Bob Waldmire was an illustrator and cartographer who spent over 20 years of his life documenting the natural and man-made wonders of old historic Route 66.
Waldmire grew up in the shadow of the famous highway. His father, Ed Waldmire, Jr., was something of a legend along the road. As the owner of the Cozy Dog Drive Inn, a noted Route 66 spot in Springfield, IL, Ed Waldmire, Jr. was credited with inventing the hot dog on a stick or corn dog.1 As a young artist, Bob Waldmire didn’t always see the importance and beauty of what was in his own backyard.
Following his time as a student at Southern Illinois University, he began travelling throughout the U.S., drawing bird’s-eye-view style posters of various cities and towns.2 On a trip back from Arizona in 1987, he decided to leave the congestion of the interstate and travel along old Route 66. The road, which had been decommissioned by the government two years earlier, was quickly starting to fade away. Seeing the need to preserve what was left before it was completely lost to history, he decided to put his artistic skills to work by creating an extensive map of the old road and the many towns along its path.
After the initial map was completed, Waldmire turned his attention to all of the iconic sites on the famous “Mother Road.” From his “home” and mobile art studio, a modified 1972 Volkswagen Microbus, he drew everything weird and wonderful along the road like Cadillac Ranch in Amarillo, TX, the Wigwam Motel in Rialto, CA, and the Chain of Rocks Bridge in St. Louis, MO.
“I’ve fallen in love with old 66 as an entity. It is just pavement and asphalt, of course, like any road, but it has such a personality and such character itself,” Waldmire said.3
With pen and paper, Waldmire captured everything endangered or, as he put it, “under siege by man” along Route 66.2His posters and postcards were designed with not only his distinctive pen and ink illustrations of architectural and natural sites but also his signature hand-lettering style providing a wealth of information explaining the history and significance of each location.
Driving the length of old road, from Chicago, IL to Santa Monica, CA, a countless number of times, he worked with Route 66 towns and merchants to display and sell his artwork, often charging just enough to cover printing costs and to help get him to the next town down the road.
“He was one of the first people to recognize that the road not only needed to be preserved, but promoted,” said Jerry McClanahan, author of the “EZ66 Guide for Travelers.”4
His illustrations have been appreciated and purchased by Route 66 enthusiasts all over the world. He served as the inspiration for the character of Fillmore in the 2006 animated movie Cars, since he was an icon of the “Mother Road” in his own right. For his contributions to documenting and promoting the road, Waldmire was presented with the John Steinbeck Award in 2004 by the National Historic Route 66 Federation.
Following his death from cancer in December 2009, his ashes were scattered at both Route 66 endpoints and other selected spots along the road. His Volkswagen Microbus was put on display at the Route 66 Hall of Fame and Museum in Pontiac, IL. Although he has passed away, his large body of work is still making an impact and can be seen in shops and towns from one end of the famous road to the other.
To learn more about Bob Waldmire or to view more samples of his work visit www.bobwaldmire.com.
1 Waldmire, Eddie. “Cozy Dog History.” Cozy Dog Drive In. n.p. Web. 28 Aug. 2013. http://www.cozydogdrivein.com/history/
2 Venners, Bob. “Artist Laureate of the Mother Road.” Desert Exposure. David Fryxell. April 2005. Web. 27 Aug. 2013. http://www.desertexposure.com/200504/200504_waldmire.html
3 “Route 66 Artist Bob Waldmire.” Bob Hall [hammondB3ify]. YouTube. 27 July 2013. Web. 27 Aug. 2013. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IDKDMWZ76WY
4 Yost, Mark. “King of the Road: Artist Bob Waldmire was a Route 66 attraction.” The Wall Street Journal. Dow Jones & Company, Inc. 9 Jan. 2010. Web. 28 Aug. 2013. http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052748704152804574628612563154906.html
Lora Davis Stocker is a freelance designer, illustrator and artist based in the Greater Triangle Area of NC. With diverse experience in print and digital environments, Lora enjoys working with clients of all types from small, mom and pop businesses to large global brands.