It all boiled down to the thrill of the hunt — the search for elusive deals on the opening day of Fall Carlisle.

Thousands of early bird shoppers flocked to the fairgrounds Wednesday to get the jump on competition at the annual car swap, corral and auction.

“It’s just the excitement of getting something before someone else gets it,” said Jeff Covell of Myersville, Maryland, who has been a regular visitor to the yearly event for about three decades.

From day one, his strategy has been to get in on a Wednesday or Thursday before the big crowds swarm the 8,100 vendor spaces. Even getting in early, there have been plenty of cases where Covell has seen a bargain on something he needed only for another person to swoop in and pay for it.

“We look for a variety of things,” said Covell, who arrived on site just 15 minutes after the gates opened at 7 a.m. In the first four hours, the hunt yielded a treasure trove of bargains including a pair of steer horns to mount on his son’s truck and a box of pinstripe auto detailing tape to customize vehicles.

David Elks of Little Washington, North Carolina, has almost as much mileage as Covell. He started coming to Fall Carlisle about 25 years ago. “It’s like an Easter egg hunt and you’re looking for the golden egg,” said Elks, who restores cars as a hobby.

Every so often Elks comes across a rare find in auto parts. Often the discovery requires a decision on the spot — make a deal with the vendor or risk someone else snatching up the opportunity.

“I’m working right now on a 1970 GTO Judge,” said Elks, who was in the process of loading two neon car signs onto an all-terrain vehicle. “One sign is a Pontiac and one is a Dodge.” He plans to hang up both in the barn where he parks his cars.

Susan Rubincan was at the fairgrounds Wednesday helping her husband, Ben, spot the parts they need for the various car restoration projects underway at their Chester County home.

“When I first married him, I hated cars. ... Now I’m hooked,” said Rubincan, a Fall Carlisle visitor since about 1990. She is so into the hobby that she now has to get her husband to make the two-hour trip.

“If you don’t come here the first day, you have a harder time finding what you want because you have a lot of competition,” she said. In just a few hours, the husband and wife team tracked down front and rear bumpers, a hood bracket and some carpet along with a tech manual and a car book.

“We each have our own specialties,” Rubincan said. While her husband works on the cars, she calls around to order parts, cleans parts and handles the bills to pay for the parts.

But there is more to Fall Carlisle than automotive.

John Sanderman of Dayton, Ohio, is an antiques dealer who sells merchandise out of five locations. He has been a regular at the event since 2012.

“I’m searching for anything I can make a dollar on as long as it’s antique and cool looking,” Sanderman said. “I’ve been doing it my whole life. ... It’s the thrill of finding something at a good price.”

The haul Wednesday included two five-gallon embossed oil cans, two Kennedy parts cabinets, an old wooden shoe crate and some brass gauges for a steam pump.

Wednesday is the popular day for those trying to get the jump on other competitive shoppers, said Mike Garland, public relations manager for Carlisle Events. He said it is easier for the early birds to get great deals the first day compared to Thursday, Friday and midday Saturday when the venue is packed.

“It’s the opportunity to find the hidden gems,” Garland said. “It’s the last hurrah for the car show season at the fairgrounds.”

The last show of the Carlisle Events show season is Fall Florida Auto Fest scheduled for Nov. 10-12 in Lakeland. Fall Carlisle runs through Oct. 1 and is open 7 a.m. to 6 p.m. Thursday, Friday and Saturday and 7 a.m. to 3 p.m. Sunday. Tickets are available at the gate and online at www.carlisleevents.com.

Event organizers are trying out a new feature this Fall Carlisle in the form of a Barn Finds and Survivor Display. Located at the main stage and on the north side of the grounds, the display consists of seven or eight cars that were recovered and salvaged from decades of storage in some kind of building or field.

These cars have not only survived the test of time, but many have the same structure and look as they did when they came off the assembly line, Garland said. Some of the cars are up for sale or bid.

Blair Thorne of Utopia, New Brunswick, Canada, purchased a 1966 Dodge Charger about 18 months ago. The classic car had been sitting idle for about 25 years in a barn outside the port city of St. John.

The car had about 19,200 miles on it when it was bought at an auction in Atlantic City in 1992 and driven to Canada. Thorne first learned of its existence from a friend and a deal was struck as soon as Thorne saw it.

But the car was never registered in New Brunswick and its paperwork was lost in a house fire, so Thorne had to work through provincial channels to help the seller obtain ownership so that she could complete the transaction.

“It was washed twice in the 1990s,” Thorne said about the Charger. It was driven twice the whole time it was in storage and only for about 100 feet. Thorne has put about $7,000 into the Charger with work that includes replacing all its rubber hoses and its brake system.

Dave Failor of Shermans Dale, Perry County, has a 1954 Hudson Hornet Special on display. That car was stored in a Carlisle-area garage from about 1973 to 2014 when Failor bought it from a friend.

“It needs to be completely restored and painted,” said Failor, who has replaced the brake system, the wheels and the tires.

Email Joseph Cress at jcress@cumberlink.com.

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