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Route 66 legend Bob Waldmire reaches end of road

Posted Dec 16, 2009 @ 10:46 PM
Last update Dec 16, 2009 @ 11:36 PM

Local artist and Route 66 legend Bob Waldmire died peacefully as the sun rose over Springfield on Wednesday morning.
For most of the past few months, Waldmire had been living near Rochester in the converted school bus he used as a home while in central Illinois.

In an interview with The State Journal-Register in October, he said he realized about a decade ago that he had abdominal cancer. But having lived most of his life as a vegan who marched to his own drummer, he refused any invasive procedures that might have prolonged his life, because it would be at the expense of his life philosophy.

He spent much of this fall in the school bus, lying on a couch and talking with friends. Many of them were his fellow Route 66 devotees who came from their homes hundreds of miles away to say goodbye.

Waldmire was thoroughly enjoying the attention and the chance to see so many friends.

“It means as much for me to see them as for them to see me,” he said.

One farewell letter to Waldmire came from a man in Japan whom he had met somewhere along the highway.

“I was talking to Bob (Tuesday),” said Stu Kainste, manager of Food Fantasies in Springfield. “He called me because he wanted to do a feast on Thursday.

“He said. ‘I want this, and I want that.’ Vegan pizza. Non-vegan pizza. I said, you know, whatever you want. Then he told me at the end, he said this feast is just going to be a dry run. On the day that I die, and I hope I know this ahead of time, I want to do a real feast.”

He apparently envisioned friends and family coming together on that day to celebrate and to reminisce.

The Waldmires are a longtime Springfield family known most notably for creating the Cozy Dog restaurant. It was founded by Waldmire’s father, Ed, who is credited with creating the first hot dog on a stick — known everywhere outside of the Cozy Dog as a corn dog. Waldmire created his own, meatless, version of the cozy dog.

He grew up in Springfield near Route 66 and spent much of his adult life traveling the highway between Illinois and his home in Arizona. There, in the Chiricahua Mountains, he lived “off the grid,” meaning his home had no electricity or running water. There were water tanks, solar heat and a windmill for generating his own electricity.

Waldmire requested that his body be cremated and his ashes spread on Route 66 and in the mountains around his home.

“I got to grow up on 66,” he said. “When I was 5, we moved to a house on South Sixth Street. At that time, Sixth Street was Old City 66. I not only got to grow up on 66, but in the Cozy Dog, which was so much fun.”

Much of his art, including murals he painted on buildings, related to Route 66. But he also had other inspiration, including wildlife, historic Springfield buildings and even the organs of the body. “Greetings from your liver,” reads one of Waldmire’s post cards in that series.

His brother, Buz Waldmire, said much of the family was with Bob Waldmire Tuesday night. They were making plans for friends and family to come together for a party on Thursday evening.

“He was lucid and alert until about 11:30, when he took his medication to go to sleep,” Buz says. “He never woke up, but he passed peacefully and happily.”

Within hours, word of Waldmire’s death spread down the highway he loved.

Michael Wallis, best-selling Route 66 author and consultant on the Pixar movie “Cars,” had already heard the news at his home in Oklahoma by the time Buz called to tell him.

“He said, ‘Well, the Route 66 road just reverberated so I guess it knows, too,’ said Buz.

Toward the end, Waldmire allowed himself a piece of meat and an occasional egg — though he said he was happy that the egg came from a friend’s stock of “happy chickens” that would never be slaughtered.

“It gives me great comfort and solace to the very end,” Bob said a few weeks ago, “like it has most of my life, to be able to talk, not only to my fellow beings … but I’m a part of the whole. I’m a free thinker as my mom and dad both were. I call myself The Naturalist of Route 66.”

Bob Waldmire was 64 and died the way he lived — on his own terms.

Bob Waldmire’s farewell tour

Wednesday, November 25,2009

The artist and his love affair with the Mother Road

By William Crook Jr.

Last month Bob Waldmire made public what he has known for some time – that he has colon cancer and he probably won’t live much longer. Last Sunday, Nov. 22, “Bob’s Last Art Show” was held at his family’s famous Cozy Dog Drive In. There Waldmire, seated in a wheelchair, greeted hundreds of friends, some from as far away as Oklahoma, and signed pieces of his art they had purchased as mementos of an American original. Illinois Times asked Waldmire’s friend and fellow artist, Bill Crook, to pen his thoughts:

Bob Waldmire introduced me to Route 66. I was lucky enough to accompany him as he was driving his school bus/studio/home from Illinois to Arizona on Route 66 in the mid-1990s. Bob had his itinerary all planned out with stops at numerous attractions. We averaged about 100 miles a day, leaving plenty of time to draw and visit his many friends along the way. Bob knew all the good spots to pull over and sleep. It was a fun way to see the real and forgotten America — mom-and-pop businesses, tourist courts and roadside attractions. In Oklahoma City, a restaurant owner called Bob the “mayor of Route 66.” I became a Route 66-er myself on that trip and published my own series of Route 66 postcards featuring watercolor sketches that I made during our travels.

Bob has carved a unique career for himself as an artist. His media are pamphlets, posters and postcards. He is a traveling educator, spreading his philosophy of respect for the earth, all living things and all the historic forgotten scenes of Route 66. Bob is truly a popular artist. He didn’t go to art school, he hasn’t tried to be part of the art world and he definitely hasn’t tried to get rich off his art. His biggest fans are truck drivers, policemen and working class Americans. Until not too long ago, he sold his postcards for 25 cents each. He told me his profit was a nickel apiece after expenses, yet his low prices enabled him to put them in the hands of thousands of customers, and his Route 66 message was conveyed around the world. His prominence has earned him many friends among international Route 66 visitors. As an example of his worldwide fame, Bob received a book in the mail recently in Japanese that contained photos of him and his VW van.

Bob is a believer in causes. This he got from growing up in the family of the late Ed Waldmire. Not only did Ed invent the “cozy dog,” but he was a leader in the local World Federalist group and was active in political campaigns starting with Dwight D. Eisenhower. Bob is a peace activist, animal rights activist and bio-regionalist. His vehicles are all mobile billboards for his causes and his many bumper stickers convey his passion. Here are a few examples that I copied down recently: “Peace is Patriotic,” “Resist Much, Obey Little,” “Who Would Jesus Bomb?,” “The Gene Pool Could Use a Little Chlorine,” “Live Simply That Others May Simply Live,” “Better Active Today Than Radioactive Tomorrow,” “The Earth is Full... Go Home,” “Peace Through Music,” Travel Farther... Slower,” “Equal Rights for all Species,” “Support Hemp for a Green Planet” and “Peace Monger.”

Bob’s lifelong interest in nature is especially evident in his love for snakes, which landed him in federal court a few years ago with a charge of bringing a Mojave rattlesnake to Illinois where he put it into an educational display at the Cozy Dog Drive In. As punishment, the judge sentenced Bob to produce illustrations for the Midewin National Tallgrass Prairie in Joliet. He produced a booklet on invasive plants, so he was even able to turn his punishment into something good for the environment.

Bob made his mark as an environmentalist and historian, and now he is becoming history himself; a legendary character who will live on through his great works.

William Crook, Jr., of Springfield was inspired to become a pen and ink artist by R. Crumb and Vachel Lindsay. Since 1990, he’s operated the Prairie Press out of his basement on First Street, producing fine art prints and note cards of local subject matter, ranging from Route 66 to the Blagojevich impeachment proceedings.
Bob signing his artwork and saying goodbye to people at his last art show at the Cozy Dog. - PHOTO BY B. DAVEˆHINE

Mythical End for Legendary Route 66

SANTA MONICA, Calif. — The question of where the old Route 66 officially ended in the West has been the subject of debate among history buffs and roadsters. On Wednesday it was resolved in a quintessentially American way, by placing the terminus in a place where it can best be monetized.
A Route 66 sign embossed with “end of the trail” was dedicated at the Santa Monica Pier, a popular tourist destination, marking the 83rd anniversary of the road’s opening and what James M. Conkle, the chairman of the Route 66 Preservation Foundation, called the “spiritual,” if not precisely historically accurate, end of the famed roadway.

U.S. Highway 66 — coined the “Mother Road” by John Steinbeck in “The Grapes of Wrath” and later popularized by Hollywood before becoming a casualty of the interstate system — opened in 1926, connecting Chicago to Los Angeles through hundreds of rural and urban miles of winding road in eight states. Originally, the route terminated on Seventh Street in downtown Los Angeles, but was then extended to the intersection of Olympic and Lincoln Boulevards in neighboring Santa Monica, an unattractive and extraordinarily busy corner where it would be impossible to stand and take a photograph.

Legend had it that at some point, an end-of-the-road sign was placed at the corner of Santa Monica Boulevard and Ocean Avenue as a prop for a movie shoot, and eventually disappeared, as did the highway designation itself (Route 66 was officially decommissioned by the federal government in 1985). Given the pier’s proximity to that corner — and perhaps the fact that a place near the scenic Pacific Ocean where one can also buy some churros and a key chain while posing for a shot — the new “official” end seemed fortuitous.

Santa Monica tourism officials and the Preservation Foundation were both behind the idea, and the move required no approvals or permits. It is “like the power invested in me sort of thing,” Mr. Conkle said.

“It’s a myth,” he added, “but it is a myth added to all the other myths of Route 66.”

A version of this article appeared in print on November 12, 2009, on page A25 of the New York edition.
Photograph: Monica Almeida/The New York Times 

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