Of everything I’ve learned to love in my eight years in Nebraska, top of the list is the Junk Jaunt. So much is plastic in this contemporary world, but not the Junk Jaunt. It’s home-spun and authentic.
Last Saturday, I headed out to the Junk Jaunt again, poring through farm yards and dusty barns for rusty knicknacks, $15 microwaves and $2 lawn chairs just like those guys on “American Pickers.”
I’d never heard of the Junk Jaunt until 2009, when I passed through Nebraska on my 10-week solo drive across the United States. I lived in Cleveland then, and I stopped in Kearney to visit Lori Potter, then a Hub reporter whom I had come to know through the National Federation of Press Women.
For three days, Potter led me around central Nebraska showing me unforgettable, authentic, even homespun sights: A 6,000-acre ranch. A rodeo. Fort Kearny. The Niobrara River. The Cowboy Trail. Soybean harvesting. The Junk Jaunt.
I kept a blog on that trip. Here’s what I wrote home to friends and family that evening:
Lori Potter and I took off toward the Nebraska Sandhills and the annual Junk Jaunt, a 300-mile garage sale along Highway 2.
I have never seen so much junk. Rusted farm implements. A hideous gold/red easy chair. Milk cans and jewelry and rusting mirrors.
All the little towns had tents set up. They were selling food - breakfast, lunch and homemade coffee for 50 cents.
One farm was selling an old clawfoot bathtub for $500 that they’d hauled out of the old home of a relative who had just died. At that same place, I found a blue-and-green plaid flannel shirt for $1. I’ve never owned a flannel shirt, but I’m camping on much of this trip and I am sure it will come in handy on frosty nights this fall.
Ranchers sold old saddles for $500, a price I did not appreciate until I went into Young’s Western Wearhouse in Valentine, Nebraska, the next day and saw new saddles that started at $998 and went up to $2,100.
We stopped for lunch at the Double T Bar in Halsey, Nebraska, pop. 120. The bar was full of deer heads and beer signs and a couple of pool tables. It was to show the Nebraska football game on TV that night. The only TV set in the place was just a portable TV, maybe 32-inch screen, set on a chest.
The couple who own the Double T were a hoot. Lee Teon (Double T stands for Lee and Rita Teon) was our waiter. He was about 70. He was wearing a cowboy hat and vest and boots. He asked if we’d ridden our horses in.
When I asked for salad without dressing, he said, “Oh. A honeymoon salad.”
I said, “What?”
He said, straight-faced, “Honeymoon. Let-us without dressing.”
Pretty soon an old lady at the next table leaned over and said, “I was born in this building.”
She told us all about it. In fact, up front, dangling from the ceiling, was a pair of plastic female legs wearing stockings and high heels, and she said, ‘My mother was the model for that.’”
Out here, they still did shivarees for newlyweds on their wedding night. She said her mother and her husband hid in the ceiling of this old bar to escape their shivaree. They were leaving on the train (the tracks go right behind the Double T) so the train agent had called ahead to tell the crowd waiting at the next stop that the couple was coming, but the couple hid instead. Hence the legs dangling from the ceiling.
Outside the Double T, the trains kept roaring past every 12 minutes.
Finally we asked old Lee if he had our bill, and he said, “I’m like a duck. I always have a bill.” My bill for a cheeseburger and salad and Coke was $3.15.
I’ve never forgotten the Double T, or the Junk Jaunt, either. It’s as much of my fall now as apples and football games. As for that plaid flannel shirt, it lasted 10 years. It was the best $1 I ever spent.