The world’s longest yard sale hasn’t even officially begun but already there’s a black Nissan Pathfinder – sporting Florida license plates and large signs declaring that the women in the vehicle are “Fleadom Bound!” – smack dab in the middle of Dunlap.
“I talked to my husband last night and he asked how far we were traveling a day,” one of the women joked during a stop. “I told him about 100 miles, and he laughed. But when you consider that sometimes we spend three or four hours in one place, that’s pretty good!”
The Pathfinder isn’t alone, of course.
In Sequatchie County, dealers hawking everything from old license plates to used clothing to antique crockery have had their tables set up along the town’s main thoroughfare since late last week.
Also on hand, of course, are the casual shoppers – many of whom have traveled hundreds of miles – who wander from dealer to dealer, looking for that special treasure they cannot describe but swear they’ll recognize the moment they see it.
But you won’t find veteran shoppers such as Cindy and Debbie – the women in the Pathfinder – who have been making this journey the first week of August for years among the crowds checking out dealers’ predictablr wares in downtown Dunlap.
Instead, they’re on the lookout for signs announcing sales off the beaten path that lead to non-professional sellers: ordinary families with hand-me-downs they no longer want who have transformed their yards and porches and garages into sales areas for the duration.
On Signal Mountain, where the Sequatchie/Hamilton County line is located, the bulletin board at Pruett’s Grocery Store sports such sellers’ announcements.
“NEIGHBORHOOD YARD SALE!” one declares in 48-point type. “July 28 – Aug. 5, 8 a.m.-5 p.m. School House Road, behind Lone Oak Community Center.” Down in the valley, in Dunlap, there are dozens of signs promising bargains galore to yard sale-goers. One, a hand-printed poster attached to a street sign at the intersection of Rankin and Cherry, has attracked the attention of the women in the Pathfinder.
“Big multi-family yard sale,” it promises above large arrows pointing would-be shoppers in the direction of 790 Mountainview Road.”
A couple of blocks later there’s another sign. “This way,” it says, pointing right.
The trail continues for a couple of miles, eventually passing the scenic Dunlap Coke Oven Museum and a shady pocket park across the street where Cindy and Debbie stop to eat the Crunchwraps they picked up at Taco Bell and snap photos.
Then the indefatigible shoppers climb back in the Pathfinder and continue their quest.
Six yard sale signs later – "Yup, this is the way!" – they find themselves in front of a two-story log cabin hidden away in the middle of a woods that the owners of the house swear, appearances to the contrary, is inside Dunlap city limits.
“Oh my gosh,” one of the shoppers gasps as she catches sight of the antique furniture on the front porch. “Look at that gorgeous mirror! How much is it?”
“$100,” the yard sale proprietor replies, and the happy, good-natured negotiations begin.
Over the 25 years since the yard sale was started as a way of luring travelers off interstates onto more rural highways, the I-27 yard sale has become world renowned, not always for the reasons its original planners intended.
Particularly annoying, critics say, are the horrendous traffic jams it creates which, in a small town like Dunlap, can transform residents’ intended quick Saturday afternoon trip to the grocery store into a frustrating two or three hours on roads packed with loaded-down pickup trucks and vans that move at a snail’s pace – when they move at all.
Over the years, however, residents of affected communities have learned to take the inconveniences in stride.
“We’ve gotten used to it,” the woman behind the counter in the local Adventist Church thrift shop said placidly. “Most folks around here know to go ahead and stock up on the groceries and medicine and other things they need, and then stay home during the sale itself.”