The King of Tucumcari

by Alan Carlson

The following article was written for the Spring 2008 issue of New Mexico Route 66 Magazine, published by the New Mexico Route 66 Association, and provided to the University courtesy of the author.

Sharon and Doug Quarles, standing with Larry and Carolyn, in front of The Legendary Road mural.
Photo courtesy of Quarles Art

Larry Klaverweiden was one of those people who, once you met him, you wish that you had known him much longer or that he was your neighbor. I didn’t meet him until July of 2006 at the Route 66 Festival in Tucumcari, New Mexico. Larry was visiting with everyone at the Friday night concert; he introduced himself and we discussed our mutual interests in cars, music and Route 66. It turned out we were born two months apart. I found him to be honest and outgoing, and I thought he would make an interesting story for a future issue. Sadly, it has now become an obituary.

He was born in Tucumcari in 1949 with cerebral palsy, but he never let the disease be a handicap. Larry honed his ‘people skills’ working in a Texaco station owned by his father and grandfather. They would often help tourists by accepting personal items in exchange for gas or repairs. Larry set up a showcase in the station, selling souvenir items to customers. His wife, Carolyn, said Larry’s father was inspired to buy the Tee Pee Curio Shop as a result. The family sold that business to Larry’s cousin, Mike Callens, and his wife, Betty in 1985. Larry and Carolyn were married in October of 1973. Their daughter, Ginger Bradley, lives in Tucumcari with her husband and two daughters. Their son, Clifton, is married and lives in Texas. Larry worked for Gibson Discount and K-Mart in Tucumcari: he liked working in the sporting goods department. He bought a shoe store there in 1998, but lost it when he became ill.

Larry has been called the Goodwill Ambassador of Tucumcari, Mr. Tucumcari and the Tucumcari Tour Master. Carolyn says, “He never met a stranger.” He would seek out tourists, on the street or in a restaurant, and offer to show them the places of interest and tell them about his town’s history. Larry would freely discuss everything from his own life, which included bouts with alcoholism, to politics and religion; he never went anywhere without his pocket Bible. His faith became stronger in 2003, as he recovered from a near-fatal bout with kidney failure after 6 months of dialysis. Medical expenses left him bankrupt; that is when he let his hair grow long and began the free tours. He reveled in the murals being painted on Tucumcari businesses by Doug and Sharon Quarles. The one at Lowe’s Grocery depicts the ’67 Camaro that Larry and his son restored.

In 2006, Larry was diagnosed with advanced colorectal cancer. Knowing he would lose his hair to the cancer treatment, his braided ponytail was cut off at his father-in-law’s barber shop in Tucumcari for his granddaughters, Taylor and Ashlee. They had enjoyed rock hounding with their grandpa, while Carolyn watched the yard fill up with rocks and wondered if he was going to “bring the whole mountain home!” He went to Amarillo for treatment, but the cancer spread to his liver. He developed an abscess infection and died in May of 2007.

Larry loved people; he loved life and his home town. I’m sure he gave death a good fight, because he had more people to greet and he always talked of restoring a Chevrolet Apache truck one day. His spirit now presides over his domain, from Tucumcari Mountain to Conchas Lake. Route 66 has lost a true supporter and friend.

NOTE: You can read a 2005 story about Larry elsewhere on this site at http://www.route66university.com/ study/ inthenews/ 64.php.

For an article on Tucumcari's murals, see http://www.route66university.com/ study/ inthenews/ 81.php.