C. Ivan Stoltzfus has had a dream for a long time about taking a trip across the United States. After years of envisioning it, he’s now ready to start the trek from New Jersey to California on April 26.
But he’s doing it on a John Deere tractor.
Well, a tractor which has had some modifications for the journey.
“My son-in-law decided to put a (Peterbilt) cab on it for inclement weather,” Stoltzfus said. “(It was) completely redone and fitted on this tractor.”
Stoltzfus was inspired by his late father to pursue his dream, which he has called Across America for Wounded Heroes, and it will benefit the Wounded Warriors Project.
“Growing up as a child, I used to hear his stories about crossing the Mississippi River, driving all night on dirt roads and … I loved to hear the sound of those tractors and I thought someday I would love to go across America in one of those tractors,” Stoltzfus said. “Ten years or so before he passed away, he said to me, ‘Ivan, if you have a dream, don’t wait until you’re too old and physically can’t do it.’
“That began to haunt me several years ago when I had a good friend pass away and a friend or two who were very ill and I started thinking about this (trip).”
So now, at the age of 66, Stoltzfus has decided it’s time to fulfill his dream, and the year’s worth of planning is about to come to fruition in a matter of days.
The roughly 3,200-mile trek will begin in, quite literally, the Atlantic Ocean in Manasquan, N.J., and end, in about three months’ time, in Crescent City, Calif.
The journey will take Stoltzfus to certain points in the country where he can bring more awareness about the Wounded Warriors and has planned stops at veterans hospitals along the way, including Coatesville, where he will have breakfast with the veterans April 28 before continuing on.
Also planned in the area is a big parade filled with tractors in downtown Kennett Square on April 27 in which Stoltzfus’ “Johnabilt” will lead the way.
No matter how long the trip may take him, he has plenty of time to spare as he has given himself all of 2014. He has left his job as an auctioneer and real estate broker to dive head-first into this adventure of a lifetime.
He will, however, continue with some work as he’ll hold auctions along the way.
“I want to do a lot of benefit auctions to raise the money,” he said. “I’m concentrating on the cause.”
The Honey Brook native’s excursion has swept across the nation and monetary donations have come in as well as essential donations such as the tractor and the camper, which he will be towing behind him.
“It’s just humbling,” Stoltzfus said. “I’m finding out there’s so much good in America and there so many people willing to help. It’s just all about the fundraising.”
His hope is to raise $1 million out of the donations and auctions for the Wounded Warriors.
“I was never in the military and the older I get, I realize I took my freedom for granted and I want to give back,” Stoltzfus said. “(The soldiers) love us and America so much. They volunteered their service – a lot of them paying the ultimate price – and I feel like America is one big family.
“Families take care of each other and now it’s my turn to give back and show them love and show them they’re not forgotten.”
Anyone can follow along with this incredible journey as the map on his website (www.helpamericanheroes.com) will move as he does and Stoltzfus will also be updating via a blog at the end of every night as well.
Though the goal is $1 million and a cross-country hike, Stoltzfus actually has high hopes of going above and beyond that for the cause and, well, for the heck of it.
“My son-in-law graciously volunteered to send a truck out and bring the rig and tractor back,” he said. “I don’t talk much about this, but if the tractor is running well, I want to turn around and come back, or at least come back as far as I can. As long as the funds keep coming in, I’m not stopping.”
A tractor parade led by Stoltzfus will begin at 2 p.m. on Sunday, April 27 at Exelon, 300 Exelon Way, Kennett Square. It will be part of the Bring your Tractor to Church Weekend at the First Baptist Church of Kennett Square. For information on this, call the Rev. Jim Olsen at 484-883-2765 or e-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.