KENNETT SQUARE — It’s likely that anyone who was trying to count the tractors in Sunday’s parade along State Street lost track after the first 15 minutes.
The procession, that went on for 45 minutes from Exelon Energy in Kennett Township to the First Baptist Church in the borough, honored and supported Ivan Stoltzfus, the Honey Brook resident who is driving his tractor and recreational vehicle across the United States in support of wounded veterans.
Several hundred tractors, accompanied by motorcycles, military vehicles and an honor guard pleased spectators along the route.
The parade itself started promptly at 2 p.m., but visitors and fans had plenty of time beforehand with a concert the night before, a church service in the morning and a parade of the vehicles out of the church parking lot en route to the starting point.
Stoltzfus told interviewers before the event that he intended to cross the United States to raise money and awareness of the plight of veterans who had been injured in the wars. He began last week with his tractor and trailer dipped at the edge of the Atlantic Ocean.
The word spread throughout the spectators and hosts of the Kennett Square leg of the trip that Stoltzfus was carrying a container of that water from the Atlantic in hopes of emptying it into the Pacific in a symbolic way of uniting the nation.
On Saturday night, tractors for all over the region started to assemble in the church parking lot along West State Street.
By Sunday morning, many of the tractor drivers were participating in the religious service inside led by Pastor James Olsen, a friend of Stoltzfus who himself is a tractor aficionado and has seven of his own that he has restored.
Olsen is also is a member of the “Waterloo Boys,” a group of individuals who love tractors and organize and run an annual event in Lancaster County called “Rough and Tumble” that is a kind of festive convention for tractors.
He said he loves tractors because they are essential to farming. “I’m a farmer at heart. They have fed America for years. These machines have served our country for over a hundred years, and to restore a piece of metal like this is like raising a deceased person back to life,” he said.
Also present to watch the festivities was John Henry of Wilmington, who had a business called “Classic Tractor Fever” that sold tractor memorabilia. He also publishes a yearly calendar that features pictures of various models of tractors. When he looked out over the antique and modern tractors assembled there, he said, “There are enough here for five years of calendars.”
As the time grew near for the parade to assemble at Exelon, scores of bikers arrived, many of them on Harley-Davidsons with their characteristic sound.
Before the whole entourage left, they were given lunches in paper bags that included brownies, in the style of lunches issued in the military.
Visitors got something of bonus parade as all the vehicles left to parking lot for the starting point, led by Stoltzfus’ tractor and its large trailer bearing the headlines “Across America for Wounded Heroes, changing lives one mile at a time.”
At that point there were about 70 tractors and about 20 bikes, but they met up with more at Exelon and the number appeared to have doubled with vehicles from other areas joining in.
Watching from the side was Stoltzfus’ cousin Earl Stoltzfus, who runs and owns Stoltzfus RVs and Marine in West Chester. He provided the trailer that Ivan would call home for the next few weeks. As the bikes and tractors drove by he said, “It kind of makes you heart beat faster.”
Ivan Stoltzfus will be accompanied by various police escorts throughout the United States and said he has been offered lodging and places to park his vehicle all along the way.