Overbrook Jim Ruble drives his pickup slowly through the tall grasses and muddy gulleys on his farm near Overbrook. He points out black walnut groves, recently planted bur oaks, redbuds and a variety of pine trees.
On the right is a patch of ground where turnips — a favorite of deer — will be planted, he explains. Ahead is another plowed strip of land that might be sown with milo or millet.
Ruble, 84, a retired Overbrook physician, has planted thousands of trees and wildlife food plots on his farm over the past three decades.
“It gives me something to do,” he said, describing his Johnny Appleseed-like passion. “I like to be active, and I enjoy it.”
Ruble grew up on a farm near Parker. He moved to Overbrook in 1954 after serving in the Air Force during World War II and graduating from Baker University in 1949 and Kansas University School of Medicine in 1953.
“I was raised on a farm and always wanted to have a retirement farm with ponds — and with the idea of planting trees,” he said.
Ruble said he purchased his farm — a 160-acre tract about five miles south of Overbrook — in 1976 and within two years built a pond. The first plantings — wildlife bundles and trees — came in 1980.
“My wife, Lois, and I planted 2,000 trees and shrubs,” he said, adding their first walnut grove went into the ground that year.
Ruble said they dug 2-by-2-foot holes about 18 to 24 inches deep. In each hole went fertilizer, water and a bare-root tree provided by the Kansas Forest Service, with headquarters at Kansas State University.
That summer the temperatures soared, and the couple spent most of their spare time watering and cultivating the trees.
In the mid-1980s, the Rubles planted a second walnut grove and decided to give food plots for deer and wildlife a try. In 1991, they planted their first shelter belt of Austrian pine, oak, walnut and locust trees, which helped manage drifting snow during the winter months.
Ruble said 1992 was a banner year: More than 5,000 trees went into the ground, including a 300-tree walnut grove, a tree-lined road to a shed and pine-tree borders on the east and north sides of the property.
“It was our first year to use a tractor and auger for digging the holes. We’d dig the hole in the fall, let them break down over the winter. We’d put some fresh dirt (in the hole) in the spring and plant the trees,” he explained.
Ruble retired from his medical practice in 1993, and five weeks later had a heart attack. Since then, he has had two more heart attacks and three pacemakers implanted into his chest.
Health concerns didn’t slow him down for long, though. With his family’s help, Ruble planted more walnut, red oaks and hackberry trees in 1995, and then spent most of his spare time 1996 through 2002 caring for the trees and replacing ones that had died. The next year, he added American plum, fragrant sumac, sand hill plum, hackberry and oak along a fence on the west side of the farm.
Then, in 2004-05, beavers invaded the farm, killing hundreds of trees.
“Beavers came in and destroyed the trees around the pond,” he said. “They came up from the Pomona Dam. One year a guy (who trapped beavers for their hides) caught seven of them. They weighed 24 pounds to 48 pounds.”
Ruble said he planted about 250 trees around the pond in 2005 to replace those destroyed by the beavers.
Because of his heart condition, that was the last time he used bare-root seedlings from the forestry service for his plantings. In 2007, he started using a tractor to plant acorns and nuts.
“I had over 90 percent survival rate,” he said of his first “tractor” planting. “I like to plant nuts in December, but this year the dirt was too hard.”
Over the years, Ruble said, he’s planted from 11,000 to 12,000 trees and flowering shrubs, representing more than 40 varieties, at his farm.
“Many of those were replanted, because it was too rocky or too wet in some places,” he said.
He also has planted nine different wildlife food plots and installed bluebird, wood duck and goose nests, bat houses and a fish feeder on the pond’s dock. The farm now has three ponds, storage sheds and deer stands.
Ruble’s wife died four years ago, but each year his family comes to the farm for its annual Memorial Day and Labor Day fishing derbys. Son James Ruble III, who worked at a bank in McPherson and now lives in Lindsborg, and daughter Peggy Heil, who lives in Topeka and teaches at McClure Elementary School, sometimes help him plant and tend trees. Another daughter, Rebecca Ruble, is a family physician in Lenexa.
Ruble said he’ll plant trees and wildlife food plots at the farm as long as he can.
“I always felt like I’d like to leave the farm in a better place than I got it,” he said.