Bob Waldmire’s farewell tour
The artist and his love affair with the Mother Road
Last month Bob Waldmire made public what he has known for some time – that he has colon cancer and he probably won’t live much longer. Last Sunday, Nov. 22, “Bob’s Last Art Show” was held at his family’s famous Cozy Dog Drive In. There Waldmire, seated in a wheelchair, greeted hundreds of friends, some from as far away as Oklahoma, and signed pieces of his art they had purchased as mementos of an American original. Illinois Times asked Waldmire’s friend and fellow artist, Bill Crook, to pen his thoughts:
Bob Waldmire introduced me to Route 66. I was lucky enough to accompany him as he was driving his school bus/studio/home from Illinois to Arizona on Route 66 in the mid-1990s. Bob had his itinerary all planned out with stops at numerous attractions. We averaged about 100 miles a day, leaving plenty of time to draw and visit his many friends along the way. Bob knew all the good spots to pull over and sleep. It was a fun way to see the real and forgotten America — mom-and-pop businesses, tourist courts and roadside attractions. In Oklahoma City, a restaurant owner called Bob the “mayor of Route 66.” I became a Route 66-er myself on that trip and published my own series of Route 66 postcards featuring watercolor sketches that I made during our travels.
Bob has carved a unique career for himself as an artist. His media are pamphlets, posters and postcards. He is a traveling educator, spreading his philosophy of respect for the earth, all living things and all the historic forgotten scenes of Route 66. Bob is truly a popular artist. He didn’t go to art school, he hasn’t tried to be part of the art world and he definitely hasn’t tried to get rich off his art. His biggest fans are truck drivers, policemen and working class Americans. Until not too long ago, he sold his postcards for 25 cents each. He told me his profit was a nickel apiece after expenses, yet his low prices enabled him to put them in the hands of thousands of customers, and his Route 66 message was conveyed around the world. His prominence has earned him many friends among international Route 66 visitors. As an example of his worldwide fame, Bob received a book in the mail recently in Japanese that contained photos of him and his VW van.
Bob is a believer in causes. This he got from growing up in the family of the late Ed Waldmire. Not only did Ed invent the “cozy dog,” but he was a leader in the local World Federalist group and was active in political campaigns starting with Dwight D. Eisenhower. Bob is a peace activist, animal rights activist and bio-regionalist. His vehicles are all mobile billboards for his causes and his many bumper stickers convey his passion. Here are a few examples that I copied down recently: “Peace is Patriotic,” “Resist Much, Obey Little,” “Who Would Jesus Bomb?,” “The Gene Pool Could Use a Little Chlorine,” “Live Simply That Others May Simply Live,” “Better Active Today Than Radioactive Tomorrow,” “The Earth is Full... Go Home,” “Peace Through Music,” Travel Farther... Slower,” “Equal Rights for all Species,” “Support Hemp for a Green Planet” and “Peace Monger.”
Bob’s lifelong interest in nature is especially evident in his love for snakes, which landed him in federal court a few years ago with a charge of bringing a Mojave rattlesnake to Illinois where he put it into an educational display at the Cozy Dog Drive In. As punishment, the judge sentenced Bob to produce illustrations for the Midewin National Tallgrass Prairie in Joliet. He produced a booklet on invasive plants, so he was even able to turn his punishment into something good for the environment.
Bob made his mark as an environmentalist and historian, and now he is becoming history himself; a legendary character who will live on through his great works.
William Crook, Jr., of Springfield was inspired to become a pen and ink artist by R. Crumb and Vachel Lindsay. Since 1990, he’s operated the Prairie Press out of his basement on First Street, producing fine art prints and note cards of local subject matter, ranging from Route 66 to the Blagojevich impeachment proceedings.