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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
It 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.”
Rhonda 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.
The 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