BUTTONS & PINS
In the summer of 2010, I decided to fulfill a lifelong ambition and shop the famed World's Longest Yard Sale about which I had heard so much. Before embarking for the wilds of Ohio, however, I did my research, scouring the internet for every pertinent bit of information. Which turned out to be next to nothing.
I was amazed at the lack of really uesful info. Oh, plenty of sites gave the dates (first Thursday in August through Saturday) and encouraging hype. One blog even listed some indispensible items to bring along, which I did find helpful. But no web site, at least, none that I could find, advised me where to start, how long it would take, or even posted a map that showed me where in Ohio I was headed.
Even worse, I came across one poor shopper's lament that the sale had turned into a major waste of time in the last few years.
Undaunted, I forged ahead, flying mostly by the seat of my pants, survived three days of non-stop yard-saling, and lived to tell the tale.
For those who may follow, here is a record of that fateful journey which will, I hope, fill in that gap and prepare you for your own trip to the World's Longest Yard Sale.
It seemed like a good idea to start wtih a few goals. Naturally, I'm always looking for smallish collectibles, something easy to ship, mostly toys (my specialty). I buy a lot of things for a quarter and sell them for a dollar or two, but one always dreams of that incredible, Antiques-Road-Show-worthy "find."
For my personal collection, I hoped to pick up a Disney pin and one more McDonald's 100 Years of Magic Happy Meal toys (I only need 8 to finish the set). And of course, I needed a picture of a chicken.
Perhaps a word of explanataion is due here: my Grandma not long before had raved about a painting of chickens we saw in a local restaurant. Aha! Christmas present, I said to myself. But 500-plus dollars for a Sue Hand original was out of the question. Still, it shouldn't be too tough to find a reasonable substitute in somebody's basement. At least, that's what I hoped.
Kissing my cat good-bye, I left at a good early hour for the uneventful 7-hour drive to Lima, Ohio. I chose Lima because it looked easy to get to, a direct line by highway from my home in NEPA, and only a few miles from Highway 127. This thouroughfare, the site of the famed sale, runs almost exactly north-south, only a quarter of an inch (in the atlas) from the Ohio/Indiana border. Reservations were easy to make online by Googling hotels with "budget" or "econo" or similar words in their names, and my handy GPS would make sure I found the place.
When I finally arrived at my chosen motel, I found that the photos on the website had been...how shall I put this? Extremely generous. Oh, the place may have looked like that once upon a time, but it had definitely seen better days. The deserted front desk sported a notice that check-ins should inquire inside the attached mini-mart, which I did. Was I the only guest in the place? It seemed like a ghost town, except for one motorist filling his gas tank.
The clerk inside the mini-mart fetched the clerk for the motel, and I was soon squared away. Sadly, my non-smoking room smelled suspiciously like its last occupant didn't care about such designations, and the toilet didn't flush. A dip in the pool would've been nice, but I had the distinct impression that that maintenance man was out there doing an emergency clean-up just for me. There was a restaurant, too, which looked as empty as the rest of the place. Did it require panic cleaning as well? No, thanks, I'll pass. I did accept the continental breakfast next morning; no fruit, but make-your-own waffles.
A surprise monsoon ended the day, with rain falling almost horizotally. If it didn't stop, would there even be any sales tomorrow?
Except for a slight dampness, there were no serious after-effects from the wild weather of the night before. An early start and a quick drive took me to my first look at the actual sale, in a town called Van Wert. The highway runs directly through a pretty suburban area which was just crammed with yard sales. And shoppers.
Although there was parking available on both sides of the street, every space was understandably filled. I had expected this, and drove to a side street to park, but even there, available spaces were hard to come by. Expect to walk, friend, and don't get impatient about it. After all, there were sales on the side streets, too, only they were fewer and farther between. There were supposed to be street maps available at certain local businesses, which would've been ideal. But, without a street map, it was impossible for a tourist like myself to find said businesses. Consequently, I'm sure I missed a lot of nearby shopping opportunities. Oh, well.
This Highway 127 is loaded with truck traffic, though the big rigs were forced to move slowly through such a crowded stretch, so take care when crossing the street. I hit all the houses on one side for blocks before crossing over and walking back, shopping all the way, moving my car as few times as possible. A folding cart would be helpful right about now, although I did fine with the small items I generally purchase. Besides, I could make a quick trip back to the car if I found something bigger.
I had earlier made the decision to be scrupulously careful about traffic laws, not knowing how strict the local police might be. And it's a good thing, too, for I spotted an officer writing parking tickets to a row of my fellow shoppers. Better to walk an extra block than to pay who-knows-how-much in parking violations.
Despite the scores of homes with treasures in the front yards, I perused three or four without success. Nothing seemed to work for me, and there's always the danger of making a poor purchase when one becomes desperate. Sure, there was a magnificent antique tiled stove for $200, and enough used motorcycles to keep a car lot in business for a year, but nothing much in the memorabilia/collectibles line. One house even had puppies for sale, and I'm not ashamed to say I eavesdropped on the lady who wanted to come back later to pick up her pup. In order to insure that her choice was not sold to some other shopper, the enterprising homeowner colored his tail tip with permanent marker.
At the next sale, I finally spotted something to get excited about: a small flocked Wile E. Coyote for a quarter. First blood! With him safely in my pocket, I felt more relaxed and better able to judge what I should buy and what to pass on. Not that this little guy would make me rich, but he ought to be good for a buck or two.
The sales were so densely packed that it took me hours to navigate a relatively short stretch of highway. Some folks had indoor locations, churches and such, with multiple vendors inside. Before too long, I sported a couple of grocery bags filled with purchases, including a nice Serta premium sheep and a Hulk action figure; at 25 cents each, they seemed like bargains to me. There didn't appear to be any eateries on the actual highway, though there were probably some close by, if only one knew the lay of the land. Loads of vendors, though, were selling food: hot dogs, sausage sandwiches, and sodas everywhere, quite enough to satisfy my needs.
After some hours of concentrated shopping, the oppressive heat started to get to me. Remember, it was August, shorts and sandals being the uniform of the day, and when I finally reached the end of the town, I was only too glad to hop into my air-conditioned car for a longer drive.
The sales were farther apart now, five minutes rather than five feet. This was real farm country, with houses so widely spaced that I found myself wondering if folks had any way to get around without a car. Maybe that explains all the used motorcycles. Some houses were old and quaint, some ultra-modern and quite expensive-looking, but all surrounded by corn and other less-identifiable crops, rows and rows as high as an elephant's eye, or pretty close.
Here was a dilemma: should I park once and hit both sides of the street? Or take the right side only and come back to everything on the left? I opted for the former, mainly bacause I had no idea when I'd be coming back, today or tomorrow or beyond. It all depended on how many sales I found and how big they were. This course of action necessitated crossing the street on foot many times.
As I already mentioned, Highway 127 is a major artery, mainly for huge trucks. The speed limit is, I think, somewhere around 200 miles per hour. It was pretty clear that none of those trucks could stop in time if they had to. But the impossibly straight road, so different from Pennsylvania, and the land flat enough to iron a shirt on combined to give pedestrians unheard-of visibility. You could see the approaching traffic a mile off, giving me more than enough time to cross the road safely and back again.
Did I mention that there are no shoulders in Ohio? On the roads, that is. And to make matters worse, every inch of highway is lined by a deep ditch, making parking by the side of the road a mostly diagonal experience. I had briefly considered renting a larger vehicle for this trip, a panel truck for hauling goodies, or even a camper for sleeping. But with two wheels in the gully, I was mighty thankful for my car's low center of gravity.
Amazingly, many vendors invited me to park right on their lawns, something I would never dare to do without permission. And after the typhoon of the previous night, there were more than a few ruts in view. Still, I was chastised for parking along the road by more than one cheerful homeowner.
The people I encountered were universally friendly. Only one poor man was a little grumpy, and he felt the need to explain that he'd just caught a buyer switching price tags. Well, that would've made me hopping mad, so I certainly sympathized. Besides, he sold me a Happy action figure, the seventh dwarf I needed to finish off my set. And that made me happy.That afternoon, I came across my first real "find." In a field in the middle of nowhere I spotted a box of porcelain figurines that I'd heard book at $40 apiece. I paid five dollars for six. And the lady was so nice, she wrapped them in a towel for me, even though I'd brought newspaper for breakables. Okay, so they eventually sold for a mere ten dollars each, a little disappointing, but still a decent profit.
By 5:00, the heat was taking its toll. And even though many sales remained open, a significant number had retired for the evening. I reasoned that it was better to pack it in early than to miss out on those. But where to stop for the night? The fields and farms went on forever, with no place in sight to lay my head. And then, after miles and miles of greenery, civilization! In the form of a Dunkin' Donuts. Then came Home Depot. And McDonald's. It was the town of Greenville, to a girl with both feet firmly planted in suburbia, a return to the real world.
A McDonald's salad at the table directly under the air conditioner with a Berry Berry Smoothie on the side made me feel human again and up to the task of finding a hotel. Alas, the two within walking distance were filled. Again the difficulty of not knowing the area, I had to get directions from an obliging concierge to a couple of cheap dives...I mean, motels off the main road.
No one told these folks that "cheap" doesn't have to mean "bad." This time, the toilet worked, but the lock was broken. You can bet I slept with furniture blocking the door. And people who smoke in non-smoking hotel rooms ought to be tarred and feathered. Oh, well, at least the cockroach in the bathroom was already dead.
Early to bed, up and at 'em, and all that sort of talk. With nothing about the hotel to induce one to linger, I was outta there bright and early, but where were the sales? Even at 9 AM, many yards still had their tables covered with not a soul in sight. No self-respecting yard sale back home would ever begin later than nine. Was it only this section of Ohio? Was it the norm for a Friday? I don't know, but I do know that it was a waste of time getting up so early. Until I finally spotted a field with multiple vendors, giving me something to do while the sleepy-heads rolled themselves out of bed. Even here, they looked at me like an invader from the Planet of the Morning-People as they uncovered their wares for me. I didn't buy anything there, anyway, but wondered, while tramping through the dewey weeds, if there were many ticks in Ohio.
Many of the side roads that sprouted off in perfect perpendiculars from the highway sported little "Yard Sale" signs with arrows Sharpie-d in. But did I want to drive off on a tangent every fifty feet? Peering down those cornrow-lined corridors, I wasn't really sure. There was nothing to be seen, and wild goose-chases were a real possibility; besides which, it meant taking time away from the main drag. I ended up compromising, hitting some and skipping others, totally at random.
Most of these side trips yeilded nothing but the serious difficulty of finding a place to turn around, but one produced my second real "find." A battered, but vintage vinyl fashion doll case piqued my interest, and when I saw that there were dolls inside, it was tough to suppress my excitement. This was one of those stands where nothing was priced, which generally means the vendor, when asked, will ponder deeply before quoting the history of the item and a price three times what I want to pay. In this case, the gentleman countered my inquiry with the dreaded 'make an offer.' I ventured a timid bid of five dollars. Sold! Now that's my kind of haggling!
Return to the highway brought a new and unexpected dilemma, namely, which way had I been driving? All these fields looked alike, and, as I'd been trying side roads on either side of the street, the left or right question was a puzzler. More than once, I turned the wrong way and ended up back-tracking. Oh, for a compass right about now.
Believe it or not, at the very first sale after voicing that thought, I found a compass in a "Free" box! It was only a cheap plastic toy, but it swiftly found a place on my dash, and has been there ever since. The whole incident was absolutely providential, and I praised my Lord for it.
If you have any use for small, cheap toys, the number of "Free" boxes available will please you. I kept plastic grocery bags hanging from those little hooks in my car, just to drop these goodies in. Some would make good stocking stuffers or Sunday School prizes, but a few items had real value, like a little Lord of the Rings action figure, or a handful of familiar plastic monsters I recognized as vintage Strange Change Time Machine creatures. They later sold nicely on Ebay.
The sales in this section, though fewer and farther between, were more often populated by multiple vendors: churches, fairgrounds, and the like. Some of these folks were obviously paying for their spaces, and so their prices tended to be higher. Consequently, I bought fewer items here. A dirt-cheap bag of multi-sided role-players' dice I picked up would, I hoped, have re-sale value, but I had to pass on the Poppy Fresh doll at $8.00.
The turn-off into one heavily-tenanted field was pretty hairy, a high, narrow one-lane road accommodating two-way traffic with no guard rails. As I squeezed between a Dodge Ram on one side and a Sarlacc pit on the other, I blessed my Ford Focus yet again, confident that a van or U-Haul never would've made it through. There was a convenient parking space in front of a smallish hut made from corrugated metal, said building designated as a tornado shelter. Tornado shelter? The sign gave the endless flat landscape a new perspective. Maybe that's what the roadside ditches were for.
If you find a restroom anywhere on this route, take my advice: use it. Even Port-a-Johns are hard to find, but churches generally offer the luxury of a clean bathroom with running water.
As the day dwindled away, I approached the city limits of Cincinnati, at the extreme south of Ohio. Here there were almost no sales at all, and I found myself in a new quandry. Should I spend the early evening driving through the city to Kentucky? Or camp for the night and turn back tomorrow?
I didn't relish trying to navigate such a large city on a Friday night, and, right or wrong, I decided to forego the pleasures of the Bluegrass State, opting instead for the nearest motel.
This was the worst-smelling of them all, and a cash-only establishment, but at least I got a key to my room, which is more than the fellow ahead of me got. If only I'd thought to bring air freshener...
On my final day of yard-saling, I didn't rush to start early, having learned from the experiences of the previous morning. My stops on this day seemed to be more professional sellers than ordinary folks clearing out the garage. In fact, some of them gave me the distinct impression that the tables remained set up in their barns all year long, opening to drive-bys when the spirit moved them. I saw enough glassware to sink a battleship. If you're a collector of such, you might think you'd found a gold mine, but for me, it was a long haul between character toys.
I'm not much of a haggler, but on occasion, I will ask for a small discount. The gent selling the Bikin Sneezy doll agreed to drop a dollar, but the fellow with the Adventure Team sled dog stood pat, and I passed on that one.
I, of course, travelled alone, but some of my fellow shoppers had their children in tow, which seemed to me a very bad idea. Oh, I spotted one young girl who was actually excited to be there, but most kids shuffled along with slumped shoulders and loose-hanging arms, projecting their air of protest to all. And the proximity of fast-moving traffic doesn't make the prospect of shopping with children any more palatable. I watched one poor mom helplessly trail her much-faster toddler, calling him back as he headed for the highway. It wasn't until he reached the shoulder and her voice changed to a screech of panic that little Malachi finally stopped. I still shudder to think of it...better to leave the kiddies at home.
As the day dwindled to a close, I came across my last "find." In a dusty parking lot, on a table made from old plywood on sawhorses, I picked up two articulated artists' mannikins for five dollars. I've always wanted one, and the second will make a great Christmas gift for my sister. But the seller was already leaving, packing it in for the day, and had, fortunately for me, left his sales in the hands of his fellow vendors. The signal, I guess, that I'd come to the end.
Driving back north, it was amazing how fast you cover the same ground when you don't stop every fifty feet. I even ventured farther north than Van Wert, intending to see how far the Michigan border was. But there really weren't many sales to be seen. Either I had started in the best spot on the entire route, or Saturday was just a dud. Even a visit to a local thrift store I happened upon came up empty.
Getting an early start for home seemed like a good idea; I could stop just as easily for the night off Highway 127 as on it. Or so I thought. I couldn't figure out why every motel on the way was filled to capacity. Turns out there was some kind of racetrack nearby and tomorrow was the big event. Who knew?
It got so dicey that I even stopped to inquire at a Sheraton, where a single, I learned, ran some $225. For that kind of money, it better have a theme park attached.
Eventually, with the help of a friendly clerk at a no-vacancy hotel, I found a budget-variety stop with room for me. Although the same chain as some of my earlier rooms, this one was, lo and behold! actually nice. I'd forgotten what it was like to stay in a clean room in which everything worked: toilet, door lock, everything. And no smell of smoke. Except, alas, from my own pajamas, which I tossed into the trash can. Yuck.
From there, the next morning, it was only six hours to hearth and home and kitty. Okay, so I made the mistake of mistrusting my GPS, thus adding an extra 45 minutes or so. But I forsaw an uneventful trip, having passed my last sale...or so I thought. Was that a tiny, hand-lettered "Flea Markiet" sign by the off-ramp? Should I?
I did, and my little detour brought me to an inauspicious outbuilding that apparently housed a permanent sale. Amid the antiques beyond my price range and more, ever more glassware, I found a couple of Marx soldiers, plus plastic baggies stuffed with Applause toys. What a delightful way to cap off my trip!
I never found any chicken pictures or Disney pins, but I did go home with a bunch of Happy Meal toys from the Disney 100 Years set, mostly duplicates that I purchased for my sister, plus a Battlestar: Galactica action figure, a mini Lego set, a nice plastic tractor just right for the train show in the fall, and an old Wonder Woman mask, all of which have been sold as of this writing. Okay, so I still have the Snow White cups and the Pooh nail polish, but they'll go eventually.
Was it worth it? That's the question I had to ask myself.
Since I get paid vacation days from my regular job, and the hotel rooms, not to mention the gas, turned out to be tax-deductable, I would have to answer, "yes." I didn't get rich or anything, but the items I bought were cheap and did turn a decent profit.
Would I go again? That's a bit more complicated. Although it was a lot of fun, I don't get enough vacation days to spend them in Ohio every year. Besides which, I suspect that many of these vendors put out pretty much the same unsold merchandise annually. So, let's make the answer a qualified "yes." I look forward to trying out the sale again in three or four years.
I hope this chronicle of my experiences will help you to be prepared for your own trek to The World's Longest Yard Sale. Maybe I'll see you there.
Here's a list of items you should think about bringing if you intend to shop The World's Longest Yard Sale:
Collectibles For Sale
Six Flavors of Quark
Skits & Bits
Greatest American Hero Fed-Speak
The Spooks of Scooby-Doo
Get Smart Catchphrases
Disney Home Page
The Ballad of Gilligan's Trial
The Kolchak Survival Guide
Dragonmaster Game Variants
A Christmas Quiz
The Wacky Races
Brisco County, Jr. & The Orb
The Cure For Death