Original publish date: August 13, 2011 Republished August 8, 2019
The world’s longest yardsale. The name alone is intriguing, right? This reporter just returned from an exhausting three day trip from Cincinnati to Chattanooga spent poking through piles of other people’s discards, with a few antiques and collectibles mixed in. Like driving cross country, everyone should do the world’s longest yardsale at least once in their lifetime.
The event stretches from Hudson Michigan to Gadsden Alabama, a span of 675 miles along highway 127, tracing the route of the old Dixie highway. The official website (www.127sale.com ) describes it as: “Hundreds of thousands of folks join us each year for this fun-filled event, spanning 654 miles and five states. It’s impossible to keep track of how many shoppers and vendors we have, but it’s grown to be the biggest and best event of its kind in the world. You’ll find homeowners selling stuff they’ve accumulated throughout the years as well as professional dealers and vendors. It’s almost impossible for shoppers to cover the entire route in four days, so be prepared to pick up where you leave off next year! You’re going to discover some neat places, interesting people, and quaint stops that you’ll probably want to visit again and again. So pack your camera, sunglasses, a good pair of walking shoes, and plenty of cash- you’re in for the World’s Longest Yardsale!”
The website is correct (despite the conflicting mileage tally) in that it is nearly impossible to traverse the route in four days. I can attest because I tried to do most of it in two. Our little group of four (Me, my wife Rhonda and friends Chuck and Becky Hodson) departed in the pre-dawn hours on Thursday bound for our starting point just below the Queen City in Northern Kentucky. We managed to make it to Cumberland Falls State Park in Jamestown Kentucky that first night and then to Chickamauga battlefield in Southern Tennessee / Northern Georgia that second night. It was exhausting.
This was my third attempt in four years. You’d think by now I’d have a system, but I’ve learned that systems don’t really work very well for this event. The heat, pushing 100 degrees both days, zaps you and has the undesirable affect of kicking up wicked nighttime storms that destroy vendor’s booths, merchandise and morale. The event always starts the first Thursday of August and lasts through Sunday. So you can be sure it’s gonna be hotter than the Devil’s underpants, traffic will be a factor, parking will be a challenge and hotel rooms along the route will always be booked way ahead of time. But, if you like this kind of thing, you can also be sure it will be fun.
Highway 127 ambles through some of the most beautiful country you’ll ever see featuring quaint historic towns full of Antebellum homes peppered with references to folk heroes like Daniel Boone, Andrew Jackson, Abraham Lincoln, and Alvin C. York. There are massive horse farms with gleaming white fences enclosing rolling bluegrass hills that surround barns featuring colorful Dutch hex signs or family names adorning the exterior. Not to mention, you’ll find more “See Rock City” and “See Ruby Falls” signs then you can possibly imagine. Whiskey distilleries and tobacco barns are not an uncommon sight as well.
The roadsides are verily dotted with sales booths of every size, style and description. Ranging from the lone seller seated behind a single table with only a few unwanted items on display to entire “tent cities” of 100-or-more vendors tightly packed in farmer’s fields and church parking lots. If I had to describe what you could expect to find on these tables, I’d say clothing, glassware, audio / video, kitchen widgets, books, toys and tools. But if you look hard enough, you can find antiques and collectibles hidden among the bric-a-brac.
There are two trains of thought for this event. You can go out looking for one particular thing and narrow your focus, in which case you’ll save time but probably end up disappointed. Or you can simply go-with-the-flow and let fate rule your search, in which case you’re likely to be richly rewarded. As an example, my neighbor Richai Riggs asked me to search for size 6 boys jeans for her young son Riley, but added, “Make sure the knees aren’t ripped out.” Piece-of-cake I assured her. I’ve since discovered that there are no size 6 boys jeans that do not already have the knees ripped out on this planet (outside of a department store).
On the other hand, I stumbled across a tattered old manila envelope from 1962 that contained the first two printer’s proofs of newsletters from the Troy Donahue Fan Club complete with an autographed photo that Troy personally gave to the fan club president. Troy was an international teen heart throb and 1960s Era icon best remembered as Sandra Dee’s costar in “A Summer Place.” Okay, maybe not that exciting, but fun and certainly one of last things I’d ever expect to find on a hillside in Chattanooga, Tennessee. The point is, you never know what you’re going to find until you look for it.
The people you’re bound to encounter along the route help to make the trip more memorable, to be sure. That extends to both sellers and shoppers. Some sellers are on you as soon as you enter the booth: “What do you collect?…Can I help you?…Where ya’ll from?” while others barely take notice that you’ve entered their space. On more than a couple of occasions, the seller I encountered behind the table was asleep! Many sellers embrace the expected “hillbilly” reputation of the sale by bringing along props and oddities like log cabin outhouses and horses that make homemade ice cream by walking on a tread mill, not to mention the “overalls with no shirt” fashion statement seen surprisingly often along the route.
The shoppers come in all shapes, sizes and demeanors. They come with children, neighbors, spouses, friends, pets, and pickin’ partners. Chances are you’ll never guess what they’re looking for, unless you happen to see them make a purchase and even then that doesn’t always make sense. I have witnessed great big burly men purchase glassware and children’s clothes as well as dainty looking women buying auto parts and sporting goods. You just never know.
Part of the fun in shopping the highway 127 sale is just plain people watching. I will share a couple incidents in particular from this year’s sale that you may find as amusing as I did. During one stop, our quartet was shopping a one house setup when an older man (65+ at least) walked up with his obviously much younger bride that looked like she might have migrated from the Philippines. We were in a confined area and it quickly became obvious that she spoke no English. Another shopper, not of our party, was heard to mutter something about a mail-order bride out of earshot of the couple before walking back to their car. Sadly, this older gentleman was sporting one of the worst toupees I’ve ever seen (we’re talking a real hair divit here). He walked a few feet away, picked up a pistol shaped hand held hair dryer and asked the seller, “How much?” The seller responded, “Two bucks.” Hairpiece guy then asked, “Does it work?” and proceeded to find an outlet to plug it into. I have no idea what he was going to use it for, but he bought it. Before you start judging, keep in mind I’ve been fighting a losing battle with hair loss for ten years or more, so no one understands the irony better than I.
At another stop, I watched a nearby seller pick up a framed knick-knack contained in it’s original box and ask the seller, “How much?” The seller hesitated for a moment before saying, “Three dollars.” Then continued, “It was the only thing I got for Christmas this year, so yeah, three bucks.” You can’t make this stuff up and that’s the point. The Highway-127 yardsale must be experienced to be believed. There are so many things I love about regional sales like the highway 38 yard sale, National Road yard sale or the world’s longest yardsale. They enable you the opportunity to get out and experience America, help the local economies of the towns you visit along the way and meet unforgettable characters while driving the roads that made America. I just wish they’d rename this particular event, “The Dixie Highway” sale, sounds so much more…historic.