It seems a bit odd to call William Crook Jr.’s publication about his memories of the life of Bob Waldmire a book, as it’s a slim 28 pages and staple-bound.
Regardless, “Waldmire” (subtitled “An Artist’s Life on Route 66”) contains details about the hippie, environmentalist and Route 66 artist that might have escaped those who even knew him well.
Add a few of Waldmire’s drawings (including unfinished ones), photographs and letters from the author’s collection and drawings by Crook himself, also an accomplished artist, and you have a well-rounded portrait until a thicker biography or a long-rumored film documentary becomes reality.
The Cliff Notes version of Waldmire is he was one of the sons of Ed Waldmire, founder of Route 66’s Cozy Dog Drive-In in Springfield, Illinois. Bob Waldmire embraced the 1960s hippie counterculture and wandered from town to town in a Volkswagen minibus, selling his postcards and art and developing his Route 66 niche by the early 1990s. He established what became the Hackberry General Store in Arizona. He became the unofficial inspiration of Fillmore the VW minibus in the hit 2006 Disney-Pixar animated film “Cars.” Waldmire died of abdominal cancer near his hometown in late 2009.
Crook writes in “Waldmire” the genesis of the book surfaced after he suffered a back injury. Confined to a chair in front of his laptop, Crook began to assemble his thoughts about the friend he’d known since 1973. Crook also noted he began his project at age 64 — the same age as Waldmire’s death.
In the mystery of a life that goes cold, I keep his presence alive in my memories of him and feel the necessity to commit these thoughts to the written word as a way of bringing him back to life, and granting myself through his story an understanding of my own being.
Crook not only assembles well-known facts and figures of Waldmire’s life, but also fascinating obscure bits:
— Robert Crumb, the famous comic-book artist of the 1960s and ’70s, is an obvious influence on Waldmire’s art. But Crook says Waldmire’s style also was influenced by sign painters and illustrators for advertisements, maps, brochures, placemats and souvenirs.
— Waldmire used Rapidograph pens in his pen-and-ink drawings, especially the .0001 pen, which drew the smallest line possible. Crook said such a pen is delicate, but Waldmire could use one for decades because of his easy and patient touch.
— Waldmire challenged Route 66 business owners by walking in barefoot. If a merchant didn’t like it, Waldmire wouldn’t do business.
— Waldmire’s parents were active in a nudist colony near the Quad Cities area of Illinois. Bob later became involved with a nudist resort near San Diego and created artwork for it.
— Ed Waldmire used an easy-going and disarming banter even with those he disagreed with philosophically. Crook said it was clear Bob Waldmire was influenced by this approach, too.
— Bob Waldmire loved Denny’s restaurants because they were open 24 hours and allowed him to use a booth during the wee hours to work on his drawings.
— Waldmire was well-known as a marijuana-legalization advocate. But “his own consumption of the herb was very modest, and he would take just a tiny puff on his pipe.” Crook called him a “microtoker.”
— One of the many bumper stickers on Waldmire’s converted school bus – now parked at the Illinois Route 66 Hall of Fame and Museum in Pontiac — reads “I Support the Minutemen, The Rule of Law & Legal Immigration.” “This last bumper sticker shows that Bob’s views were his own and didn’t adhere to a standard Liberal orthodoxy,” Crook writes.
— Another seeming contradiction: Although Waldmire supported “deep ecology” environmentalism, he loved gas-guzzling classic cars — especially Ford Mustangs, one of which he owned until his death.
— Waldmire had a lover named Sally (no last name given) during the mid-1990s. In the book, Crook describes a memorable afternoon when Bob and Sally went skinny-dipping and engaged in hanky-panky at the bottom of the Grand Canyon.
— Crook said Waldmire’s intricate masterpiece, “The Bird’s Eye View Map of Route 66,” required eight years to finish.
— After his cancer diagnosis, Crook said Waldmire refused aggressive medical treatment. “On one hand, he’s signed his own death sentence;” Crook writes, “on the other, he’s steadfastly maintained control of his body’s relationship to the cosmos, to Gaia, which includes viruses and mutant cells.”
— During “Bob’s Last Show” in Springfield to help the dying artist pay his expenses, Crook said Waldmire, although frail and as “yellow as a legal pad” because the cancer was attacking his liver, remained serene. “It’s a bit upsetting to me that others are so upset,” Waldmire said.
Crook includes details about Waldmire the night before he died, including these thoughts:
I was present for the emotion and deep communion during the months leading up to that final night, so in witnessing the finality of the story I’m taken to the edge myself and left with that exhilaration of seeing the light of the divine.
Crook’s text in “Waldmire” contains a few typos and other errors. But I thoroughly enjoyed the book, and it will prove valuable for historians who want to look back at the artist’s work and life and the resurrection of Route 66 during the post-decommission era.
(“Waldmire” can be purchased for $6, plus postage, by contacting Crook via e-mail at bill.h.crook(at)gmail(dot)com to make arrangements. He recently set up a PayPal account to ease the payment process.)