Hugh Austin’s Petroliana collection can compete with the best

Photos and article by Bill Patterson

Hugh Austin has been collecting petroliana, or antiques related to gas stations and the oil business, since he was a boy. Having spent his working career in the auto service industry, it’s a natural fit. His collection also expands into other areas, especially if there is a local or family connection.

As with most collectors, Hugh can remember details of an item he collected and enjoys sharing this with others. He will remember something he sold and regrets that he let it get away. His wife, Wrenetta, is a top-notch collector of Depression-era glass and antique furniture. She says Hugh is an “antique keeper” because he enjoys the buy but not the sale.

Hugh’s collection is spread out over his business (Austin Brother’s Tires), at the couple’s Conway home, at their cabin, and at their barn near Heber Springs. The collection is always growing, his knowledge is vast, and you see his joy when he gets a chance to share his collection with others.

He is also the kind of guy who wants to preserve history that is meaningful to others. Once when he was helping his brother clear a house that had sold, he came across some military papers about a gentleman of military distinction. Hugh gathered them together and donated them to the University of Central Arkansas’ archives. Later when the war veteran was posthumously inducted into the Arkansas Military Hall of Fame, his daughter was shocked at the amount of history and paperwork they had for his induction ceremony.  Thanks to Hugh, his history lives on.