Rummaging through a stack of pots cluttering the shelves of Building 125, between piles of watering cans, birdhouses and even benches, I spot it: A battered 2 1/2-foot-wide cast iron kettle, the kind a pioneer woman might suspend over open flames to heat soup inside. I'll use it as a vase, I decide.
"You want to haul that home?" my friend Kathy asks, rolling her eyes in an expression I've come to recognize as a sign she thinks I'm crazy. "It must weigh a ton."
It's not quite a ton — but as I lug it to the counter, I wager it's close. Owner Norma Bertsch inspects my find, noting that the Amish covet these crocks to render lard, a chore I won't try anytime soon. "They go as fast as I can find them," she says.
With more than 900 shops such as this along Indiana's Antique Alley — two country road trails that wrap around Indiana's eastern side — it's hard to imagine there isn't something for every shopper, even if that shopper spends her evenings boiling pig fat.
We wearily eye the distance from the counter to our vehicle as we begin to tug the kettle's handle. But we're in luck. Two men in tow of their wives, who are absorbed in a collection of Depression-era glass, see our struggle and gallantly offer to carry the crock out. I'll be honest and admit we hoped they would — the stare and sigh and attempted heave is a ploy I've used more than once before.
The kettle is so voluminous we must rearrange our luggage to fit around it in the back of my sport-utility vehicle. But all that matters, I say, is that it all fit.
Navigate Indiana's Antique Alley for one-of-a-kind shops, cozy cafes and hidden gems.
4 p.m. Sample from the box of chocolates awaiting you as part of the Girlfriends Getaway package at Martha E. Parry Bed and Breakfast.
5:30 p.m. Drive the famed National Road to J and J Winery and Big Dawg Brewhaus, where you can sample a seasonal brew. jjwinery.com
6:30 p.m. Enjoy hickory-smoked barbecue at the Firehouse BBQ and Blues, a restored 1860 firehouse.
8 a.m. Grab a raspberry white mocha ($3.50) from Roscoe's Coffee Bar and Tap Room.
9 a.m. Tackle Antique Alley's Trail 1, stretching from Richmond to Knightown, by car.
10 a.m. The Old Storefront sells advertising memorabilia and movie props. Antiques from the store have been featured in more than 50 movies.
11 a.m. Centerville Antique Mall stretches 2 acres, so you're bound to find something you love.
1 p.m. Lumpy's Cafe is known for its heart-stopping Hoosier special: breaded pork tenderloin sandwiches ($7). Share one for lunch and you'll still be stuffed.
2 p.m. Visit Building 125 for primitive collectibles and furniture.
3 p.m. Get lost among the 85 stalls inside National Road Antique Mall, including one that contains more than 30,000 vintage postcards.
10 a.m. Dedicate today to Antique Alley's Trail 2. Shops run from Richmond to Portland, but end at Winchester's Countryside Antiques and Collectibles. Part antique mall, part farmers market, it's the perfect place to grab a snack for the drive home.