HONEY BROOK, Pa. (AP) — Each morning over the four months that C. Ivan Stoltzfus drove his tractor across the country, he would climb into the cab and see the photos.
And as crossed the United States, the photos of military service members became more numerous.
People would drive for as much as eight hours to meet him. Often with tears in their eyes, they would and give his photos of their wounded or dead loved one, and thank him for what he was doing.
"That just encouraged me to keep going and bring the message to the country: that we're free because they paid the price," said Stoltzfus, of Honey Brook.
Stoltzfus completed his 3,510-mile trek in Crescent City, Calif. on Aug. 9. He returned home Friday.
On Saturday, there will be a welcome home party in his honor at the Rough and Tumble Engineers Historical Association fairgrounds, 4997 Lincoln Highway East, Kinzers. The event will be from 4-8 p.m.
Stoltzfus did the cross country trip in his modified 1948 John Deere tractor to raise money for the Wounded Warrior Project. The organization supports injured veterans.
So far, Stoltzfus' effort has raised more than $102,000, "and there is more coming in, I know," he said Wednesday.
But what became more important to Stoltzfus than the money was the individual connections he made with veterans along the way.
People came up to him at gas pumps and scenic vistas, at events and as he drove the tractor. Most had stories to tell.
"There is so much hidden pain there," Stoltzfus said of the veterans and their families.
Many thanked him for his concern. And many thanked him for just taking the time to listen.
"This is what America needs: a heart to heart talk," one veteran told him, Stoltzfus recalled.
One of the most memorable moments of his trip was when a wounded soldier gave Stoltzfus his Purple Heart medal.
The veteran, now taking college classes, said he didn't have much money but wanted to give what he could to support Stoltzfus' trip.
The medal is in the cab of tractor along with a photo of the veteran, Stoltzfus said.
Stoltzfus, 67, a semiretired auctioneer and real estate broker, was never in the military. But, as he grew older he felt he should do something to thank veterans for the freedom he took for granted.
He never expected to have them thank him.
"I was just humbled. I felt so unworthy," he said of the reception he has received.
Pulling a camper trailer behind his tractor, Stoltzfus left Manasquan, New Jersey, on April 26. On Aug. 9, he arrived in Crescent City.
There, he combined a jar of Atlantic Ocean water he had brought with water from the Pacific.
"That was to symbolize one nation under God," he said. Stoltzfus also mixed sand from the New Jersey and California beaches.
The two points were linked by hardship, Stoltzfus said. Manasquan had been battered by Hurricane Sandy in 2012, while Crescent City had been hit by the waves from the distant earthquake and tsunami that struck Fukushima, Japan in 2011.
That's why he chose them for his journey, Stoltzfus said.
Along his backroads route, Stoltzfus was surprised to see so many signs welcoming and encouraging him. Green tractors were parked along his route with signs that said "Go Ivan!" and "High Five, Ivan."
There were horns blaring as he drove at 14-15 mph, but it was honking in support, he said. Motorists and people along the route waved and gave him thumbs up.
"It really raised my faith in this country," he said.
Police officers met him along the route and thanked him. His last 30 miles to the California coast was escorted by the state's Highway Patrol.
In fact, the only state that objected was Pennsylvania. State Transportation Department officials initially told him he would need front-and-back escort vehicles, fire police at every intersection he crossed and permission from every municipality he entered.
Stoltzfus enlisted the help of state Rep. Gordon Denlinger and PennDOT eventually backed off those demands.
Despite a three-day stop at a farm show in Boone, Iowa, Stoltzfus took a faster means of travel home. He flew.
His tractor was transported by D.L. Landis trucking, of Willow Street. Stoltzfus drove the tractor home from Landis' Byerland Church Road facility last Saturday.
The welcome home party at Rough and Tumble is open to the public and donations to the Wounded Warrior Project will be accepted.
Information from: Intelligencer Journal/Lancaster New Era , http://lancasteronline.com