Norton man agrees to buy ranch

By MIKE CORN

mcorn@dailynews.net

With an asking price of $11 million, Norman Nelson wasn't at all interested in taking a closer look at the famed Pyramid Ranch in southwest Gove County.

"I said at $10 million, I'd go look at it," said Nelson, a Norton resident whose current ownership interests include First State Bank and extensive landholdings in Norton, Trego and Russell counties.

The rest of the story, as they say, now is history, and Nelson has agreed to purchase the 12,900-acre ranch, which includes Monument Rocks -- deemed a National Natural Landmark by the National Park Service and one of the 8 Wonders of Kansas.

Nelson, in a telephone interview from Florida, agreed the Pyramids, as they're called by area residents, truly are a state wonder.

He's not sure, however, what the access will be once the sale is completed.

"At the moment, there is total access to Monument Rocks," he said. "I'm now sure what we're going to do."

He said that out of concern over liability, raised when seller J.M. Theis, Topeka, told Nelson about an incident several years ago, when someone climbed to the top of the rocks and fell to his death.

"At this moment, they're open to the public," he said. "We're not sure what to do. It would probably be smart to put up a good fence. Let the people look at them, but not go around them."

A main county road splits the rocks, which has shared its 8 Wonders designation with Castle Rock in the eastern part of the county.

While Nelson has looked at the ranch before, this time around, all the papers have been signed and only the legal research needs to be completed.

"I guess it's going to happen," he said.

Nelson crossed paths with Pyramid Ranch a few years ago, when a friend suggested it might be for sale.

"I couldn't get a straight answer from anyone," Nelson said of the situation at the time. "I just gave up the idea of buying it."

So much so he didn't even get involved when there was a public auction of the ranch last fall, an auction that fetched a bid of $8.5 million. That bid, however, was deemed unacceptable by family members, who ended up putting the ranch -- though the corporation owned all of the land -- up for sale through private treaty.

But that's when Warren Bullock, the Norton resident who first suggested Nelson look at the ranch, suggested he might contact the owners again.

Nelson then contacted Theis, whose family has owned the ranch for years.

That's when the exchange about the price started.

Much like the auction, Nelson will be buying the entire ranch -- 12,900 acres -- and most of the mineral rights with it. The land itself actually is owned by the Pyramid Ranch Corp.

"It's all owned by the corporation, and I'm buying the corporation entirely," he said.

He plans to use the ranch as part of his ranching organization.

He owns the former Running W Grazing Association in Trego County, where he's built a 6,000-head feedlot he fills with his own cattle. He also owns a ranch near Paradise.

He owns land in Norton County, much of it irrigated, but most of it is farmed by his son and grandson.

The Pyramid Ranch, he said, is cross-fenced into six pastures and will be able to support anywhere from 1,300 to 1,600 cow-calf pairs.

He's also planning to expand oil exploration operations beyond the three wells already located on the ranch.

Nelson said he's already been told by an oil man he could recover the purchase price through the sale of mineral rights.

He's hopeful the ranch purchase was a good move.

"You don't want to piss away $10 million for nothing," Nelson said.