2017 was the 30th anniversary year for the 127 Yard Sale, a.k.a. “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 and 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.
We 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 a.m. and by 6 p.m. 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.
And 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.
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.”
My 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.
On 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.
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.”
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.
Spring 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 2,000 is expected to swell to 50,000 with visitors hoping to catch a good view of the eclipse.
While 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 Ithe 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.
Al Hunter is the author of the “Haunted Indianapolis” and co-author of the “Haunted Irvington” and “Indiana National Road” book series. His newest books are “Bumps in the Night. Stories from the Weekly View.” and “Irvington Haunts. The Tour Guide.” Contact Al directly at Huntvault@aol.com or become a friend on Facebook.