Pop Culture, Travel

Highway 127: The World’s Longest Yard Sale. 2016~~~ PART II

127 yard sale part II photo

Original publish date:  August 21, 2016

Our first day on the 127 Yard Sale (aka the World’s Longest or 127 sale) was tiring but an adventure none-the-less. Part one detailed this popular annual event that officially begins on the first Thursday in August, spans six states (Michigan, Ohio, Kentucky, Tennessee, Georgia, and Alabama) and 690 miles. We started just South of Cincinnati and ended our first leg in Daniel Boone country near Harrodsburg / Danville, Kentucky.
Luckily, our hotel reservations were made months in advance and in this case it was a good thing. As we drove down the 127 toward the hotel, we ran parallel to a rather wicked looking train derailment. Seems that a coal train pulling a long line of cars loaded with coal somehow left the track. It slowly tipped over like a wave crashing on the beach as it skidded to a stop. We heard that 27 cars tipped over spilling their loads and closing the crossroads for miles. It was an interesting coal country site to say the least. Train wrecks don’t seem to happen around these parts much anymore, thank goodness. Luckily, no one was hurt but it sure was a mess.127-yard-sale-state-route-map
As we checked into the hotel, our rooms were fine, but guests checking in after us kept coming down to the lobby and asking why their beds had no bedspreads on them. The front desk had the same reply to every query, stating rather matter-of-factly that whenever the “coal boys’ were in town, the staff removes the bedspreads because the workers are filthy and the coal stains won’t come out. Go figure. It certainly made the casual conversation with our fellow guests all the more interesting.

Sgt. Alvin C. York General Store & Visitor Center.

Now back to the 127. The second day could be your most interesting. That is if you are on the 127 to see sights, take pictures and meet the locals. Along this leg you will pass hilly terrain dotted generously with “See Rock City” barns and Ruby Falls signs. You’ll pass through valley towns where time seems to stand still. You can stop and visit places like the Alvin C. York General Store and Visitor Center in Pall Mall, Tennessee. Here you can walk in the footsteps of one of the most celebrated soldiers in American history.
A pacifist drafted for service in World War I in 1917, York applied for conscientious objector status, but was denied. On October 8, 1918, while on patrol in France, York and his platoon were caught in an ambush behind enemy lines that left over half the platoon dead. York almost single-handedly led a counterattack that resulted in the taking of 35 machine guns, killing of 28 German soldiers and capture of 132 enemy combatants. York was awarded the Medal of Honor and became an instant celebrity. He was barraged with offers for commercial endorsements along with movie and book deals, which he rejected, believing it was wrong to profit from his war service. The York site is well worth a stop.

Sgt. Alvin C. York

As you steam South, the road winds through towns with interesting names like Junction City, Hustonville, Liberty, Pricetown, Dunnville, Sycamore Flat, Webbs Crossroads, Humble, and Freedom. You’ll pass the Jordan Motel in Jamestown, Tennessee, a must see stop for all 127 roadsters. For it was here on the grounds of the motel where those original vendors first set up their tents, booths and tables for that very first yard sale nearly 30 years ago. The quaint little roadside ranch motel’s wooded front yard still hosts booths and tables today. img_3295
From here we passed an Amish Ice Cream stand consisting of a churn operated by a horse walking on a treadmill. It was something to see but the ice cream is warm and doesn’t really live up to the hype. It was at a yard sale table nearby where I heard my favorite quote of the weekend. As I perused the offerings on the table, a prospective customer picked up a boxed candle-ma-jig off the table and asked the older, matronly looking lady in charge how much? She answered three bucks. As the customer put it down and walked away, the woman muttered aloud to no-one in particular, “Well, It outta be worth $ 3.00. It was my only Christmas gift last year.” Think about that for a minute.
It is along our journey’s second leg where most of the “tent cities” cropped up. A tent city is easy to spot from a distance by the small oasis of shelters and pop-up canopies blanketing farm fields and parking lots along the highway. Usually, these tent cities contain anywhere from a dozen to several dozen sellers gathered together in one central location. These stops require a stop and park followed by a lot of walking. Woe be it those yard saler’s who find that over sized, bulky “must have” widget while shopping on the other side of the lot. The walk back to the car will seem like an Olympic event for these unfortunates. All part of the tent city experience on the 127.
tmg-article_default_mobile_2xIt was during the second day of the trip where our little quartet found our most interesting finds along the route. While at a tent city near Grimsley, Tennessee we came upon a large group of dealers set up in a local park. On this 95 degree / 50 % humidity day (heat index 107), I found a rather refined looking group of Southern Belles strategically seated in a shady corner of their booth. Leaning against a post near them was a heavy steel sign from the Jack Kerouac Era California State Beaches that read: “Clothing Optional Beyond This Point”. My red-faced smirk must have betrayed me and the ladies giggled at my sheepish delight. I asked for the price and as I picked it up I realized that the sign had 2 bullet holes in the center of it. I had to have it! I forked over the cash equivalent of a St. Elmo’s dinner for two (with shrimp cocktails of course) to make it mine. The delightful owner said she had purchased the sign on “this very same field 8 years ago.”
13935071_1182314075133187_4467003385220003335_nRhonda found a San Francisco Candlestick Park exit sign in the same booth from another lady and got a much better deal than I (about the cost of a McDonald’s Happy Meal.) A little further down the road, I found a beautiful Teddy Roosevelt metal color lithographed sign from 1903, a real stuffed alligator dressed as a sheriff complete with tiny cowboy hat and badge (please don’t judge me animal activists) and a wooden sign that had me puzzled at first. It was a large B&W direction arrow sign with the word “AWFISS” on the front. My traveling companion Chuck Hodson had to clue me in on the meaning. Apparently, “AWFISS” is slang for “Office” in the hill country. Sadly, it was not for sale.
14021611_1182314078466520_246330168175241924_nThe last of the day’s finds was made by Chuck. It was a 12″ tall miniature prison electric chair complete with skull and crossbones in the back chair rest. “Beware Tennessee State Prison” and a 1956 year date were painted on the seat back. Constructed of wood, finish nails and leather straps, it was obviously made by an inmate back in the Ike Era. The Prison, located near downtown Nashville, opened in 1898 and closed in 1992. Hollywood movies Nashville, Ernest Goes to Jail, The Green Mile, and many more were filmed within it’s walls. I find myself strangely drawn to objects like these. I guess I love that type of gallows humor.
We ended the second day at Crossville, Tennessee and although the third day’s journey towards our Chattanooga terminus was fun, we were happy to get off the congested road, out of the heat and back into the air conditioning once and for all. The yard sale continued without us down The Lookout Mountain Parkway (which Reader’s Digest calls one of the most scenic drives in America) all the way to the end of the 127 yard sale in Gadsden, Alabama. Maybe someday we will travel the entire route, but for now, we’ve seen enough. Driving north, it was amazing how fast we covered the same ground via I-24 and I-65 back to Indianapolis when we weren’t stopping every fifty feet.
We have made the trip on the 127 Yard Sale six times now but I don’t think we’ve ever done it two years in a row. It seems that, although it is fun, the 127 is the sort of thing that you need space and time to appreciate. What can be said for sure is that the 127 is a bucket list kind of thing for anyone who loves traveling, history and antiques. You will meet folks you’ll never forget, find treasures you’ll cherish forever and ALWAYS kick yourself for not buying one thing or another. I guess that’s what keeps us coming back.
Then, every once in awhile, you could just find something that spins you off into a direction you never would have guessed you’d have found yourself traveling to begin with. Something that seems to call your name and invite you in to learn more about it’s origin. My wife found one such relic at the bottom of a dusty drag box in the hills of Kentucky. A little bit of Golden Age Hollywood on the banks of Turkeypen Creek.

Next week: Part III- Highway 127: The World’s Longest Yard Sale. 2016

Pop Culture, Travel

Highway 127: The World’s Longest Yard Sale. 2016~~~ PART I

127 yard sale part I photo

Original publish date:  August 15, 2016

Last week, my wife and I (along with fellow antiquer buddies Chuck & Becky Hodson) decided to revisit the tortuous multi-state adventure known as The 127 Yard Sale. Also known as the World’s Longest or 127 sale, it is an annual event that officially begins on the first Thursday in August, and concludes on Sunday. The sale spans six states (Michigan, Ohio, Kentucky, Tennessee, Georgia, and Alabama) and 690 miles. This was our 6th journey into the hills and dales of Kentucky & Tennessee to essentially poke through other people’s stuff.
I wrote an article detailing one of our trips a few years ago, but I figured it was time to retrace our steps just in case any of you are considering going yourselves someday. FYI, the dates for 2017 are August 3rd to the 6th and August 2nd to the 5th in 2018. The official route begins 5 miles north of Addison, Michigan and ends in Gadsden, Alabama. While there is no official count, an estimated 100,000 shoppers visited the approximated 5,000 vendors along the route.
127-yard-sale-state-route-mapAccording to their website, the 127 Yard Sale began in 1987. Mike Walker, former Fentress County Executive in Jamestown, TN, planned the event to encourage travelers to bypass interstate highways such as I-40 and I-75 in favor of scenic routes that would take them through rural communities and allow them to experience what the small towns and cities had to offer. With state parks, historical attractions, scenic drives, water falls, opportunities for hiking and biking, rivers and lakes for boating, train rides, horse back riding, fishing, blue grass music, arts and crafts festivals, and more, this provided a great opportunity to bring more visitors to Tennessee and the 127 Yard Sale route.
So now that you know the details, route and history of the 127 yard sale, let me give you some tips of what you can expect, guidelines you might adhere to and examples of things you are likely to find along the way. If you’re a lifetime collector of “stuff”, then you’re sure to have a ball. If you are decorating a house, room or man cave, you’ll have a blast. On the 127, there’s stuff you didn’t know existed, stuff you just have to have, and stuff you didn’t know you needed. If you don’t like traffic, have no patience or can’t stand the heat (literally not figuratively)then you might want to stay home.
Although the route begins in Southern Michigan and spans the entire state of Ohio, I recommend that you start South of Cincinnati. Oh, and that you start out on a Wednesday. Yes, “officially”, the sale starts on Thursday, but most dealers are up and running by hump-day. We spoke to many who had been set up since the previous Saturday, but I’m guessing those were only the diehards catering mostly to the locals. I have tried to start the sale in Ohio in years past but came away with little more than wasted time and needless delay. I have met people whose 127 experience involves shopping only in the Buckeye state, then heading home to sleep in their own beds the very same night. So that could be a good test run for those still sitting on the fence.
However, if you want to really experience the 127 yard sale, let me offer some pointers. First of all, take plenty of bottled water. A cooler full of ice and a case of water will be your best friends for this particular journey. Remember all those old movies about people stranded in the desert? That’s what the 127 sale is like. We went through 16 bottles of ice cold water on the first day alone. Second, wear light colored, loose fitting clothing and comfortable shoes. You’ll be walking through dirt and tall grass in many places so don’t wear your expensive sneakers but rather your sturdiest, most utilitarian pair of kicks. Third, for this trip, I bought the ladies each a cooling towel at Lowe’s. Get it wet, give it a snap then drape it around the neck and you’ll think it a worthy $ 5.00 investment I assure you. File that under the “Happy Wife, Happy Life” category.bottled-water
There’s a lot of stop-and-go traffic along the route so be patient and take care while driving. It can be a hazardous drive in places where vendors occupy both sides of the two-lane road, traffic slows, sometimes coming to a complete standstill as people shop from their cars trying to decide whether a pull-off is worthy or not. You’d be surprised how many yard-salers slam on their brakes when they see a velvet Elvis leaning up against a table from the roadway. Always use your turn-signals and avoid sudden stops, don’t make U-turns and safely pull as far off the roadway as possible. Although it is a two-lane road in most places, 18-wheelers, dump trucks and farm machinery make regular appearances. So pull out with care while leaving all stops.
image6311894xAssuming you are starting South of Cincinnati, consider making hotel reservations in or around the Harrodsburg / Danville, Kentucky area for your first night’s stay. Not only will you be spending the night in historic Daniel Boone country, you’ll most likely find that, allowing for the frequent stops on your treasure hunt, you will have seen all you care to see by the time you reach this area. Go out and have a nice dinner and turn in early. If you are a people person, you’ll soon discover that most of your fellow hotel guests are coming off the sale as well. Many of them are eager to tell stories, share tips and show off their prized buys after a day of buying on the 127. Swapping tales about your shared struggle can be some of the best memories of all and are only rarely disappointing.
At least in the case of the 127 sale, the early bird does not get the worm. No need to get up early because, unlike most neighborhood garage sales, these folks rarely uncover their tables before 9:00 am. If you find yourself walking through dew soaked fields on the 127, you’re likely walking past covered tables with nothing to show for it but soggy socks and shoes for the rest of the day. Remember athlete’s foot? Sleep in, hit the continental breakfast and let the morning sun bake the dew away.
worlds-largest-yard-sale-Google-Search-335x249Once you’re out on the road again, you’ll soon find that yard sales are EVERYWHERE! In the front yards of people’s homes, farm fields, cow pastures, side streets and alleyways, in empty lots, business parking lots, community parks, churches and town centers. Some areas will have large groups of vendors together (127 veterans call these ‘tent cities’), while others will be set up separately. As you weave your way from one yard sale to the next, Highway 127 winds through horse country surrounded by beautiful rural areas and interesting scenery, so be sure to enjoy the ride along the way.
There is no set “opening” or “closing” time for the individual sales along the 127 Yard Sale route. Each vendor chooses the time they want to start and many stay open until dark. Traffic along the 127 Yard Sale route gels up considerably in congested areas and small towns, so how long you stay on the 127 per day is more dependent on what your personal goals are and how much ground you want to travel each day. Obviously, if you hit every yard sale, you’ll be hitting the hay late. By the very nature of the route, you may become intrigued with a specific area once you get to it and end up spending more time there then you initially planned. However, you will see as much as you wish to see and will always reach your full point when you decide you’ve seen enough. Best advice, concentrate on what you see, appreciate what you find and don’t have undue expectations about your results. Sometimes on the 127, the visitor takes only memories and leaves only footprints.5d43a47db54ad.image

             Next week: Part II- Highway 127: The World’s Longest Yard Sale. 2016.

Pop Culture, Travel

The World’s Longest Yard sale. (2011)

Chuck & Becky Hodson at the Jordan Motel. Where it all started.

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.

Rhonda Hunter with colorful slag glass aka “Petrified Jello”.

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.

Kids along the route riding cardboard boxes down the Hills of Highway 127.

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.

Becky Hodson, Rhonda Hunter & Chuck Hodson deciphering a sign on the 127.

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).

Been there, done that, got the t-shirt.

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.

Yes, they really play and dance.

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.IMG_4322
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.