Among the classic motor courts along Route 66 in Tucumcari is the Blue Swallow. There are other 1930s motels along Tucumcari Boulevard, but most are closed and either waiting for a new owner or a demolition crew.
The Blue Swallow is different. It’s been owned and operated by people who have always had a love for serving guests and preserving history.
Take, for example, Lillian Redman. In 1958, her husband, Floyd, bought the motel from Ted Jones. It was Floyd’s engagement present to his bride. W.A. Higgins had opened the motor court in 1941 and sold it to Jones a year later to develop other properties. Lillian ran it for four decades, intent on keeping it open even after the Interstate had made Route 66 redundant. She had arrived in New Mexico by covered wagon in 1915 and had been a Tucumcari resident since 1923. She just couldn’t let go of the old motel. It was, she said, like an old friend and she stuck it out.
In 1998, Lillian sold to Dale and Hilda Bakke. She died a year later at age 89. The new owners upgraded electrical service, carpeted the rooms, and replaced old furniture. But they kept the vintage rotary telephones and lighting fixtures.
Then, in 2011, Kevin Mueller of Detroit, Michigan, was laid off after 20 years with the company for which he’d worked. He was unable to find similar work. “Nothing was remotely interesting to me,” Kevin says. “Then my wife asked me what I wanted to do and I said I want to own my own business, but I don’t know what.”
Wife Nancy adds, “I told him to figure it out. Let’s get to it.”
They took an extended trip to visit family, including Mueller’s parents in Florida. “One morning, out of the blue,” Kevin says, “I woke up thinking ‘I wonder what’s on sale on Route 66’.”
The Muellers had been on Route 66 for a nine-day trip in 2007. Passing through Tucumcari, they noticed motels for sale. That morning in Florida, Kevin said, “Let’s sell everything and move out there, find a place to fix up and live and work on Route 66.”
Nancy and their son thought he was crazy, but, she says, “That was the first enthusiasm I’d heard in Kevin’s voice in weeks.”
On line, they found the Blue Swallow was for sale and went to see the place. “We stayed five nights,” Kevin says, “After the first night, we were hooked.” By the end of their stay they’d negotiated the sales agreement. They returned home and put their house on the market.
“Our oldest son was excited, but our youngest was stunned,” Nancy says. “That wasn’t the normal order of things. Parents don’t usually leave the nest before the children and the nest usually isn’t put up for sale.”Their house sold surprisingly quickly and they made the move in June 2011. But there were other surprises waiting for them. Kevin explains, “We’ve met people from all over the world…China, Japan, countries in South America,
Australia, New Zealand. They’d come to experience American pop culture and the romance of the old Mother Road.”
They’ve also found new friends that seem like family. Nancy says, “From Illinois to California, there are people running motels, cafe, and shops along Route 66. We stop and see how they’re doing when we travel and they stop and check on us. There’s a community that makes you feel like you’ve gained a family.”
The Blue Swallow is not just a motel. It’s a trip back in time; a place where you can experience what travel was like 75 years ago. The Muellers have made sure the motel has the look and feel of the 1930s. Rooms are painted colors predominant in the years before World War II. Sinks have separate hot and cold water faucets and stoppers to mix the right temperature in the original wash basins. Furniture is also of the period, but the mattresses, linens, and towels are modern and comfortable.
“Occasionally we have guests who think their room seems dated,” Kevin explains. “I tell them, ‘Isn’t that the way it’s supposed to look?’ They just don’t get it…but for those who do, they can lay in bed and wonder about all the travelers who’ve stayed at the Blue Swallow over the years.”
The Muellers have combined vintage character and charm with premium upscale comforts. While rooms have period furnishings, each room has a flat-screen TV, modern refrigerated air and heat, and terry bathrobes embroidered with the Blue Swallow logo.
There are 12 rooms accommodating from two to five guests. The Lillian Redman suite is ideal for two, but can sleep four. Most of the rooms have attached garages, and there are plenty of comfortable chairs out front to enjoy cool evenings and make new friends… just like the “good old days.”
You can check out the Blue Swallow’s up-to-date web site at blueswallowmotel.com and follow them on Facebook. Pick your room or suite. Rates are from $69.95 to $119.95, or take the Lilian Redmond suite for $129.95.