James Nelson Fike.Success in any line of occupation, in any avenue of business, is not a matter of spontaneity, but represents the results of the application of definite subjective forces and the controlling of objective agencies in such a way as to achieve desired ends. To have accomplished so notable a work as has Mr. Fike in connection with the development of northwestern Kansas should give precedence and reputation to most men. To have reached the position of the world's most extensive grower of hard winter wheat should fill to full the cup of his ambition. Since the days of its first settlement he has been Thomas county's most aggressive and enterprising citizen, possessing in abundance physical strength, indomitable pluck, untiring energy and initiative. It is probable that no one man through his own success in any given line of endeavor has drawn upon himself and the State of Kansas as well as the favorable comment which has attended upon the agricultural enterprises of the subject of this article.
James Nelson Fike is a native of Iowa and was born on his father's farm near La Porte, Black Hawk county, on November 11, 1858. He is a son of William and Mary J. (Harmon) Fike. The father was a native of Center county, Pennsylvania, born in March, 1830, and by trade a cabinet maker. He became a resident of Carroll county, Illinois, in 1852, and there married Mary Jane Harmon, a native of Indiana, born in 1834. In 1856 he removed with his family to Iowa, and located near La Porte, Black Hawk county. He engaged in farming and became a successful and influential citizen. His death occurred in March, 1911, at the age of eighty-one, and that of his wife in 1906, at the age of seventy-two. The following children survive: George W. Fike, editor and publisher of the "Western Wave," of Saline county, Nebraska; James N., of this record; Phoebe, wife of William R. Hamilton, a real estate dealer, of Los Angeles, Cal.; Ann F., wife of J. F. Light, cashier of the Winona State Bank, Winona, Kan.; Nora L., wife of Elisha Wilcox, of Los Angeles, Cal., and Mae, wife of William Taylor, of Salt Lake, Utah, an employe of the Western Pacific railway.
James Nelson Fike acquired his education in the public schools of his native county and in La Porte Academy. In 1871 he located in Saline county, Nebraska, where his father had located. He married there in 1879 and in the following year embarked in farming on his own account. In 1885 he came to Kansas, driving, with his wife and two small sons, across country. He took a homestead four miles east of Colby, Thomas county, then in its first days of settlement. Shortly after his becoming a resident of this section the county was organized, and he was elected its first county clerk by a non-partisan vote. He then became a citizen of Colby, which has continued to be his home. In 1887 he was appointed postmaster at Colby by President Cleveland, and served two years and eight months, a change in administration providing a Republican to succeed him. On conclusion of this service he engaged in the hardware and implement business, but disposed of this interest in 1894 in order to fill the office of register of the United States Land Office at Colby, to which he had been appointed by President Cleveland. This office was the result of a consolidation of the land offices at Oberlin and Kirwin. Mr. Fike served in this capacity until 1898, when a Republican administration appointed a successor. He was elected a member of the Board of Railroad Commissioners in 1900 and served until an amendment to the laws was made in 1903. Since his locating in Thomas county in 1885 he has been a consistent and earnest advocate of the agricultural possibilities of this section of the State and had been steadily acquiring land. He had become not only a large land owner, but an extensive cattle breeder and feeder, and had realized a substantial financial return. It was not until 1906, however, that he began the raising of hard wheat on an extensive scale, a line of endeavor which in the next five seasons was to place him at the front as the world's largest individual producer of the cereal. The following from the report of J. C. Mohler, assistant secretary of Kansas State Board of Agriculture, of September, 1910, gives a comprehensive idea not only of Mr. Fike's operations in this line, but the value of his efforts to the State at large:
"Probably the most extensive grower of hard winter wheat in the world is J. N. Fike, of Colby, Thomas county; Kansas. In 1910 he harvested nearly 14,000 acres of the kind that has made Kansas famous and its producers prosperous. This is a larger area of wheat than was harvested in 1909 in the states of Maine, New Hampshire, Vermont, Massachusetts, Connecticut, Rhode Island and Mississippi combined.
"Naturally, in the course of making her record as the great producer of breadstuffs, Kansas has had numerous extensive wheat growers. A State with Kansas's rural population that has raised the record wheat crop of America, more than 99,000 bushels in 1901, or nearly as much as was produced by the whole United States fifty years before; ranked first in yield six years of the ten ending with 1909, and in the decade threshed 770,590,197 bushels, as Kansas did, or nearly 62,000,000 bushels more than the State next, which was Minnesota, must have a considerable number of farmers who conduct wheat farming on a large scale, for otherwise there would not be the six or seven million acres annually devoted to this grain.
"Fields of five hundred to a thousand acres under one management have been not uncommon. In 1903, J. T. Stewart (since deceased), of Sumner county, had 18,000 acres, and the same year A. J. Rice, whose home is in Atchison, harvested 8,000 acres on his Graham county farm. Notwithstanding his considerably smaller acreage, it was reported that Mr. Rice actually threshed out more wheat in 1903 from his 8,000 acres than did Mr. Stewart from his 18,000, the crop conditions having been unfavorable in Sumner county. Both of these gentlemen were heavy holders of realty in the counties where their crops were produced, but they did not wholly grow the wheat themselves, as Mr. Fike does, but depended mostly upon tenants.
"It is through a favoring combination of ability, land, conditions, funds and machinery that has made J. N. Fike a leader in his line. His practices differ from those in common use in that instead of depending so largely upon horse power in the preparation of his seed beds he uses principally steam; otherwise they are much the same, only more extensive, applied to larger acreages, requiring more harvesters, more men, and, of course, able management.
"But his practices are radically different from those followed by farmers thirty-five years ago. They plowed with oxen; Fike turns the soil with gangs of plows drawn by steam. One of their outfits might possibly plow three acres a day, while one of Fike's turns forty-five to fifty acres, at much less cost per acre. The one was a stranger to the header, while the other employed forty of these machines for harvesting his 1910 crop. They raised soft wheat, while Fike grows the hard, red, flinty 'Turkey' wheat, which has displaced the soft varieties in nine-tenths of the fields of Kansas, and which they adopted in 1877. Besides, Mr. Fike's location is in a region which for years was considered only adapted to grazing. Hence the latter's wheat experiences are at this time, like those in the '70s, important and significant, because his methods are regarded as practicable to a large portion of western Kansas, where in counties wholly west of the one hundredth meridian perhaps eighty per cent. of the prairie has not as yet felt the touch of the plowshare. Mr. Fike's judgment should be good, too, for he located in Thomas county twenty-five years ago, and has raised more or less wheat for the past ten years.
"He first used the steam traction engines in the fall of 1906, sowing 1,600 acres that year; the following year the area was increased to 2,500 acres, in 1908 to 4,000 acres, in 1909 to 10,200 acres, in 1910 to 13,790 acres, and his plans were for sowing 17,000 acres in the fall of 1910 for the crop of 1911, and at the time this was written (September) conditions for seeding were excellent.
"The Fike lands are to the west and north of Colby; the 14,000 acres are not all in one field, but consist of numerous tracts of 200 to nearly 4,000 acres each, all 'divide' or upland, worth on an average perhaps $25 per acre. The largest field is nine miles west of Colby, and contains almost 3,800 acres.
"That everything is handled on a large scale on the Fike farms is suggested by the following data regarding them:
"Actual wheat area, 17,000 acres.
"Number of men employed in harvesting alone, 185.
"Number of men employed in threshing, 20.
"Number of men employed in plowing with steam plows, 30.
"Number of horses and mules employed in harvest alone, 325.
"Number employed in plowing and seeding for new crop, 200.
"Headers used in harvest, 40, each cutting 30 acres a day.
"Steam plows used, 5.
"Gasoline plow, 1.
"Capacity steam plows, 45 to 50 acres a day each.
"Capacity gasoline plow, 25 to 30 acres a day.
"Capacity steam discs, 90 to 100 acres a day.
"One threshing machine, capacity, 2,000 bushels a day.
"Probable total yield for 1910, 120,000 bushels.
"Fike has one of the largest threshing outfits made. It has a 36-inch cylinder and has threshed 2,400 bushels a day. The usual run is a little over 2,000 bushels a day. The machine begins to hum about 6 o'clock every morning and keeps going until sundown every night, all through August and September, every day the weather will permit. Heretofore the wheat was hauled directly from the machine to the cars and shipped at once, and this obtains yet for large quantities, but Mr. Fike this year (1910) built a 30,000-bushel elevator at Levant, the first station west of Colby, and nearer his fields, which will enable him to hold a goodly percentage of his crop should conditions make it desirable. Previously he has been compelled to sell at threshing time, owing to lack of storage facilities.
"As they constitute the main essential in which Mr. Fike's practices differ from those on most Kansas farms where small grain is raised, interest centers in the steam and gasoline plowing machinery. The steam engines are of fifty horsepower, and move at a speed of five miles an hour, carrying enough coal and water for that distance. To the steam engines are hitched thirty disc plows, coupled in gangs of six plows or discs each, and one lever controls all the plows in each gang, or one lever is coupled so that all the plows are thrown into or out of the ground at the same time. One man drives the engine, another sees that a good head of steam is kept up, and a third watches the plows. There is a running board a foot wide over the entire length of the plow gangs so that the plow operators can walk along and watch each disc at its work. The plows are coupled to the engine with cables, and other cables keep the plows pulling evenly, and still others pull the harrows. Each gang of the plow cuts six furrows eight inches wide, or four feet, the whole group inverting at once a strip of ground twenty feet wide.
"The gasoline plow is of thirty horsepower and pulls three gang plows of six discs each, cutting twelve feet. It is much more ecomonical[sic] than the steam engine, and it is the intention to early displace the steam outfits with the others. The gasoline engines are not only operated more cheaply, but the first cost is less, and they are easier to manage. The steam outfits for plowing cost $3,800, and the gasoline engine $3,000."
Mr. Fike's interest in fine cattle is still in evidence, although his wheat interests prevent his keeping up as large a herd as in former years. He has attained the Knights Templar degree in Masonry and is affiliated with Isis Temple Shrine at Salina. He married at Wilber, Neb., on December 31, 1879, Miss Jennie Noll, a daughter of John Noll, a farmer, of Lycoming county, Pennsylvania. They are the parents of three children: Harry M. Fike, born October 24, 1880, a stock buyer for Swift & Company at Los Angeles, Cal.; Guy B. Fike, born February 15, 1883, a conductor with the Rock Island lines, who resides at Goodland, Kan., and Blanche A., born July 16, 1892, a graduate of the Sacred Heart Convent at St. Joe, Mo. Mrs. Fike is a woman of broad education, a member of the Presbyterian church, and popular in the social circles of her home county, in which she and her daughter are leaders.
Mr. Fike is in all respects a high type of the conservative, unassuming American, diligent in his various duties and commercial affairs, and conscientious in all things. To him Kansas is indebted not only for an object lesson in scientific agriculture, but for unselfish public service in which he was of material value as a constructive element in legislation of value. He has realized a substantial success from his labors and is rich in the possession of a well-earned popularity and the esteem which comes from honorable living.Pages 327-331 from a supplemental volume of Kansas: a cyclopedia of state history, embracing events, institutions, industries, counties, cities, towns, prominent persons, etc. ... / with a supplementary volume devoted to selected personal history and reminiscence. Standard Pub. Co. Chicago : 1912. 3 v. in 4. : front., ill., ports.; 28 cm. Vols. I-II edited by Frank W. Blackmar. Transcribed October 2002 by Carolyn Ward. This volume is identified at the Kansas State Historical Society as microfilm LM196. It is a single volume 3.
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