Blue Swallow Motel: our interview to Kevin Mueller, owner of one of the most famous motels on historic Route 66

Photo credits: Kevin Mueller
Photo credits: Kevin Mueller

The Blue Swallow Motel, in Tucumcari, NM, is a very well-known motel on the Mother Road. It wal built in 1939 and, after more than 75 years, still keeps its original identity.
In 1993 the Motel was listed on the National Register of Historic Places and today it welcomes thousands of travelers from all over the world.

We have interviewed Kevin Mueller, the current owner who manages it together with his wife Nancy, his son Cameron and his daughter-in-law Jessica.

 

  1. How does it feel to own and manage the most popular motel on historic Route 66?

It can be very demanding, and leaves us exhausted every day!  During our busiest months (April to November), we are full with guests every night, and it is a big job just to get the motel ready for the next night’s guests.  Then there are tourists throughout the day who stop to see the place, take pictures, and ask questions. It is a very hectic pace.  We also have maintenance to do each day, fixing things that get broken, painting, working on our old cars, etc. When we have everything ready to receive the next night’s guests, we try to get a little rest in the early afternoon, but often, there are people here to check-in early, and people peek in the windows and call out for us all the time.  It is chaos sometimes, but we call it happy chaos!  There is a strong sense of responsibility to maintain the Blue Swallow so that it can be enjoyed for many years to come.

It is also very good from a financial standpoint, as we rent enough rooms and sell enough souvenirs to be able to enjoy a decent living, and have the money to reinvest in the motel.  Other less well known places aren’t always as fortunate.

 

  1. How many people stop at The Blue Swallow Motel every year?

There is no way to count!  I’m sure it is many thousands, and if you count the people who drive by taking picture out their windows without stopping, the number is probably in the hundreds of thousands.  So many people out enjoying a trip on Route 66, and the Blue Swallow is so well known, a highlight for many travelers.

 

  1. The Blue Swallow Motel is a point of reference for people driving historic Route 66: do you feel you have to protect a historical heritage?

Of course!  It is an important part of what we do here to try to preserve the old property so it can be enjoyed for many years to come.  The Blue Swallow is known for her neon display, and we work very hard to maintain everything so it all glows brightly each night.  The neon is one of the big reasons people come here, and we want everything to work!  There are no companies in Tucumcari who maintain neon, so my son Cameron and I have learned to do the maintenance and installation work ourselves.  The actual neon tubes, when we need new ones, come from shops in Amarillo or Albuquerque.  I doubt if the people who built the Blue Swallow Court in 1939 thought it would still be serving travelers more than 75 years later!

Photo credits: Kevin Mueller
Photo credits: Kevin Mueller

 

  1. How would you describe Tucumcari to a person who has never heard of it (there are a lot in Italy)? How is it different from the other cities in New Mexico?

Tucumcari has been a natural stop for travelers since before there were roads.  As railroads were built that replaced trails, and then roads were built, Tucumcari was always a stopping point, with a junction of several US Highways here, including US 66.

During the heyday of Route 66, there were so many businesses all here to serve travelers, including motels, cafes, fuel stations, bars curio shops.  Much of this is still here for people to enjoy today.  Tucumcari is where the west begins in many people’s minds; the open spaces, spectacular scenery vistas, large cattle ranches are all things people imagine when they think about the American Southwest.  Tucumcari has been a “wild-west” town with a great history, and still serving travelers heading west today.

Tucumcari is different from many New Mexico towns as so much of the history is still alive here.  It hasn’t been turned into an artist colony like Santa Fe and Taos have. Tucumcari has the unique history of being the first jumping off point for travelers and settlers coming to the New Mexico territory in the 1800’s.

 

  1. What does historic Route 66 mean for Tucumcari? And what does Tucumcari mean for the Mother Road?

Route 66 means revenue for the city of Tucumcari. It is part of the town’s history, as the real main street has been Route 66 since 1926.  We do everything we can to encourage travelers to stay here, enjoy our museums, restaurants, historic motels, and shops.  When we are booked full, there are three other vintage motels (all much newer than the Blue Swallow) that we recommend to travelers in hopes they will stay the night in our town.

Tucumcari is the kind of western town that travelers on Route 66 look forward to visiting.  Near the middle of the Route, Tucumcari tends to be a town people really measure their progress by, stopping to take a breath, think about all they have experienced, and plan for the excitement of the rest of the trip to California.

 

  1. How has Route 66 changed over the years?

Mainly, Route 66 has changed in that it isn’t a primary transportation highway, as it was.  The road is mainly recreational in nature now.  For a while, after decommissioning, Route 66 seemed to have been forgotten by Americans, and the world.  However, with hard work promoting the old highway by people like Angel Delgadillo of Seligman, AZ, Bob Waldmire of Springfield, MO, and the increasing interest in the nostalgia of “the good old days” Route 66 is alive with travelers again.  There is still great opportunity for business owners to restore businesses and attractions along Historic Route 66.

Photo credits: Kevin Mueller
Photo credits: Kevin Mueller

 

  1. Do you think Route 66 has become too much a tourist attraction, losing its true essence?

I think there is some danger in that happening, but it hasn’t happened yet.  What prevents that from happening is local mom and pop businesses staying open or re-opening to serve travelers.  There are lots of murals and restored signs along the Route, and people enjoy taking pictures of these kinds of things.  However, in order to experience what a trip on Route 66 was like, there needs to be great vintage motels, unique restaurants, quirky attractions, fun shops along the Route.  Right now, I think there is a nice blend along the Route of old things that may be decaying and never restored, businesses serving travelers as they always have, great people to talk to, open stretches of the old road, and new attractions for travelers from all around the world to experience.  And there is always that fabulous scenery to enjoy all along the Route!

A journey across Route 66 is a wonderful experience, and an opportunity to enjoy America without the homogenization of chain and corporate businesses.  That is really the essence of Route 66 today.