Bob Waldmire, The Free Spirit of Route 66

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Bob’s depiction of his VW van, a prototype in the film “Cars” (Courtesy of Bob Waldmire)

ROCHESTER, ILL.— Somewhere along the way in the mid-1990s I detoured from a Spring Training trip to visit deep gypsy Bob Waldmire at his Old Route 66 Visitor Center & Preservation Foundation in Hackberry, Az, just west of Flagstaff. Waldmire had purchased the Old Hackberry General Store (circa 1930) with money generated from his family’s Cardinal Hill Farm in Rochester, Ill.

That was the first time Bob gave me his recipe for vegetarian chili.

I visited Bob earlier this week. He is dying from cancer. He is spending his final days in his converted 1966 Chevy bus/home on his family farm south of Springfield.

In the 1990s Bob concocted an Old Route 66 Chili Mix (cumin, Mexican chilies, onion, garlic, hot peppers, oregano, curry, coreander, paprika, salt, pepper, sugar and other spices). Variety is the spice of life.

Here’s the hottest tip in the blogosphere:

…. .1. Combine 2 quarts water, 2 tbs. Old Route 66 Chili Mix, 1 pound dry read beans (light red kidney beans best, but pintos are also great). Simmer in covered pan 2 or 3 hours, or until beans are soft. Add water as needed.

2. Dice and saute’ (brown) one medium onin in one cup oil (vegetable oil, peanut, soybean, safflower). Stir in 3 tbs chili mix and one small can tomato puree. Stir and let simmer for 5 minutes,.

3. Add above mixture to beans, stir well.

4. Play some road tunes from Jimmy LaFave and the Skeletons (from Springfield, Mo. on Route 66) loud.

I added this step.

The recipe is based on his father Ed Waldmire’s original Cozy Dog Chili recipe, which uses beef kidney suet (in place of vegetable oil) and ground beef. Ed invented the deep-fried hot dog on a stick which he called “Crusty Curs”. During the mid-1940s the elder Waldmire sold the hot dogs in Texas and Oklahoma on Old Route 66. In 1949 he renamed the delicacy “Cozy Dog” and opened a restaurant on Route 66 in Springfield, Ill. The original joint was razed in 1996 and a new one was built next door.

Bob Waldmire, 64, substituted sauteed tofu in what he calls the “Cozy Not Dog”.

“Its Cozy Dog chili without the meat,” Bob said during a long conversation while lying on the futon of his funky bus. “My Dad’s original blend of spices which is still used at the Cozy Dog. That might have been cooked in my solar oven.” Waldmire had constructed a solar oven in Hackberry as well as a solar greenhouse and interpretive hiking trail.

Bob has been a vegetarian/vegan most of his life.

But as he is dying from cancer the old hippie is letting his freak flag fly.

Doctors have given him anywhere from three weeks to three months to live. The cancer has spread from his colon into his liver.

He got a charge out of the freshly baked doughnuts I brought from the Dixie Truck Stop up the road on Route 66.

“One of my proposed epithets for my granite boulder next to my Mom’s and Dads is ‘Too Many French Fries‘,” he said. “I never quit eating French Fries, potato chips and other processed foods. If I had become a real true healthy vegan it might have made a difference. But I’m sure what I did was helpful. I haven’t eaten any flesh for nearly 40 years. Too much fat is a dangerous thing.”

It was difficult for me to concentrate while talking to Bob on his bus.

There was so much stuff to look at. On my left were books like “Lord of the Flies” and “The Philosophy of Humanism.” A collection of Doors VHS tapes sat on a shelf above Waldmire’s futon. A ribbon of S&H Green Stamps dangled from the shelf.

The last time I saw S&H Green Stamps the Doors were on Ed Sullivan.

“I love old stuff,” Bob said. “The older it is the better, whether its music, movies, graphics, whatever. Its a claim to the past. I have a resistance to the newer stuff. I’ve never learned how to use a computer.”

Michael Wallis is one of the most prolific writers on Route 66. His 1990 coffee table book “Route 66 : The Mother Road” (St. Martin’s Press) is the template for all other Route 66 road books that followed.

“In my mind I see the whole highway,” Wallis said from his home in Tulsa. Ok. “I see it stretching from Chicago to Santa Monica, from Lake Michigan to the Pacific. I know its this linear village and I know Bob was on there. So all was right with the world. And that’s not going to change because Bob will still be out there. Its that legacy, the artwork and that incredible presence.

“I remember one day I drove into Glen Rio (on the New Mexico-Texas border) with a bunch of bikers. I went off by myself and absorbed the ‘Death By Interstate’ and there’s an old alignment with grass on the side. In the wind I could hear this laughter.”

It was Bob Waldmire.

He was on his back in his shorts and sandals. Bob was laughing and singing.

“And he was holding up this big tortoise with two hands.” Wallis recalled. “They were talking. I didn’t intrude because I didn’t want to interrupt this conversation. Or whatever. This rendezvous.”

In my rendezvous with Bob I made him go through my “Best Of” drill:

FAVORITE ROUTE 66 DINER: “The Rock Cafe in Stroud, Oklahoma,” he answered with a cowboy’s drawl. “Which rose like a Phoenix after being gutted by fire in 2008. There was lots of volunteer help so it could maintain its status as a historic landmark. The roadhouse-truckstop was built in the 1930s from that was removed during the creation of the first Route 66 alignment. The rock walls are what saved the building (in the fire).”

The Rock Cafe reopened in June. It is half way between Tulsa and Oklahoma City. The cafe also has great neon and is at 114 W. Main St. in Stroud (918) 968-3990.

FAVORITE ROUTE 66 BOOK: “The Grapes of Wrath,” by John Steinbeck. Also “Searching for 66” by Tom Teague (1996, Samizdat House, 246 pages). Teague, who died in 2004, was a Springfield-based roadie and researcher. The book includes Bob’s Route 66 artwork.

FAVORITE ROUTE 66 SONG: “Route 66,” Chuck Berry’s version—then the original by Bobby Troup. But it may not be played at Waldmire’s memorial. I’d bet on something by the Doors.

“Immediate cremation,” he said. “The word is out that anyone who would like to sprinkle my ashes along ’66 should contact Buz (his Springfield-based brother). He will have half of my ashes. The other half will be laid to rest next to my Mom and Dad’s ashes here in Rochester. And I just learned that a few of my ashes will be scattered in the great Pacific from the Santa Monica Pier.”

The pier is the end of Route 66.

And the beginning of Bob Waldmire’s next journey.

Here’s hoping the gods have seat belts.

For a while Bob did pen and ink drawings of different body parts. The liver and pancreas are in my collection–as they should be.

“Bob’s Last Art Show” will be held between 2 and 6 p.m. Nov. 22 at the Cozy Dog Drive In, 2935 S. 6th St. in Springfield (217-525-1992). Mounted color prints, postcards and T-shirts with Bob’s art will be on sale. Light refreshments will be provided. Bob’s invitation reads:

“Come as you are–Leave Different.”

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