WARRENSBURG - In the pre-dawn darkness Saturday, Michael Brennan, Blake Williams and Robert Dover of South Jersey unloaded totes of beauty goods, candles and decorative flags from their 16-foot van and set up their goods on makeshift tables underneath two roadside tents.
The clock in the van read 4:10 a.m.
With only a few hours to set up 7,000 or so bottles of shampoo, conditioner hand sanitizer and lotion, their hands were flying as they placed them in precise rows. The colorful bottles sparkled under the lamps the men had strapped to their head.
"We need to be ready to rock," Brennan said, urging his two friends on in their work.
Within several hours, tens of thousands of people would start streaming into Warrensburg for the renowned World's Largest Garage Sale, browsing through the goods of 500 or more concessions, including the goods that Brennan and friends offered in two stands at the garage sale.
The trio would have set up for the sale 24 hours earlier, but they had gazed out into the night sky to see a downpour, and decided to wait to set up until pre-dawn hours Saturday, Oct. 2.
By Saturday, three days of steady rain had not only dampened the early sales activity at the great townwide garage sale, but it created a critical problem for Brennan. Their van had skidded and sunk in the mud up on the hillside at Oscar's Meat's, and nearly flipped onto its side, but a local tow truck operator righted their rig.
While Brennan's crew were working at warp speed to set up notions, dozens of other venders were racing the clock to prepare displays of their wares in the streets that even hosted a few browsers before dawn.
In only a few hours, the streets were swamped with people from near and far, concentrating on bargain shopping at the hundreds of commercial concessions, and as many as 1,000 private garage sales that saw steady crowds all weekend. The sales stretched south to Lake George and north toward Chestertown.
By late morning, traffic was backed up out of Warrensburg to the Northway, and crowds jammed the sidewalks, street shoulders and yards.
While many were lured to the area by the sale's reputation and had no idea what to expect, Jeff and Bonnie French of North Bangor, near Minerva, were well-prepared.
Veterans of the great garage sale, Jeff French had 10 years ago welded up a long industrial-strength cart he could pile with his new-found treasures, push for miles, and make it back to his camper. He made it specifically to haul away bargains at the sale, and he's used it every year this decade.
Saturday, his homemade steel cart was brimming with a drill press, a bike for his grandson, a stereo, a car booster seat and dozens of household items as he pushed it down Hudson Street.
"Believe me, we've only just started shopping," he said.
Down on Main Street, Bonnie and Robin Dexter and Kim Allen carried their sale spoils in a factory-made cart, stuffed with a folding stool, a knock-off designer pocketbook, towels, blankets and socks, books and necklaces, a few stuffed animals and a Red Sox wastebasket. They'd already eaten the fudge they bought from the "Fudge Lady" a half-mile north in town.
"This is our vacation spot - we come here every year," Robin Dexter said on behalf of the trio, which stayed the weekend nights at the Surfside Motel in Lake George, but spent their days at the garage sale.
Upstreet, the Fudge Lady, Rosalie Lyon and her husband Kurt of Jack's Reef, said business was robust as Kurt dished out samples of dozens of flavors of homemade fudge.
They ought to know, as this is their 10th year at the sale.
"We've seen fewer Jersey people this year, but it's a really good crowd," Kurt Lyon said.
By early afternoon Friday, they'd sold 500 pounds or so.
They sold a few ounces of their confection to Warrensburg town board member John Alexander, who stopped by for a treat. A few hours earlier, he had flown his plane over Warrensburg to assess the crowd.
"From the skies, it was mob scene - it was just unbelievable," he said, noting the persistent rain Thursday and Friday delayed the shopping frenzy that was unleashed with Saturday's sun.
Walking past Alexander was Stephen Erickson of Averill Park. He was carrying an electric guitar in a case for his son, also named Stephen, who was walking beside him.
They had not only found the guitar at a rock-bottom price, but they picked up an "Electric Project Lab," a handcrafted rubber-band gun, a few videos, and a real hand grenade.
In recent years, the two found a cannonball and a musket for their collection of authentic military items, plus some collectible Star Wars weapons. Every year, the young Erickson loads up on Pokemon cards, the elder Erickson said.
A few blocks south, Shari Quinn of Portsmouth Va. was selling magnetic bookmarks as she has for many years. She reported sales were far better than last year, although some shoppers were likely to be conservative with their money.
"We look forward to this every year - I enjoy seeing all the people," she said.
Upstreet, a crowd of people were examining a vast display of handmade jewelry items, crafted by Linda O'Neill of Warrensburg, featuring natural gemstones and rocks.
At times on Saturday, she had a long line of people waiting in line to pay for rings, necklaces, pendants and other items.
"We've been swamped," she said. "We've had very good crowds here this year."
On Sunday afternoon, when cold weather set in, she sat by a raditor set up by her husband David, who was in the late 1970s, the first woodstove manufacturer-dealer situated in Warrensburg in modern times.
He and his employee John Saye were in the adjacent spot demonstrating O'Neill's auto-feed coal furnace some say operates at far lower cost than other furnaces.
Streetside, it was delivering a blast of warm air into his wife's jewelry tent.
"My husband takes good care of me," Linda O'Neill said.
A few hours later, Michael Brennan and his crew were taking down their tents that covered two large plots downtown, and an equal-size space uptown at Oscar's.
"Saturday was a monster," Brennan said, noting that term was a superlative used by professional vendors to describe lucrative, crowded "shows."
"It was just unbelievable," his assistant Blake Wilson added as they packed up to go to the Covered Bridge Festival, scheduled for this weekend in Indiana.
Wilson looked at the dozens and dozens of empty bins that had been stuffed with merchandise.
"We made a lot of money," he said.