Experience the “Farmer’s Market” of Vintage Electronics

Normally when you think of a Farmer’s Market, fresh produce grown nearby comes to mind. This experience was similar in that much of the produce was conceived locally, but the goal is to be anything but fresh. I had the opportunity last weekend to attend the final Electronics Flea Market of 2014. I can’t speak for everyone, but there is an obvious affinity for vintage electronics equipment in just about any condition. The people you run into are as interesting as the equipment being swapped, and the social outing tends to continue even after the swap meet closes.

Electronics plus

Strolling around there’s a lot of stuff to take in. I was mainly interested in the electronic offerings (specifically bench equipment) but there was everything from a booth selling honey to a gentleman making custom tags for your pet’s collar. The swap meet is located in one of the parking lots of De Anza College of Cupertino, California. You can get in for free, parking cost me $3.

I wandered about for 40 minutes or so before bumping into [Charles Alexanian]. I had pinged him before my visit as he sometimes has a booth of his own at the swap meet. He’s the one who told me that all the cool stuff is gone by 7am… I was roughly three hours late for that benchmark.

It was great to see that [Charles] wasn’t just swapping equipment. He brought along some show and tell. Here are some vacuum tubes he design and built himself. Most of the raw materials came from leftovers for mass producing other tubes. I’m hoping he’ll write a post for us detailing his fabrication techniques.

There’s an after-party

[Charles] and I had a plan to go to St. John’s with some other regulars after the market closed for what are billed as Silicon Valley’s best burgers. I wandered around a bit more to see the rest of the aisles. The sun is vicious so make sure to slather on the sunscreen if you plan to spend some real time digging for deals.

You never know who you’ll run into

After making the rounds I was sitting on the tailgate of [Charles’] truck when [Windell] of Evil Mad Scientist Laboratories spotted me. We had initially met at Maker Faire Bay Area back in May. I didn’t get to mingle with him at the Bring a Hack dinner on that one (looks like [Brian] and [Adam] are making up for that in New York this weekend).

He and [Lenore] asked if I was going to the breakfast afterward and I assumed they meant St. John’s trip previously mentioned. Not so. It seems social outings after the flea market abound as there’s an Engineer’s Breakfast hosted by [Paul Ranko] at Bobbi’s Cafe in Cupertino. [Charles] said he didn’t see a lot of the regular St. John’s attendees anyway so we decided to change plans, but not before one last sweep of the vendor area.

The Engineers’ Breakfast

The patio at Bobbi’s cafe is the gathering spot for a dozen or so engineers after each swap meet. I met [Paul Rako] who took three of the images below but he and I pose in the fourth. Also found in the pictures are [Windell Oskay] and [Lenore Edman], cofounders of EMSL. They later gave me a tour of their lair, which I’ll save for another post.

What a wonderful morning and fantastic adventure. If you do find yourself at the Engineer’s Breakfast next year I recommend the corn beef hash.

51 thoughts on “Experience the “Farmer’s Market” of Vintage Electronics

        1. Been looking for something like this in Australia for ages, I was beginning to think we emerged fully formed into the digital age and that there were no crusty old analog bits and pieces here (just iphones down to bedrock). But now I know a new word (‘Hamvention’) and have a new appreciation for HAM operators, they are not just Gandalf-looking electromagnetic wizards with amusingly oversized TV antennas but also collectors and purveyors of old, old wooden electrons.

          1. Very true. Shame they’re pretty few and far between in my area, but it’s quite a thing to go from getting excited over seeing one old panel meter for sale for most of the year, to being able to buy stuff for $5 that you never knew existed.

            Here’s a handy way to find them, in case anyone hasn’t already discovered it:
            http://www.wia.org.au/newsevents/events/index.php

            Usually called Hamfests though, only one I know called a “Hamvention”. A geographical clue on your part perhaps? Well enjoy October 19th, I know I will!

          2. Josh, there _are_ Hamfests in Oz. Some months ago I went to one in Brisbane, BARCFest. And the good news is, it pretty much had stuff like you see in the photos here. I was looking for some vintage computer gear and through one of the leads I picked up at the show I managed to acquire what I was looking for. I’ll be going next year!

  1. Hi folks, thanks for talking about the Electronics Flea Market! The flea market is organized by ASVARO for the benefit of non-profit amateur radio organizations in the Silicon Valley. Technically, the last Electronics Flea Market of the year would happen in October, but ASVARO doesn’t want to conflict with Pacificon (www.pacificon.org) which is the big Silicon Valley amateur radio convention held every October.

  2. Man I wish i was there to attend this and all the other swap/ham/electronic fest in california!!! — still on my list is a radio shack TRS-80 Model 100 how many were spotted there? anyone have an extra they can sling my way.
    awesome photos of cool gear.

    1. I have at least 1 26-1001a is that the type you need? I think I have another but will have to dig for it. course I have enough junk in my basement to do my own ham-fest, I wouldn’t mind getting rid of some of it. you near indiana?

    1. First Saturday? it still goes on but it’s only a fraction of what it use to be. you could walk the whole thing in say, 10 minutes. and most of it is now knock-off import non-electronic stuff like shoes, bath and beauty products, and self defense items of questionable legality/quality for everyday carry. I miss the old first saturday and Infomart events.

      blame ebay and craigslist…

  3. Hamfests still exist all over the country, though they are a far cry from what they were even ten years ago. The cost of gas has simply made it too expensive for all the regulars to make the circuit and they can make just as much (if not more) selling on eBay.

    1. Mike, I agree with you on how fuel costs have affected the “traveling salesmen” of semi-professional ham swap meets. Just like Craigslist destroyed the newspaper classified business, eBay and Craigslist are changing the swap meets. I think that’s why modern “hamfests” are more focused on Forum content, presentations, and demos.

  4. Dear HAD overlords… Can you please consider some sort of HAD Event Calendar? Events such as this are great to read about, but they’d be even greater to see listed ahead of time for those of us that might be able to attend some of them. Doesn’t have to be more than a DATE|LOCATION|TITLE|URL type of a list… nothing fancy. Then, if follow-ups are written, they could be linked to from the calendar for reference.

    Please consider? Please?

  5. Attending this venue has been a ‘moral imperative” for me for decades, which is why I continue to live and work in Silicon Valley. I will have to check out the Pacificon Swap Meet next month; many vendors that were here last weekend will be there.

  6. I go to two or three HamFESTs here in Alabama every year (and have since I ran a table with my dad back in the early 80’s) and we no longer have ANYTHING that looks like that here anymore! :( It’s a shame that all of the good electronic/computer related events are on the other side of the continent!

  7. Hey, I was there! Last weekend, I snagged a bucketful of ARM-based IAR dev boards (STR912-SK, Raisonance Reva w/various CPU boards) for maybe $25 total, Toshiba Qosmio G35-AV660 for $40 (which I expected to use for it’s lovely display & other components but OMG it starts up now my portable bluray player) and odd industrial display panels.

    Other times, I’ve bought things like some huge foot controllers for a laser surgery machine, FPGA-based PCI passthru debugger, 8″ floppy drive, parts of a luggable, a PrimeSense 3D camera prototype, early head-mounted display, a prototype kit for the “world’s largest e-ink reader” which never got released, lots of just random bits and pieces. I usually get there at about 9am so I miss a lot of the deals but if you dig around, you will still find great stuff.

  8. In the UK we call them “Radio rallies”
    , last one I attended netted 6 nixie tubes and a
    Some 12v geared motors and lots of components I didn’t
    Realise I needed till I saw them (at a fraction of what RS would charge)

  9. The guy making dog tags is there mainly to make ham radio badges.

    I never knew about the after gatherings. But then again I get there between 3:30AM and 4AM helping to sell the spots to the vendors. By 10 I go home and just crash. I’ll make it to Bobbi’s one of these days.

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