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Tales of an Ambitious Yard Sale Patron
Logan Abbitt

Logan Abbitt relfects on this Summer's 400 Mile Yard Sale.

Saturday, June 5, 2010

The day finally arrived. As a yard sale junkie, the 400 Mile Yard Sale is geared up to be my ultimate holiday. I have been looking forward to this event for months, ever since I wrote it up for the spring “Daytrips” column. A quick recap if you missed that column: the 400 Mile Yard Sale is an event for vendors and families to come together and establish their sales all along Highway 68. The highway starts in the west in Paducah where it intersects with Highway 62. It runs through the entire state until it exits into Ohio via Maysville in the east. The sale actually takes place Thursday through Sunday, but I couldn’t really make it until Saturday. At least I have the whole day - the whole weekend if necessary.

Now, I know I’m not going to make 400 miles, but I plan to give it a good effort and see how far I can get. Hopkinsville is my goal for Saturday, Bowling Green if I really get moving. The Web site posted a partial list of sites along the way which I edited for personal use. The list isn’t really necessary as a guide once I’m on the road – stick to 68 and you’ll see almost everything – but it was a good exercise to get in the right frame of mind. Additionally, it helped me formalize my criteria for stopping or driving by. Obviously, there’s no way to stop at every sale, tempting as that is, so selections must be made. I will pass for these personal preferences:

No parking. Parking must be available. There are just too many sales down the line to fight for a way into any one sale.
I have to see it coming. Sales hidden by poor signage that I don’t see until I’m 25 feet away will likely be passed up. I’m not slamming on my brakes for a yard sale here when another one isn’t far away.
Baby item sales. This crosses off almost 50% of the sales right there.
Same with clothing and shoes. These are not to be purchased used, in my opinion, even if I could find things in my size.
Holiday items. Just no.

Then there are those things which are more likely to get my attention.

Multi-family sales. These are usually the best, with large, varied selections to browse through.
Multi-vendor areas. Flea market style areas with various families and professional vendors combine to give great variety with a single stop.
Great parking. Even if I don’t see anything from the road I’ll stop if it’s a very easy in and out.

I’m not really shopping for anything specific. Part of the fun is just seeing what is out there. Some things grab my attention more than others: Coca Cola™ memorabilia (especially glass), vintage advertising, bottles and jars, kitchen wares and gadgets, and sharp things. I need a riding lawn mower, but I’m not expecting to fill that today.

Let’s hit the road!

I make a later start than I planned. Figures. I want to start my trip from the very beginning, the furthest point west on 68. It takes an hour to get there, but that’s fine. I actually travelled 68 East to get to the westernmost point which lets me scout things out and get an idea of how the event is going over all. The sales seemed to be clustered; you can drive for three miles without seeing a single sale, then the next mile has a dozen. I hit the end of 68 and make a U-turn, reset the odometer, and the real adventure begins.

Mile 1.5. The first sale, as far as I can see. I would stop here no matter what. It’s a relatively small, single family sale with the general sort of items you’d expect to find. I grabbed a set of three decorative bottles for the kitchen for $5. It was a little more than I would have paid for this kind of thing normally, but being the first of the day I felt it was worth the karma. I try to find at least a little something at every sale if I can. The woman running it was extremely friendly but balked at being in the picture.

Within walking distance was another small sale. They had one of the treasures of the day in my opinion: an enormous cast iron kettle. I would have loved it, but absolutely no idea what I’d do with it. Besides, at $75 it would blow most of my budget for the day, and I just started! They were a friendly couple and we talked for while about it. The price was actually very good for that kind of item, but it was just out of my league. I hope they did finally sell it. I left there with my first Coke glass and a couple old bottles.

Mile 3.1. Not too far down the road I came to my second stop. I think there were two families there judging by the number of people and items. They were really trying to get rid of stuff, too, with “free” boxes up near the cash box. I pulled a Ghirardelli tin from the free boxes, and they said with a grin that any money inside still belonged to them. I told them I wasn’t looking for money - I was looking for chocolate. A very friendly bunch here. I bought an apple pie scented candle and a push-up measuring cup, the kind I’d been after for a while. I didn’t try to bargain, what with the free item, but they dropped the price on me anyway.

Mile 4.4. This was the first big stop with about five or six sellers and a trailer selling “BBQ Chickens.” There were some great antiques and tools here, but generally much too expensive, not even low enough to make an offer. Another vendor had some $1 bins and I found some more bottles, including an old Father John’s Cough Syrup bottle. I found a Tru Ade bottle, too, which I had never heard of. The couple selling it hadn’t either, and they didn’t even know it was in their bins. I didn’t want to risk buying a modern soda bottle, so I offered 50 cents for that one (in addition to the two I already had) and he said “I gotta have a dollar for that!” You gotta? You didn’t even know it was there! I decided not to risk it. Looking it up now, I should have grabbed it. Not worth a whole lot, but still a collectible. Oh well, there’s always one you regret buying or not buying.

Mile 6. This family sale didn’t have much I was interested in, unfortunately. I’m sure I simply arrived too late because there were big empty spaces on tables and sheets where the good stuff probably resided. All that was left was mostly fishing gear and NASCAR memorabilia. Still, I found a few really tiny bottles for the collection.

Mile 7. The lady here was a glass collector and the assortment was vast. While most of it wasn’t the type of glass I was after, it was still a pleasure to look through. Here was yet another very sociable host and we talked for a time about the collection. In the end I left with a pair of very nice dessert glasses. I decided I really needed to get moving after this one if I was going to make any distance at all.

Mile 7.2. That plan failed as I drove around a curve to see a major setup. This was the first shopping style set-up I ran across where the Flea Marketeers (One For All, Or Three For Ten!) had moved in. While I enjoy flea markets, too, there are different expectations from yard sales. You’re more likely to find items you want, but you’re more likely find prices you don’t. For example, the antique Coca Cola cooler got my attention, but the $295 price tag made sure that’s all it got. Another big difference is the level of sociability. They weren’t unfriendly, but they weren’t interested in chatting. I bought a pair of Coke glasses and a Coke pitcher they were trying to sell as a set. They didn’t actually go together, but since I wanted both I guess that’s moot. At $15 (down from $20) it turned out to be the largest single purchase of the day. Ok – NOW I’m hitting the road to make some miles.

Mile 14.2. It was some time before I found another site that made me want to stop. This one was actually inside a church building which I hoped meant a large selection. It probably was at one point, but the remains were clearly picked over. I bought a burnt out candle for the nice jar and yet another tiny bottle. I almost bought an old computer monitor to craft into a fish tank, but decided against it. After a drink and a pit stop, it was time to hit the road again.

Mile 32. It was a long stretch before I hit the next good cluster. There wasn’t much left at this first one, but they were very friendly and were proud to be a “real” yard sale, meaning everything on the glass items table was a dime. The items were wet from a storm that had recently passed through which made them a little slippery. After much careful handling, I had 4 glasses and a glass cutting board. By the way, never use a glass cutting board – it will kill your knives! I bought this one strictly for décor.

Mile 33. Three families were at this location. One woman had some interesting items, but they were just a little too pricy. I overheard a couple trying to haggle with her and she wasn’t too friendly about it. She had a couple Coke glasses that I wanted, but she wasn’t haggling with me either so I left her alone. Across the way another seller had some books, including a colonial era cookbook from Williamsburg. Very old style cookbook; ingredients aren’t even listed. Should be fun.

Mile 33.5. *Smash!* Oops. The tiny glass squirted out of my hand right as I picked it up. I guess it rained here, too. That was my first broken glass of the day, and thankfully my last. The old couple was very nice about it and wouldn’t let me pay for it. Obviously, I had to spend some money here. That was going to be easy as they had a lot of things I was interested in. The treasure for me, though, was a pair of the same Coke glasses I had passed up a half mile down the road! Does that count as karma? It was very cool. Bought them straight up along with a candle. Almost bought an Oster® blender, too, but I just bought a blender at a yard sale a couple weeks ago and couldn’t really bring myself to buy another, even if it was a superior model.

Mile 33.8. Another major flea market style stop. An Amish couple was selling flowers and homemade foods in front of the main lot. They had bread, jams, candy and salsa. Amish salsa? I had to ask. “How hot is this?” The woman didn’t know, but she asked the man and he gave me the best answer I ever heard: “If it be hot, it would say so.” Awesome. I passed on the salsa but I bought a loaf of sourdough bread and a jar of pineapple jam on the way out. Inside the main lot, I wandered for a long time through the booths, quickly losing energy in the heat. I came to a large tent that had a lot of different stuff, most of which was crammed onto “everything on this table for $1” tables. I bought a rusty old sickle and a dubious pasta machine. The pasta machine was the heaviest appliance I ever lifted short of a refrigerator. After packing it out to the parking lot across the street, I was exhausted. I was just about ready to pack it in for the day.

Mile 35. The intersection with 80. A right turn would take me back home, a left turn through LBL. I was physically drained after hours in the sun sorting through boxes and tables of oddities. But only 35 miles? I couldn’t believe it. I barely made it one twelfth of the distance. I decided to drive through LBL as a nice, relaxing cool down. There were no sales in LBL (it’s illegal to have sales on federal lands) but at least I could add some miles to my total.

Mile 46.1. The first sale on the far side of LBL. I wasn’t going much further, but at least I could add legitimate miles if I stopped here. It was more important than I knew going in. I came very close to purchasing a riding lawn mower from a redneck Santa Claus. The price was right, but the machine wasn’t. It didn’t start immediately and I had trouble believing that I was getting a reliable piece of equipment. Still, for that price, surely I could invest in repairs and still be ahead of the game. In the end I couldn’t pull the trigger (coincidentally, he tried to sell me a pistol, too) and walked away without the mower. A set of decorative bottles was all I left with, but he has several mowers for sale, so I might go back there yet.

Mile 50. I pulled into a gas station and bought a Diet Dr. Pepper from a vending machine. It was my last purchase of the day. Fifty miles would be my limit. It was fun, but it was time to go home and collapse.

Home. I took pictures of my purchases for posterity, then carefully threw all of the glass into the dishwasher. I started cleaning up the high density pasta machine, but I wasted my time. When I finally plugged it in it was dead. I tried to get into it to see if I could repair anything, but it was locked down tight. I found part of the explanation for the weight, though; the fixtures were brass. It was only a dollar, so even if it worked there was no guarantee it would be a worthy appliance. I kept the brass and tossed the machine out. Oh, well…

The Amish bread was delicious. It wasn’t really sourdough. In fact, it wasn’t really bread, being more like cake than anything. It was very good, though. The pineapple jam, on the other hand, was fantastic. I could work that into my regular food rotation very easily. Probably a good thing these folks live far from town.

Got the first layer of rust off of the sickle. Why a sickle? When I lived in Florida I started attending a local weekly auction. One of the first things I bought was an old rusty sickle. It is one of my favorite second-hand pieces, and in the back of my mind I always keep an eye out for more when I attend these sales. I think I can restore it to a considerable degree.

Final Tally. 50 miles, five+ hours, eleven bottles, six Coca Cola glasses with one pitcher, two sodas, one broken pasta machine, a handful of other goods. Final bill: $43.25. Add to that all of the great people and conversations, and you get one great journey.

Let’s do it again next year! I should have recovered by then.

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