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I've written a lot over the years about Maine's mammouth Yard Sale Industry, but it didn't occur to me until recently that in all that time and in all that writing I'd never written a word about Maine's legendary Yard Sale King - Thurland “Tink” Billings.
Tink owned a place on the Black Woods Road that ran through the hills of western Maine. According to the Tink Billings Legend his life changed for good the day he and his wife, Thelma, decided to get a new clothes washer. It wasn't that the old Sears washer had died, it was just that - like them - the old machine wasn't getting any younger and - like them - it was bound to croak sooner or later and since they'd recently made the last payment on the new furnace they thought they'd go nuts and get a new washer.
When the new washer was installed, rather than let the Sears delivery man haul the old one away, Tink decided to set the machine out on the front lawn with a for sale sign on it. Tink couldn't believe it, but before Thelma had even started supper the washing machine had been sold and hauled away. Of course, there was a little dickering over the price - as is customary in such situations - but in the end Tink got within a few dollars of what he wanted, since he had priced the machine a tad higher than what he thought the thing was worth.
Tink couldn't believe how fast the washing machine sold and he began wondering what else he had around his place that people driving by were itching to make an offer on.
The next day he moved a few old wood stoves out of the barn and onto the lawn - one a Queen Atlantic kitchen stove and the other a monstrous parlor stove that looked like it could hold half a cord of wood at a time. To give his drive-by customers another option Tink decided to drag out the old kerosene space heater he and Thelma warmed their house with before they got the fancy new furnace.
Well, it wasn't long before people were stopping by Tink's not only to buy but also to sell their own stuff. Less than a week after Tink started his front yard retail
enterprise, a man pulled into the driveway with a complete bedroom set. He had the frame, head- and footboards and nightstands in the back of his pickup and he was ready to deal. The two agreed on a sale price, and the bedroom set was unloaded and added to the growing assortment of items in Tink's front yard.
When word got around that Tink was buying and selling from his front yard his place became a beehive of retail and wholesale activity. People were coming from miles away - some even from over in New Hampshire - to buy something from or sell something to Tink.
To increase his inventory Tink began stopping at yard sales to pick-up an item or two for resale. Folks who claim to know about such things say at one point Tink had one of the largest retail lawn operations in Northern New England.
There were rows and rows of old cars and boats and Ski-doos and appliances and furniture and wood stoves - all priced to move. If asked if a particular item worked Tink had a standard reply: “The fella who sold it to me said it worked but I haven't tried it.”
The way I heard it Tink and Thelma died within a year of each other and there were no heirs. The town took the property and it was almost 10 years before they got rid of the merchandise.
It just proved to anyone who needed proof that no one could sell stuff off a lawn like the Yard Sale King - Tink Billings.
John McDonald is a humorist and storyteller who performs regularly
throughout New England. John’s e-mail address is mainestoryteller@yahoo.com.
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