I Should Have Bought that Chipmunk: Tales of The World’s Longest Yard Sale

Clarkrange, TN

Clarkrange, TN

It was the Woodstock of yard sales. There was live music scheduled, thousands of people all coming together for one magical purpose, a dude in a Superman cape,  and drugs…probably…I’m not really sure. I know I took a lot of Advil.

I’ve wanted to attend the World’s Longest Yard Sale (http://www.127sale.com/) for years now, but it never worked out until this year. The sale has been happening every year on the first Thursday in August since 1987 and began as a venture to bring more revenue in to the areas around Jamestown, Tennessee, the official headquarters. It now stretches over 690 miles from Michigan to Alabama.

I assume that there are people who attempt to drive the whole thing in four days, but my mother and I were working on about a 2 1/2 day schedule and mapped out a more reasonable 107 mile section of 127 from Crossville, Tennessee to that night’s hotel in Columbia, Kentucky. This route would take us through the headquarters of Jamestown, Tennessee, about 37 miles north of Crossville. In my head, I saw us hitting Jamestown about lunch time and then tackling the longer leg of our route in the afternoon. Seemed reasonable.

We never made it to Jamestown.

Thursday Day 1: MomBert and I set out mid morning for the six hour drive to Knoxville, Tennessee, about an hour from the yard sale route, where we would stay the night. This was the closest hotel I could get to route 127 without paying over $300 a night. I’ve learned that the serious yard salers book their rooms a year in advance.

Because we were traveling without my sister who is uninspired by old stuff and my nephew who is allergic to things he can’t touch, we decided to take a break at an antique mall in Princeton, West Virginia. According to the sign at the exit, the mall was 3/10 of a mile to the left. According to the GPS, it didn’t really exist. Three or four GPS commanded U-turns later, we found the mall off the highway, down in a holler looking like a very unimpressive tin warehouse. The only other customer was exiting as we arrived and the proprietor did not acknowledge our existence because he was busy watching a show about hunting birds so we had the alleged “10, 000 square feet” to ourselves.

It was a pretty typical antique mall. Lots of variety, well packed booths, and one hideous “arts and craps” corner full of fake flowers and duck dresses (for people who put clothes on their cement yard statues). And the chipmunk.

I did not have many specific goals for the sale, just the hopes of finding some oddities, buying some bargains etc… But my one not so secret hope was to find some taxidermied weirdness. I don’t know why, can’t explain it. It doesn’t make sense for someone who likes live animals as much as I do. However I am jealous every time The Bloggess ( http://thebloggess.com/ ) tweets yet another bizarre dead thing purchase (yard sales in Texas must be awesome!) and Ross the holiday armadillo is lonely. This is why the chipmunk posing amongst fake foliage on a tiny log hidden under an antique side table elicited the “ssssqqqqueeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee!” noise. Plus it was only $40! Here’s what I’m discovering: stuffed dead shit is expensive. A $40 chipmunk is a steal.

My mother appraised Chippy with the eye of someone who does not understand what is wrong with her daughter.

MomBert: “Its hair is coming out. I think this thing has seen better days.”

Me: “I would think that most dead things have.”

Chippy the rare balding chipmunk  stayed behind unpurchased. My psychic powers did not alert me that the only other dead stuffed stuff in my future would be half a bobcat and a squirrel eating an acorn, neither of which I could afford. Really, $145 for a squirrel, puh-lease.

I should have bought the chipmunk.

Friday Day 2: Like good, motivated sales goers we got up at 6 a.m. and were on the road by 7 a.m. We had an hour drive from Knoxville to Crossville before getting to the yard sales. About halfway to Crossville, the GPS blipped and we time travelled back an hour into Central Standard Time, making us even brighter and earlier. Damn, we’re good.

Crossville was still asleep when we hit its main street coinciding with 127. Seems like a wasted opportunity for a street fest. However we encountered our first yard sale north of the town. They were still in the process of setting up, but were ready to sell to the many people wandering around the yard. My first purchase was a collection of eight white metal stakes used to anchor floral arrangements at outdoor weddings. Right now they are holding up my tomato plants, but their future is yard art!

Around the bend from the first yard, we ran into our first tent city. It’s very much like encountering a “bear jam” at a national park. Suddenly there are dozens of parked cars along the berm of the road and everything has slowed down because there’s something good up ahead.

The tent cities were set up in parking lots and empty fields where spots were rented out to vendors. Generally, we could park at one tent city and then walk in either direction along the road to other smaller vendor set ups, trying to keep in mind just how far from the car we were. We developed two rules that morning:

1. No left turns. While people were very courteous and conscious of all their fellow drivers and pedestrians, there where points when both lanes were packed with slowing moving traffic and turning left took a significant amount of time.

2. No Frogger. At some points 127 was a two lane road, at others it was four lanes. Because, of the sale it was incredibly busy and a great opportunity to be hit by a car. The Frogger rule could be amended if we could actually see the super awesome potential purchase from the other side of the road.

My main query about the sale was also answered: “Where do y’all go to the bathroom?” While the local businesses enjoy the income, I’m sure they do not enjoy just being a restroom pit stop and some sections of the route are very rural so there are no businesses. Every tent city we stopped at had multiple port-a-johns set up. I don’t know who was in charge of that, but THANK YOU! Unfortunately, I am still unclear on what a “fried pie” is. While people were raving about them on the 127 Facebook page (https://www.facebook.com/127Sale), MomBert and I were concerned that consuming something from what smelled like re-used cooking oil would send us back to the port-a-johns.

One of the best stops of the day was at the Cumberland Mountain General Store in Clarkrange, Tennessee. (http://cumberlandmountaingeneralstore.net/Home.aspx) The large vendor area around the store was shaded and there were hundreds of people set up to sell. After parking, we made food a priority and headed across the street to Ron’s Restaurant and Pizzeria.

***Sidenote: It was 2:00 when we stopped for lunch which means that we had only travelled 18 miles from Crossville to Clarkrange in about 7 hours. This is why we never made it to Jamestown.

The restaurant was packed so we shared our lunch table with a couple from North Carolina who had done the sale several times before. They told us that the Kentucky portion was disappointing (They were right) and suggested that we take one day to do one side of the road from Crossville to Jamestown then do the other side the next day. They said the town of Dunlap, Tennessee, practically shut down its main square for vendors to set up and that the husband in the couple had appeared on the HGTV yard sale special years before because they needed a big guy to carry a purchase. The Junk Gypsies and HGTV were filming again this year in Tennessee and Kentucky; “The Endless Yard Sale” is tentatively scheduled to air on September 29.

I walked away from that stop with a Czech bird that I had never seen before and two ridiculous moose creamers, a running joke from a previous antique adventure. (https://possumscatsthingsgnawingatme.wordpress.com/2013/06/29/116000-square-feet-2-days/) It also became clearer at this stop that in order to be  a vendor, you must travel with small yippy dogs. Preferably 4-5 small yippy dogs who will reside in a playpen under one of your sales tables or at the back of your booth.

In addition to their review of fried pies, people were also adding to the communal feel of the sale by posting tips and finds on the Facebook page. Three items developed an almost scavenger hunt feel: a collection of coffins- never found them; a horse on a treadmill making ice cream – Day 3; and a golden camel known as Camelot  (http://fentress.wbir.com/news/news/617152-fentress-judge-finds-camelot-us-127-yard-sale#.UfsT3H_0P2s.facebook). At about 6:30 that day, I was able to post that we had found the golden camel gracing the entrance to a tent city and causing a traffic jam around Grimsley, Tennessee. Unfortunately, this meant that we had only travelled about 6 miles from our stop at Clarkrange.

Because of the frequent stops and the time involved with browsing, we had no sense of where we were or how far we had gone. I can only name locations now after looking them up and piecing together clues with my iphone photos that state locations. This is why we found ourselves driving the last 80 miles to our hotel on increasingly darkening and winding country roads. At one point in the evening, we crossed the dam at Lake Cumberland which was a great view but would have been even better if our hotel and a restaurant had been on the other side.

Our dinner was a half an apple each, crackers, and granola bars because neither of us wanted to get back in the car. One of my heels was raw courtesy of a day of walking before the yard sale trip, I had a tension headache from heat and driving white knuckled for two hours, there was a raised rash all over my inner calves and I had “baboon butt.” My men’s linen cargo shorts with the awesomely deep pockets never quite wicked away any sweat and did not hang on my bum the same way that lady shorts might have. Therefore the inner thigh chub at the back of my thighs right under my butt looked like someone had held a flat iron down the inside of my thigh. I would include a photo, but it would involve me bending over and it was all happening really close to the good China. Additionally, my bag of clothes I wore that day smelled like what I would assume someone’s gym clothes would smell like after two back to back aerobics classes. I can’t confirm that because I do not take back to back aerobics classes because I’m not completely insane, but they smelled awful!

Saturday Day 3: Our original plan had us taking a major highway and heading straight home. MomBert suggested that we continue a short stretch of 127 up towards Lexington, Kentucky before catching a highway. After a good night’s sleep, my other ailments were solved with more Advil and some very snug yoga pants so I was game.

As predicted by our North Carolina tablemates, the Kentucky stretch was a little disappointing. There were longer even more rural stretches between stops and we lost the mix of antique and personal yard sale. It became more and more infrequent yard sales only.

However we did find the horse on a treadmill making ice cream! Honestly, when I saw someone post that sentence on Facebook, I pictured a carousel horse sitting on a treadmill from someone’s basement with ice cream nearby. Around Dunnville, Kentucky, what I assume was an Amish farm/flea market area had built a tent city. The set up was a farm horse on a “holy shit” 45 degree angle, inclined treadmill, walking continuously as a pole attached to the treadmill churned homemade ice cream. I could not decide if it was a terribly cruel Sisyphean task- I mean, horses don’t even like ice cream- or the most ingenious Amish contraption ever. During our stop, they did bring over another horse and gave them both a break before harnessing the new horse to the treadmill. This made me feel marginally better and I further calmed myself by eating an Amish blueberry handpie.

By this time, MomBert and I were pretty wiped out. Our last stop was a tent city at Junction City, Kentucky, where the most interesting thing turned out to be a guy wandering around in a Superman t-shirt and full cape. Don’t know why. He was just buying stuff while sporting a cape. From there we allowed the GPS to continually misdirect us until we finally got to a major highway going the correct direction and headed home.

We got home sometime around 7 p.m., cuddled MomBert’s cat, surveyed her flowers, ate nachos and salsa, and unwrapped our treasures. I like trying to learn about my tchotchkes. I want to know origins, what their markings mean, whether I’ve found a financial treasure etc…. So far the most I’ve determined is that the $24 McCoy owl wall pocket I bought is going for $100 on eBay and auction sites so that’s kind of cool. My $10 Czech bird is checking in at about $60 and is a rare model.

I would absolutely go again for the thrill of the hunt and the possibility that something incredible was just around the corner at the next tent city. All told,  I think MomBert spent about $50 on treasures and I spent $75. We walked into this with about $300 in cash each and the attitude that if something was awesome enough and big enough, we would rent a trailer to get it home because you just never know.


10 thoughts on “I Should Have Bought that Chipmunk: Tales of The World’s Longest Yard Sale

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