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Gone Too Soon - The Bob Waldmire Story

Written by Cecil Stehelin and Brennen Matthews

More than perhaps any other highway in the US, Route 66 has always been a road of opportunity. Whether they were escaping drought or boredom, the Mother Road has always fostered an “anything is possible” mentality amongst its pilgrims. Maybe it is the dramatic and diverse geography that paints the eight states that make up this iconic highway, or perhaps the mystery or opportunity that waits just around the next bend.

Or maybe it is the romance of heading west and chasing the eternal sun. Perhaps it is many things, but one thing that is for certain is that Route 66 has always attracted colorful, quirky personalities in the form of dreamers, poets, adventurers, gangsters, writers, photographers, entrepreneurs, filmmakers, and philosophers. Many personalities have stood out over the decades, but perhaps one more than any other has come to quintessentially represent the Mother Road.

An itinerant artist, passionate conservationist and searcher, Bob Waldmire’s vision and life lived created an influence that still reverberates to this day, drawing visitors from far and wide to drive the highway and those closer to home, to reflect on their own time on this Earth. “I called Bob the Johnny Appleseed of the Mother Road. Bob’s seeds were in the form of his work that he deposited so lovingly across whole dimensions of Route 66,” describes respected author Michael Wallis, a fellow disciple of the highway and an intimate friend of Waldmire for many years. “You go into a business and see a Bob Waldmire drawing or a postcard tacked up on a wall, on a telephone post, on a bulletin board ... it just became synonymous, his work with the road. He was such a devotee.”

Early Years

Edwin Sutton Waldmire Jr. (Ed) - Bob Waldmire’s father - was born in May 1916, in Petersburg, Illinois, a quiet, small traditional American town. His parents, Edwin Searle Waldmire and Flora Merle Sutton had been high school sweethearts and married a year before Ed’s birth. A few years later the couple would have a second child, Bill, and in 1925, a third son, Bob, entered the world. The little family was happy and growing. Edwin (senior) worked in insurance and real estate and had investments in several properties in Mississippi and Florida. The 1920s were good to the Waldmire clan. But with the close of the decade and the crash of the stock market, the family, like so many others across the nation, was financially devastated and lost everything they had accumulated. But that was not the end of their story.

Jump ahead to 1937 and Ed found himself enrolled as a junior in Knox College in Galesburg, Illinois. At that time, his father managed close to 4000 acres of college land and was entrepreneurial enough to make an agreement with the school’s treasurer for Ed to work as a janitor-maintenance man in exchange for tuition. The role only lasted for two months until Ed accepted a new job at Howard’s Coffee Corner in downtown Galesburg. Four months later, young Ed was running the venue and focusing on the future. By the end of ’38, Ed and two of his friends decided to go into business together and took up rental of a small building on the college campus, a location that they turned into a successful café called the Goal Post. One day in early ’39 Ed walked the short distance to Strand’s Bakery to pick up his regular supply of bread and buns for the café. Entering inside he quickly noticed a new girl working at the bakery. However, her perception of him was perhaps a little different than his immediate attraction. She took one look at his haggard, unshaven appearance and immediately thought Ed to be a vagrant looking for a handout. Perhaps gifted with an extra share of charm, he managed to convince young Mary Virginia Turnbull, to join him for a meal at the Goal Post. The couple hit it off smashingly and were married 16 months later.

By 1940, Ed decided to sell his shares in the café and enroll in the University of Illinois in Champaign-Urbana. He would enjoy his studies there until 1942 when he graduated, after which he enrolled in a month-long machinist course. On April 19, 1945, the exact same day that his second son Bob was born, Ed received his draft orders. He was being called up to help in the war effort. He was assigned to numerous locations across the United States, before finally landing in Amarillo, Texas, where he was posted in the finance department.

While in Amarillo, Ed experimented with his first corn dog creation, marketing his tasty product at the P.X. base, in the Mess Hall and to G.I.s at USO shows. After the war, the “Cozy Dog” grew from a booth at the State Fair to a bustling drive-in along Old Route 66. The small restaurant was to impact the Waldmire family’s life more than they could have ever imaged, but back then, life was pretty simple for Bob and his siblings. “When we grew up we didn’t know anything about Route 66, it was just a two-way street in front of our house,” remembers Buz Waldmire, Bob’s younger brother. When the kids weren’t helping their dad at the drive-in, they were out at Cardinal Hill, the family farm, where they caught crawdads, frogs, and snakes in the Sangamon River. Bob Waldmire’s intense love of nature began here, in a green belt off the old road. “Bob’s early drawings [were] of horses and insects and other animals that he would find.”

But, like most kids, childhood was a time of fun and exploration for the Waldmire clan. “We had bicycles and we had the run of the town. We grew up in the 50s and it was like, you know, mom had five boys, and she was busy with the house and she was helping daddy with the Cozy Dog and daddy was gone most of the time. At that time we had three different restaurants that he was running, so we just ran around the neighborhood with our friends. We would go to the drugstore and read comic books and buy a vanilla or cherry phosphate. [Bob] was pretty much the informal leader of almost everything we did growing up.” As long as the boys were back by 5PM for dinner, it was an easy life.

An Artist is Born

In between exploring and helping in his mother’s candle and gift shop, Waldmire would often be found drawing. Buz Waldmire remembers having contests with Bob to see how many numbers they could fit on to a single piece of paper, trying to cram 400 to 500 numbers with extremely tiny lettering. “Of course, he always won. He always liked writing small, and he always liked being very detailed. Some people can’t talk unless they talk with their hands. Bob had difficulty talking if he didn’t have a pen or pencil to draw [with] while he was talking.”

Waldmire’s art skills continued to flower in high school, where a parallel impulse began to metastasize. During a 1962 family vacation down Route 66 to California, Waldmire discovered a love for the desert. “We took a family vacation to California. It was mom, dad, four boys and grandma in a station wagon, pulling a trailer with our suitcases. It took us probably six to eight weeks, and a lot of that time was through the desert. And so, upon his graduation from high school in 1963, Bob and a friend [Jimmy Dodds] took off and went out to the southwest and spent a month or two. When he came back he had some scorpions and some snakes and tarantulas and stuff that he had collected. He built cages in the back room of the Cozy Dog Drive-in, and he displayed them there so that customers could come in and have lunch, and they could go in the back, and they could look at these cases, and they could see these live reptiles.”

The first Cozy Dog in 1946.
Ed Waldmire as a young man giving Virginia a cozy dog.

The trip described by Buz impacted Waldmire deeply: “I have come to appreciate (the) sense of the beauty of the harsh extremes,” Waldmire would express later in one of his dispatches, “the endless subtle variations of light, shadow, and color... the rainbows and the incredibly starry night sky. The silence and the coyote serenades ...” Waldmire took to the creatures of the desert, developing a deep affection for snakes, in particular, catching rattlers in a make-shift cage to sketch, before returning them carefully to the exact spot he’d found them.

After spending a couple of years at Springfield Junior College in 1968, Waldmire joined Southern Illinois University, majoring in Illustration. This period of the young artist’s life would turn out to be one of philosophical development, filled with ideas and iconic happenings that could only occur during this unique period. As with most universities across America at the time, the Southern Illinois University campus was steeped in the counter-cultural atmosphere of the late 60s. “[Bob] grew up in a culture of political activism,” remembers Bill Crook, a fellow artist and long-time friend of Waldmire. “He learned it at a young age.” Ed Waldmire had been politically active with the World Federalist Group, organizing rallies for Eisenhower and promoting the creation of global laws, and this free- thinking spirit seemed to have been passed on to his son. Bob Waldmire was a lifelong member of Greenpeace, and learned to voice his political views as the editor for the school newspaper. Waldmire was certainly a product of these times and context, both artistic and social. His love of nature pushed him into a commitment to veganism and a hatred of killing in general. He would champion both causes for the rest of his life.

The Waldmire family with african exchange students.

“I remember seeing his work in a bathroom at a coffee house in the University of Illinois,” notes Crook. And I can remember the exact year because I met this woman over there and I eventually married her. She used to hang out at this coffee shop in the campus area, named Bubby and Zadie’s. So, in the restroom they had one of Bob’s posters pasted on the wall, and it was fascinating, because it had so much minute detail. It was a poster of the University of Illinois with just a ton of graphic natural history, famous people, it had served as a map and a calendar, and all these things at once, and it had epic proportions. I got really fascinated, and I didn’t even realize at the time that it was the same guy who I had met [earlier]. I didn’t pay too much attention to the signature at the bottom. Then later, within a couple of years, by ’75 or ’76 I was doing work around Springfield and Bob had some work in the Springfield newspaper.” This is around the time that the two reconnected and a friendship grew. “But Bob was very itinerant you know, he never stayed in one place very long. He’d be in town, you’d run into him, then the next thing you know he’s driving off to Texas or California or some place, and you wouldn’t see him for 6 months. And then he’s back!”

University was also where Waldmire first developed his interest in cartography. After seeing a map of Southern Illinois University and the nearby town of Carbondale, made by a fellow student, Waldmire decided to make his own. The first map he made was of his hometown Springfield, Illinois, in 1970; he sold spots on the map to local businesses that were happy both to be featured on the map and to sell them to their clientele, allowing a young entrepreneurial Waldmire to get a taste of making some money.

On the Road

Inspired by this early success, Waldmire began to conjure up the first of many business schemes or “projects” that would animate him over the course of his life. As Waldmire shared with Bob Venners for the Desert Exposure:

The Waldmire brothers. L to R: Bill, Jeff (deceased), Bob (deceased), Tom and Buz.

“I suddenly realized I could do my drawing for money and never have to work again.” Not only would this indulge his artistic passions, but the venture also meant that he could work from anywhere. In fact, it ensured that he could keep moving, searching for new clients and a life that he envisioned. Waldmire spent the 70s and early 80s traveling from college town to college town in his 1967 Volkswagen Station Wagon, mapping towns from Tallahassee to Boulder before moving on to entire states like California, Arizona, and New Mexico. “When he was on the road, he would go in [a business] with no shirt on and no shoes,” recalls Crook. “If they threw him out, he decided they weren’t his kind of people and wouldn’t work with them.”

In 1985, he used his profits to upgrade to his signature ’72 Volkswagen camper van, which is now on display in the Route 66 Museum in Pontiac, Illinois. Again, from his interview with the Desert Exposure: “I was at the Portal Cafe, reading the auto trader magazine. I saw an ad for that ’72 Volkswagen, and I called the guy from the phone in the parking lot. I ended up buying it sight unseen.” Waldmire’s van became iconic on the Mother Road. It was covered with bumper stickers imploring a ‘Better active today than radioactive tomorrow’ and ‘Resist much, obey little.’ In later years, Waldmire painted a map on the side of the van so that people could check where they were while they passed him. Waldmire lived out his favorite maxim, ‘Travel farther, slower.’

An encounter with Waldmire on the highway was always memorable. Michael Wallis recalls one rendezvous along the Texas Panhandle while traveling with a small posse of bikers: “It was early in the morning, [and] I figured Bob had spent the night there. So, I told these bikers, I said, “You’re about to meet an amazing fellow.” So we pulled in, parked the Harleys and I walked over and I gently knocked on the door. Blinds parted, peeking out the window was that great smile. Woke him up and he opened the door, again in the uniform of the day, sandals and shorts. ‘Well, [said Bob] you guys woke me up, there’s nothing better than to be out on 66 and wake up to the purrs of Harleys.’ As Wallis introduced Waldmire to his group, a wasp flew hastily past them. Waldmire’s eyes perked up and he said, “Far Out! It’s a Tarantula Hawk! Let’s follow it!” And with that, Bob Waldmire sprang into action. “Hurrying, scurrying through the brush, following this wasp, and right behind him, dutifully following, were half a dozen bikers with all their gear on, you know, leathers, following behind, until the wasp made a play on some kind of game, on an insect. Bob gathered them around and they all saw the wasp make the kill, and then bring the prey down and do whatever he had to do. When I got to the group, all these bikers were there, all their mouths were open and they were just amazed at what they saw, and how Bob gave them a gift of watching this act of nature play out, and I know it pleased Bob so much to be able to do that.”

For Love of the Highway

While working on a poster of Missouri, Waldmire became obsessed by the rich Route 66 history of the state. A small color map he did for National Parks Magazine in 1987 inspired him to make a detailed map of the entire Mother Road. It took four years of painstaking research to create the ten-page map. Waldmire used Rapidograph pens made in Germany for the map’s finer details: “They’re extremely delicate, but he could handle it,” remembers Crook. “He got down to like a quadruple point, which is like the width of a hair, to do his finest lettering.” It was so detailed that it required a six-page legend to interpret.

As Waldmire gave up his nomadic life to work on the map, he settled for a time back home in Springfield, laboring over his creation at the Cozy Dog, now run by Buz Waldmire. “He liked to work 24/7 for a while, and then he’d get tired, and he’d sleep for a couple of days. He had his own key to the business, so he could come and go as he pleased.” It was around this time that Waldmire met Michael Wallis and began getting involved with the Route 66 Revival community. As writers like Wallis, Jim Ross, and Jerry McClanahan explored the history of the Mother Road through prose, Waldmire studied by charting its anatomy. Obsessively tracking down the capillaries of forgotten alignments and illuminating the bones of steel bridges.

Bob Waldmire with his mother.

Above all, he felt a great kinship for the creatures that made their home along the route and beyond, his intense distaste for killing seeped into his artwork. In the fine print of a map made for Silver City, New Mexico in 1985, Waldmire hid some sly jabs at a hunting outfitter that had sponsored the poster: “The campaign to ‘control’ the coyote is more like a war of extermination.” And “The Steel Jaw-Leg hold Trap [is the] Scourge of the Earth.” These admonitions passed unnoticed for years, before the outfitter took a closer look. The town sponsors were outraged and threatened legal action against Waldmire, but nothing came of it. However, for the budding conservationist, something was born: Waldmire revealed to the Desert Exposure: “Pretty soon I realized I was fighting for everything that was endangered, whether it was flora, fauna, or a highway.” And Waldmire was not shy to share his convictions with those who would listen. One time he complained via a number of letters to a local newspaper about a neighbor who was ‘harvesting boulders’ – digging large rocks out of the ground and selling them – and Waldmire was unhappy about this activity. The newspaper published his protests.

Hackberry Days

It was in pursuit of all of these goals at once that Waldmire came to own an abandoned gas station and general store in the ghost town of Hackberry, Arizona. Sitting in the middle of two desert bioregions where sagebrush mixes freely with creosote, in a location that once featured in Easy Rider, Waldmire found his Route 66 paradise. The plan was a definitive Waldmire “project,” dubbed the “International, Bioregional Old Route 66 Visitor Center” and formulated as an idea that was typically imaginative and fiendishly detailed. He would turn the derelict service stop into both a cultural oasis and a wildlife observation camp complete with teepees and a DIY greenhouse. Over the next four years, the Hackberry Store gradually took shape, and Waldmire filled the outpost with a horde of road treasures, turning the outpost into an unmissable waystation along the Mother Road. Travelers from all over the world came to see Waldmire’s collection and hear his stories. And he loved to tell them.

But this growing notoriety had its drawbacks. As the route’s reputation grew, traffic along Waldmire’s stretch of the highway began to double, more and more visitors were passing through Hackberry, and he found himself missing the freedom and solitude of the open road. Buz Waldmire recalls a time when Waldmire was sleeping all day after a couple of all-nighters and a German family, touring in a motorhome, pulled up to his outpost and knocked excitedly at the door. Waldmire stirred, but was in no mood to entertain: “So, he quickly locked the door and went in the back and played his flute [quietly] until he was sure they were gone. Then he got up and sure enough, they had gone. So, he unlocked the door and went outside, and when he did, he noticed that they had shoved a small pile of money in his little mailbox that he kept by the door. They had left a note that said, ‘We’re sorry that we missed you. Here’s some money, please keep up the good work and long live the highway.’ He felt really bad that he wasn’t there to greet them. So, he took all that money and he built a little bonfire and he burned it. Because he knew he couldn’t find them to return it, and he didn’t feel right about keeping the money, because he didn’t greet them.” Waldmire’s sense of right and wrong and justice dictated how he lived his life.

It was also around this time that Waldmire beganhis two-year relationship with Sally Taylor, a fellow wanderer living in an old camping trailer. The pair had met underneath a lonely Joshua tree. “A very nice woman, she was great for Bob,” says Crook, as he reminisces on a trip that the three of them took to the Grand Canyon. Fancying a swim, Waldmire and Taylor stripped down and went skinny dipping in the Colorado River. It was a time of fun and romance. “But Bob really couldn’t handle a relationship I guess,” continued Crook, and the couple decided to go their own ways.”

Waldmire’s naturally hermetic character strained under the demands of being a host. His wanderlust wouldn’t allow him to settle. All this, combined with the damage being done to the Hackberry landscape by quarrying contractors, lead to a feeling of encroachment coming at him from all sides.

Waldmire sold the Visitor’s Center in 1998; it still operates to this day under new ownership. Waldmire loved people, but felt a definite need for his personal space and seemed as comfortable in his own company as he did with others. Michael Wallis shared a story that seems to highlight this:

“I recall a day in the early 1990s when I pulled into Glenrio to pay my respects to the ghost town in the making perched on the Texas-New Mexico border. As I walked around the derelict buildings, I picked up a bit of faint conversation riding the wind. I dipped in and around a few of the old buildings, sort of absorbing the town as I always did, when I began to pick up a little bit of conversation, I wasn’t quite sure what the talk was, but it was punctuated by bursts of laughter. I was curious, because where I was coming from, is where the paved road ends. So, I walked down the road a little ways and through the grass growing up all over the path and everything, and I could see somebody on the ground right in the middle of the road, and it was Bob. He was wearing his ubiquitous shorts and sandals and no shirt. Just a smiling Bob, lying on his back, and he was holding up with his two hands above him, this great tortoise, this desert tortoise. It was a big thing, big as a football. He was holding it up, and they were having a conversation. More one-sided of course, because Bob was doing all the verbalizing, but apparently they were communicating quite well, because every once in a while Bob would just let out a great holler and laugh. They were just having a great time, he loved nature so much, he really became part of nature. He was just wonderful that way, and so, although I hadn’t seen him in a while, I decided right there at that moment, not to go down and talk to Bob. It looked like he was having such a good time with that tortoise, so I simply backed up and walked away. I got in my car and drove off and continued west. But that’s still in my mind, my favorite of the many images I have of Bob Waldmire, seeing Bob and that tortoise.”

In the Shadow of the Chiricahua’s and Cars

Waldmire’s brush with notoriety prompted a retreat into obscurity. He kept his dream of a wildlife camp alive, but took it deeper into the desert to a 40-acre plot near Portal, Arizona, off the grid even further and under the shadow of the Chiricahua Mountains. “The Chiricahuas is this beautiful mountain range, but there wasn’t a property for sale, so he bought this property about 10 or 12 miles away that is in a god-forsaken wind-blown desert valley,” says Crook.

The plans for this “eco-paradise” were no less ambitious than those for Hackberry. He began developing campsites for researchers, trails, rock gardens and generators powered by wind and solar energy. However, between his vending tours, appearances at community events along the route, and building the massive “Land-Yacht,” a ’62 Bluebird school bus converted into a two-story wooden motor home, he never found time to complete his camp. (Waldmire befriended Ben Willow, a traveling magician, mime and musician who lived in a big old bus, and became impressed with him and his bus home. Waldmire later purchased his own bus in Grants, New Mexico.)

It was also around this time that he first met his son Jimmy Graham, whose mother Waldmire had met during his first years on the road. Graham had sought Waldmire out, who had not previously known about his son. They spent a lot of time together after that and Waldmire would speak of his son with pride.

During a trip with his family in 2000 John Lasseter, co-founder of Pixar, became interested in the Mother Road and the efforts of the Route Revivalists in particular. With Michael Wallis as their guide, the Pixar team became acquainted with the highway over the course of several trips, developing the iconic and much-loved characters of the animated film Cars, based on the personalities they met along the way. Upon meeting the Pixar team, Waldmire hit it off with them immediately. The animators loved the look of his ’72 Volkswagen and based the design for Fillmore, voiced by the late George Carlin, off of it. Pixar wanted to name the character “Waldmire” in his honor, but Bob Waldmire hesitated.

“They sought him out and said, “Well, we’re doing the movie now, and it’s coming up, and we’re starting to name characters. And we’d love to name this VW van Waldmire in your honor.” and he said, “Well, let me think about that,” Wallis explained. “And he did, and he talked to several of us, including me. He told me pretty much right from the get-go, ‘You know, as much as I love the idea of this movie, and I love those guys and gals, they were really great, from Pixar, I’m really uncomfortable with this because I know they’re going to make a lot of commercial products and things that are going to be sold at McDonald’s, at the Golden Arches.’ Which of course was forbidden territory to Bob Waldmire, who not only was a strict vegetarian, but just hated the idea, like many of us do, of commercial ... not the commercialization I guess, because Route 66 is a commercial road, but with all the cookie cutter businesses, the chain places along the road that cover the whole nation now, that have helped make America generic. So, he ultimately told them, ‘I’m not going to be able to do it.’ And they had a great visit, and they totally understood. I tried to point out to Bob, “Yeah, that’s true about this and that, but here’s the deal Bob, it would be good for the road, because people know who you are. And it would be good for you and your artwork.” But it would also be good to have another familiar figure from the road in the film. And I said, “Besides that, what you need to remember is that Route 66 is, in fact, a commercial road, no different from the Santa Fe Trail. It’s a road of merchants, its barter and trade. It’s the exchange of money. People selling you a room for the night, an enchilada platter, a look in the snake pit, a book, a piece of art.”

Waldmire wrote a letter to Pixar making them a counter-offer: he would give consent if the company gave him “2-cents for each and every unit bearing the Waldmire name (such as toys, games, posters)” half of which he would give to charity. Pixar declined, but there was no resentment. Waldmire was a man of firm morals. He reconciled with Fillmore and his own beloved VW in a poster showing both of them meeting on the highway.

Final Years

After Cars, the route’s popularity exploded, the film’s resounding success sparking a wave of local and global tourism. For those connected to Route 66, there was a deep air of excitement and a sensation that a positive and productive period for the old road was about to come. However, it was also around this time that Waldmire began to develop health problems. Both his grandfather and father had died of colon cancer, and in 2007 Waldmire began to experience symptoms of the affliction. He refused to go to the hospital, as he disliked doctors, and instead decided to fight the disease through diet and a positive attitude. Failing that, Waldmire had no wish to endure invasive life-saving procedures; he wished to pass lucid. The way he saw it, the mutant cells in his body were more natural than whatever the doctors would give him. “He was having trouble with bleeding and just sort of accepted it. It was very interesting, because he didn’t seek medical attention. I think anybody else would rush to the doctor, you know, to figure out what’s going on, but Bob didn’t. It was a very unusual quality that he had that he was sort of very in touch with his own body. He didn’t want to be in the medical arena. He started getting weaker, and then he got jaundiced. By 2006, he realized that he couldn’t live out in the desert by himself,” says Crook.

A few of Waldmire’s friends, including Bill Crook, arranged “Bob’s Final Art Show” on Nov. 1st, 2009, to help pay some of his funeral expenses. It was held at the Cozy Dog, the hub of so many of his adventures. After years of traveling and corresponding with his vast social network, in the end, everyone came to him. Fans packed the small drive-in wall to wall to get an autograph, travelers from every corner of the States, and even one traveler from Japan, came to visit one last time as he bequeathed his amassed art collection. Renowned Route 66 artist and author, Jerry McClanahan remembers: “I had to swallow hard to buy that postcard of his, but [I knew] that was the first and last time I would have a chance to buy one of his original pieces from him.”

“I did see Bob with a few pals just a week before he passed,” noted Wallis. “He wasn’t eating very much, he couldn’t keep food down, so he wanted to use his other senses. He asked us to bring him something, so I did. I brought him a freshly baked apple pie, wrapped it, and he smelled it and just sucked it in. It was like incense to him, and he sat back. Then he said, ‘Now take that pie away, and you all enjoy it. I had plenty. That was just what I wanted.’ He was there in his PJs, just holding forth, you know, in great peace. Ready for the journey to go on, to go on elsewhere. It was hard, but we said our good-byes, our adios’ and of course he said, ‘See you down the road,’ and I said, “I’ll be there.”

Waldmire was jaundiced and weak, but his face was bright and welcoming, and as Crook recalls: “He was extremely serene and easy to be around. [He was] in very good humor.” Waldmire had a final word of wisdom for his friends and family, warning them to do as he would have wanted them to: “I’ll be up there watching down on you folks, [so] make sure.” On December 16th, 2009 Bob Waldmire drew his last breath. “He did pass with a smile on his lips,” Buz Waldmire remembers. “He was at peace when he passed.”

But even in death, Waldmire could not resist one final “project.” Portions of his ashes were to be spread around multiple sites along the highway, into the Mississippi River from the Chain of Rocks Bridge, around his eco-paradise in Portal, Arizona, and off of the Santa Monica Pier. The rest were buried with his parents. His fleet of unique cars were given one last ride before being retired to the Route 66 Museum in Pontiac, Illinois, and his Land-yacht remains unchanged to this day, stuffed wall to wall with his treasures. Pontiac is also home to the last piece that Waldmire ever made; a map of the route, finished a couple weeks before his death, and painted on a wall 66 feet long.

Bob Waldmire was a complicated man, fiercely protective of the things and people that he loved and unusually laid back about pretty much everything else. He was a talented artist and a dedicated traveler, seemingly a searching soul for much of his life. To some a carefree, nomadic hippie, while to others, a modern-day prophet whose art and life philosophy was inspirational and revered. He despised corporate greed, but envisioned a life of financial success for himself. Few got to know Waldmire well, while those who did speak of a dear friend with strong opinions and a gentle disposition.

Bob Waldmire the man, died at 64 years of age, too soon by anyone’s standards. But the legacy of Bob Waldmire the Route 66 artist and icon, continues on, alive and strong.

Photographs courtesy of Buzz Waldmire.

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