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SOS Playbook: The ‘Super Bowl’ of Militaria


It’s that time of year when many turn to groundhogs for weather predictions. Though one of my favorite movies is Groundhog Day, I am not sure I place that much confidence in the little critters’ soothsaying. Regardless of fur-covered proclamations, Ground Hog Dayis a reminder to me to start planning for the hobby’s big pre-spring event: The Show of Shows in Louisville, Ky., Feb. 27-March 2, 2104.

If you have never made the annual trek to Louisville to attend the Show of Shows, you are missing what most consider to be the “Super Bowl” of militaria. Hosted by the Ohio Valley Military Society (OVMS), the mega-show is in its 22nd year.

The Ohio Valley Military Society is one the oldest and largest militaria collectors’ clubs in the world with over 2,000 current members. The primary endeavor of the Society is to promote the study and collecting of historic military artifacts by sponsoring three regularly scheduled shows a year in the Ohio Valley area where military artifacts and regalia can be bought, sold, or traded. Basically, the OVMS promotes the study and the discussion of military history, military artifacts, and their provenance through the collecting of military items. It is an organization that represents all of our military collecting interests regardless of the focus.

The Show of Shows (SOS) has grown to become the largest all-militaria show in the United States. With more than 1,600 tables, it attracts vendors and customers from all over the world. In fact, it is the one time a year I can regularly visit with my Belgian and Dutch friends.

I have never been “skunked” at an SOS. No matter what my focus has been, if I spend my time digging and not just visiting, I turn up gems to add to my collection. Over the years, though, I have learned some lessons that might be useful in your hunt.


It has taken almost 20 years of attending the SOS to get to a point that I think I am prepared for the next one! Some of my lessons have been tough, so I hope sharing a few tips will help you avoid the same mistakes I have made.

* Bring cash for parking. Get there early. You might end up waiting 10 minutes in line just to get into the parking lot!

* Make sure your OVMS dues are paid well in advance. In fact, if they are not current, bookmark this blog and go to the OVMS site RIGHT NOW ( and make yourself current! Don’t wait to “renew at the show.” You will regret the time you are standing in line while me and a few thousand others are already inside the show shopping.

* Dress for the show. Wear REALLY comfortable shoes. For years, I have worn Vans (“skater shoes”). One day at the SOS with no arch support taught me a hard lesson. I could barely walk at the end of the first day because of my stylish flats. Pants with cargo pockets are really helpful, as are vests. Leave your coat in the car. You may get cold on the run to the Expo Center, but it will be nothing like the PITA (“pain-in-the-a%&”) that coat will be once you are in the show.

* While many feel they must have the capacity of a Mountain rucksack, these are PITA to everyone around you, not to mention they are prime targets for quick grab-and-take jobs. I use an old newspaper delivery bag that I can hang on my side to maintain some sort of control and awareness. It isn’t perfect, but it is better than hanging it behind me where I can’t see or feel a thing. Whatever you use for carrying the bounty of your hunt, make sure you have adequate packing material (thin shop towels work real well). You don’t want your new artifacts to be damaged during transport.

* Leave your carts at home. Nick and I learned this one last year. We thought we were so clever taking a pull-behind cart for our magazines and plunder. Wow. Were we wrong! The aisles are wide, but there are a lot of folks using them. “Dirty looks” does not begin to describe the feedback we received on our cart idea. It was a true PITA to everyone around us.

* Something else to leave at home: Your conceal carry weapon. Seriously. I can vouch for this one, firsthand. The Expo Center is a “No Carry” zone. While security will be cautiously polite, they WILL be watching for signs of weapons and will ask you to leave if you are caught carrying. Now, I was pretty stupid when I took off my coat and sweater revealing a weapon on my side during table set-up one year, but the response was fast and adamant: “No personal weapons on campus!” They were nice to me (probably because it was pre-show), but there is no guarantee they can exhibit that level of benevolence when the show is full of visitors. Rest assured, if Zombies or Commies attack, there are thousands of weapons at the National Gun Show Day next door to the SOS.

* Speaking of firearms, while the SOS does permit the display and sale of antique and military firearms, the real action—where firearms are bought and sold—is in the adjacent National Gun Day Show that occurs on March 1-2. There is a separate charge to attend, but is well worth it. I go every year to make ammo purchases. In addition, I am able to continue my military relic hunt among all of the dealers, but especially with the SOS “refugees” (dealers who couldn’t purchase a table at the SOS). While the National Gun Day show caters to all facets of the firearms hobby, there are a lot of antique and military weapons, ammo and accouterments to be found.

* Bring cash! Nothing squelches enthusiasm for making the best deal like whipping out a credit card or a checkbook (not to mention the PITA-factor to those waiting for your to conclude a sale). I am not saying this is a black-money hobby, but cash will be your king if you bring it!

* Make sure your phone is charged. You will be using it a lot: Taking pictures (ask first—many folks are privacy skittish), calling to find your lost buddy, or making mobile shout-outs to your offsite expert.

* Eat before you go to the show. There are food vendors in the show hall and the Kentucky Pork Producers wagon outside the main entrance, but you will lose valuable shopping time while you stand in the lines at these. Carry some trail mix in one of those cargo pockets in case your blood sugar drops too far. Remember, you have very limited time “over target,” so you want to maximize your effectiveness. Eat on the hunt. When you are done, you can also collapse with a Pork Producer’s pork chop sandwich (one of my SOS favorites!) or a treat from one of the hall food vendors.

* Okay, so what about food? Many have come to rely on my BBQ suggestion for the Louisville area. We were all devastated when the Hickory House closed a couple of years ago. I am happy to report, I discovered a new favorite spot, but have to apologize to my buddies who introduced me to it. They really didn’t want the word to get around. But, my commitment is to the health (and well-fed happiness) of the hobby, so here goes:

Smoketown USA.

Their menu has been pinned on my office wall for a year, just so I wouldn’t forget. I just checked online, and it is still offering their magnificent ‘Q at their 1153 Logan Street store. The ribs are served with 2 side dishes and sweet or jalapeno cornbread.

The place is small, so stagger your times. Don’t think we will all fit when the Show closes for the day! They also do carry-out. Tell em, “JAG from Military Trader sent you!” (They don’t have a clue who “JAG from Military Trader” is, but eventually they will figure it out and maybe slip an extra rib on my plate! Better yet, they will begin planning an SOS banquet for future shows! Yeah! Now we’re talking! I am gonna send them this blog when I finish writing!).

Finally, my last tip for this year’s Show of Shows: Remain open to what you might find. You probably think you know what you want to add to your collection, but going to the show looking for that one item will put blinders on you. The Show of Show is magnificent for the variety of material it offers to military enthusiasts. It is the biggest, hands-on exhibit of militaria in our nation. Use the opportunity to explore the collecting possibilities—you might be surprised what direction your hobby will take!

See you at the Show,

John Adams-Graf
Editor, Military Trader and Military Vehicles Magazine

The Show of Shows will occur on Feb. 27-March 2 at the Kentucky Exposition Center, South Wing A and the East Hall, Louisville, Ky. For more info on the OVMS and the Show of Shows, log onto:

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