Colby, the scene of action described in this sketch, is the County Seat of Thomas County, located on the Rock Island Railroad and 204 miles nearly west of Salina on the Colby Branch of the Union Pacific. At Colby, the Colby Branch extends southeast and connects with the main line of the Union Pacific at Oakley, 26 miles from Colby.
The population of Colby in 1903, was about 1000, but Colby, then, was the town of northwestern Kansas. Businessmen of Colby were wide-awake, worked enthusiastically for Colby and business went to Colby for many miles.
The O'Pelt Hotel, a three story brick structure and modern, was owned and operated 43 years by the Parrott family. The O'Pelt was the Hotel of northwestern Kansas, because of its location and accomodations. Traveling men, who remained on their territories over the weekend stopped at the O'Pelt. During the winter of 1905 and 1906, when steam plow business was at the crest in Thomas and adjacent counties, the O'Pelt was headquarters for many steam plow equipment salesmen. Colby trains were mostly night trains and those arriving on them, without reservations, were fortunate not to sit up the remainder of the night and if they slept not to sleep in their chairs.
In 1905, much land in Thomas and other northwestern Counties, remained buffalo grass sod. Plowing cultivated land or sod with horses was a slow process. Three acres a day with a single plow and six with a gang were day's work. Larger crops were being planted. The problem was, to prepare larger acreage, within the proper time. Other than horse power, steam was the only available power.
In the 1880's, Geiser Mfg. Co., built an engine plow and the Q Peerless engine for plowing. This engine was rear mounted, with live axle, built before the time of the clutch, a useless thing on a plow engine and without an intermediate gear, a source of trouble, on an engine. The gearing was cushioned with hard rubber washers and coil springs. The flywheel turned about a revolution before the engine moved on the ground, because of the cushion. The engine was slow but powerful on the traction and would arrive at its destination, if allowed time. Steam did not come into use, as a plowing power for many years after the coming of the Q Peerless engine and then for a short time only.
Ira Burk, of Hays, bought an engine in 1904 and plowed cultivated land, being one of the first operators of steam plows on the Block. Francis Blender, Hays, bought a heavy geared engine in 1905 and plowed cultivated land. Those engines and others prepared the way for the large sale of engine sold in northwestern Kansas in 1906, to plow buffalo grass sod.
Jim Fike in the 1900's was very much a part of Colby, possessed an abiding faith in the future of Thomas County and backed his faith with his money. He bought steam plow equipment, plowed thousands of acres of buffalo grass sod, cultivated that land and drilled it to wheat, not once, but several times. What Jim Fike did and his influence, were factors in the large sale of steam plow equipment in Thomas County in 1906.
Disc and mold-board plows were used to plow buffalo grass sod. Disc plows were light draft, required less sharpening than mold-boards and badly kinked the sod. Mold-board plows were heavy draft, required frequent sharpening and turned the sod flatly.