Annual auto swap meet draws crowds to Lawrence

John and Sharon Schrag have turned a joy of repairing old cars into a paying hobby.

Specializing in “nothing in particular,” the Moundridge couple laid out tables of old car parts such as wheels, odometers and tail lights Saturday at the 39th annual swap meet, sponsored by the Lawrence Region Antique Auto Club of America.

Lawrence resident John Lupo looks for the perfect tread among a sea of tires at the A & R Sales booth at the 39th annual Lawrence auto swap meet. Used automotive parts and accessories drew thousands of gearheads from near and far Saturday to the Douglas County Fairgrounds.

The Schrags follow a circuit of these swap meets yearly, from the Kansas Coliseum in February to the Kansas State Fair in October.

“We have found that when you take the time to clean things up, you do a lot better,” Sharon Schrag said.

At a swap meet, customers have to know what they’re looking for or what fits on the car they’re fixing up. With all the vendors and mounds of parts, a swap meet is as much about the hunt as the find.

“This is far better than sitting in the office all week,” she said.

The Schrags joined 500 to 600 swap meet vendors Saturday, who range from locals trying to clean the spare parts out of their garage to professionals who cross the country in motorhomes and specially designed trailers.

Ten thousand to 15,000 people are expected at the swap meet this weekend, making it the largest event held at the Douglas County 4-H Fairgrounds, said Joe Arneson, chairman of the event and member of the Lawrence Region AACA.

“We’ve just had a tremendous turnout, and it’s weather-related,” he said.

Arneson said swap meets were popular among people restoring older cars.

“The older cars are just easier to work with,” he said. “You don’t have the computers that are in today’s cars.”

Bob Smock, Omaha, Neb., found some Model T and street rod parts he was looking for, and said it was his first time at the Lawrence swap meet.

“It’s big, and people are friendly,” he said.

Car parts weren’t the only thing on display. Some vendors had old cruiser bikes, toy cars, antique tractors, owners’ manuals and clothing.

Lawrence-based Go Kustom had a display of retro T-shirts and gas station shirts that are made in its North Lawrence shop.

The company, which uses “electronic flocking” to give the silk-screened ink a fuzzy texture, also produces merchandise for bands such as The Paladins of San Diego and The Sadies Toronto.

“We’re big in Vegas and Texas,” said employee Jess Grease.

It was also Go Kustom’s first time at the Lawrence swap meet.

“We always get interest, but it depends on the city,” Grease said.

Though a swap meet by definition is full of old stuff, Go Kustom and other younger folks showed that it wasn’t just about guys reliving their high school days by restoring GTOs and Mustangs.

“There’s a lot of the younger kids that are starting to get interested in rebuilding cars,” Arneson said.

The Lawrence swap meet continues today from 7 a.m. to noon at the fairgrounds. The Lawrence Region Antique Auto Club of America meets on the first Thursday of each month. For more information on the club, call 843-2222.