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Swapfest Returns to Albany Lot

Eva Moy--The Tech
The Swapfest, an electronics flea market, attracts curious hobbyists of all ages. The event is held on the third Sunday of each month, from April to October.

By Eva Moy
Staff Reporter

The Swapfest returned to the Albany Lot and Garage Sunday after moving to the Pacific Lot for the first few months of the summer.

People come from all over New England to attend on the third Sunday during the summer months, and this is the Swapfest's 12th year.

The "flea," as it is more affectionately known, is a place where people buy, sell, and swap "all things nerdy," including computers, electronics, vacuums, ham radios, manuals, and even lasers, said event organizer Steve Finberg, senior electrical engineer at the Draper Laboratory.

"The thing that keeps [the Swapfest] interesting is that it's different every time," Finberg said. But the move to the far end of campus was an unwelcome change.

The Pacific Lot, located at the intersection of Pacific and Landsdowne Streets, was less suitable than the Albany location, which had electrical power, new lights, better security, proximity to restrooms, and overhead protection against rain.

The sponsors appealed to the Facilities Use Committee all winter, Finberg said. It was finally the lobbying of several influential alumni that made the difference. C. K. Crawford '59, president of Kimball Physics Inc. in New Hampshire, was one of the loyal supporters.

The Swapfest "really helps students who are doing experiments on their own," Crawford said. They often do projects that are not funded by the Institute, he said.

Kimball Physics also participates in the flea, both as a vendor and buyer. As an MIT spin-off company, "we buy a lot of used equipment on the open market," Crawford said. Specializing in electron and ion optics, the company did not want to rely on venture capital to buy the equipment they needed.

"I think this general group [of alumni] donates a lot of money to MIT and gets involved in a lot of alumni functions," Crawford said. But the factors of convenience and providing a good service probably swayed the administration. "If MIT doesn't do this, nobody really will," he said.

Merchandise varies widely

The flea is a tailgate event, meaning that vendors sell out of the back of their vehicles. Finberg said, "You don't have to pull it out of your car any more than you need to sell it."

Finberg estimates that on a busy day there are about 300 vendors and 800 buyers.

The range of merchandise varies widely in price and age, dating back to the early 1900s. Many vendors agreed that the Swapfest is a place where one man's junk is another man's treasure.

Gill Mante from Pelham, N.H. and Ed McLaughlin from Tewksbury, N.H. manned the same booth, selling amateur radio components, test equipment, and spare parts.

"We don't make any money. We buy stuff. We sell stuff. Sometimes we go home with a truck with more in it than we came with," Mante said.

Dan Borrelli from Manchester, N.H. described his wares as junk.

"I sell at a computer company, and this is the stuff that nobody buys. The people here buy it," Borrelli said. "They must know how to fix it, but I think they just play with it and sell it at another table."

Vendors sell ancient electronics

Three-year vendor Eddie Anderson sells old military equipment and radios dating back to World War II and the Korean War.

"Most of this stuff is so old that it's declassified," Anderson said. "More than anything [the manuals are] interesting to read."

"We have a lot of fun doing it. We like to open it up and take a look at the equipment and see what the technology was back then," Anderson said. "Some of the stuff you open up is like a work of art."

Lynn Shackelford from Manchester, N.H. deals in pre-1964 radios which are vacuum tube-operated.

"My hobby is collecting old, pre-1930 radios," Shackelford said. "I buy and sell [the pre-1964 radios] and fix them up to get the money to get the ones I like. [It] make the hobby pay for itself."

"There are those who like to buy something they remember as a child having and there are those who collect radios," Shackelford explained.

His radios fetch between $10 and $300, although "prices are only a ballpark," Shackelford said.

David Morris of West Peabody, a first-time visitor, bought "an ancient computer, a Commodore 64 with a drive" for $15.

"It's not as big as some of the other [flea markets], and there's a lot of stuff that I don't" recognize, Morris said. "I was anticipating a lot more of the ham radio equipment than I saw here today."

The twelve-year-old event is sponsored by the MIT Electronics Research Society, MIT UHF Repeater Association, MIT Radio Society, and the Harvard Wireless Club.

Prices have increased this year because of increased costs, including that of police patrols and parking attendants.

Admission is $10 for vendors and $4 for buyers, with a $1 discount with MIT identification. There are also season discounts. Students may elect to join the Radio Society or UHF Repeater club for additional discounts.

Part of the proceeds from the Swapfest are used to buy equipment for the clubs involved.