The eldest of eight kids, Dave Wolfsen was born and raised on a dairy farm, but he hated cows and preferred pitching box stalls all day to milking cows. Driving the tractor to spread that manure, on the other hand, was considered a reward.
The fascination with tractors was embedded early on and has only grown through the years.But even some of the most die-hard tractor lovers would balk at what Wolfsen, 66, is planning to do.
Part adventure, part mission to help others, Wolfsen will embark on a journey that will take him through all 48 contiguous states on an antique tractor pulling a 20-foot camper trailer. At press time, he plans to leave his hometown of Fremont on June 1. Undoubtedly, he will have some of the most interesting stories of “what I did over my summer” to tell when he returns some 75 days later.
• Dave Wolfsen has combined two of his passions — tractors and helping others.
• Goal of the trip through 48 states is to raise $200,000 or more.
• Follow his progress online and invite him to your community.
If you’re scratching your head and wondering why, that’s exactly what he wants people to ask while he’s traveling the countryside.
Wolfsen, aka Tractor Dave, is trekking across the United States to familiarize people with two humanitarian, nonprofit organizations: the Christian Reformed World Relief Committee, or CRWRC, and Foods Resource Bank. He’s hoping to raise at least $200,000 in donations to be split evenly for their causes.
Each day, traveling 25 to 30 mph, he’ll cover about 125 miles. “That’s about five hours on the tractor, which isn’t too bad,” he says.
The rest of the time he will seek out people in rural communities and try to organize evening ag banquets or coffee talks. On his laptop he has a PowerPoint presentation on the work of the two missions. Using a network of churches, Tractor Dave has several stops planned, where he will talk, but also listen. He’s using an audio recorder to capture these conversations. “At some point, I have ambitions of compiling them into a book,” he says.
He also has a Facebook page that will chronicle his daily adventures in a blog-type format with new photos being posted each day.
At night, through the generosity of others, he hopes someone will allow him to park and plug in his trailer, where he has many comforts of home, as well as tools and a few spare parts. At press time, Tractor Dave had about 20 scheduled stops. “The rest will be fly-by-night,” he says.
For the most part, the trip is a solo ride, but there will be some who will tag along for stretches of the journey. Some will follow him in their own antique tractors, while others will occupy the extra seat that he had mounted next to his. “I have some people who are flying out and will take a taxi to wherever I am to ride for a day,” he says. Marvin Baldwin, Foods Resource Bank president and CEO, is one who will join him.
Love of tractors
For 36 years Wolfsen sold tractors as an International Harvester dealer. He’s retired now — kind of. Ironically, it was during his part-time job of spreading brine on roads for the county road commission that he came across a unique find. He spotted an old tractor sitting in someone’s yard in pretty rough shape.
“You see a lot of things when you’re traveling country roads at 6 mph. At first I thought it was a doodlebug — something fabricated with pieces and parts,” he says. “In speaking with the grandson of the man who bought it new, I learned it was a 1937 Co-Op tractor manufactured by Farm Bureau. I thought it was kind of unique, and I had 50 bucks in my pocket.”
Wolfsen hauled it to the barn of friend Larry Brinkman, and the two began to tinker with it. “I bought it in the spring of 2007, and by the winter of 2008-09, we had it running. All I had was time in it.”
Now that he had an antique tractor, he would take rides with members of his church, the First Christian Reformed Church. That led to an invitation to take a weeklong tractor ride though Illinois and Iowa. “I was going to trailer it down there. Then I thought, geez my tractor goes 30 mph, I could drive it down there in 10 hours.”
Plan keeps growing
That led to thoughts of raising funds for charity and possibly a trip around the Great Lakes. He admits in 2009, it really got out of hand. “That’s when thoughts of riding through all 48 states would keep me up at night,” he says. He kept those thoughts to himself for about three months. “That’s when I told Larry, and he simply said, ‘Well, you better do that.’ ”
Brinkman is a volunteer for CRWRC Disaster Relief Services, which travels to help whenever and wherever in the U.S. disaster strikes. “I talked with them about fundraising, and when I found out that the director of CRWRC-DRS was also involved with Foods Resource Bank, I thought that is a really good combination — both are about helping people in need,” Wolfsen says.
Wolfsen’s not sure what his wife will be doing while he’s away. She may fly out to join him for a few days, but for the most part she’s staying put to welcome their new baby granddaughter, set to arrive while Wolfsen is away.
Besides his Facebook communication, he will also check in regularly on his cellphone, including calling the Christian Reformed monthly journal, The Banner, every Monday for a progress report. “So far, this process has been a joy at every turn. The Lord is working in this whole thing. Who else could do all this?” he says.
About 10,000 miles and 1,000 gallons of fuel later, Wolfsen plans to roll back into Michigan between Aug. 15 and Aug. 20.
For more information about when Wolfsen will be in your area or to donate, see www.tractorrideacrossus.org.