By Ken Turmel - December 16, 2009
Greetings Fellow Route 66'ers and those of you who are a personal friend of my dear and close roadie buddy Bob Waldmire. It pains me to be the messenger of most unfortunate news. Bob has passed away this morning on Wednesday, December 16, 2009, at 8:30am.
Bob and I spent many days together. We both had a common thread of interest of capturing the beauty and history along The Mother Road. Bob with his nature observant pen and ink drawings and I with photography and collecting postmarks. His were artwork masterpieces and mine were historical documents, yet both our works were displayed side by side on many walls along Route 66. We both had fallen in love with the highway long before we had met each other, yet when we first shook hands we were instantly brothers as if we had already known each other since childhood. It seemed that we were just two little boys playing in the same sandbox that stretched from Chicago to Los Angeles. We chuckled and laughed together often everytime that one of us found a road treasure that the other never saw before. Kind of like a scavenger hunt along the Mother Road. We always shared each idea that popped into our heads in hopes that we could find a way to cherish that idea, or what Bob referred to as a "new find". We went as far as making plans for an artwork collaboration together between us which we were going to combine the expertise of his "bird's eye view" drawings in pen and ink along with my photography and the collection of postmarks from various historic locations. What were we going to call this new artwork? BobKenArt, of course.
The both of us knew from the start that this idea was going to top the charts in popularity, yet we never seemed to be able to find the time to complete our magical collaboration, for each of us suddenly and unexpectedly fell head over heels with a new love. He with an unbridled desire to design and build his own eco-friendly dream paradise homestead located in a lone remote section of the Chiricahua Mountians in southeast Arizona, and I with a rekindled passion for motorcycles which thus began a participation as a lead guide bike rider touring foreigners along Route 66. Over the years we both grew apart, not spiritually nor mentally, but in the physical sense of being so many miles away from each other. He being tucked away nice and cozy at his homestead site nestled in the desert mountain foothills, while I was always away on the move being a motorhorse vagabond along the road. It's like we traded places with each other in order for us to reach our own personal goals. It was strange indeed. So, off we both went in a search to recapture and nourish the dreams of our youth. Bob and I had spent so many great times together that it would take several weeks and many chapters for me to share them all. Being that as such, it only makes sense for me to briefly share my story describing the first few days that I had spent with Bob and the last few days as well.
Here is my story...
It was a cold and blustering day early on in our new found brotherhood when I pulled into the gravel drive of his General Store in Hackberry, Arizona. I had already been there a number of times before and in the timeline sense he had already graced the Route 66 PostmarkArt with his signature along with the inked stamp of his General Store. My previous initial visits with Bob were of fairly short durations due to my tight traveling schedule going from post office to post office gathering postmarks onto the Route 66 commemoration document. This visit in particular was different though. With temps well below freezing and a thick dusting of fresh snow upon the ground, I came upon Bob outside in front of his store. He was squatting down low doing something unfamliar to me all the while dressed only in side pocket shorts, unlaced combat style boots and wearing only a bathrobe for covering. Holy cow, I thought to my self out loud, he must be freezing his ass off out here! As I unsaddled down from Ol' Betsy and was approaching Bob from behind, he never turned around while diligently poking a spatula at something that was inside some sort of shiny box-like contraption. Hey Bob! Whatcha doing out here in the snow? He turned around smiling as if he already knew that I was going to ask him that question. "Hi Ken", he replied, "I'm out here baking a homemade veggie pizza in my solar oven! Want some? It should be done in ten or fifteen minutes or so." Well, of course Bob! What the heck, it sounded good and I was hungry. I never had pizza baked outside like this before. "What is this crazy looking thing?", I asked. Bob replied, "This is my solar oven. Come here close and feel how hot it gets. Look at that thermometer inside... it's almost 200 degrees inside there even though there is a 20 degree windchill here outside." Wow! That is remarkable, Bob! I had never ever seen anything like this before. Bob was always coming up new inventions and odd things to show me. From a gizmo to heat water from the sunlight, to a water saving sink built atop of his toilet tank. Everything had a special purpose for saving money and energy for Bob. Incredible fellow indeed!
After the manhugs and our usual catching up on news chit chat, we went inside and enjoyed the pizza along with some slices of his special fruitcake made with only Bob's specially approved "healthy vegetarian" ingredients, of which included some roasted hemp seeds. You heard right... hemp seeds! This is awesome fruitcake Bob but what the f... then he interupted with a comment saying, "Just gotta have that delicious hemp seed 'crunch' inside my fruitcakes." That was Bob for ya! We broke into a hearty laugh. After the unusual yet wonderfully tasty lunch, Bob poured a couple glasses of his homemade brew herbal sun tea, then whipped out his hand crafted tree branch smoking pipe and loaded it up with his special blend of herb while saying, "Come on Ken let's do a bowl or two while I show you some of my new projects that I've been working on." Once again Bob made me smile as he did his usual head bopping with his shit eating grin on. Go ahead man, fire it up! It wasn't long after that when we both stumbled off all squint-eyed and smiles to his newly constructed plexiglass lean-to hothouse for a showing of all the plants and vegetables that were growing in there at the famous Hackberry General Store. The edible ones that is.
When it was time to depart Bob had asked me to come back to his Hackberry Store the next day for another visit and lunch. Although very anxious to head west to Los Angeles to meet up with family and friends who were expecting me, how could I at all resist Bob's invite. I told him yes but that I wouldn't be able to stay very long for my sister was preparing a family gathering dinner on the day of my arrival. There was never any uncertainly in my mind that Bob was either going to make another wild and crazy delectable meal or he was going to show me some more of his artworks and projects,... or both. I told Bob that I would be returning the next day around lunch time before continuing my trek into California. That night I returned to Kingman for a bit of relaxation with a couple cold ones, a jump or two into the pool, and a good night's rest.
The next morning I arrived earlier than at the planned lunch hour and strolled into the General Store. I called out for Bob but didn't receive any reply. I checked the bathroom and kitchen and found no one there. I walked back outside and grazed around towards the back of the store. "Hey Ken, I'm up here," Bob yelled out. I looked up and found Bob watching me as he was perched on the back porch of his school bus. His mouth was full and munching away on various dried fruits and a bowlful of mixed nuts and seeds. We did the usual meet and greet then asked him what was for lunch. "This is it," he replied. My surprise when he handed me the bowl of nuts and seeds made me squawk out a loud 'what'? "What's wrong, man," he asked with that shit eating grin on. I told him that I skipped breakfast just to save room for a Waldmire lunch. He instantly quipped back saying "Well then! Since you're too late for breakfast and you're too early for lunch just consider this be your brunch instead." We both exploded into a crazy laughter as we scurried into the school bus to warm up and finish snacking on his choice of a meal. That was Bob for ya!
I had never been inside his school bus before and was quite surprised to find its interior to resemble anything but of what a school bus should look like. Heck, the place was like a library that seemed larger than a few libraries in some of the small towns that I've visited. This place was a museum as well, with shelves displaying hundreds if not thousands of various collectables, toy cars and trains, posters, license plates, with countless odds and ends scattered about everywhere including on the ceiling! Rounding out Bob's collection of archival stash was a king size overhead bedroom, a decent sized kitchen with an icebox, a wood burning stove with a stack of wood, and an enclosed five gallon bucket bathroom. Amazing! We poured over many items one by one and Bob told of the history behind each item. Everything he collected had a very special meaning to him. Each story told was very unique in its own way yet very simple in its meaning. Less was more and simplicity was bliss. My discovery of what Bob's school bus looked like and Bob's treasures inside would eventually turn out to be an ongoing event of the many new and untold stories that would all be unfolded unto me during my future years of visits with Bob. That day's visit with Bob ended much too quickly for me. Bob and I parted ways so I could get to Los Angeles before dark. We hugged our "see you later dude" (never a goodbye) as I got into Ol' Betsy and slowly drove off. As I was driving away towards the Golden State I thought to myself of what a special day that it had been for me.
Fifteen years later my last few days with Bob were quite different from all the rest, but they meant just as much to me. I was most fortunate and blessed to spend three wonderful and "quality time" one-on-one days with Bob last month in November, while he was still residing inside his vintage school bus. I arrived into Springfield, Illinois. via Greyhound bus and was to meet up with Bob's friends Lynn "LuLu" Bagdon, Fred Zander, and Rich Henry. We had planned this visit to Bob for over month and that day finally arrived with excitement for us all. We took turns sitting beside Bob during all our visits because there was not much room for a crowd and the fact that Bob was reclined on his couch for almost the entire 3 days that we were there. There was much going on there with visits from many of Bob's friends showing up each day. As always, Bob asked me how Melissa and the kids were doing. I told him that everyone was doing very well these days and that they all send their prayers and blessings to him. "How are the girls doing?" he asked. I mentioned that both girls, JerichoRose and Alicia had graduated from high school with honor role grades and now they both attend college with scholarship grades. With some careful thought as if he already knew, Bob asked me about my youngest daughter JerichoRose and wanted to know what college was she attending. I proudly told him University of Oklahoma, of course! Like some kind of miracle, Bob got up from his bed for the very first time during the days of my visits with him. As Bob slowly walked towards the backdoor, he said, "Ken, let's go outside to my archival room barn. I have something that I want you to give to JerichoRose for me."
I couldn't imagine at that time what he was going to do, so I helped him down his back porch steps and stood arm in arm beside him as we walked there to the barn. It was so good to see Bob up and walking around! When we got inside the barn he went straight to a stack of his larger sized posters. He rifled through them for several minutes as he was showing the rest of the crew these early career days of artworks which he had created for various colleges across the United States. Then like magic he pulled out two posters which commemorated the University of Oklahoma. Wow, I thought to myself as he handed the posters to me. Bob then said, "I want JerichoRose to have one of these and the other one is yours Ken for raising such a smart young lady. I started to cry. As the salt water began to well in my eyes, 'Thank You Bob' were the only words I could speak. Bob added the info that the OU posters were a sold out edition and that he had only about a dozen or so left. My heart and breathe sighed as I mentioned to Bob that he had always been so good to me and thanked him for that and again for the two posters. From only being up and walking around for just a short time, Bob was tiring quickly and said to me, "Now, let's go back inside so I can autograph them." Without any words spoken we both smiled at each other. Come on Bob, and I'll help you get back into your bus. When Bob graced his signature on JerichoRose's poster, he also drew a beautiful rose flower. An artwork masterpiece within an artwork masterpiece. By the way... JerichoRose loved Bob's gift and it is the envy of all her college friends at the university.
On the last day of my 3 day visit quite a number of Bob's local friends stopped in to see him. He began telling a few stories about the vegan cozy dogs and pizzas that he loved eating, and also continued on by sharing with us of how he broke his vegan practices a few times lately. Yep, Bob confessed to eating some eggs for dinner! But he went on to add, "These are not just ordinary eggs, but rather they are eggs from happy hens that are range fed here locally at Happy Farms, where all of the chickens are treated humanely and are never slaughtered for their meat." Bob then proceded to pass around a plate of his vegan style cookies for us to enjoy. As I was eating a few cookies, my mind began to drift and wander back to a time during Bob's Hackberry Store days of when he obtained an old vintage upright grand piano. I had sat down on the bench and started playing a song that I wrote and recorded titled "New Life", when suddenly Bob came up hehind me quickly picking up the chord pattern and started playing a flute accompanyment to my song. This gave me an idea while I inconspicously scanned the school bus to find his flute.
There it was under a pile of papers and artworks barely visable at all behind a stack of books. I moved to the back of the bus while everyone was looking the other way towards Bob as they chatted with him. I slowly pulled out Bob's flute without anyone noticing and held it high in the air behind everyone's head. Bob looked up and said, "Hey, I've been looking for that thing. Pass it over here and I will play you a song." Everyone's eyes grew big and mouths dropped. No one there ever knew before that Bob played the flute. One of his favourite musicians was Ian Anderson from Jethro Tull. Bob just loved the two albums 'Thick as a Brick' and 'Living in the Past'. To everybody's amazement, Bob broke out with a musical flair playing the instrumental song titled 'Bouree' from Jethro's 'Living in the Past' album. When he finished playing solo everyone applauded and began conversations with him that stemmed from their newly found knowledge of learning that Bob Waldmire played the flute.
As that day's sun was beginning to set over the skies of Rochester the phone rang. None of us were trying to evesdrop, but it was obvious to everyone by the look of excitement in Bob's eyes and with his ear to ear smile that someone just gave Bob some enlightening news. When he hung up the phone he immediately got up from his bed for the second and last time during my visit with him. Bob proclaimed, "Good news everyone! My VW Bus that is being hauled here on a trailer from Arizona is just a few minutes away from arriving... so please everyone out so that I can get dressed to see my darling arrive on that trailer!" We promptly receded as asked. Within 10 minutes or so, Bob reappears from the bus dressed in a long hooded robe and carrying a wooden staff. Of course, he was wearing those famous side pocket shorts underneath with his old worn out high top tennis shoes. Unlaced as usual! All of us turned to each other with smiles that could not be contained as our smiles turned into laughter! He looked just like Moses! That was Bob for ya! He took all of our joking very well as he started his head bopping thing with his you-know-what kind of grin! Lo and behold, Bob's VW Bus finally arrives shortly before dark. According to Bob, it was in the very same condition as he remembered it to be when he left her back in the Grand Canyon State. He made a beeline to her side and gave her a hug. The van was started up to be sure everything was alright. Her engine turned over with just a click and purred like a kitten. A tear came to his eye. We all cheered and rejoiced for Bob, for this was surely the pinacle of joy for him.
Bob's friendship had given so much to me over the years, that it was time for me to give some back. It was a time to be humble. It was such a great feeling that Bob asked me to help him out with a few things each day while I was there. It was an honor for me to fix and shore up his collapsed back porch steps for him, gather up his rain water from the bus gutter drain barrel, refill the seeds in his two bird feeders, run into his archives barn to fetch some artworks for him that were being requested by his other visiting friends, start up the bus for him to circulate the oil in the engine, have a ceremonial smoke of his sacred herb one last time with him, share the stories of some of our most memorable and crazy times we had spent together, and to eat the very last bowl of Bob's homemade veggie stew with him fresh from the pot on his wood burning stove. That was our last supper together combined with many wonderful heartfelt memories that went back to the time of when we had our first supper together eating veggie pizza there at the Hackberry General Store.
Then came the time that I dreaded. The time for me to leave Bob to get back onto that Greyhound bus and head back home to Oklahoma City. A time for me to give him that big hug and kiss. As forementioned, not being as a goodbye, but rather a "See you later Bob, my good friend". I cried then as I cry now. It saddened me that day to know that it was going to be quite a while before I get to see Bob again. Someday I will. My faith tells me so. My tears today are not those of sorrow, but rather they are tears of joy, for Bob is with the Lord today and is joined by the many other Route 66 Angels who have gone before us. They are there today as we speak, welcoming Bob into those golden and pearly gates of Heaven. Always remember Bob as he lived, not now as in his passing, but as in his New Life. Bob Waldmire is not gone, but is here with us always and forever in our hearts. Bob's legacy will continue to live on forever and ever.
Some have referred to Bob's passing away as him reaching the "end of the road." That does not make any sense to me. There is no doubt in my mind that this Angel of Art is now commissioned by the Lord to create new and heavenly masterpieces everywhere along SkyWay 66. Remember Bob each time that you look up into the sky. He is there soaring with all the birds that he enjoyed feeding and watching... and most likely he will also be rearranging some of the stars and the clouds.
That's Bob for ya!
God Bless To All. Amen.
Bob's landrunnin' buddy,
Route 66 Motorcycle Tour Guide, Adventurer, Historian, Writer, Artist
Creator of the "First and original Historic Route 66 Artwork Document that actually travelled from city to city along the entire length of the Mother Road from Chicago to Los Angeles."
Fan Page: www.Facebook.com/Route66Artwork
To obtain Bob's artworks visit: www.BobWaldmire.com