28 April 2021

RAPEA - DAY 13 - Dwight IL to Sullivan MO

Everyone has heard of Route 66. It has spawned movies and television shows and mentions in songs. It's known as the Mother Road, Main Street of America and Will Rogers Highway and it was one of the original highways of the US Highway System from 1926 until 1985 when it was decommissioned. The mere mention of it invokes visions of open highways and endless possibilities and a longing for yesteryear. 

Although Route 66 doesn't stand out as America’s oldest or longest road, it was the shortest, year-round route between the Midwest and the Pacific Coast. It reduced the distance between Chicago and LA by more than 200 miles, which made it popular among thousands of motorists who drove west in subsequent decades. Not only does it underscore the importance of the automobile as a technological achievement, but, perhaps equally important to the American psyche, it symbolized unprecedented freedom and mobility for every citizen who could afford to own and operate a car. Perhaps more than any other American highway, Route 66 symbolized the new optimism that pervaded the nation’s postwar economic recovery. For thousands of returning American servicemen and their families, Route 66 represented more than just another highway.

What you may not know is that if it hadn't been for the quirky creativity and perseverance of one man, Route 66 may have remained nothing but a historical footnote instead of the mecca for those who wander it today. I'm talking about Bob Waldmire, who some have called the Johnny Appleseed of Route 66 as he distributed his works of art promoting Route 66 to various businesses along the highway.

Bob grew up near Route 66 in Springfield IL and often worked at the Cozy Dog, the birthplace of the first hot dog on a stick called a corn dog, which was owned and operated by his family. Even from a young age he always loved to draw so after graduating high school he set off to hone his craft at college. While he was still in college he began drawing bird's eye views of his own campus for distribution to new students. Due to his meticulous cartography skills he soon discovered colleges were willing to pay for his maps. Thus was born his itinerant career traveling around the country after graduation.

It was the 60s and for Bob business attire to sell his art as he traveled was long hair shirtless with sandals and his mode of transport was an old VW van covered with stickers which was the inspiration for the character "Fillmore" from the 2006 animated motion picture Cars. Anyone who dismissed Bob based on his looks wasn't worth his time and he simply moved on down the road. He found some remote parcel of land in the Chiricahua Mountains and became a snowbird, spending his winters there. I believe he became the first Skoolie Nomad, living in a school bus that had been converted to his home. The solitude fed his soul. He became a vegan as well as a staunch conservationist. Nowadays he would be known as an eco-warrior. But he always found time to return to his family home in Springfield IL.

It was on one of those return to Springfield trips in 1987 that he happened to exit the congestion of the Interstate to travel at a more leisurely pace along Route 66. The completion of the Interstate two years previously had spelled doom for many of the businesses along the route and it saddened him. He decided to do for Route 66 what he had done for many colleges except on a much larger scale. All in all he created bird's eye view, whimsical maps of the Mother Road and its human and natural ecology in ten different segments which when pieced together covered the entire Chicago to LA route. It took several years and to support the project he sold space to list various commercial properties on his maps along the way. In 2004, he was awarded the National Historic Route 66 Federation's John Steinbeck Award for his contributions to the preservation of Route 66.

Sadly, Bob Waldmire passed away at the age of 64 on December 16, 2009, a star who burned too brightly and was extinguished far too soon. Thanks for all your dedication, Bob. I'm really enjoying the ride.

Murals of Pontiac IL

Bob's last commission. Sadly he was too ill to finish it.

Bob's Skoolie


Anonymous said...

Awesome info and artwork on The Mother Road! Hope it lives up to your fantasies.

Anonymous said...


Scooter said...

Nice! I never knew that

The Whyte Elephant said...

Thanks. I'm just a prolific shutterbug with a smartphone.

The Whyte Elephant said...

Thanks. Me too.

The Whyte Elephant said...

I have been a Bob Waldmire fan girl for years. To me, he's the Thoreau of my time. Instead of Walden Pond he headed to the Chiracuhua Mountains.

The Whyte Elephant said...

I have been a Bob Waldmire fan girl for years. I've always seen him as the Thoreau of my generation. His Walden Pond was the Chiracuhua Mountains.