A retired Pennsylvania farmer is nearing the end of a journey that took him from the New Jersey shore to Del Norte's redwoods in an effort to raise money for wounded veterans.
C. Ivan Stoltzfus, 67, backed his 1948 John Deere Model A tractor into the Atlantic Ocean at Manasquan, N.J., on April 26. Fourteen weeks after navigating his rig across 3,498 miles of back roads, Stoltzfus was less than 20 miles away from his destination on Monday.
On Saturday, Stoltzfus will wend his way through Jedediah Smith Redwoods State Park and Crescent City to South Beach. Once there he will dip the tractor's front end in the Pacific Ocean.
"When I left the Atlantic Ocean I got a pint of water and a pint of sand, and that's what I'm going to do here," Stoltzfus said. "Then I have a quart jar where I'm pouring the two together, and that's my symbolism - bringing America together, bringing awareness for those that fought for our freedom."
Stoltzfus, who is from eastern Pennsylvania, purchased his tractor about a year ago and refurbished it with help from the Waterloo Boys Two Cylinder Tractor Club of southeastern Pennsylvania. A 1984 Peterbilt cab was added to the tractor, and Stoltzfus tows a 24-foot camper donated by Stoltzfus RV of West Chester, Pa.
Stoltzfus said he hoped to raise $1 million for the Wounded Warrior Project, a veterans service organization that offers programs and events for veterans of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. So far, Stoltzfus has only raised $83,707, but he said the people he's met and stories they've told mean more than the money.
For example, there's Army Sgt. Jeremy Jackson of Dormont, Pa. Jackson, who was shot by an enemy sniper while in Iraq, met Stoltzfus at a motel with his wife and two young boys.
"He came to me with a little box and he said, 'I have a gift for you.' I opened it up and it was a Purple Heart. I said, 'Jeremy, I can't take that, you earned it.' But he was persistent."
Jackson's Purple Heart and a photo of him and his family hangs from the John Deere's dashboard. Stoltzfus also displays a button from the 116th Calvary Brigade Combat Team based in Boise, Idaho, as well as a photo of a soldier who lost his life in battle.
"Every morning when I crawl into that cab and see that Purple Heart I realize that somebody paid a price so I can be free," he said. "Jeremy was a hero, is a hero, and he paid a big price."
In addition to listening to the veterans he meets, Stoltzfus said his tractor generates a lot of attention, especially from older folks who might have farmed with a Model A.
On the road, even though his tractor's top speed is 18 mph, Stoltzfus said folks have flashed the thumbs-up sign, cheered and honked their horns.
Just before leaving O'Brien, Ore., where he had been camping for a couple days, Stoltzfus took his scooter, a yellow SunL, ahead of his rig throughCollier Tunnel. He said he decided to leave at the crack of dawn on Monday to tackle the tunnel in his tractor.
California Highway Patrol officers escorted Stoltzfus through the Smith River Canyon, stopping cars so he could navigate the treacherous road.
"The support from everybody just thanking me is so encouraging," he said. "It was just such a blessing. That was so encouraging (for me) to keep moving."
On Saturday, Stoltzfus will be escorted from his current location at the Hiouchi RV Resort to a meet and greet at 10 a.m. at Home Depot, said Jeff Parmer, executive director of the Crescent City-Del Norte Chamber of Commerce. There will then be a procession through town to the Crescent City Harbor and then South Beach, where there will be a color guard from the VFW and the national anthem will be sung.
Once at South Beach, a representative of the Del Norte County Board of Supervisors will present a proclamation to Stoltzfus, while Mayor Pro Tem Ron Gastineau will speak on behalf of the city.
Reach Jessica Cejnar at email@example.com.