When C. Ivan Stoltzfus pulled into the parking lot of St. Paul Lutheran Church on his modified 1948 John Deere Model A tractor on Wednesday evening, he had some stories to share from his 4,000-plus miles on the road and the experiences that inspired his cross-country journeys.
“I started seeing friends that came back from the war who tried to adjust back into civil life and the pain from PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder) and that just hit me,” Stoltzfus said. “I just thought I needed to do something to bring awareness and let them know that someone is listening to those stories.”
Though the retired Pennsylvania farmer and part-time auctioneer has not served in the military, he decided he could do some good for veterans in need by taking his love of farming on the road. Stoltzfus partnered his organization, Across America for Wounded Heroes, with Operation Second Chance to benefit wounded and struggling veterans.
In May, he started his third trip across the country since 2014, collecting money for Operation Second Chance along his routes.
“First time I met him was in 2017 and it was just by coincidence,” Waco Antique Farm Machinery Club President Van Massirer said. “I went into the barber shop to get a haircut one day and the lady who cuts my hair, she knows I’m into old tractors, and she asked me if I saw that old tractor pull through town with a trailer.”
Out of curiosity, Massirer left the barber shop and went down to Tonkawa Falls RV Park and found the 1948 John Deere tractor and camper parked at the site, he said. Massirer and Stoltzfus exchanged stories and phone numbers with the agreement that if Stoltzfus came back through McLennan County, he would call Massirer.
“So, he called me and asked if I remembered that promise I made him in ’17,” Massirer said. “Anything I could do to help, I was going to do.”
Massirer and dozens of McLennan County residents gathered Wednesday evening for a pot luck dinner at St. Paul Lutheran Church. Stoltzfus entertained with stories from his first two cross-country trips, made at 14 to 15 mph in his tractor, modified with a Peterbilt truck cab fitting on top and pulling a travel trailer. He said he typically covers 60 to 70 miles a day.
“I think this is great, absolutely great. He is doing something for the troops,” said Wade Bottoms, a Speegleville resident who served 20 years in the U.S. Army, retiring as a sergeant first class. “This is impressive. I am thankful someone recognizes and does something, because a lot of vets might not have spent 20 years in, but they’ve gone through a lot.”
Inside his tractor, Stoltzfus said he spends a lot of time thinking about veterans he meets, especially the veterans who live with mental health issues brought on by their service. He said he is collecting stories and phone numbers along the way with plans to share stories after his journey.
“So far, I’m over 4,000 miles, but this trip will probably be over 5,500 when I end it in October in Sarasota, (Florida),” he said. “I’m going to be close to 17,000 miles on my tractor for all three trips, but I love hearing the stories and knowing I can do something to give back to the men and women that give me this freedom.”
Stoltzfus said he plans to finish his “horseshoe” route next month.
To make a donation or follow Stoltzfus, visit operationsecondchance.org/aafwh-home.