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Tinkertown, a maker's vision of paradise (photos)

Tinkertown, a maker's paradise tucked into New Mexico's Sandia Mountains, is a wonderland of hand-carved folk art figurines, homemade animatronics, and old amusement park machines that still work.

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Amanda Kooser

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Tinkertown, a folk art destination

Tinkertown in Sandia Park, N.M., is a sprawling museum full of oddball memorabilia and lovingly carved miniatures that move at the push of a button. If you keep following the road that passes it, you'll end up at the crest of Sandia Peak, the 10,000-foot mountain overlooking Albuquerque. Crave made a stop at Tinkertown as part of its Nerdy New Mexico tour.
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Built with bottles

There are more than 50,000 bottles built into the winding walls that go around and through Tinkertown in Sandia Park, N.M. The folk art museum took 20 years to build. The artist Ross Ward picked up many pieces of ephemera and old amusement park machines during his travels as a carnival painter. Ward passed away in 2002, but his widow and partner-in-tinkering Carla Ward still runs the place.
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Grandmother fortune teller

This grandmother fortune teller machine from 1940 now resides at Tinkertown in New Mexico. Having spent many years entertaining people in Chicago, she was restored by the Ward family and now accepts quarters in exchange for printed fortune cards.
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Hand-carved saloon and dance hall

This saloon and dance hall hints at the level of detail that went into folk artist Ross Ward's creations. Some of the figures in the Old West town can be triggered to move around at the push of a button. A chef chases a chicken, carpenters work on a building, and Mary Poppins flies into the sky at Tinkertown.
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Steam-powered tractor miniature

This steam-powered tractor miniature comes to life at the push of a button. It's part of an extensive hand-carved miniature Old West town at Tinkertown in Sandia Park, N.M. Folk artist Ross Ward created the installation and built his own animatronic systems.
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Hand-carved soda fountain

The thousands of visitors who stop by Tinkertown every year could spend hours inspecting the details and still not see everything. Small scenes of life in the Old West are just one feature of the folk art museum. Note the tiny version of the museum's fortune teller machine outside this small soda fountain. Mr. Peanut is there, too, for some reason.
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Heaven and hell in miniature

The most expensive animatronic display at Tinkertown is Ross Ward's depiction of heaven and hell. It costs visitors two quarters to run the motors. This is a detail from a much wider scene that also features swinging skeletons, angels, and a lightning-lit battle for a man's soul waged between good and evil.
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Mummy's Tomb machine

Ross Ward's work as a carnival painter also helped him locate and acquire old amusement park machines. This Mummy's Tomb device from the 1960s has a snake charmer and a mummy that rotates out of the darkness. One quarter is all it takes to start the show at Tinkertown, a folk art maker museum in Sandia Park, N.M.
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Boat that sailed around the world

Carla Ward's brother sailed a ship around the globe over the course of 10 years, starting in 1981. The boat is now in dry dock at New Mexico's Tinkertown, a folk art destination packed with unusual ephemera. This carved bust of "Captain Fritz" looks out from just beyond the prow of the globe-trekking vessel.
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Otto, the automatic one-man band

Otto, the automatic one-man band, makes a jubilant musical racket when fed a quarter. Accordion keys press down, drums are beaten, and circus-style music blares out. It's an impressive piece of entertainment engineering and a still-functioning relic of a bygone era. Tinkertown is home to many amusement park machines that are still in working order.

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