The 66 Kid: Raised on the Mother Road

More from this show

Artist and Western historian Bob Boze Bell grew up in Kingman, where his father owned a gas station along Route 66. He has written a new book: “The 66 Kid: Raised on the Mother Road,” which combines his personal history along with that of the famous two-lane highway. Boze Bell will discuss his new book.

Ted Simons: Artist, historian, magazine owner, radio personality, before Bob Boze Bell was any of those things, he was a kid growing up in Kingman, Arizona, along the iconic route 66. Bell's written and illustrated a new book with a title that says it all, "the 66 kid, raised on the mother road." We welcome Bob Boze Bell to Arizona Horizon. How have you been?

Bob Boze Bell: Good.

Ted Simons: This book is absolutely fascinating, and for you, this is your life, Bob Boze Bell.

Bob Boze Bell: It is.

Ted Simons: Why did you go through -- this would be difficult for anyone. This is everything about you as a kid.

Bob Boze Bell: The good stuff, but when I turned 66, I thought if I'm ever going to do a book on growing up in route 66, I guess I better do it this year. And like most people, I thought this will be fun and it will be easy, so it's the hardest thing that I have ever done in my life because you want to be honest. Sometimes that's really difficult, and you are talking about your parents, talking about yourself and your hometown, and nothing is perfect. But, my feeling was, if I don't tell the truth, and there is not a floor, then you cannot have a ceiling. So, that's what guided heat.

Ted Simons: So, is this an autobiography? Is it a narrative history? What is it?

Bob Boze Bell: It's a bit of everything. Kind of like me. A bit of a cartoonist. A bit of a memoir, a bit of a love letter to my hometown and it's a history lesson about, about route 66. I didn't see it when I was growing up. I was into the old west, and I would go and buy True West magazine, and nothing ever happened in Kingman. I thought it was the dumbest place on Earth. I remember looking out at my dad's gas station sitting in the office and reading and going, the only thing that happens here is the wind blows 24 hours a day. I can't wait to get out of here because no history happened here.

Ted Simons: Oh, my goodness, and now you are of the age where you go to a lot of history happens, especially along -- before we get to route 66, though, describe what it was like growing up. It sounds like Kingman was a bit of Mayberry.

Bob Boze Bell: A bit of Mayberry and a bit of Death Valley. We were so isolated. I think about it today, it was a dirt road from Kingman to Phoenix. The reason for that is that emergence and Prescott didn't want us to go that way, they wanted us to go through the black canyon, so it was a dirt road, no TV. There was one radio station that did not like rock 'n' roll, and so, we had to listen to KOMA in Oklahoma City for 15 minutes at night. So, things were special because of that.

Ted Simons: But in reading the book and looking at the book, because you look at the book as much as you read it, it sounded like a little Norman Rockwell action. Everything your little league team got in the paper, and I mean, again, that -- it sounds almost idyllic in its way.

Bob Boze Bell: Looking back, it was, and of course, at the time we thought that we were deprived and we did not have the latest songs and our fashion was out and stuff like that. But looking back, it really was amazing, and you mentioned little league, and I am stunned that the adults, they built the little league field. It was not preconstructed or broad or anything. They went and carved out of the desert a little league field, and these are parents, and they all had day jobs, and my little league coach was a highway patrolman and somebody else, you know, and they would get off work early and come and teach us how to play baseball, and they would give over the Thursday and Friday and Saturday night to coach us at little league games. That's amazing. That is truly amazing.

Ted Simons: And it's not like they could stay home and watch TV.

Bob Boze Bell: No, because we did not have TV.

Ted Simons: Ok. So, earliest memory of route 66.

Bob Boze Bell: I was -- my parents were westbound on route 66, and near the painted desert, and I remember standing on the transmission hump and looking out and I saw a -- something rippling on the horizon, and it was distorted and floating in the air, and then all of a sudden we got closer. It turned into a car, and it blasted past us, and that was my first memory.

Ted Simons: That sounds almost like a Coen brothers' film.

Bob Boze Bell: Someday it will be. Yeah, it will be a Coen brothers' film.

Ted Simons: What did route 66 mean to you, though, when you were growing up? Was it the same as Kingman? You couldn't quite see the attraction?

Bob Boze Bell: Well, like I said, I didn't see the history. My dad had bells flying a, my mother worked at the highway department, and she was the secretary, and during the summers, when I got older, I worked for the highway department, so we all made our living from the road, but I couldn't see the history of it, you know. I couldn't see it, and then later a writer called me, and he said I saw your article on your dad's gas station in Arizona highways, and I want to interview you. I said, ok, fine. And he goes, his first question was, what was it like growing up in such a historic place. And I said, it was fabulous.

Ted Simons: Are you kidding?

Bob Boze Bell: I couldn't see it. I was looking right at his face.

Ted Simons: You write that you were confounded and irritate.

Bob Boze Bell: I was because to me it was just another road, you know. We made a living on it. We drove to little league games on it and home from school on it. What was the big deal? It was just asphalt, and it wasn't very wide. It was really as wide as this table. It was a narrow, narrow piece of structure.

Ted Simons: But it sounds like you were in Europe, and you had an experience in Europe that kind of reminded you that route 66 really was a big deal.

Bob Boze Bell: It took me going to Spain. I was 5,000 miles from home. My wife was working for the department of defense, and she invited me to come over, and I was looking for cowboy ground zero. I figured if I could find where the Conquistadors emanated from, I could find where the cowboy came from, so I was in western Spain, and it's called Extremadura, and I found a small town there that I thought was cowboy ground zero. A day later we were on the beach in Spain, and there was a sign that this is where Columbus set sail on his second journey to the new world. So, I stood on that beach, and I looked out there, and I thought oh, man, you couldn't pay me to go out there in a modern day boat. Those guys were so amazing, so brave. And then I got ready to leave, and I turned around, and on the beach, I saw the route 66 bar. I went, what goes around comes around. They sent cattle and horses to us, and you know what, we gave them a road back. And everywhere I went in Spain, there is a magazine, a popular magazine, called Route 66, and you will see magnets in the store that say that. It's a big deal.

Ted Simons: So it's a big deal now, and obviously, it sounds like there was an inspiration for the book. Your father was an inspiration for the book, and a health incident was an inspiration for the book. Did this happen near route 66?

Bob Boze Bell: Oh, yes, my best friend said I want to get the band back together, and we were called the Exits.

Ted Simons: High school band?

Bob Boze Bell: In high school, freshmen in high school, and how do you meet girls? You need to have a rock band. Surf music was all the go, so we had to have a name, and Charlie said why don't we all ourselves the exits because that's where everybody is going to go when they hear us play, so we became the exits. We were playing all over the place, so, in college, we drifted apart, and about five years ago, Charlie called me and he said, I have a buck list, and I want to get the band back together one more time, and I want to play the first job that we did. And that's the elks lodge in downtown Kingman. So, I set it up. We were there. We were practicing and doing it, and I'm not making this up, wipeout, and I had a heart attack.

Ted Simons: During wipeout?

Bob Boze Bell: During wipeout. And I don't remember -- I remember the first part but I don't remember the second part, and they saved my life in Kingman. Well, two of the band members had just taken CPR. And what are the odds that a rock 'n' roller would know CPR, and every ten minutes you are out, you lose 10% of the brain, and those two guys, Wayne and Terry Mitchell saved my life. The paramedics came and saved my life at the Kingman regional hospital, and we went back the next year to do the real gig, and we raised $20,000 for defibrillators in Kingman.

Ted Simons: So your life, route 66, is you. It really is. And with that in mind, from alpha to omega, practically, would you be Bob Boze Bell on this set wearing a cowboy hat with an impressive artistic career, you got the magazine, and would you be Bob Boze Bell, if you were born and raised in Flagstaff, or Mesa, or Tucson.

Bob Boze Bell: I would be, but I would, I would not be wearing the hat. It's true, that's true of everybody. We don't realize the little things add'7" to --

Ted Simons: Do you see that, though? You look back more than most have with there book at your life.

Bob Boze Bell: And the book forced me to do that.

Ted Simons: You say, well, this is why I did x and y.

Bob Boze Bell: And one of the most profound things to me was my father was from a farming background, from Iowa. And he was drafted in World War II. The troop train dropped him off in downtown Kingman on his 21st birthday, and he's coming down the middle of the street in August, and he says, and I, "I will never come back to this hell hole." It's his birthday. He's one of 10,000 G.I.'s at the Kingman air base, and there is 500 available women, ok, and my mother is one of them, and she is dating captains and lieutenants, and she picks a buck private from Iowa, and they get married, and so I have relatives on my father's side, all farmers. And we moved to Kingman when I am nine years old, and all of a sudden there is all these outlaws. These are cowboys, man. They come blasting into the house at Christmas time smoking and kicking things. My eyes are as big as saucers. So, one of the chapters in the book is related to outlaws because my grandmother told about how we were related to John Wesley harden, big foot Wallace, and blackjack ketchup, and my mom hated it because I would say, we're related to outlaws. Don't say that. Please don't say that because what she heard was, we're related to the Boston stranglers, Jack the ripper and Charlie Manson.

Ted Simons: Sure. And you also write that it's ok to say that my grandfather was an outlaw but if your father walked -- had a jaywalking --

Bob Boze Bell: A typical Werner will punch you in the mouth if you call his daddy a crook. But he'll brag a little as he tells about his grandpa being an outlaw.

Ted Simons: Do you think conversely you missed out on anything being raised in Kingman?

Bob Boze Bell: I thought that for a long time because I went through this phase where I thought it was dumb, like I said, and I became a teenager and I really thought it was stupid, and I couldn't wait -- I wish that, wished we were in California. But I witnessed so many things that I am so glad that I grew up there. We had native Americans and Mojaves, and we would be playing, and they would not do signals on the baseball field, they will just do, you know, like this, and they cannot hit a curve, and the batters, we were at Peoria and the batter would step out of the box and look at the umpire and go, can they do that? I don't think I would have gotten that if I had grown up in Laguna Beach.

Ted Simons: You read this and look at this, and I did see a little Norman Rockwell there, but nonetheless, when you go back, how often do you go back up there, but when you go back, I know your dad's original gas station is on the reservation in Pete springs, long gone.

Bob Boze Bell: It's hard to find the foundation.

Ted Simons: Are things intact there? How does it look to you?

Bob Boze Bell: Every time I go back, I was just there -- Charlie waters, my best friend just passed away, so I was there for the memorial service. And every time I go back something else is fading or gone. And I have finally realized that when I was a kid, the old west was 50 years in the past. And we would go out into these ghost towns, white hill, signal, gull road, and these places were falling over and they were gone, and now we're 50 years from when I was growing up and all the route 66 stuff is fading the same way.

Ted Simons: So you have got, you know, the generational shift here, and your book is, obviously, much focused on you as a young guy. Are you doing a follow-up on the crazy years and the KSLX? You touch on it in the book, but is there another graphic autobiography/narrative history ready to go?

Bob Boze Bell: Let's put it this way, I would not be able to dedicate that one to my grandson because I was the rock 'n' roll drummer, and an underground cartoonist.

Ted Simons: You were. So what are you doing these days?

Bob Boze Bell: Well, we're doing a lot of stuff out of true west. I was the artisan resident in Lincoln, New Mexico. There is a lot of things breaking on the Billy the kid story, and I am looking at doing my next book, which is probably going to be more of a graphic novel on Mickey free.

Ted Simons: Interesting. Congratulations on this book. It's almost like a year book the way -- it's graphic and big, lots of pictures, which I like, but it sounds like it must have been a hoot to do. Difficult but a hoot to do.

Bob Boze Bell: It was. Very rewarding.

Ted Simons: Congratulations on this. Good to see you again.

Bob Boze Bell: Good to see you.

Bob Boze Bell:Artist and Western Historian;

Illustration of columns of a capitol building with text reading: Arizona PBS AZ Votes 2024

Arizona PBS presents candidate debates

Earth Day Challenge graphic with the Arizona PBS logo and an illustration of the earth

Help us meet the Earth Day Challenge!

Graphic for the AZPBS kids LEARN! Writing Contest with a child sitting in a chair writing on a table and text reading: The Ultimate Field Trip
May 12

Submit your entry for the 2024 Writing Contest

The Capital building with text reading: Circle on Circle: Robert Lowell's D.C.
May 2

An evening with ‘Poetry in America’

Subscribe to Arizona PBS Newsletters

STAY in touch

Subscribe to Arizona PBS Newsletters: