Refurnished Thoughts

Discover Vintage America - JUNE 2017

Hitting the road for bargains

Did you know that yard sales have history? Well sort of. Many people may not know that yard and garage sales in the U.S. really originated in shipyards in the early 1800s when the yards would sell unclaimed cargo at discounted rates. Later in the 19th century the sales moved to community centers and churches, and really began to thrive as "rummage sales" until they evolved into what we know them as today as yard or garage sales. After all, Americans need some way of dealing with their used items.

We don't know who really invented the idea of the "linear yard sale," the practice of encouraging residents and business people along a certain section of highway to co-ordinate their sales of unwanted treasures on a particular weekend. Certainly one of the granddaddies of them all is the "More on 34" event held along U.S. 34 in northern Illinois from Aurora to Galesburg, which is coming right up June16-17 on Father's Day weekend. The state of Illinois seems to be rife with the custom as several smaller and more targeted road sales have been held there for years.

But the idea of purveying junk along miles of highway has spread throughout the Midwest with any number of driving-for-treasure events on tap. For example, in the next few months central Iowa is preparing for the "Hwy. 141 Garage Sale" the weekend of Aug. 4-5 and "Bargains Galore on 64" in northwest Arkansas will be held Aug. 10-12. In central Nebraska the annual "Junk Jaunt" rolls out Sept. 22-24. In fact, "The World's Longest Garage Sale", Aug. 3-6, snakes along U.S. 127 for nearly 700 miles through six states from Michigan to Alabama, with literally thousands of people setting up shop along the highway.

The events are great for promoting local pride and building a sense of community among smaller rural towns. From personal experience I can attest that there is a real sense of anticipation for the sales in the Nebraska Junk Jaunt and promoters try to keep the practice of early selling to a minimum with little success as shoppers crowd into the towns along the Jaunt's southern route for early deals before the official opening. Such is the price of success I suppose. It means that there is merchandise that is attractive to collectors out there among the junk and discards. And that really is what antiquing is at its core, the anticipation of the hunt and the satisfaction of the final purchase. It's what keeps a true antique and vintage collector going from day to day.

Gasoline prices in the Midwest are pretty moderate this year. So, why not pile in the car and head out to a highway of bargains near you?

Leigh Elmore can be contacted at
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