Route 66 News

Bob Waldmire saying goodbye

Bob Waldmire, with his Volkswagen minibus, visits with Afton Station co-owner Laurel Kane at the 2008 Route 66 Festival in Litchfield, Ill.

Artist Bob Waldmire, famous for his intricate Route 66-inspired artwork and being the unofficial inspiration to hippie van Fillmore in the Disney/Pixar movie “Cars,” has been diagnosed with terminal cancer, reports Dave Bakke of the Springfield (Ill.) State Journal-Register.

Waldmire, 64, usually lives in the southern Arizona mountains during the wintertime and spends the rest of the year peddling his artwork at festivals and to scores of stores along the Mother Road. But this winter, he’s hunkering down in a converted school bus in near his hometown of Springfield, outfitted with a wood stove, so he can get his affairs in order and be near family members.

That family includes former sister-in-law Sue Waldmire, who operates the Cozy Dog Drive-In on Route 66 in Springfield. Bob’s father, Ed Waldmire, perfected the corn dog, which is still being served by the Cozy Dog to this day. Bob is hoping to finish a short book about his father.

In the meantime, he’s been greeting a steady stream of Route 66ers and friends, and will likely do so in the next several months.

Martin Lathrop arrived Monday from Terre Haute to spend the night with his old friend. “He’s one of a kind, an artistic genius,” says Lathrop.

For many years, Bob and Martin have shared a connection to an American highway, a strip of road that shaped Bob’s life.

“Anywhere along Route 66,” says Lathrop, “you stop and ask if Bob’s been there lately, they all know Bob. They’ll say, ‘Yeah, he was just by a month ago’ or something like that.”

Ron Jones drove here from Oklahoma to knock on the door of the bus. Jones’ upper body is covered with Route 66-themed tattoos. He removes his shirt to display them at various festivals devoted to the highway.

I’d known for a week or so of Bob Waldmire’s diagnosis, but had planned to delay reporting it out of respect for his wishes until later, when a letter he wrote to the Route 66 Pulse would be published in late November. But the unofficial embargo has been broken, and here we are.

Waldmire, a devoted hippie, implores travelers to look out for animals on the road while traveling Route 66. He either drove a early 1970s Volkswagen minibus (with a solar panel for electricity, natch) or a 1965 Ford Mustang across the country. He turned down a licensing offer from Disney-Pixar because Fillmore toys would have been sold with McDonald’s hamburgers, violating his longtime vegetarian principles.

One of Bob Waldmire's art prints, of the Rock Cafe in Stroud, Okla.

A few years ago, Waldmire won the coveted Steinbeck Award for his exemplary service to Route 66.

But it’s probably Waldmire’s artwork that will serve as his most lasting legacy. His pen-and-ink drawings bear a resemblance to Robert Crumb‘s style. But even Crumb probably would blanch at the intricacy and patience it took for Walmire to finish many of his creations. Waldmire’s best work deserves to be displayed permanently in a gallery somewhere, and I suspect efforts are being made to do so.

If the worst happens as predicted, many in the Route 66 community will mourn Waldmire. But I suspect he’d implore roadies to not shed many tears. After all, he did what he wanted to do for many years, was independent, traveled when he pleased, and met a lot of friends along the way. He’s lived a life that many would envy.

UPDATE: A Bob Waldmire appreciation group has been set up on Flickr.


20 thoughts on “Bob Waldmire saying goodbye

  1. Bonnie Game

    Bob is a delight, we have enjoyed getting to know him. We always look forward to seeing him each year during the Fun Run and other Route 66 Festival’s.
    A museum of sorts to display all his artwork would be a wonderful tribute to such a unique man.

  2. Dennis Coury

    Bob is a GREAT artist & Route 66 icon. I had the great privilege, like many others, to meet Bob, & visit with him on a couple of trips I took on the Mother Road back in the mid-90s. Really a cool guy. He was the one person, along with Angel Delgadillo that I really wanted to meet during my journies. I am thankful that I accomplished meeting them both, as it was truly a highlight of my trips. I wish Bob the very best & will definitely keep him in my prayers. I remember reading where it is the the people not so much the places, that made 66 what it is, & Bob is one of those people. He be missed terribly.

  3. Bob Moore

    Bob has been a friend for many years and I was foolish enough to think we both had many more years to share, but such is not the case. Of course there was little doubt that when faced with the dreaded cancer Bob would take the route that he has taken all of his life, and I salute him for the decision. You can leave my friend knowing that your art, combined with our memories of your humor and humility will live on. Rest easy, Bob.

  4. L. Fleming

    Bob will forever be “on the road” traveling with us along our everlasting journey of discovery. He shall continue to be a Route 66 Extraordinaire, one who has touched our hearts with a permanent imprint of beauty. Bob, thank you for allowing us to be part of your family. Our heartfelt thoughts are with you and your family, now and forever…

    In harmony of thought,
    Lorrie Fleming – Canadian Sister of the Road

  5. Steve

    When he does pass on it will be very sad. But everyone knows he did what he wanted when he wanted to do it. I’m in my mid 40’s and can only dream of doing 10% of what he has done up till now.

  6. Sal Paradise

    I’m from Illinois and have been to Springfield many times. I’ve met just about everyone in Bob’s family, except him. I just missed him once several years ago, in Illinois, and another time while he was holed up in Arizona. I’ve even passed his historic van (I hope he’ll leave it to the Route 66 Hall of Fame in Illinois) on 66 in Missouri. So now, I’ll finally travel back to Illinois from DC and say hello to our home state legend. I’ve asked friends at WMAY in Springfield to have him in sometime, hopefully they’ll be able to connect.

    This is sad. Bob isn’t an old timer, and it’s a shame to be cut down like he has in the middle of life. A few years ago, Illinois Route 66 leader and author (Searching For 66) passed on at a young age, and out of the blue. I had the same luck meeting him as well. I had gone to the Dixie Truck Stop nearby where we lived then (the old one in Tuscola, IL-not Mclean) to meet Tom and have him sign his (then) new book. He had just left when I arrived in a snow storm, so he could get back to his family near Springfield (about 1 1/2 drive). So, this time I’ll get there and say ‘hi’ to Bob.

    I’d recommend any fan of his do so. He’s rare; he’s dedicated most of his life to 66. It was his calling. He could have stayed on in Illinois, ran the business or something normal like that. But he went with his heart, and his spirit. He’s going to leave that spirit to us, and it’s up to us to try and carry on. To ensure that his vision of the Route not fade away. To ensure it’s not taken over by 66 hucksters or rubber chickeners out there milking it for all they can. Bob passed on the big bucks, he stuck to his ideals and he ensured that the Route had a heart, and soul.

    He’s quite a guy. And, your right, I do envy how he’s lived his life.

  7. Sal Paradise

    Can anyone recommend at website or place we can buy some of Bob’s art. I’ve only seen it along Route 66.


  8. redforkhippie

    Scout always had a pretty low opinion of strangers, but Bob had her at “hello.” As far as she was concerned, he was the greatest person in the world, and I would have been hard-pressed to come up with a reasonable argument to the contrary.

    I will never forget the visit they shared one afternoon in his Mustang. Bob had some candy he’d made out of peanut butter, honey, and tofu, and he offered Scout a bite. She thought this was wonderful. She climbed onto his lap and wiggled frantically, trying to kiss his face and wag her tail and search for more treats all at the same time.

    I’m not discounting the power of hippie magic (which, as everyone knows, is nothing more than Love with a hint of patchouli and a spoonful of unpasteurized honey) to give Bob a few more years on Route 66 … but when the day comes that he must abandon Mustang and Microbus to travel that “road, no simple highway, between the dawn and the dark of night,” I feel quite certain that Scout will be waiting, ready to climb onto his lap, wag her stubby little tail, and cover his face with wet little rat terrier kisses.

  9. Laurel

    I generally save my eulogies until after the fact, and since I believe in miracles I’ll just keep on thinking of Bob as the vital guy I know and love, and presume he’ll rally and get back on the road some day. Granted, when he came to visit Afton Station last month he definitely seemed weak and in some pain, but I will always think of him as a wiry, enthusiastic, brilliant guy — one of the first to introduce me to the Mother Road about 20 years ago. C’mon Bob, you can do it!

  10. Marcia Pannell

    Bob–you are a real trooper-. Thanks for all the discussions on facebook. I am just sorry i never met you while on our journeys on 66. Love your contributions in artwork–bless you brother-i will be praying for you. Thanks for being so sincere and forgive me for not understanding sometimes in our debates. You have what really matters–caring for people.

  11. T.Danielson

    It is very interesting reading about your adventures along Route 66. I wish you well and hope to see you someday on the Mother Road that will never be replaced by an interstate.

  12. Samantha Waldmire

    Bob is my uncle. There is no other man like him. He is a one of a kind honorable man. His art was his pride and I’ll always be like him in that way… I love him.

  13. Josh "StamperDude" Friedrich

    Bob is a magical kind of guy, with a twinkle & glint in his eyes and a playful smile on his lips. I have had the opportunity to meet him 3 times. Two of which were solely by luck. I enjoyed sharing an order of Vinegar Fries at the Cozy Dog the 1st time a few years ago and I was awestruck by this enigmatic icon of the mother road. Hopefully, I’ll get to say Hi again in the next few weeks.

  14. Earl Cory

    Bob is one of a kind. We met him in the mid-90’s at his Hackberry store. Our Route 66 travels were mostly in the winter, so we got to spend hours talking with Bob. He always had the wood stove going and offered tofu goodies to everyone. At the 1998 Route 66 Expo banquet in Amarillo, Bob would not come into the banquet hall until everyone had finished their meat entree. Being a vegetarian, that was vintage Bob. God’s speed my friend.

  15. mark A. Duncan 66guy

    I met Bob in Hackberry, Az. when he own the store. A down to earth man. I loved his artwork and it will be missed as the man will be also. He will leave a void in the Route 66 saga that will never be replaced.

  16. steve eandi

    Bob, has been my friend, since the 60’s as we were growing up and thru college at SIU. We had many good times together, be talking our canune down one of the folks of the Sangamon River, or search the woods for snakes. We partied hardy in Carbondale during Vietnam era, but were peaceful.We stayed in touch when Pam (wife) and I moved to Co. We visited several times at our mt. ranch near Boulder Colo.and he loved our llamas when I was treking with them. He also met our twin girls and visited with them at length when they were young. During recent times.I have spoken to him a couple times, lately and we’ve been able to have some great laughs. I’m going to miss Bob and his frequent mailings to us. I only wish I could be with him during his final journey.

  17. Marian Clark

    When I began collecting memoribilia for THE ROUTE 66 COOKBOOK IN LATE 1990, I found a small notebook Bob had prrinted advertising the Cozy Dog and Route 66. The book designer was looking through various pieces and found Bob’s art – she stopped, examined it, and immediately asked how to get in touch with Bob. I’ll always be grateful that his art adorned the flysheet of the book and severasl other piecdes of his early work are included.
    When my husband met Bob at one of festivals, they immediately formed a bond talking about wind energy. So Ken made several trips to Arizona to install small wind generators at his Portal retreat. Bob loved living “off the grid” and the power created gave him time to work at night on his prolific art.
    Bob, you enriched our lives!

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