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Thursday, June 17, 2004 10:44 am

Getting his kicks

art1163
Vintage Route 66 motel sign, now on display on the Chain of Rocks Bridge near St. Louis

Last week in Tulsa, Rochester artist Bob Waldmire won Route 66's most prestigious honor, the Steinbeck Award. He is the third consecutive winner from Illinois and the fourth overall.

The family of John Steinbeck (author of the Grapes of Wrath and other American classics) and the National Historic Route 66 Federation present the award annually for outstanding preservation work along the road. Federation director David Knudson, who presented the award, says Waldmire's qualifications rival those of all six previous winners.

Route 66 ushered in a golden age for mom and pop entrepreneurs like Bob's father, Ed Waldmire, who perfected the corn dog and founded the Cozy Dog Drive In, a Springfield landmark.

Bob carries on the family tradition well. The unreconstructed hippie may be best known for his "Mobile Route 66 Information Center," a VW camper van that he has driven for the past quarter century. But he has also drawn many maps of Route 66. Some require magnifying glasses to read all the detail. For five years in the 1990s, he also ran an art and souvenir store on Route 66 in Hackberry, Ariz.

In a PBS documentary, he sang a duet of "Get Your Kicks on Route 66" with comedian Robert Townsend. Last October, to honor the car's 40th anniversary in 2004, he published a calendar featuring Mustangs on Route 66 ["Hippie's calendar salutes 40 years of Mustangs," Dec. 11]. Currently, he is on an extended tour of Route 66 in his own 1965 Mustang.

Waldmire's work is available locally at the Cozy Dog, the Abe Lincoln Campground, and many other locations.

The Cozy Dog will host a reception for him when he returns, but no one knows when that will be.

The National Historical Route 66 Federation meets in a different location each year to introduce fans of the Mother Road to a different community along the old 2,400-mile route. The next Steinbeck Award ceremony will be held in September 2005 in San Bernadino, Calif.

Illinois Times contributor Tom Teague won his Steinbeck Award in 1998. Other Illinois winners are Jeff Meyer (2003) and John and Lenore Weiss (2002).

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