New Mexico native Ross Ward started carving wooden miniatures as a hobby in the 1960s. He took them on tour at carnivals and county fairs in the ’70s and, in 1983, opened the Tinkertown Museum along the Sandia Park stretch of the Turquoise Trail National Scenic Byway (NM-14), a stone’s throw from Route 66 and about half an hour from Albuquerque. Passers-by were wowed by Ward’s boundless creativity and his unusual collections of glassy-eyed dolls, sad-faced clowns, vintage wedding cake toppers, wagon wheels, rusty signage, antique farm equipment, and Wild West memorabilia.
Ward passed away in 2002, but you can still tour Tinkertown and its ornate dioramas, thanks to an adoring family that has preserved his legacy. Entry is $3.50 for adults but bring extra quarters to play the museum’s coin-operated midway machines. (For 25 cents, you can have your fortune read, your handshake rated, or your ears serenaded by a self-pumping accordion.)
Housed in an adjoining wing is a 35-foot antique wooden boat, which Ward’s brother-in-law, Fritz Damler, sailed around the world for 10 years. Outside, don’t miss the art car—actually a Jeep—that Ward decorated in the last years of his life, shortly after being diagnosed with Alzheimer’s. The man plunged himself into his art until the bitter end.
Inspirational quotes are plastered on the walls throughout the museum, but perhaps none is more telling than this: “You don’t stop playing because you grow old… You grow old because you stop playing.”
Tinkertown operates seasonally, from April 1 through Halloween (of course).
121 Sandia Crest Rd., Sandia Park, NM; 505-281-5233.