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Mini-cast 45: Part 2 with Bob "Crocodile" Lile of Lile Art Gallery on Historic Route 66

In this not-so-mini episode of The ESOP Mini-cast, Bret Keisling continues his conversation with business owner Bob "Crocodile" Lile at the Lile Art Gallery on Historic Route 66 in Amarillo, Texas.

You'll want listen to Part 1 of this conversation in Mini-cast Episode 44, if you haven't already, to be introduced to Bob Lile and his fellow Route 66 businesses and to get some great Route 66 tour tips.

In this episode, we continue the conversation and take a deeper dive into the business focus and passion behind Bob's drive to keep this slice of Route 66 Americana vibrant.

You can follow Lile Art Gallery on Facebook here, or join Gilligans Route 66 Tour here to personally experience the tapestry of heartland USA for yourself! You can find the rest of the references mentioned in the podcast linked directly in the transcript below.


Mini-cast 45 Transcript

Brian Keisling: 00:04 Welcome to The ESOP Mini-cast brought to you by Capital Trustees. A great way to wrap up the week.

Bret Keisling: 00:21 Hi everybody. It's Bret Keisling with the second part of the not-so-mini ESOP Podcast. I'm sitting here again with Bob Lile, Bob "Crocodile" Lile of the Lile Art Gallery in Amarillo, Texas. Hi, Bob.

Bob Lile: 00:34 Hey, how you doing, Bret?

Bret Keisling: 00:35 Good. We're going to talk a little more on the business focus, the passion, kind of what drives you. There is a culture to Route 66 that to me is very reminiscent of employee ownership and that sort of thing. But I'm not going to take the time to do a lot of introduction with you. I'm going to suggest that people listen to last week's mini-podcast [Mini-cast Episode 44] where you did a great job. You're a noted and famed Route 66 historian, tour guide, artist, storyteller, and we covered a lot of that in the last podcast. So, we're going to pick up there. Bob. One of the things, with my passion being business generally, is you and the people we discussed last week who make up Route 66 in eight states?

Bob Lile: 01:23 Eight states.

Bret Keisling: 01:23 Eight states. It's not necessarily money-driven and I'm not looking to go into details, but you've made clear there's a passion that's driving you and we don't need to talk about you specifically, but folks on Route 66... and forgive me, I'll just, I've been thinking about this question for 10 or 12 years in the business common sense perspective. A lot of folks would have closed up shop, moved to the beer highways, you know, started working at the chain stores and that sort of thing. And that's not what you're doing. So by a very lengthy introduction, Bob, what drives you?

Bob Lile: 02:03 Route 66 is one of those things you can get passionate about because it's Americana. It's America, like America was in the forties, fifties, sixties. When you get a chance, if you go to Chicago and get a chance to meet the Windy City Road Warrior, his name is David Clark. He's worked in the post office. He's done other stuff, man. He gives walking tours and bus tours of Route 66 in Chicago area, and this guy knows more history about not just Route 66, but everything in Chicago and Illinois. He's amazing. He's a walking encyclopedia and he's passionate about it and it rubs off on you. When I get to spend a couple of hours with him two or three times a year, I'm just, I get wound up, I get excited because he's passionate about it. Then you come on down and, and you go to the Pontiac Museum and you meet the mayor. And by the way, that mayor stepping down, but he greets a group right there at the Pontiac Museum. And thanks you for coming, and again, it gets you excited to get you thinking, man this is cool. And then you come on down and you meet Melba the Mouth in Galena, Kansas, we call her Melba the Mouth. She can talk faster than any human being I've ever met in my life. And you can still understand her. She's Melba the Mouth from the South. Wonderful lady. And she and her sisters they've been doing 66 for years. They all had the car, "Four Women on the Route" this place in Galena Kansas. But these people get you excited. They, it rubs off on you! You can't help but say, "Wow, this is neat!" And right on, you know, you go to Tee Pee Curios and meet Gar who runs Tee Pee Curios in Tucumcari, New Mexico. Or the people that run the Blue Swallow or the Motel Safari or the other motels. These people are, yeah, they're making a living by running a motel or a restaurant, but they're also Route 66 people. They live and breathe historic 66, and it's contagious. It just is. And so we all get on, we've got several people here in Amarillo that I work with. Some of them are at businesses on 66 some of them don't, but we're all passionate about it and we all work together. We put on the international Route 66 Festival in Amarillo in 2011. We raised $36,000 overall in donations. Budweiser gave us $5,000 and $1,000 worth of free beer. EagleRider Motorcycle Tours gave us $6,000. McDonald's corporation gave us money. All these people donated so we can have a good festival and people still say it's one of the best festivals ever been put on. But we were, we started out with 13 people on the committee. We ended up with seven. One had a problem and one got something... anyway. We put it on and people still rave about it. We tru to have one of these every year or two somewhere. We didn't have one this year and it breaks my heart because it's, it's a chance for roadies to get together. People that have traveled and become part of the Route 66 family. When we go to a festival or a convention, it's like you're having fun with your family. 'Cause we are, we're just, we're close family. You know, there's some blood that's not family and some family that's not blood. And the Route 66 community, we're family. We are. And there's some neat people out there.

Bret Keisling: 05:28 So, Bob, when I came in this morning and we hadn't met and I had been given your name by our friend Debbie Mayha, of the Road Kill Cafe in Seligman, Arizona [] You introduced yourself to me, and I've heard you do it to other customers, as an abstract and expressionist painter. And so for me, there are certain things -- and this is bigger picture -- of identity. Who are we? What's our passion? And by the way, employee ownership, people listening to this podcast are going to recognize what I'm really talking about is culture. My friend Jason Wellman calls it the secret sauce. And there's a culture through all of Route 66 that perpetuates. But it's not the easiest way for you to earn a living. You know, is it just the camaraderie? So in other words, maybe coming from, from, I know you had mentioned previously, three miles off the Texas, Oklahoma border. Maybe you weren't destined to be in Paris as an abstract painter, but meanwhile, in your art gallery, it's as much your painting. And I get your passion. I sense your passion as you talk about it, loaded with lots of everything that just perpetuates the Route 66. So it's that combination of you're here and the passion, but you haven't gone to a big city somewhere or you haven't just said, I'll sell out. How do you -- is it just what you've known? Did it take a certain courage? Is it a lifestyle tradeoff?

Bob Lile: 07:06 Well, when you get my age money, doesn't mean... I mean, as long as you've got enough where you're comfortable, you got a nice place to live, you've got food on the table and, you know, whatever. $1 million, I mean, what would I do with it? I just spend it on something, you know, probably something that didn't mean anything. But friendships mean a lot to me at my age. I'm 79 years old. I've been around the block a few times. I've got a lovely woman, been in my life for 30 years. We're very fortunate to have what we have. We've got a beautiful dog who loves us and we love her. [Laughing.] I could do something and make more money, but then I wouldn't get to meet all these neat people that are traveling down the road. You know, I drove limousines and party buses for four years for a company here in town just to pay the rent on this place.

Bret Keisling: 08:01 Right.

Bob Lile: 08:01 Cause I wasn't make any money. So, four years ago I started making it because of the jewelry. So...

Bret Keisling: 08:08 But it's the passion that drives that. And look, I've, I'm in the process this summer as you and I chatted about starting I think the eighth business in my lifetime. It turns out I'm a serial entrepreneur and I just can't help myself!

Bob Lile: 08:21 That's great, I love it, yeah!

Bret Keisling: 08:21 But as you were, and this a little bit, and it's not to go personal, but everybody wants to find value. And I certainly spent a lot of time talking with CEOs and board of directors of pretty good sized companies, but even rank and file, you know, in the companies folks who are just scratching out a living in employee ownership, everybody wants to feel valued. Everybody wants to feel rewarded and content. But it also takes some guts. I mean, you, you made a conscious lifestyle decision.

Bob Lile: 08:56 Right.

Bret Keisling: 08:56 If somebody feels they're in a grind, what advice would you give them?

Bob Lile: 09:00 Well, I ran a Ford dealership for 35 years and...

Bret Keisling: 09:04 So, you know exactly what I mean of working in that business world.

Bob Lile: 09:07 It was good. We didn't get rich, it was a small town, but we made a good living, and my dad and I ran that thing. And then we closed down in 2000, Ford Motor Company closed 500 Ford dealerships in 2000. They didn't want little dealers in little towns. Even though that's what they built their reputation on. to start with. [Inaudible]. So we decided to bail out. Well, I ran a used car dealership for a while and that didn't work very well in that little town. So I got a chance to go to work for a company out of Canada called Doc Bailey's Leather Care Products []. I'd been using this leather care on my motorcycle leathers for six or eight or ten years. So I called the 800 number on the bottle. I said... and the owner, Doc Bailey answered the phone... And I said, "Is this Doc Bailey?". He said, "Yeah!" And I said, "What are you doing answer your own phone?"

Bret Keisling: 09:51 Wow.

Bob Lile: 09:52 So he said, "Well, the secretary has gone to lunch" and that. Anyway, I said, I've using your product for six or eight years on my leather and I love it. Do you ever hire any sales people? And he said, yeah. He said, can you come to Laughlin, Nevada and work with the rally out here next month? He said, I'll pay your way out. I'll buy your motel and your gas on the way out. I'll put you up while you're here pay you 25% commission. And I sold 50 bottles at $20 a bottle of that first day. It was only 114 in the shade. So you couldn't drink enough water during the day or enough beer at night. [Laughter.] But we had a ball. We enjoyed it. We met all of these people and so it made some pretty good money. So I started working for him and we traveled all over the country working motorcycle rallies and home shows and stuff like that for him. And then I branched out and he let me have some of my own shows. And I would buy product from him wholesale, then I'd pay the expenses. I flew, I had Laughlin, Nevada, I had three booths in Laughlin, Nevada for about four years running. And I flew in ladies, good looking ladies that can sell, that I knew previously, and then flew them in from South Carolina and three or four different places in the country. Fly'em into Vegas, pick him up and bring'em down and put'em up. And they worked hard. And I, I just, I didn't sell cause I didn't have time. I had, I was busy taking them water and something to eat. Because I had...

Bret Keisling: 11:13 ...You're running things. You're not selling, you're running things.

Bob Lile: 11:14 ...six women that were working for me and I had three booths. Boy those booths are expensive! [Laughter.]

Bret Keisling: 11:20 Right. And I know that our listeners know that employee ownership, we go to conferences all the time. And particularly The ESOP Association has a national conference in Vegas. But that also speaks to the perseverance where yeah, you want a lifestyle that you wanted and, and you called - and this resonates with probably a lot of people that were listening - you were looking to figure out how to earn a living while maintaining a lifestyle and called Doc Bailey. I love that he answered the phone himself! And, and even as you got a really cool art gallery that's quintessential Route 66, you were doing something on the side to pay the bills as you did it. So that's just part of doing what you got to do to fulfill your passion.

Bob Lile: 12:03 Well, we did that for a long time. That's kind of wound down. And I had a motor, I bought a motor home, so we could travel with the motor home. We had a trailer with my motorcycle and the gear in the back. Fuel went up, they went up on the rent, they got more vendors at the motorcycle rallies and it just got to be where we worked awful hard and the returns just weren't that great. So we bailed out. But you know, it's the way it is, so you know, I'm like a duck, if it don't rain I'll walk! I mean if don't work...

Bret Keisling: 12:32 That's great!

Bob Lile: 12:33 You know, get on different track and try something else.

Bret Keisling: 12:35 So, which is also business and American and you know, it just fits in and some things work, for as long as they work and you move on and do something else.

Bob Lile: 12:47 I know people that are working hard and making really good money. These are some, I know some of them are making 150, 200 grand a year, but they hate their job. Well, you know, they've always told me, if you love your job, you'll never work a day in your life. So here, here we are.

Bret Keisling: 13:04 The funny thing is that I have seen you and you're a busy guy and I'm going to say this the wrong way. You seem to be having too much fun with your customers for it to be work, even though I know you're working your tail off

Bob Lile: 13:17 Right, yeah.

Bret Keisling: 13:18 So you're working very hard. Bob, I hope you don't mind, I'm... But you mentioned at your age a little bit earlier and I'm going to embarrass myself. You made a comment to that before we were recording and I said well we're probably about the same age, our whiskers are the same. [Laughter.] In the interests of full disclosure. I'm 55 and you are 79.

Bob Lile: 13:37 Yeah.

Bret Keisling: 13:38 I did point out, I read at a 58 year old level, so I'm ahead of my classmates. [Laughter.] I'm very happy with that. So Bob, to wind down this segment, and I appreciate all of your time, 79 years old and lay down some either, what lessons do you wish you had learned younger? What would you say? I'm 55. My kids are in their twenties. You know, anybody who doesn't want to be in a grind, lay down some big picture. wisdom.

Bob Lile: 14:08 You know, I'm 79. Clint Eastwood, one of his sayings is don't let the old man in.

Bret Keisling: 14:17 Don't let the old man...

Bob Lile: 14:17 Don't let the old man in! Think young! Now, the other thing, when I was 30, I was a sugar addict. I was an addict, period. I mean, I thank God I never did cocaine or some of the other harder drugs because I'd probably be dead by now, but I was an addict. I was hooked on caffeine and nicotine and sugar and alcohol until I was 35 years old. Nobody knew what was wrong with me. I'm screwed up. And I finally figured out I was hypoglycemic, I was allergic to sugar and I don't, I do caffeine. I do one cup of green tea in the morning and that's all caffeine I ever do. But I quit sugar when I was 35 years old. I don't eat candy cookies, [inaudible] guys, I just don't do that stuff. Sugar is not a food, it's a drug. But most people, the majority of people in the world, not just America, are hooked on it. They've got to have something. It's an addiction. They want it. Coca-Cola. Coca-Cola kills more people than cigarettes and I quit them. I quit them in 1975. So not everybody's going to quit that stuff. I don't do white flour, hardly ever, and if I have to go pick up my hamburger I'll have a white flour bun. But normally I don't do. There's a lot of things that I don't consume because it's not good for you. I want to live a long time in order to feel good while I'm doing it. The trick is to die younger later,

Bret Keisling: 15:33 To die younger later. And I want people to pause and think about that to keep a very young mentality, but last a long time.

Bob Lile: 15:39 And to do that, you have to be healthy. You're young mentality won't work if you're sick. So you know, I've been real fortunate to have, I may die tomorrow, but I may live to be a hundred. I don't know. Nobody has any guarantees. We sing a song in barbershop harmony, "tomorrow is promised to no one." So live your life every day. Enjoy your life every day. If you're in a job that's a grind and you hate, find something else. Even if it's less money. You know people that make $100,000 a year spend 150 people. People make 150 spend two. You know how that, you watch this all your life.

Bret Keisling: 16:12 Absolutely.

Bob Lile: 16:12 I see people in debt and they worry, their credit card debt is 10 and $15,000. My credit cards are paid off. I use them for business, but my credit cards paid off every month, And if I get to the point, I can't do that, I quit buying stuff. I don't buy a lot of stuff anyway. We got a house full of antiques. I got plenty of food. What do I need? I don't need anything. I mean, I don't. I have an art collection valued at about a quarter of million dollars. I started collecting art in 1968. Paintings I paid $150 for are selling for $4,000 now. Now, can I eat those things? No. But I love to walk around and look at them on the wall, because I remember the artists that I bought them from in New York City.

Bret Keisling: 16:50 Right. They have meaning and satisfaction,

Bob Lile: 16:53 Right. Yeah. But I go in to million dollar homes here in Amarillo and there's not a piece of original art on the wall, and it hurts me! I met a man in 1968 that taught art. He didn't just teach art, he taught art, he taught his philosophy, he taught all kinds of stuff. He was an amazing genius. He was a university professor, art professor for 14 years at the University of Kentucky. I met him in 1967. He said, you need to take art lessons. You have that creative ability. You need to. I'd never painted before. I was 28 years old. So I started taking art lessons, you know. And he was an amazing man. He taught 14, four hour classes a week and did it in like a college semester or school semester. And then in the summertime, he would teach a six week portrait class or a six week watercolor class.

Bob Lile: 17:46 We traveled all over the world, our groups did. We had a group of people - 250, 300 people - "Remember the Area Arts Foundation," which we collected major pieces of art every year. We had auctions and donated stuff. We gave our collection to the Amarillo Museum of art back in 2008 is valued at about $12 million. We would go to New York and meet these artists and go in their homes and they'd wine and dine us, knowing that we were going to buy art. And we would. And you find a $5,000 painting and buy it from them instead of the gallery and get it for $2,000.

Bret Keisling: 18:24 Right.

Bob Lile: 18:24 So that's what we did. And some of those, now a lot -- well, all of them -- are gone. All those artists are gone. They've died. Louise Nevelson was a sculptor that I worked with. They paid about $6,500 for that piece that's here at the Amarillo Museum. It's famous and it's valued at somewhere between two and $3 million today.

Bret Keisling: 18:43 And you have a gorgeous piece that she did in 1972 when she came to town for three days, you had said.

Bob Lile: 18:48 Yeah.

Bret Keisling: 18:50 You're art is very impressive. It's kind of interesting, last January, 2019 we started inserting what we call a "Sara's Spot" into our podcasts where it was a one minute health and nutrition break. And I asked you to lay down any wisdom that you could have laid down and you actually talked about a healthy lifestyle. And Sara Sullivan [], who does the Sara Spots, she and I are working on a potential project and she's also, I've hired her as my nutritionist. And one of the things that I've summed up in my life as I'm approaching 56, I've always led a very active kind of Type A personality lifestyle. And I've eaten and slept as a byproduct of that lifestyle. So if I, back when I practiced law, I was writing a brief at two in the morning, I'd throw down a burger at two in the morning, I'd sleep, I'd get hours. And people that I respect and, and even when I say respect, some are successful business people. I mean I respect that as human beings are actually taking the point that you just made. You're taking your nutrition to fuel the life that you want to leave instead of having it as an afterthought. And personally, I appreciate that cause that's very good advice for me. But everything that you're doing and you're an active guy stems from the fact that you're taking care of yourself.

Bob Lile: 20:17 Somebody has got to! Nobody else will. [Laughter.] But, you know, I wish I'd started earlier. But my boys were raised when I figured out at 35. I'd have started teaching my young sons about nutrition. I take a B complex vitamin every day and my mom's cardiologist said everybody should take a B complex vitamin every day cause it's heart healthy. I don't, I don't, at my age, I try not to eat a lot of grease. I don't eat French fries. I mean, maybe twice, three times a year. I very seldom ever have a burger. You know I don't eat a big steak. If I want to steak, I'll eat five, six, seven ounces of meat. We eat some chicken and I try to buy organic. I've spent a lot of money at organic groceries and health food stores. But, it's worth it, you know,

Bret Keisling: 21:07 Bob, I want to thank you. I asked if we'd sit down for a couple of minutes and you were kind enough to actually do two podcast segments with me. You are as fascinating a person as I've met. I've really enjoyed the time, spending with you.

Bob Lile: 21:23 I'm not very smart. [Laughter.] You know, there's a lot of things I don't know, but I do know about nutrition. I do know about art and I do know about Route 66 and that's about as far as my knowledge goes! [Laughter.]

Bret Keisling: 21:34 Well, but first of all, you have a thrown a lot of wisdom both in the podcasts and even just being in your store, you've been kind enough to let me hang out a little bit. What I have discovered through my years is that some of the smartest people I know throw out the comment that they're not that smart. So, I would suggest anybody take the time. Spend time on Route 66. Get to Amarillo, Texas. Get to the Lile Art Gallery. You wouldn't say this, but I'm going to say it. Spend money at the Lile Art Gallery! But Bob, you're a delightful person and although not everybody will sit down with you for an hour and record, you're happy to spend time with people that wander through.

Bob Lile: 22:20 Man, I appreciate it. And Lile Art Gallery has a Facebook page [/], and Bob Lile has a Facebook page [], so if you get art, and then my email, if you see something, if you want to ask me a question, send it to me. I'd be glad to answer, help anybody. I can.

Bret Keisling: 22:33 And Bob, I'm glad you mentioned that in our previous episode of the Mini-cast where we talk about Route 66 generally, we did all your contact information and although it's there, why don't you lay it on me again because you also do tours for a Gilligan Tour Company and they'll... So just lay all of the ways contact you and Lady Lile as well. And Lile, although people will see it, is "L I L E ." Lile.

Bob Lile: 22:55 Right. It's not - no "Y" some people can't spell. [Laughter.] But Lile Art Gallery has Facebook page, Lady Lile [the dog] has a Facebook page [], Bob has Facebook page. My email is My website, I'll get up and going here one of these days is Gilligan's Route 66 tours .com [] is my group that I tour with out of New Zealand. And we love, we don't care what part of the world you're from, United States or Mexico. If you want to come and go on tour with us, let us know and we'll figure out a price and we'll get you going.

Bret Keisling: 23:30 That is so cool. I'll thank you again for all your time. I recommend people listen back to the podcast, the Mini-cast, last week where we talk about Route 66 and a thanks for all of your insight and wisdom today.

Bob Lile: 23:42 Thank you. I appreciate it.

Bret Keisling: 23:43 All right, Bob.


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