By JESSICA CRAWFORD
While driving through Seward County or the Oklahoma Panhandle, a champagne colored SUV bearing a personalized plate that reads “SANDMAN,” may just deserve a salute rather than the casual wave. Robert “Bob” Carlile is the man behind the wheel, and he most likely had an instrumental role in providing that particular stretch of asphalt on which you may be traveling.
Fifty years ago, Bob’s father and brother built a sand plant and went to work. They went through their share of hardships, but that didn’t dissuade the family from moving forward.
“We started business on December 5, 1959,” J&R Sand owner Bob Carlile said. “It was my dad and one of my brothers that were involved. The J&R comes from Jack and Robert. Bill was my brother. I bought him out in about ’62 or ’63 and bought my dad out in 1965. We got started with one sand plant and struggled with that thing for years.”
With a shaky economy, Bob decided he had better branch out to dirt work rather than give up. But when asphalt came into the picture, J&R Sand was on its way to becoming a permanent fixture in the High Plains region.
“The economy went bad, and we didn’t know if we were ever gonna make it or not,” Bob recollected. “But then in the late ’70s, we got in the dirt business, we started doing oilfield locations, hard dirt locations with Luck Dirt. That went along very well for awhile until it went kaput again. My brother, Bernard, was in the asphalt business. I worked for him before we started this company in ’59, I had worked for him about a year and a half in the asphalt business. So, when he sold out and had an auction in the fall of ’82, I hired two of his people, Ed White and Larry Wilson, and we started in a little small asphalt plant.”
The reconstruction of U.S. Highway 3 was crucial to the success of J&R Sand, Bob said. While larger contractors were working on bigger jobs, the Carliles had work kicked their way that would set them up for projects in the future that would determine the ultimate success of the company.
“We really got the asphalt going good when Oklahoma reworked Highway 3 from Watonga, Okla., to the Colorado line,” Bob said. “They were letting big jobs. The big contractors got after those and were doing all the bridges, and there would be 15,000 to 18,000 tons of asphalt on the bridges. The big guy was already gone, so we got in there and did a lot of those. We kinda got our feet on the ground doing that.”
In the late ’80s, Kansas Governor Mike Hayden passed a highway bill that would send even more work J&R Sand’s way, so much, in fact, the current plant could not keep up with the demand.
“When the governor passed the new highway bill ,we got a lot of work,” Bob said. “We sold the plant and got a bigger one. Then in ’92, we went and bought another bigger plant, so we were running two asphalt plants for awhile.”
When things began to slow down, Carlile’s bid to construct the U.S. Highway 83 bypass around Liberal was accepted. Yet another wise business decision on Bob’s part.
“The small plant you see out east of town was brought in there in 1996 and we did the bypass around Liberal with it,” Bob said. “We just let it sit there ever since, and we do work that we can reach with it around here. Then we have a travelling plant. We do an awful lot of work in the State of Oklahoma, in the Panhandle and down there as far as Woodward and Seiling.
“In 2005, we bought a brand new computerized asphalt plant and it is what did that big job out there west of Liberal,” he explained. “It is down in Oklahoma right now doing a big job down there. So now we have three asphalt plants. They come in handy because the big one does the big job and the little one can be sitting there when the big job is done, it is ready to go. So we slip in and do that while the other one is moving.”
A portable asphalt plant, Bob said, has been extremely economical. Although, he added, so has the plant four miles east of Liberal.
“We are going to do the Eighth Street and Western Avenue out of that plant four miles east of Liberal,” he said. “We have done quite a bit of state work with it, too. It comes in handy because we can go do those jobs while other plants are being set up somewhere.”
Carlile is exceedingly proud of the work he has been able to accomplish throughout the last half century. However, he credits much of his success to his sons, Mike and Todd Carlile.
“Right now, my boys grew up in this business,” he said with the pride only a father can know. “They have been with me all the time, Mike and Todd. I turned the thing over to Mike and Todd about three and a half years ago. They run it. They talk to me about what is going on all the time, but they actually run the company.
“Somebody asked me what I do,” he said with a chuckle. “I said, ‘I go to the post office and get the mail and give it out to whoever it belongs to and ask if they have anything else for me to do. If they say ‘no,’ I just leave.’ They are doing an excellent job with it and we are just busier every year.”
The responsibility and business sense Bob’s sons portray is something he attributes to his father – their grandfather, Jack Carlile.
“It gives me a real sense of pride because I have seen so many businesses turned over to a son or sons and they just destroy it in a year or two,” Bob said as he shook his head. “I have seen it happen to farmers and seen it happen to other businesses. My dad instilled in me hard work. We grew up without a whole lot. He got started in business in 1947 doing sand work and some dirt work.
“He taught us how to work and what a dollar was like and that is what it amounts to,” he continued. “I grew up that way, and these boys have grown up that way. They are really successful at what they are doing. I couldn’t be more proud of them because they have really done the job.”
Bob’s pride in Mike and Todd extends onto the next generation of Carliles. He is unsure of where the company will go when Mike and Todd one day step aside, however, he knows J&R Sand will keep on trucking.
“I tell you what, I am the youngest of five boys, I had four boys, right now I have five granddaughters and a great granddaughter,” he laughed. “So, one of those granddaughters is going to have to marry somebody, I guess.
“Or do it herself,” he said with a grin. “And that is a possibility.”
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