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.
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.