On a languid winter afternoon, hound dogs howl a mournful alarm at a visitors casual intrusion upon the Atkins Antiques barn a few miles south of Archer City, Texas.
The dogs take their afternoon nap under the porch of the fading paint flecked building, and are often called upon to sound the call to arms which includes a lot of barking and then an apologetic wagging tail before returning to their slumber.
Atkins Antiques was a ramshackle place that could sell you an Amarillo city bus that made its last run down Polk street, or an ice cream wagon made from an abandoned golf cart, or a bulldozer or a bent horseshoe.
Bud Atkins, 68, who owns the shop doesn’t mind all the modern intrusions, he is a man of all seasons. Wearing starched Levi’s and a pearlsnap western shirt, he stands amid all the record albums, racks of old books and magazines, stacks of eight track tapes, old leather footballs, spurs that date back to the eighteenth century, mannequins, old paintings and a plethora of heavy iron tools.
“One time I had an old anchor here, it was probably two, three hundred years old, weighed about 700 pounds, some college boys from South Carolina bought it. Don’t know how they got it home,” says Atkins. People call me a junker, but every time I buy something, it becomes valuable. Funny, ain’t it?”
The place sits on three acres of land, the Texas flatland. The flatland stretches endlessly to the far horizon and this 90’s version of Sanford and Son hardly seems big enough to hold all the treasures accumulated over 35 years of junking.
Winter Texans browse through the property in search of items that symbolize Texas. They come from Oklahoma, New York, Nebraska, New Jersey and elsewhere. “I’ve been coming to this place since the early 80’s,” says one elderly man. “There’s more mysteries here than the Holy Bible.”
The shop is awash with quirky items, like a small ceramic monkey perching atop a stack of books and holding a human skull and while scratching his head as if to ponder his very existence. A caged light fixture near the front door with strangely stuffed rodents adorning the inside and outside of the cage and a rat with an extraordinary long tail.
Atkins, wears a black cowboy hat with a bigfoot logo pinned to the side. He speaks slowly and laughs readily, as if sitting on a good joke. He has a mental Rolodex of his own jokes, if others fail.
Atkins recalls when he and his brother inherited the house moving business from his father. The brothers decided to expand the business into buying and selling furniture and antiques from estate sales. The brothers split up in 1969—they weren’t mad or anything, they just decided they wanted to own their own separate businesses.
Cynthia Speer, an elderly lady from Oklahoma City, and her husband have come to the Antique Barn for the past twenty years. They never fail to be amazed at what they find in the shoppe.
“One time I found an old campaign button here—about 15 years ago. It was an old FDR button. I bought it for about $5, and this friend of mine said it was actually worth several hundred dollars, but I wouldn’t sell it for anything,” she said. “You can’t find things like that anywhere, it’s amazing.”
Among the items at the Atkins Antique Shop is a February 30, 1936 issue of Collier’s Magazine that sold for forty cents and a first volume edition of the music of Jerome Kern, with his legendary rendition of hits like “On Top of Old Smokey” and a song that the Platters made famous in the late fifties, “Smoke Gets in Your Eyes.”
Record albums of long ago sport icons of yesterday. There’s Elvis Presley’s “Heartbreak Hotel” and a collection of recordings from a native of the big bend country, Freddy Fender.
“You never know what you’re going to find here in this crazy place,” says Atkins, fielding a question from another winter Texas. “We’ll buy anything just so long as it’s old and interesting.”
Atkins pointed to a display case that had an empty bottle with the letters “OJ” embossed on the outside, “that doesn’t have anything at all to do with O.J. Simpson, I just recently found the bottle, I do have his football card and a book on Simpson though. By the way have you been watching the trial?” Just goes to show you, you can’t get away from the trial even in central Texas.
Written by Bob Briggs April 1, 1995