Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Q&A With Dutch Photographer Maarten Laupman: Co-Author of the First Book About Highway 83


It might surprise many to know that the first book devoted to Highway 83 is written in Dutch. In 2007, photographer Maarten Laupman and writer Rob Daniels, two men from the Netherlands, traveled the length of U.S Route 83 starting in Texas and working their way north until 83 ends at Swan River, Manitoba. The result is “Route 83: A Whole Lot of Nothing,” published in 2010. It is beautifully designed and photographed. (As for Daniels’s writing, sadly I can’t read Dutch. But I am sure it is wonderfully written as well.) Laupman answered some questions for The Highway 83 Chronicles about the project via email from his home in Rotterdam, The Netherlands. Some of his photos from the trip are featured below.

So tell me, how did a couple of Dutch guys hear about Highway 83 and decide to travel its entire length? And what attracted you to this project?

Browsing in Life magazine and National Geographic as a kid in the 1950's in the Netherlands, and later through the photography of Walker Evans and Robert Frank, I always wanted to travel in the rural parts of America.
I first went to the states in 1978 as a tourist, and saw quite a bit, but mostly the big cities. In 1979, I got a scholarship to do my MFA in Photography at York University, Toronto. While there I met a guy who came from Kansas. We became great friends and in 1992, years later, I went to see his parents who still lived there in Wellington, Kan. Circling the town in ever widening trips, I discovered it was a great thing to do: get on and off roads and visit places — sometimes just because they had interesting names. Though most was done in Kansas, I saw quite a bit of Oklahoma as well. That rural, desolate “has been” feeling attracted me.
In 1999 I went again, this time to Nebraska, South Dakota, North Dakota, Montana, Idaho, Wyoming, Utah and Colorado. I was on my own, and met some people once in a while but enjoyed being in my own road movie. [Pictured above, right: Sublette, Kan].
There on a fateful afternoon in Thedford, Neb., I met a Mexican truck driver, who was using his truck's hubcap for BBQ purposes. He told me he had come up on 83 because it was such an easy road. Later, I looked up the whole road and became obsessed with it until I met someone who wanted to travel the entire road with me as a writer. Rob Daniels is a journalist whom I’ve worked with quite a bit. He thought it was an exciting idea and that's how it started.

How did you manage the logistics? In other words, where did you fly into and how did you get to Swan River?
We flew to Houston in April 2007, then drove on to Harlingen, Texas, and rented an Impala (with a crack in the windshield). We drove all the way to Swan River, Manitoba, then back to Minot were we left the car at the rental place. Most companies didn't like that but this one had no objections. From there we flew back to Amsterdam. It took us roughly two weeks to do the whole trip. We spent a whole weekend in Mobridge, S.D., to catch up with the writing.

What are some of your favorite places along the road?
Hard to say. I enjoyed most of the trip. North Platte surprised me in having such a nice old town center, with a theatre and a very interesting second-hand bookstore. [A to Z Books?] [Pictured right: Downtown North Platte].

What surprised you about the trip?
We were very well versed in the culture, music and art and knew quite a bit on that front. We were surprised most locals didn't know all that much. For example, in Uvalde, Texas, not a soul had heard of Pat Garrett [the lawman who killed Billy the Kid and who had had a home there] and in Garden City, Kan., Truman Capote's great novel, [In Cold Blood], didn’t ring a bell — just to name a few.

What was the strangest thing that happened?
Getting stuck in the mud, approaching the house where those killings describe in In Cold Blood took place, Holcomb. And subsequently discovering there was hardly any thought on this matter by the people who lived there.

How did the book come about? How long did it take to publish? How did it sell in Holland?
We had some interesting leads with publishers but they went bankrupt. Others wanted to make it their “own” book. We finally decided to publish it ourselves, and it was mostly given away as a present to all the people involved  — the printer, designer and the writer. We sold maybe 500 copies through a very trendy downtown bookstore. We had a release party with photos, hamburgers and Budweisers and record albums with American flags on the covers, Ryan Adams and Sly Stone.

Do you have any plans to return?
No plans but very fond memories. I would love to do it again. Call me!
Since then, I took a very long trip from Toronto to St. Johns, New Foundland. It was very different.

To join the Fans of U.S. Route 83 group on Facebook, CLICK HERE. And check out the U.S. Route 83 Travel page at

Stew Magnuson is the author of the Highway 83 Chronicles, a series of three books about history and life found along U.S. Route 83. The final book, The Last American Highway: A Journey Through Time Down U.S. Route 83 in Texas was released in March 2017 and follows The Last American Highway: The Dakotas, and The Last American Highway: Nebraska-Kansas-Oklahoma, edition.
All three are available ONLINE or in bookstores and gift shops along Highway 83.
For signed copies or retail opportunities contact him HERE.

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