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The Mystique of Route 66

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This seems to be a question that comes up when new people, or non-roadies, want to know about Route 66. Of course there are as many answers to this question as there are miles on the road; that number, by the way, is 2,248 from Chicago to Santa Monica.

A few of the top answers are of course the most obvious to someone who travels the road. At the top of the list would be the people of the road, past and present—folks from around the world who live, work and travel the old road. Next would be those icons such as old diners, gas stations, motels, neon lights, and true roadside attractions too numerous to list (you have to see some of them to believe they even exist).

Look at the styles of the bridges, some dating back to the 1920's, from the Chain of Rocks over the Mississippi River to the "pony" ones in Oklahoma. Add in the different material used to pave the road, as well as the signs used to let travelers know where they were and what was ahead.

Roadside architecture encompasses everything from the accepted to the bizarre, as varied as is the people you will meet on the road.  It's all been the subject of thousands, if not millions, of photographs. Think of all the photographers who can never get enough good shots but always keep trying.

A few of the people I have met who had a major impact on not only me but thousands of others as well were Vince Salomon and Bob Waldmire. I will write many times of these two gentlemen in the future, for their influence on the road will never die. Yet both of them passed away in 2009, a loss we roadies will feel forever.

Vince was an educator, community leader, and old car buff who owned an old truck. His life was spent living in the Kingman, AZ area. He could always be counted on to provide a warm greeting to travelers and fellow roadies. I first met Vince through Bob. There is a chain of life that spreads through the Route 66 community that is unseen yet powerful. It's not something you can see or touch but you can feel it.

Bob was born in Illinois. His father started the CozyDog, still an icon today. The middle of five boys, Bob was the wanderer of the family, who felt the call of the road early in life. He moved to Arizona to own and run the Hackberry General Store east of Kingman, which he then sold to spend more time on the road. You see, Bob was an artist, and the gypsy in him would not let him settle down. The artwork that Bob created celebrated and gave exposure to places on the road as no one before or since has accomplished.

One way to show you the power of the road iis to share with you that no three people could be more different then the three of us. Bob was liberal, a leftist, Vince a middle-of-the-roader, and I could be called a right-winger. Yet the three of us formed a bond that was stronger then any of our differences. The commonality of the road was and will always be the thing we shared with each other and the world.

The draw or lure of the road can be summed up in these few facts: each and every trip you will see something different, get to see old friends, and more important, meet new friends. I was once asked how long should you plan to travel the road to really get to enjoy all there is on it. My answer then and now is a lifetime.

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About Jim Conkle

  • L. Fleming

    Hi, Jim:
    I echo your sentiments of recognition to our dearly beloved Road Stars (Vince & Bob). I shall be listening for their distinctive voices and notable presence during our annual trip to Route 66 in Arizona (don’t forget Winona!)…Lorrie