The vendor spaces are sold. Territory is staked. Now it’s time to wheel in the wares.
A rare picturesque weekend awaits patrons and vendors at the 37th Annual Wise County Swap Meet.
The old-style meet is arguably the most popular in the region and the first held in the South every year. It runs 6 a.m. to 6 p.m. Friday, Feb. 21, through Sunday, Feb. 23, at Wise County Fairgrounds located at 3100 Farm Road 51 South in Decatur. It’s free and open to the public.
The three-day event typically features more than 3,000 vendors. Eighty percent of each vendor’s wares must be auto-related. Tables covered with rusted red and shimmering silver auto parts will pop up in a beige parking lot coated with dry, winter grass.
Cars and trucks in all manner of repair and disrepair will scatter across the fairgrounds. Motorcycles, go-carts and scooters will careen between crowded stalls as grown men pull Red Rider wagons piled with pickings.
“This is the first swap meet of the year,” said Randy Genzel, a member of Wise County Antique Auto Club, which sponsors the annual meet. “People have been working on their projects all winter. They come here to meet, or find, vendors who supply the parts they need to finish their winter projects.”
Strewn among the odd characters and uncommon items is a rich tale of America’s automotive history. Every vendor, every item, tells a story. The collection of rusty volumes is read by historians as grizzled and weather-worn as the parts and products they peddle.
Patrons can find everything from a fuel tank on a 1940s jet to a complete 1923 Ford model double-T truck.
While it seems like everyone is looking for a particular hubcap, fender or bumper, most are really looking for something that’s long gone, unattainable.
“Everyone wants to relive their past – that’s what’s great about my business,” said Fred Murfin of Wilson, Okla.
Murfin and his wife, Kim, run Redline Muscle Cars. They scour auto swap meets every year searching for hotrods. Last year he found a red 1977 Camaro Z-28 and a black 1980 Turbo Trans Am Bandit.
He sells cars to buyers the world over. But his customers aren’t just looking for a classic car. They are searching for something deeper.
“When I was in high school, I always wanted a Z-28, but I didn’t have the means,” Murfin said. “Now that I’ve become successful and I can afford it, my goals are validated, even though I have bigger goals and dreams now.”
The event not only brings history to life – the crowds it draws serve as a major boom for the local economy.
“We’ll have 20,000 to 30,000 people walking through here on Saturday if there is good weather,” Genzel said. “We fill up every hotel between here and Bridgeport. An economic study done a few years ago showed that the meet adds $2.7 to $3 million to the local economy.”
Weather forecasters predict perfect conditions for picking. On a weekend usually prone to cold, windy or wet days, this year’s swap meet calls for highs every day in the mid-60s with partly cloudy skies.