Pop Culture, Travel

The World’s Longest Yard Sale Eclipsed.

Eclipse Tourism

Original publish date:  August 14, 2017   Reissue August 15, 2019

2017 was the 30th anniversary year for the 127 yard sale aka “The World’s Longest Yard Sale” which started in 1987. I’ve written about the yard sale before and my wife and I have taken this long strange trip several times now. The 127 yard sale bills itself as the longest yard sale in the world, and they’re probably right. After all, it is a 690 mile long route that travels through 6 states; Michigan, Ohio, Kentucky, Tennessee, Georgia, and Alabama. The sale follows Highway 127 from Addison, Michigan to Chattanooga, Tennessee past Lookout Mountain in Georgia and ends in Gadsden, Alabama. Oh sure, the road has more colorful nicknames along the route: Dixie Highway, Federal Route, Cumberland Parkway, Bluegrass Parkway, Lookout Mountain Parkway, but yard sale veterans just call it the 127.
The route can be beautiful and it is also steeped in history. Besides traveling through the historic cities of Cincinnati, Chattanooga and Birmingham, the 127 skirts the entire Eastern edge of Indiana, travels through Kentucky horse country, near Civil War battlefields and past civil rights landmarks. Daniel Boone, Davy Crockett, Abraham Lincoln, Andrew Jackson and Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. called this area home. Yes, highway 127 has tons of history but for the first week of August every year Highway 127, it also has tons of bargains.
To survive the world’s longest yard sale you need many things: reliable-roomy transportation, hotel reservations in advance, a trusted GPS device with paper map backups, comfortable shoes, lots of change (singles and quarters), a case of bottled water, insect repellent, snacks and most of all, plenty of patience. The route encompasses all sorts of terrain and conditions: small towns, big cities; mountains, hills, dales; 90° heat, dew as thick as fog and take my word for it, there will be monsoon rains somewhere along the route. And did I mention bad drivers? Yard sale travelers seem to lose their minds when they see a bargain resting 20 yards from the curb.
10-127-Corridor-Sale-flea-market-009We started our trip on Wednesday, August 2nd south of Cincinnati. We allowed ourselves three days for the 127. We learned long ago that it would take at least five to hit every sale. We started out at nine in the morning and made it as far as Harrodsburg Kentucky that evening. Normally it would take 2 hours to drive the 120 mile route between the two locations. The next day, Thursday, August 3rd, we left around 8:30 AM and by 6 PM we had made it as far as Spring City Tennessee. This day’s route was 180 miles between locations. Normally this is a four hour trip without stops. By our third day, Friday, August 4th, between the crowds, the traffic and general fatigue, we had just about had our fill. By the time we had reached Chattanooga that afternoon, we were done.
127Sale_2013_8.0.1421549453.0And what did we find on the world’s longest yard sale 2017 redux? Unlike years past, we really didn’t find anything fantastic for ourselves; we just found stuff. Don’t get me wrong, we found some cool things. We just didn’t find any life changers. My personal prize was a bronze statue of Gettysburg hero General Winfield Scott Hancock. It now rests on my desk. I found tons of old paper to play that I am still winding my way through. My favorite so far is a packet of letters written by a French woman to her soldier beau in Geneva Indiana in 1919 – 20 at the close of World War I. She pleads for news from her soldier boy and wonders why he doesn’t write. Poignant to say the least. 127-Yardsale-No-Parking
We did notice that at some places along the route of the sale local law and code enforcement officials had meticulously coned off the berms along the road. Interspersed among these cones were flashing highway reader signs proclaiming that any vehicle found parked on the berm will be ticketed. Apparently the novelty of the 127 Yard sale has worn off in some communities. Humorously towns before and after these persona non grata localities replaced those ominous no parking signs with signed reading “Welcome Yard Salers.”
5d3eed899c6b2.imageMy favorite memory comes from a gentleman I met at the Jordan Motel in Jamestown Tennessee. The motel is an important landmark on the 127 because this is the spot where the first booths were set up back in 1987 to start what would become the world’s longest yard sale. Jamestown is in the heart of Big South Fork Country which bills itself as the Trail Riding Capital of the Southeast. At first I was drawn to the booth by a large metal highway 70 sign leaning against a nearby tree. It was only 35 bucks but it wasn’t our I-70 so I passed. Let me rephrase that, Rhonda suggested I pass because I am apparently out of room for any more road signs.

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The sinkhole at the Corvette Museum in Bowling Green, Kentucky.

1392253216000-XXX-Corvette-aftermath-01On this man’s table were a couple dirty squares of carpeting, each about 4″x4″ and each displayed in picture frames. Alongside the dingy relics were photographs of a scene that looked strangely familiar to me. It was a large hole inside a closed building that I soon recognized as the sinkhole that swallowed eight Corvettes at the National Corvette Museum in Bowling Green Kentucky around Valentine’s Day of 2014. I asked about them and was informed me that the vendor was the contractor hired to pull the cars out and repair the hole. He said, “In fact, I’m the guy that fired up that Corvette and drove it out. It didn’t have anything but an oil leak.” As he searched his cell phone to show me a video of the event as proof, he informed me that he was surprised the Corvette museum called him because, “I’m just a good old boy from Kentucky, I didn’t know thing about Corvettes or fixing sinkholes.” As Rhonda and I got back in the car and drove south, she asked me if I had asked him how much they were. Strangely, I hadn’t. I guess I was too caught up in the story.

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The Jordan Motel in Jamestown, Tennessee.
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1940s postcard of the Jamestown Hotel.

It was also at the Jordan Motel, which had about 50 dealer booths scattered around the grounds, where I found another relic from my past. Rhonda was quick to point out a couple of baby boomers walking past. The 50 something woman was smoking a cigar. I’m a cigar smoker myself and I’m here to tell you I don’t see that very often. Turns out they were sharing it. She would take a puff or two and then hand it over to her “old man”. Here my eyes caught something on a nearby table that piqued my interest. It was a well used copy of Bob Dylan’s 1966 seminal double album “Blonde on Blonde”.

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Bob Dylan’s Blonde on Blonde.

I picked it up and the dealer, who appeared to be somewhere in his 60s, immediately said, “You can have that for a dollar if you want it.” I pulled out my dollar bill so fast it’s a wonder I didn’t sprain my wrist. I couldn’t resist telling him why I wanted it. I have a copy of the album that I was fortunate enough to get Bob Dylan to autograph for me 30 years ago. I met him briefly after a concert at Market Square Arena. To say I met him might be a stretch though. I caught him just after he had climbed into his limo to leave for the airport. I knocked on the window, showed him my album and a pen and asked if he would please autograph it for me. He got a rather perturbed look on his face and rolled the window down just far enough that I could slip the album and pen through. He scribbled his name, which is indecipherable, and passed it back through the window to me and drove away. I still have that album of course, but I had long ago lost the two records that were originally housed within.
With this 127 yard sale find I could finally replace them. The booth owner promptly told me that he was at Woodstock in 1969. It was then that I noticed his ponytail and tie-dyed tank top. “I remember pushing cars out of that mud. There was mud everywhere,” the old hippie said, “I never forgave Dylan for not showing up and playing. He lived there! How can you not play Woodstock when you live there?” Who would’ve thought that I would encounter the one guy who could top my Dylan story with a story of his own in the hills of Jamestown Tennessee?
However, there was one event that literally overshadowed our journey on the 127. The 2017 World’s Longest Yard Sale was being eclipsed by another event, “The Great American Total Solar Eclipse”, two weeks in the future. Rhonda and I spent our second night at the Howard Johnson’s in Spring City Tennessee. It’s Rhonda’s preferred abode while on the 127 because it’s nice and clean, convenient to the route and features a restaurant next door called “Winstead’s American Grill & King of Pizza” that is famous for its handmade Stromboli’s. The motel, the restaurant, heck, the whole town was festooned with posters and banners for the August 21 eclipse event.
321815_226757074075159_867120722_oSpring City Mayor Billy Ray Patton claims the town is one of the best places in the world to view the eclipse because it is located along the exact path the eclipse will travel. Spring City rests on the 70 mile wide “path of totality.” Residents and visitors will have two minutes and 39 seconds of totality when the moon completely blocks the view of the sun. The total solar eclipse will darken skies all the way from Oregon to South Carolina. But don’t get any ideas, the hotels in Spring City were already sold out two weeks ago. On Monday this small TVA town of 2000 is expected to swell to 50,000 with visitors hoping to catch a good view of the eclipse.
127-yard-sale-state-route-mapWhile it is too late for anyone to visit the 2017 Highway 127 yard sale, there is still time to prepare for the Great American Total Solar Eclipse. On Aug. 21st (this Monday) the eclipse will be visible for the first time since 1979. Hoosier sky watchers will be able to see at least a partial solar eclipse on that summer day, but most people will have to travel to see the sun completely eclipsed by the moon.
It is important to remember that looking directly at the sun is unsafe except during the brief total phase of a solar eclipse when the moon entirely blocks the sun’s bright face. That safe zone will happen only within the narrow path of totality. Otherwise, the only safe way to look directly at the uneclipsed or partially eclipsed sun is through special-purpose solar filters, such as “eclipse glasses.” Do not look at the sun through a camera, a telescope, binoculars, or any other optical device, the concentrated solar rays will damage the filter and enter your eye(s), causing serious injury.
The total solar eclipse is not visible in Indianapolis, but it can be observed here as a partial solar eclipse. In the Circle City, the eclipse will begin at 12:57 p.m., according to Butler University’s Holcomb Observatory and Planetarium. It will reach its maximum point at 2:25 p.m. and will officially end around 3:48 p.m. If seeing a partial solar eclipse doesn’t thrill you and seeing a total solar eclipse is your only interest, never fear, in 2024, Indianapolis will be on the direct path of its first total solar eclipse in nearly 820 years. Not to mention, that will give you plenty of time to visit the Highway 127 World’s Longest Garage Sale and report back.

 

Pop Culture, Travel

The World’s Longest Yard sale. (2011)

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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).

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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.

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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.

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