Sign saying Tinkertown
Crafts,  New Mexico

‘While you were watching TV’

On the slopes of Sandia Peak, above Albuquerque in New Mexico, we found a most unusual sight. As soon as I read about this quirky museum I knew that it was a ‘must see’.

We both love those idiosyncratic places that seem to define a US road trip for us; and this is one of the best we have come across. If you are anywhere in the area I urge you to go; you’ll have great fun and even maybe find yourself a little moved by the dedication of the one man who created it.

So many of these quirky folk-art museums are the result of one person’s obsession. In this case that person was Ross Ward. It took him over 40 years to create the huge number of models and scenarios that make up Tinkertown; and it’s easy to believe that it took that long once you start to explore. As he said, ‘I did all this while you were watching TV’.

A sign inside explains:

Tinkertown was begun as a hobby in 1962. The little General Store came first (it was all I intended to build at the time!) 90% of this display was built by myself. The buildings are scraps from my sign business and the people are wood-carved or made of clay. Many of the furnishings are antique toys and miniatures. I did it all “a dollar at a time” without a grant or a bank loan! You can do the same no matter what your project!

Visiting Tinkertown

The fun started as soon as we pulled up in the car. There were old signs galore, wagon wheels, saddles, other Wild West paraphernalia dotted around the site, while the wall that surrounds the museum is made up of over 50,000 glass bottles; recycling gone crazy! Once we’d finished exploring and taking photos outside, we paid just $3 each (today it is $6) to enter the rambling museum, where we were transported to another world!

Sculpture with metal horses and a pointing hand
In the grounds

The first section, which was probably my favourite, consists of a row of dioramas depicting different buildings on a sort of Wild West theme. There’s the General Store already mentioned, a hotel, a Native American Trader, a pharmacy with a doctor’s surgery above and many more. Some are animated, all are fascinating and repay careful scrutiny; there are just so many amusing details. Here a man with a cleaver chases chickens in a circle; the doctor ogles a young female patient while his nurse glares at him; men fight in the street; couples ride by in wagons and children play.

My photos are a bit noisy because the models weren’t very brightly lit, but I think you can see enough to appreciate the amount of work, and love, that went into them.

Model of a shop
The General Store
Model of a shop selling baskets, pots etc
The Native American Trader
Model of a doctor treating a patient
The doctor’s surgery above the pharmacy

In other sections we saw Ward’s various eclectic collections from over the years, including wedding cake couples, antique tools, bullet pencils, dolls and more. Later models are on a grander scale, especially the circus, complete with big top, cages of animals, trapeze act – the list goes on.

Many of the models are animated. When we paid for our entry we were given a quarter back to put into the first animation, a hillbilly band ‘Rusty Wyer and the Turquoise Trail Riders’. We were glad however that we also had a few quarters with us to use on the other models we came to later in our tour; the Boot Hill Cemetery in particular was a must!

Model of people playing musical instruments
Rusty Wyer and the Turquoise Trail Riders
Modelled figures with wings and horns
Boot Hill Cemetery

Oh, and hidden among the collections is a small model of Mark Twain, and this quote from him, a favourite of many keen travellers and a message to which I subscribe wholeheartedly:

Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry and narrow-mindedness, and many of our people need it sorely … Broad, wholesome, charitable views … cannot be acquired by vegetating in one’s little corner of Earth.

Model of a shop
Deli and ice cream parlour

I visited New Mexico in 2011

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