Ross Ward Builds His Dream At Tinkertown
Tinkertown, Ross Ward, Carla Ward
MRV: The Buzz, Your RV Lifestyle Insider. Written By: Andrew Malo
A Quirky Roadside Attraction: Tinkertown
A Maze Of 22 Rooms Filled With Western Memorabilia, License Plates, And Hand-Carved Figurines By Ross Ward
Turqouise.It is the name of the blue-green mineral found in the Southwestern United States originating from a Persian word that means “to bring happiness.” In New Mexico, on the east side of the Sandia Mountains outside Albuquerque is the Turquoise Trail, a scenic byway that winds from Albuquerque to Santa Fe. Many unique sites rise out of the desert including a spot called “Tinkertown.”
“He had a vision for a unique roadside attraction and he built it,” recalls Carla Ward, wife of
Tinkertown founder Ross Ward, and present day curator and owner of the museum. “There is no other place like it. A museum built by one man,” Carla continues. Inside the museum, visitors wander through a maze of 22 rooms filled with Western memorabilia, license plates, and, of course, the visionary art of Ross Ward - thousands of hand-carved figurines, props, and buildings that make up the miniature western scenes and circus tent arenas. In glass boxes, fantastical scenes bring to life the bygone days of the west and America.
“If you dream it, you can build it and Tinkertown is my proof,” Mr. Ward writes in the autobiographical pamphlet available in the quirky gift shop. For Ward, his dream started when he was nine years old, a kid from small town South Dakota visiting an amusement park in California and seeing the wild west of his fantasies come to life. Upon returning to the Midwest, Ward started collecting cardboard boxes and creating western scenes to complement his imagination.
“He always knew he was going to be an artist,” Carla says, “as a youngster in Aberdeen [South Dakota], he used to paint the main street shops’ windows for Christmas.” Ward started to take his art seriously in middle school and continued it throughout his life. He spent his high school days in the library, filling his artistic mind with visions of the west as it was in the 1850s which then were used in his intricate carvings. Working in a variety of roadside attractions painting signs and selling tickets, Ward learned how to make a living doing things he loved - tinkering and art.
After years of wanderlust painting huge murals around the country while adding tiny carvings to his “Western Town” trailer that he took on the carnival circuit, Ward settled outside Albuquerque on the property that became Tinkertown. He traveled throughout New Mexico sharing his art and when he met his potter neighbor at the state fair, they “shared a beer and then a life,” as Carla recalls. With Carla’s help, they made Ward’s Western Town into a permanent exhibit in the mountains of the Turquoise Trail. They opened Tinkertown for business in 1983 and have been going every summer ever since.
Inspired in his new chapter of life, Ward extended his lifelong passion of wood carving and western-themed dioramas into the present day Tinkertown, drawing inspiration from his adopted home of New Mexico. “The wide open skies just caused the ideas to flow from him,” Carla says. In a place where art is very much a part of life, “the open spaces just give so much room for creativity,” Carla explains. Wood walkways, metal roofs, and glass-bottled walls all were added piece by piece to house his ever expanding creations.
Beyond his art, the Wards added old time arcade machines like Esmeralda, the fortune teller, and a 35’ foot yacht that was sailed around the world for 10 years. The yacht belonged to Carla’s brother, who “quit his job and traded his house for a boat,” as the sign says and then, “he travelled the world.” After ten years of travel, he tried to sell it and couldn’t find anyone to buy it, so “he planned to sink it into the ocean,” Carla recalls, “so we decided to take it. We got a truck and hauled it up the mountain and used a crane to hoist it into the woods and built an exhibit around it.”
Sadly, Ross Ward was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease in 1998 at the age of 57 and passed away in 2002. With the support of Ward’s children from his first marriage and long time employees, Carla keeps Ward’s vision alive, preserving his art for generations to come.
Walking down the wood-planked floors of the treehouse-like museum, surrounded by eccentric quotes from Ward, Americana memorabilia, and fluttering hummingbirds, visitors enter a world of delight and inspiration. An attraction like none other - a man who built his artistic vision one step at a time and displays it for everyone who passes along the Turquoise Trail of New Mexico.
A graduate of Northeastern Illinois University in Education, Andrew has
taught for the past decade in Chicago, New Mexico, and Japan. He
enjoys tinkering with trucks and motorcycles, woodworking, reading and