inside information will be a big help in your journey to the automotive “holy days” in Pennsylvania.
There are a couple of givens about the Hershey show or the Carlisle show. One of the most important is the need to plan ahead. Each event attracts between 125,000 and 250,000 visitors (depending on whose press releases you read). In either case it means the small, bucolic Pennsylvania towns face a population increase of up to 10-fold every year. This, naturally, causes a super-stressed situation when it comes to the local infrastructure of roads, restaurants, and residents.
Hotel reservations are usually made a full year in advance. Yet, even with foresight you may face a night in the car if you’re not careful. If you have reservations, check on them frequently. Computer errors, staff changes, etc. can cost you your reservations. When Motel 6 bought out the Knights Inn in Carlisle, many who had reservations lost them during the management change. You can never go wrong by checking frequently. Expect to be required to purchase a minimum of a three-night stay. Some area inns require the purchase of the European Plan, which includes meals, however pricey. And, of course, hotels/motels in both areas raise rates from 50-100% during the shows.
If you should happen to not have lodging for this year’s expositions, presume there are no rooms available within fifty miles of either event. We’ve heard of show attendees obtaining rooms by sitting in major hotel lobbies until midnight when cancellations would open up. If worse comes to worst, stay in Carlisle during Hershey and Hershey during Carlisle. It’s only a 30-mile drive over I-81 and the communities are used to car enthusiasts. Staying in the opposite town should greatly enhance your chances of getting a room.
Area campgrounds are tough to get into as well. Some swap meet vendors rent extra space for themselves simply to include a motor home for the convenience of not having to rent rooms.
Both the Hershey and Carlisle fall events are long, dirty, exhausting events. It’s a good bet that it will rain at some point at either show. In the case of Hershey, mud is a certainty. By getting in the night before you can plan your days. Rest and get out to “the field” early in the day.
You’ll find the food in both Carlisle and Hershey to be among the best in the country. However, it can be expensive. Even the best Pennsylvania Dutch delights can be repetitive after a few days, especially if you’re staying for two weeks to take in both expositions back-to-back. So, bringing at least some food with you will break the monotony as well as save you some money.
The weather is only predictable in that it will be unpredictable. Fall Pennsylvania weather can range from hot and dry to cold and wet in a rather short time span.
Carlisle has a slightly better chance at being milder since it occurs a week earlier, although Fall Carlisle has seen its share of rain during past shows. If it should rain, it’ll be easier to take at Carlisle because it has a better facility. It has miles of paved aisles instead of pasture like Hershey. More likely than not, you will encounter rain during Hershey at some point. In our recollection after going to Hershey for over 25 years, we only remember the 1997 Hershey show as being sunny and dry. 1998 made up for it, though, with five seemingly never-ending days of solid rain. That means mud! We even saw it snow at Hershey in the mid-1970s!
You will need clothing ranging from tee-shirts to raincoats to sweaters. Start your day wearing many layers of clothing. At the beginning of a damp 50-degree morning the clothes will be appreciated. As the day progresses and gets warmer, you can take layers off. A cheap rain slicker is a wonderful item to pack with you, too. The $1-2 ponchos sold at K-Mart in the sports department are ideal. Buy a couple. They pack well. The ultimate cheap rain slicker is a large clean garbage bag with a hole cut in the top for your head.
Bring comfortable walking shoes, and lots of them so you’ll always have a dry pair. Since you’ll be walking many miles (Carlisle has 14 miles of paved aisles and Hershey even more), they’ll need to be comfortable shoes. The best bet is boots or “ducks” that fit well and repel water.
At either event you’ll walk up to 15 miles per day over rugged, sometimes muddy, terrain. Frequently, folks who normally insist on driving everywhere find themselves miles from their parked car at the shows, carrying heavy car parts purchased from show vendors. On rare occasions, there have even been heart attacks hitting seriously-out-of-shape attendees. It’s highly recommended that you gear-up your physical regimen prior to the shows. Even if that means only going out for a 2-mile walk every night for a couple weeks prior, your weekend will be a whole lot more enjoyable if you’re not winded and rubbing tired feet all day.
Not only are the hotel rooms and food expensive, but this is the big week you’ve been looking forward to all year. These are the “grand-daddy” swap meets that people come from as far as Australia and Europe to attend. Many vendors, like Eastwood, offer show specials you won’t be able to duplicate later. You may never get another chance to buy that special car or part you need, so you’ll need to spend while at the show. Spectator parking is expensive and charged daily. We can’t prove it, but even gas prices seem to go up that weekend in Central Pennsylvania.
You say you have a real job and can only get off one week? Which show do you go to? Some folks try to catch Saturday and Sunday of Carlisle, then stay over a day and try the first day or two of Hershey. We recommend doing one or the other, as you cannot see the entire event at either location in a day or two.
If your tastes lean more toward antique classic and the eclectic, we recommend Hershey. Run by the AACA, it has always catered to those interests best.
If you love Muscle Cars, Fifties cruisers, modified cars, Corvettes and more non-automotive items, then Carlisle is for you. In the areas of automobilia and collectibles, you’ll find both shows follow the same profile. There’s even a toy show in the grade school next door to the Carlisle Fairgrounds at gate #1