Belton Hamfest Trip Report

I arrived at the Belton Bell Expo Center at 5:30pm on Friday for early setup.

Half a dozen hams had their outdoor tailgates (a term used for ham who sell stuff outdoors, orginating from selling from the lowered tailgate of a truck) already going and a healthy population of RVs were already parked in the lot for overnight stays.

Indoors, I had table #122, along the left hand aisle- a good spot.  Next to me was a very friendly couple, Patty W5AZO and Jim W5AZN, active lighthouse and POTA activators.  Fun facts: they have worked portable from over 80 lighthouses over the US, Canada and outside of USA.  Patty, W5AZO was the FIRST woman in the USA to receive all levels of ARRL Emergency Communications Certification.  They kept great company with fun chatter thoughout, and Patty kindly covered my table whenever I snuck out to scour the tailgate and other insider sellers.  Jim and Patty were headed to Mother Neff State Park, an hour drive north, for a POTA activation immediately after the hamfest.  They invited me, but I had to boogie back home.

Usually, coming early allows for quick bargains both in the tailgate and inside.  Although buying/selling inside during Friday setup is “discouraged”, the seasoned hamfester uses every advantage in the book.  For me, I scored a reasonably priced 32A Alinco DM-330MV power supply from Gary, just a couple of tables down from my setup.  I love this specific model power supply, and now I have a healthy stable of a few of them in my shack.

For the evening I stayed overnight at my favorite budget place, Super 8, only up 7 miles from the Bell Expo center, in the city of Temple.  Luckily, I made reservations early since they were sold out when I arrived for check-in.  Super 8 is not luxurious, but it’s clean and it’s closeby.  They have great secret benefit- immediately next door is the Mexicano #3 grille which is *excellent*.  I drove my minivan through the drive-up window and placed an order of Enchiladas and a nacho plate, which I took up to my room.  Yum.

On Sunday, I got up early and arrived on Saturday at 6:00am- to the get an early scan of the new arrivals before the hamfest opened to the public at 7:00am.  A flashlight is needed to checkout the pre-sunrise outdoor tailgaters.   I had spotted a seller outside who had a very nice IC 765 Pro III for $600, a terrific price for radio I’ve wanted for a few years, but yeah, I didn’t need another radio <sigh>.

Inside, the tables were all sold out, but nothing spectacular was seen, nor were there any bigtime vendor represented.  There’s been a consistent demise of boatanchors for sale, as evidenced by the lack of sales and the reduction in asking prices observed just over the last year or so.  I know it’s a hard pill to swallow when premiere tube radios like the Collins S-line used to easily fetch over $1000 each (e.g. 75S3x) and today they are priced at around $500 or lower, with many untouched at the end of the day.  This reflects the state of a diminished golden era that no longer commands the demand of today’s ham.  I’m sure the reality is hitting many old time sellers who wonder why they can’t sell their stuff anymore. 

There was a rather beat up, but working 500W solid state Ameritron amp, used mobile for $250.  Maybe I should have got it, but didn’t need it.  That was problably the best deal I saw, other than a very nice old tube Drake 2NT transmitter for $40!  Oddly, I noticed only one vendor selling a few estate CW paddles in the whole arena, a reflection of the times.  CW is not popular nor required for licensure anymore.  Lots of wires, cables, and old Tektronix scopes and test equipment that have lost their promience given the cheaper and better new products on the market.  It seems like technology continues to play the role of sneaking up quickly to devalue what was once treasured state-of-the-art equipment. 

There were a fair number of VHF/UHF mobile radios on lots of tables.  Is that the valued commodity for ham radio buyers and sellers today?  I have little interest in these, so I passed them up, ignorant knowing if the prices were amazing, insulting or boring.

Along the earlier theme of a lost era, one could also see the demise of the experimenter.  A few old timers had drawers of caps, inductors, semiconductors, connectors, modules, manuals, etc, but these didn’t command much attention other than a few other old timers cherry picking up nickel and dime devices for their pet projects.  I saw a fair amount of boatanchors:  Viking Valiants, Rangers, Hammurlund HQ 170, 120, Eico 720s, Messiners, broadcast radios,and a few Drake TR4s, and a TR7, all priced for a few hundreds of bucks, but none of them were drawing a crowd nor selling actively.

I brought a healthy quantity of older solid state radios, which were sold for 1/2 of my asking prices, just because nobody seemed interested at my price points, and I my objective was not to bring much back home.  I did not ever expect to get anything close to ebay prices, but I actually had asking prices way lower, yet still had to slash my prices in order to make deals.  My old friend the 1970’s Henry 2KD-2 1KW+ linear amp in pristine condition was originally planned to be sold for $1200.  I decided that I needed to make sure it was taken, so listed it at $600, but ended up selling it for $400 to the only person who had interest (a Henry Radio fan).  That’s a killer deal, but the demand is not there any more.  Arguably, it would have sold much higer on ebay, but I now loathe the headache of packing heavy items and taking them to a postal outlet.

Overall, I sold most of my stuff at killer prices, but the mission was the start slimming down my collection.  I had no takers for my $500 fully loaded Yaesu FT1000MP, nor $400 prices for nice IC746 Pro transceivers.  In speaking with some other hams, we think the introduction of the IC7300 has impacted the selling prices of the radio world.  It’s an extremely popular and well featured radio for a great price- such that its upended the used radio market- at least for the newer hams who have lesser affection for the older vintage radios- in spite of their arguably competitive reputation and sturdiness.  Maybe most importantly, older radios (including those made 5 years ago), lack today’s direct plug-in capability for digital interfaces and waterfall displays, which is likely another big driver.  FT8/FT4 are arguably affecting the buyer’s preference in a big way.

All day long, I had been eyeing an Astron RS-50A 50A linear power supply on the far other side of the indoor arena.  Just before leaving, I took the plunge as the seller agreed to let it go for 50% of his original low asking price (unhead of! but indicative of today’s environment)  I scooped it up in my 2nd moment of weakness for the event.  Ugh, that’s 50 lbs of heavy heatsink, but a welcome solution to power up my TS480HX.

Now that I’m back home, writing this post, I also wanted to share an observation.  Hamfests attendance has dropped off, arguably some due to Covid, but it’s an old timer’s event.  80% of the attendees were gray haired, likely within a few years of it, and were probably dying their hair to stay looking young.  I might have seen maybe 2 younger generation hams.  Not necessarily suggesting that the hobby is dying, but I think hamfests in Texas are not attracting younger hams.  Maybe it’s a cyclic thing, but the hamfest allure sure is not in the hearts and minds of the new ham.  I’ll guess that today’s hamfest will undergo change to reel in a changing market demograpic.  Maybe the event will morph into more ham makerspace-like in the future.  BTW, I did see a couple of Ender 3D printers!

Sidenote.  I was planning to sell my Kenwood TL-922 1KW amp.  The night before, I finished installing a new power transformer, with intention of selling at Belton.  After I finished the surgery and buttoned it up, I gave it a quick test by plugging it in and clicking the ON switch…  ZZZAAPP!!.  A growling arc-welding sound noise seared from the amp, and dimmed the room lights.  My bench AC power strip tripped, as it should have. Whew.   Why didn’t the amp’s dual 15A fuse act faster??! That was not a good feeling.  A lesson learned was that my cockiness trumped safety.  I was so confident that I  fixed the amp, that carelessly powered it up without a a safety check.  I should have powered it up slowly with a variac, while monitoring current;  or used a safety lightbulb in series with the line (the bulb will light if there’s a large current draw).

I never expected a catastrophic short somewhere.  I sure hope I didn’t fry the new Power transformer- a very very costly lesson, but a great reminder to be careful.

I’ve placed the sick amp into timeout on the floor, and when the sadness will go away, I’ll try to debug it again- this time with care and humbleness.  With luck, maybe you’ll see it forsale at the next Texas City hamfest.


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