(Photo by Kristin Gordon)
BELTON (July 7, 2013) -- If there was a PhD in antique vehicle, Joe Barkley would surely have one. "When I was 16, I was into hot-rods," said Barkley, owner of Little Valley Auto Ranch American Hotrods.
"When I was 17, I was a drag racer. I just always loved cars. Developed a passion for them." His love for automobiles turned into a business that's been going strong since 1969.
"I had a shop in Killeen and moved to Belton and have been here ever since," said Barkley. "With all the knowledge and different VIN numbers and car manufacturers. Its just amazing the way you can decode a car.
You can look at them and tell if something is original to that car or if something was added to it."
In 1982, Barkley began a swap meet on his land. Over the July 4th weekend was the 31st Annual Belton Swap Meet.
It consists of cars, part, antiques and collectibles. Barkley holds the swap meets to try and keep the car hobby alive and to help collectors find parts they need.
"That's the thing about a swap meet," said Barkley. "It's the thrill of the hunt. You never know what you are going to stumble across.
I had one guy he was looking for some 34 Plymouth headlights for like 20 years and he said he come walking around the corner and there sets two of them on the table.
He is just highly thrilled. He couldn't believe what he found."
On Saturday was the Rust 'N Cranks car show. A man drove in from Missouri to show off his 77 Dodge pick-up with a 52 Ford pick-up front end on it. "It was something else," said Barkley.
According to Barkley, in Texas, an antique car is anything that is 25 years or older. Those qualify for antique car plates. "The oldest car I ever had was a 1917 Model T."
Collecting cars began to flourish in 1975, when the government outlawed production of the convertible, according to Barkley. " People were always collecting cars before that, but the marketing frenzy took off," said Barkley.
"Whenever they outlawed them, that escalated a move in the market place to invest in old convertibles.
That was basically when the car collecting car market was born." In 1981, the government reinstated the convertible.
There are four swap meets a year at the Auto Ranch and Bell County Expo Center. The swap meets at the Auto Ranch are the first week in April, July 4th weekend, and the second week in November.
The Winter Nationals are held at the Bell County Expo Center the weekend proceeding the second Monday in December.
"It's a lot of fun," said Barkley. "It's an ongoing thing. You are always doing something different. It's a thrill of the hunt finding a car and its the satisfaction of restoring a car and getting it to where you like it."