Visiting quirky Tinkertown

Russ Ward Mural at the Mineshaft Tavern, Madrid NM photo Steve Collins

Russ Ward mural at the Mineshaft Tavern, Madrid, NM, photo/Steve Collins

Sometimes you miss something that is just plain wonderful and right under your nose. For us, the Tinkertown Museum was one of those places. This folk art gem is  in Sandia Park, on the Turquoise Trail (NM Route 14), about an hour south of Santa Fe. It’s a route we took often our first year in New Mexico. We passed the sign for the turn-off countless times but never detoured.

Early this spring, while researching an unrelated feature for the blog, I encountered Tinkertown’s owner Carla Ward, founder and co-president of the Turquoise Trail National Scenic Byway, via phone. By the end of our conversation, I knew I had to get to this place and check it out. A family visit finally got us there. We needed to kill a bit of time in the area and figured Tinkertown might interest us, our grandsons and their parents.

Tinkertown Museum photo Steve Collins

Welcome to the Tinkertown Museum, photo/Steve Collins

Tinkertown, the result of over 40 years of work on the part of Carla’s late husband, artist Ross Ward, opened in 1983. He began carving as a teenager, inspired by carvers in the Midwest where he grew up and never lost his passion for it. Ross carved or collected all the miniatures at Tinkertown. Many reside in dioramas that amaze and delight visitors of all ages.

Tinkertown Museum photo Steve Collins

Rusty Wyer’s Turquoise Trail Riders photo/Steve Collins

Ross and Carla also built the museum itself out of over 50,000 glass bottles, rocks and other found materials. “Almost everything is recycled,” Carla says. She worked alongside her husband who she calls him “a visionary,” building this quirky home for his collection and work. Modestly, she says, “he deserves all the credit.” Looking at the building and it’s whimsical displays you know creating Tinkertown was a relentless task. Through all this he had a day job. He was a “show painter” for major carnivals throughout the United States, designing and painting the pictures on rides and fun houses. He would travel where needed in season and to their winter quarters from Texas to Florida when they were off the road.

Tinkertown Museum photo Steve Collins

Go back to the old west at Tinkertown, photo/Steve Collins

What really brought a smile to my face and even made me laugh out loud were the animations found throughout. Pop a quarter in the slot and see Otto the one-man-band or Esmeralda, the Fortune Teller at work. It’s worth the price! There are also free buttons to push and watch the little folks go about their business in the recreated western town, a circus or other displays.

Tinkertown The circus is in town photo Steve Collins

Enjoy the animation at the Tinkertown circus re3creation photo/Steve Collins

There is Americana all around the museum from US license plates on the walls and floors to a collection of wedding cake brides and grooms. One room at the museum you’ll discover the1936 British-built cutter, the Theodora R. Carla’s brother, Fritz Damler, spent ten years sailing around the world the 35’ boat. He tells his story in the book, Ten Years Behind the Mast.

Tinkertown Museum photo Steve Collins

Russ and Carla Ward wanted you to know “We did all this wile you were watching TV, photo/Steve Collins

Ross Ward was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease in February, 1998, at age 57 and passed away November 13, 2019. His family continues his legacy, maintaining and running Tinkertown in his memory, because as this talented man used to say, “The show must go on!”

The Tinkertown Museum is open seasonally from April 1st thru October 31st, from 9am to 6pm daily (last ticket sold at 5:30pm). Admission is $3.50 for adults, $3 for seniors, $1 for kids 4 to 16. Kids under 4 years of age enter for free.

Have you been to the Tinkertown Museum? What was your favorite thing about it? If you have any off the beaten path treasures in New Mexico to share, contact us.



8 Responses to “Visiting quirky Tinkertown”

  1. Payje
    June 22, 2019 at 8:31 am #

    I love Tinkertown soooo much! We found it completely by accident when we were driving up to Sandia Peak for job interviews one day! We came back a few months later and spent about an hour and a half in the museum (I took about a billion pictures), it was amazing! This is one of those kinds of places where you can take really neat photos, but they don’t do justice to how awesome it really is to be SURROUNDED by all of that stuff! Thanks for this post, it was really interesting to learn about the history of the museum too. PS I think one of my favorite parts of the museum was the boat out back that had gone all around the world!
    Payje recently posted..Crossing the Canadian border into AlaskaMy Profile

    • Billie Frank
      June 23, 2019 at 7:18 am #

      It doesn’t surprise me that you loved it here. From what I know about you from reading your blog- I’m a big fan- you love quirky (which is why I love the blog). The thing about photos of Tinkertown is they can’t catch the animation which is one of the things that makes it special. I stood in front of Rusty Wyer’s Band for quite a while, laughing. It was just plain funny. That doesn’t come across in a photo. It might in a video, but I’m not sure even that would do it justice.

    • Billie Frank
      March 11, 2019 at 3:54 pm #

      We passed it for years before going- it sounded so hokey I didn’t want to stop.

  2. Abby
    June 22, 2019 at 12:41 pm #

    No kidding! I’ve never even heard of Tinkertown, and it was definitely right under my nose. What a creative soul he was.
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    • Billie Frank
      June 23, 2019 at 7:19 am #

      Next time you’re in ABQ for a visit- take a ride up and check it out. It’s now one of my favorite places. Can’t believe it took us so long to get there.

    • Billie Frank
      March 11, 2019 at 3:54 pm #

      Now everyone has- it’s mentioned in Episode 14, Season 5 of Breaking Bad.

  3. Zoë Dawes
    June 23, 2019 at 7:48 am #

    What a wonderfully quirky place - you guys do get to some weird & wonderful places!!
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    • Billie Frank
      June 23, 2019 at 2:31 pm #

      We do. Wish there was more quirk around here!

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