Route 66 in the News
Legendary Bob Waldmire Reaches End of Road
SPRINGFIELD, Ill. - Local artist and Route 66 legend Bob Waldmire died peacefully as the sun rose over Springfield on Wednesday morning.
For most of the past few months, Waldmire had been living near Rochester in the converted school bus he used as a home while in central Illinois.
In an interview with The State Journal-Register in October, he said he realized about a decade ago that he had abdominal cancer. But having lived most of his life as a vegan who marched to his own drummer, he refused any invasive procedures that might have prolonged his life, because it would be at the expense of his life philosophy.
He spent much of this fall in the school bus, lying on a couch and talking with friends. Many of them were his fellow Route 66 devotees who came from their homes hundreds of miles away to say goodbye.
Waldmire was thoroughly enjoying the attention and the chance to see so many friends.
“It means as much for me to see them as for them to see me,” he said.
One farewell letter to Waldmire came from a man in Japan whom he had met somewhere along the highway.
“I was talking to Bob (Tuesday),” said Stu Kainste, manager of Food Fantasies in Springfield. “He called me because he wanted to do a feast on Thursday.
“He said. ‘I want this, and I want that.’ Vegan pizza. Non-vegan pizza. I said, you know, whatever you want. Then he told me at the end, he said this feast is just going to be a dry run. On the day that I die, and I hope I know this ahead of time, I want to do a real feast.”
He apparently envisioned friends and family coming together on that day to celebrate and to reminisce.
The Waldmires are a longtime Springfield family known most notably for creating the Cozy Dog restaurant. It was founded by Waldmire’s father, Ed, who is credited with creating the first hot dog on a stick — known everywhere outside of the Cozy Dog as a corn dog. Waldmire created his own, meatless, version of the cozy dog.
He grew up in Springfield near Route 66 and spent much of his adult life traveling the highway between Illinois and his home in Arizona. There, in the Chiricahua Mountains, he lived “off the grid,” meaning his home had no electricity or running water. There were water tanks, solar heat and a windmill for generating his own electricity.
Waldmire requested that his body be cremated and his ashes spread on Route 66 and in the mountains around his home.
“I got to grow up on 66,” he said. “When I was 5, we moved to a house on South Sixth Street. At that time, Sixth Street was Old City 66. I not only got to grow up on 66, but in the Cozy Dog, which was so much fun.”
Much of his art, including murals he painted on buildings, related to Route 66. But he also had other inspiration, including wildlife, historic Springfield buildings and even the organs of the body.
“Greetings from your liver,” reads one of Waldmire’s post cards in that series.
His brother, Buz Waldmire, said much of the family was with Bob Waldmire Tuesday night. They were making plans for friends and family to come together for a party on Thursday evening.
“He was lucid and alert until about 11:30, when he took his medication to go to sleep,” Buz says. “He never woke up, but he passed peacefully and happily.”
Within hours, word of Waldmire’s death spread down the highway he loved.
Michael Wallis, best-selling Route 66 author and consultant on the Pixar movie “Cars,” had already heard the news at his home in Oklahoma by the time Buz called to tell him.
“He said, ‘Well, the Route 66 road just reverberated so I guess it knows, too,’ said Buz.
Toward the end, Waldmire allowed himself a piece of meat and an occasional egg — though he said he was happy that the egg came from a friend’s stock of “happy chickens” that would never be slaughtered.
“It gives me great comfort and solace to the very end,” Bob said a few weeks ago, “like it has most of my life, to be able to talk, not only to my fellow beings … but I’m a part of the whole. I’m a free thinker as my mom and dad both were. I call myself The Naturalist of Route 66.”
Bob Waldmire was 64 and died the way he lived — on his own terms.
~Dave Bakke, State Journal-Register