Honey Brook retired farmer C. Ivan Stoltzfus, with his retrofitted 1948 John Deere A tractor, left from Gettysburg May 11 to raise awareness and funds for Across America for Wounded Heroes and first responders partnered with Operation Second Chance.
By June 30, after traveling through many states and completing multiple TV interviews, Ivan arrived in South Dakota. Braving many storms and rough roads, at times Ivan had to put on his neck brace after what he called “riding like a bronco” over the cracks in the roads.
Ivan is known locally for his feisty fortitude and his famed Johnabilt and crew, The Rooster, Teddy, Puppy, Camper, and Smiley the yellow scooter, as well as his adventure books, “A Dream to Reality” and “The Dream Continues.”
“On the road again,” you can hear Ivan singing along with Willie Nelson and his country and gospel songs over the putt-putt of that familiar tractor sound.
Reaching Mt. Rushmore, he was determined to challenge a 10 percent grade hill to climb to the famous National Shrine in the Black Hills of South Dakota. There carved into the granite rock are the sculptures of four famous presidents, George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Theodore Roosevelt and Abraham Lincoln.
His eyes fixed on George Washington, our first President, Ivan wanted to pay homage to all American warriors since 1776, the day America declared its Independence.
Ivan likes this quote by President Ronald Reagan: "Freedom is never more than one generation away from extinction. We didn't pass it to our children in the bloodstream. It must be fought for, protected, and handed on for them to do the same, or one day we will spend our sunset years telling our children and our children's children what it was once like in the United States where men were free."
Ivan posted on his blog that day: “I had to shift down into 3rd gear with traffic behind me. It was all up and down. Closer to Mt. Rushmore there was a steep downgrade a narrow road, guard rails on one side and a rock wall on the other.
A long line of campers and cars behind me, seeing the steep drop off, I was sweating, and my knuckles were white. Everyone else couldn’t get around me. The road had sharp switchbacks. As I came around the next curve, there was a pull off. If only I would have known. Everybody was pleasant and happy as they went around me.
I made it up to Mt. Rushmore and pulled in. It was hot and hazy and there was only one spot to get a good picture with Johnabilt. I took a few.
A Park Ranger came by, “If you come up early in the morning you will have a better chance of getting better pictures. There are less shadows.”
So, I decided to get up early in the morning and putt up the two-mile 10-percent grade mountain again.
I came down the mountain in 3rd gear, the engine held the rig back pretty good. I had a shoulder where I could have about two-thirds of the rig off the road. I was putting and backfiring at times. The Rooster was sure upset about this and I had to calm down Johnabilt and the whole crew until I found my campsite at the bottom of the mountain in a town called Keystone.
Later headed on to the town of Deadwood, a young man came up to me with a prosthetic foot who had served in the Iraq War. He asked about Operation Second Chance. He shared with me his battle with PTSD and was how he was ready to end his life. Being so miserable from all the medications he was taking, he enrolled in a program. That only made it worse. He came home from this program and just wanted to end his life and his brother hated him so much. One day, the brother got a shotgun and shot him in the foot; that’s how he lost his foot, not in the war.
We forget sometimes that these kids come from rural America, from bad homes and broken homes. When they come back from war and go back home, they are more than likely going back to those bad situations they left. Their families struggle with how to understand the ‘warfighter’ now that he or she is home and suffering from the trauma of war.
Then he found Sacred Mountain Retreat Center here in Deadwood, SD, and he said he feels like a new man. They helped, and he was able to get a job at an ATV shop. He’s doing good and recommends Sacred Mountain Retreat Center to anyone with PTSD.
I shared with him how OSC helps and works with veterans. He asked for some flyers to share with some of veterans he served with.”
Ivan moved on to Belle Fourche, a town that was celebrating its 100th year Anniversary. Real cowboys on horses and bulls ran the streets. Ivan joined a large crowd and in a parade of 300 entries, Ivan was number 249. His goal is to always gain attention for our national heroes.
“I thank God for being able to live in a free country and for those that are willing to fight for our freedom. We have a responsibility to help those that are willing to sacrifice for our freedom,” said Ivan.
To follow his blog, track him in real time, or donate visit operationsecondchance.org/aafwh-home.