By Jennifer McDaniel For the Belleville Telescope
Scandia resident Paul Kallman knew there were doubts when word for a 400-mile garage sale along US Highway 36 started to spread.
Even his closest friends told him there way no way he could pull it off – it simply wouldn’t work.
Originally sparked in 2005 among Kallman and fellow Scandia residents Jane Ann Carlgren and Jim Erickson, the garage sale would not only be a way to stir up interest in Republic County, but other communities along US Highway 36 from the Colorado border to the Missouri state line.
But what the garage sale eventually grew into was way more than anyone ever expected.
Only eight towns participated that first year, but by 2014, 32 communities were on board.
Today, the US Highway 36 Treasure Hunt attracts thousands of people to northern Kansas each year during the third weekend of September. For three days, antique lovers, pickers and treasure hunters descend on the region, seeking out rare finds.
“People are looking for treasures,” Christiane “Criquet” Cole, Highway 36 Treasure Hunt marketing coordinator, said. “There’s (been) a trend toward what we call ‘barn finds,’ like old antique furniture, tools and barnwood. And while that’s still the trend, here we are 14 years later, and now the hunt is on for mid-century modern, fishing gear, coins and military items.”
The annual event doesn’t just attract the locals, but treasure hunters from across the United States and even Europe. Cole, who owns an antique store in Phillipsburg, a town along the Highway 36 route, said she’s met individuals from Germany, France, Belgium and Japan.
“What makes us unique is that we’re one highway, in one state that includes 37 towns,” Cole said.
This year’s event is scheduled for this weekend, with individual sales along the 13-county route. To better help treasure hunters, the US Highway 36 Association’s website is packed with information about the sale, including county-specific tips on where to stay, where to stop and where to eat along the way.
Each year, beginning on Sept. 1, community sale maps and descriptive listings are uploaded to the website for hunters to download and print or view on a mobile device. But make no mistake, locations highlighted on the map aren’t just garage sales, but include larger market-style sales in parks, community buildings or empty lots. Sometimes, even locals host sales in their barns and Quonset huts along the highway.
Cole, who’s been a part of the association for 10 years, said she eventually opened up her own antique store, which is also along the route. As an antique dealer, Cole knows what hunters are searching for.
“Items like Pyrex will never go out of style,” she said. “It’s always in demand. The mid-century modern items from the 40s, 50s and 60s are popular as is anything that can be repurposed. That’s really the trend for the younger shopper.”
One of the biggest joys for Cole is meeting with new shoppers and visiting with those who make a repeat trip each year.
“There’s a lot people you meet over the years,” she said. “Some groups who’ve made the trip from places like Oregon will take in the Treasure Hunt then go north into Nebraska for the Nebraska Junk Jaunt, which is the week after the Treasure Hunt.”
“Probably one of the most gratifying comments we get is how friendly Kansas people are.”
Visit the US HWY 36 Treasure Hunt website here – www.ushwy36.com.