Bargain hunters drawn to former chicken farm

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, March 30, 2011

MOUNT PLEASANT — Don Cline stops next to an intricately carved piece of furniture on the floor of one of his chicken houses.
He explains to the antiques shop owner from Winston-Salem that it’s a Polynesian death bed. If he wants it, the price is $300.
“They lay out the corpses supposedly,” Cline says. “You see the monkeys?”
The visiting dealer and Cline move to the next chicken shed, where the man shows Cline other pieces he wants within the mountains of stacked furniture.
With each item, Cline announces a price and writes it down, lefthanded, on an invoice he’s keeping for the buyer.
That wardrobe is from Romania, Cline says.
“Two hundred bucks,” he adds. “It’s hand-painted.”
A French chest is $75. A stand, $60. A chest, maybe from Turkey, $140. The triple-door bookcase, $200.
“If you have somebody to finish it, put some glass in it, it would be a money maker,” Cline says of the bookcase.
There is no haggling. Whatever price Cline sets, that’s what it is. Take it or leave it. The Winston-Salem shop owner accepts every price.
On the three days each week Cline’s Country Antiques is open, everyone seems to want a piece of bushy-bearded Don Cline, who resembles a country doctor or a thinner, more studious version of Uncle Jesse on “The Dukes of Hazzard.”
College educated
He’s an economist/poultry scientist by training who just happens to have a packrat mentality. Over the years Cline has filled the family farm’s old chicken houses and the grounds around them with “country antiques.”
Some would call much of the stuff junk — the term does not offend Cline. But the dealers and pickers who come here on a regular basis say it’s a wholesale-priced, ever-evolving collection of treasures attracting people from all over the country.
“People like to hunt,” says Steve Love, a friend of Cline’s. “When it’s harder to find, it seems like they enjoy it more. Everybody has a little treasure hunt in them.”
It’s a futile exercise to try and describe everything Cline has on site. At least nine buildings and lean-tos are filled to the top, mostly with furniture from auctions and estate sales. But there also are whole areas devoted to reclaimed shutters, doors and windows.
In addition, numerous truck trailers house other country antiques.
The yards around the buildings and trailers are covered with metal chickens, hardware, ironwork, signs, gas pumps, wagons, lanterns, bottles, tubs, factory molds, mannequins, frames and decorative items. Again, it’s folly to try and list what’s available.
“Acres and acres of everything and anything,” says Jeremy Ammons, who has been coming here, first with his antique dealing grandfather and mother, “since I was knee-high to a grasshopper.”
Many of the metal things outside carry a blanket of rust. The confusing, overwhelming — yet so intriguing — piles and buildings are connected by goat paths, for lack of a better description.
Cash only
Cline deals only in cash and checks, no credit cards. In theory, he likes to stick close to the tiny “office” by the entrance and tell people the prices of the items they bring to him, then take their money.
The office, Cline explains, once was a gatehouse at the Alcoa plant.
But Cline often is pulled in many directions, and it’s an acquired art to catch his eye and have his attention long enough for transacting business.
If he’s walking over the grounds with a dealer who intends to take home a whole trailer full of items, an anxious gathering of other customers waits for him along the fringes.
Meanwhile, at the office, others are building piles of items they have culled from the yard, trailers and chicken houses. Or truck drivers with whole new loads of things Cline has bartered for are waiting in the gravel driveway for instructions on where to unload.
“As you can see,” he says, “it gets crazy around here.”
The demands sometimes trouble Cline, who fears it’s “too much business for what we can nicely handle.”
“He’s a unique individual,” says Tom Williamson, a regular customer from Troy. “He looks like he just fell off the turnip truck, but he’s a modern man. He just doesn’t look like it.”
Cline’s wire glasses are usually wedged on the end of his nose.
His denim shirt pockets are filled with pens, slips of paper, tiny notebooks and his red cellphone.
He wears both a belt and blue suspenders, holding up jeans. A flashlight and multi-tool are clipped to his belt. A ballcap keeps off the sun.
Though he’s 70 now and dealing with chronic lung problems from working on a chicken farm, Cline still stands tall. His friends and regular customers say he also has a steel trap, computer-like mind that knows generally where everything is.
“I used to have a photographic memory,” Cline acknowledges, “but at 70 years old, it’s slipping a bit.”
Cline relies on two helpers to keep some sense of organized chaos amid all the stuff people are going through.
His father, M.I. Cline, used to raise laying hens on this chicken farm off N.C. 49. Don Cline graduated in economics and math from N.C. State. He has a master’s degree, too, in agricultural economics and says he was a dissertation away from earning his doctorate at the University of Tennessee before quitting and returning home in 1971.
Somewhere in there was a brief stint in the Naval Reserves.
He helped his father on the farm, restored an old house and taught at a few local colleges. He started his collecting at farm auctions, gradually acquiring things by the truckload and filling his home and barn.
When he and his father got out of the chicken business, it opened all the chicken houses for storing the stuff he kept buying at auctions and estate sales. He never stopped.
By 1977, Don opened Cline’s Country Antiques. By 1980, he had quit teaching for good and devoted all his efforts to the “junk” business.
Traveling man
On the days Cline is not open, he might be on the road — even in other states — looking to buy loads of antiques he can bring home and sell.
Love says Cline has a personal collection of thermometers and farm signs in his own home. He also marvels at the knowledge Cline has for antiques.
In 1986, Cline cooperated on a how-to book, “Buying and Selling Antiques: A Dealer’s Inside View,” with local author Sara Pitzer. His customers consider Cline a good country trader who offers them wholesale prices on things, in case they want to sell them later.
Williamson often comes to Cline’s Country Antiques to find items he needs for theme parties.
“Things here, we can’t find anywhere else,” he says.
Cline has furnished props for movies, including “The Color Purple,” and countless restaurant owners have furnished their dining rooms with furniture and decor bought at Cline’s.
Ellen Harris, whose husband runs a junk store in Stanly County, visits Cline’s Country Antiques every Thursday morning.
She has been patronizing the place since the late 1970s.
“There’s good junk here,” she says. “I think anybody could come here and find stuff. … When I say, ‘We’re going junking,’ we’re going to Don Cline’s.”
Harris knows it might take scratching and digging, but she always leaves with something. And she’s always asking where the new stuff is.
At lunchtime, Vickey Cline brings her husband a dinner pie fresh out of the oven from their nearby house.
Don Cline welcomes the chance to sit inside his office and take a break.
“You do it as long as you can do it,” he says of the future. “You never know what’s coming up the driveway.”
Cline’s Country Antiques is located at 11839 Highway 49 North, between Richfield and Mount Pleasant. It is open from 8 a.m.-6 p.m. Thursday-Saturday.
Contact Mark Wineka at 704-797-4263, or