Bales grew up on a farm in the Wabash Valley. He was an Eagle Scout and a graduate of the University of Illinois. During World War II he flew a B-24 Liberator. After the war he knocked on the door of Walt Disney studios with one drawing in hand and was hired on the spot. He worked on Song of the South, Pecos Bill, Little Toot, and The Wind in the Willows before the army called him back to duty in 1947.
Bales flew classified mapping missions in the Pacific prior to the Korean War. With no journalists in the area, he executed paintings of the Chinese army's march across that Yalu River from Pyongyang in December 1950. He continued in the Air Force as an official illustrator. When the Air Force Academy was constructed in Colorado in the 1950s, Bales scoured military storehouses for captured artworks. Ad organizer of the Air Force Operational Art Program, he recruited the Society of Illustrators in New York to depict various hotspots for the USAF collection at the Pentagon.
In 1960 Bales joined the staff at Pepperdine University, earning a Ph.D. in business administration in 1971 and rising through the ranks of the fund-raising arm of the college. As a representative of Pepperdine he met Peggie Wilder, a Birmingham native and former model who had a casting office on the Sunset Strip. He fell for her and soon married her. He rose to vice-president of the University and was a key member of the team that relocated the campus from South Central Los Angeles to Malibu.
When Peggie's health declined due to multiple sclerosis, Bales retired and they moved to Birmingham to be close to her family. Bales became enamored of the landscape and hunting opportunities, as well as the warm friendships he forged in the area and decided to remain after her death. He married commercial real estate agent Peggy Bales.
- Bales, Maj. George C., et al, eds. (1957) Jet Aces of the Korean Conflict. United States Air Force
- Bales, Bob (2002) Ernie Pyle: A Hoosier Childhood. Rivendell Book Factory ISBN 094435310X
- Bales, Bob (2003) Ernie Pyle's Southwest. Rivendell Book Factory ISBN 0944353134
- McLean, Jean M. (November 2010) "Veteran and Disney Cartoonist Bob Bales." Birmingham magazine. pp. 24-5