'Punkyville' a mock town born of whimsy, hard work

gkocher1@herald-leader.comAugust 5, 2012 

FALMOUTH — For a guy who built his own mock town from nothing, Charles "Punky" Beckett is a modest man.

"Punkyville," population 2, located just south of the Pendleton County seat on U.S. 27, has a bank, a jail, a post office, a hardware store, a dentist's office, a motel room, a service station and even a church that has hosted several weddings.

It's more like a movie set than a real town, but each building is furnished with items you'd find in the real thing. There's a dentist's chair in the dentist's office, pews and piano in the chapel, and all kinds of farm implements and tools in the hardware store.

"I guess I'm mayor here," Beckett said.

Beckett, 67, who works for Mago Construction Co., a paving company, built the town next to the house where he lives with his wife, Joyce. They have four children and seven grandchildren.

None of the vintage stuff in the buildings is for sale, which might be one reason Beckett wasn't interested in taking off from work when American Pickers, The History Channel show about finding and recycling vintage relics, called to express interest in seeing the collection.

"That's how he is: work comes first, and Punkyville second," Joyce Beckett said.

Joyce said the town gives her husband "a chance to get away. He just has a nervous energy, and when he's over there banging around with a hammer, that's when he's happy."

Punky Beckett sees the town as a place to preserve history and Americana. He charges no admission to visitors. Perhaps 300 motorists pull off U.S. 27 each year to take a look around.

In addition, local elementary school students make an annual spring pilgrimage to Punkyville. Hot Rod magazine once used the town as a background for photographs of vintage muscle cars. And some years ago, the Becketts used the town to host a luau with a roast pig.

Beckett began building Punkyville in 2003 with the service station.

"I just kept adding on and adding on," he said.

As he gives a tour of the village, Beckett has a story for practically every antique. The Willys-Knight Whippet sign over the service station came out of an attic. Willys-Knight and Whippet were automobile companies that made 1920s roadsters. The Whippet was introduced in 1926, but the 1929 Wall Street crash ended its production.

The water tower behind the service station came from the Kentucky Overall Service Inc., a former uniform rental company in Lawrenceburg.

The hardware store would not be the place to stand in the event of an earthquake, because the hapless visitor might be sliced and diced by all manner of pitchforks, saws and other sharp implements hanging from the ceiling.

As he escorted a visitor into the bank, Beckett said: "You can deposit money in here, but I'm going to tell you going in: It ain't insured."

Inside is a teller's window and an old-time punch clock that rings a bell when you punch the time. He bought that at a sale of TGI Friday's restaurant furnishings.

Beckett bought the dentist's chair in Bardstown.

"I'm a pretty good dentist, if you need some work done," he said. Then he picked up a set of choppers and said, "When I get through with you, I'll give you false teeth and you're ready."

The church seats 100 people. The pews and the bell in the tower came from a Bracken County church that closed. Five or six weddings have been performed at the Punkyville chapel. All but one of the marriages is going strong, Beckett said.

In front of the town is a red caboose that he brought in on a "big dozer trailer." The caboose is filled with train-related equipment, including a steam-engine whistle and railroad lamps.

"We were going to make a clubhouse out of it, and play cards in the wintertime," Beckett said. "But we ended up just making a museum out of it."

He amassed his collection from here, there and everywhere. Over the years, people started donating to it. Sometimes they just drop off stuff at Punkyville, with no note of explanation.

"A lot of it I bought," Beckett said. "I don't smoke or drink, and don't travel much." Whatever disposable income he has goes to build his faux town.

It's impossible to say how much Beckett has spent in erecting the town and furnishing it with all the collectibles. When a visitor asked how much the total collection might fetch at auction, Beckett couldn't give an estimate.

"Probably more than I gave for it. I'm cheap," Beckett said.

Beckett was one of seven children raised by a tenant farmer and a stepmother near McKinneysburg, a small community on the Licking River in southeastern Pendleton County. The nickname "Punky" has been with Beckett "ever since I was a pup." He still meets with some of the guys he grew up with "for a good bull session" each Sunday morning at the Chatterbox Diner in Falmouth.

"I tell 'em, 'I was raised so hard, we had fried water every Sunday morning,'" Beckett said. "We were raised hard and tough and poor, but we all survived. Had plenty to eat."

In his younger days, he built tobacco barns — a skill that came in handy later in erecting the buildings for Punkyville. Besides being "mayor" of the faux town, he held an elected county office at one time. He was a magistrate on Pendleton County Fiscal Court for eight years, but he moved out of the magisterial district.

Joyce Beckett said she doesn't mind her husband coming home with, say, a caboose and putting it in the town.

"Keeps him out of my hair," she said. "I'll put up with it until he brings in the liquor and the dance-hall girls."

Greg Kocher: (859) 231-3305. Twitter: @heraldleader.

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