Growing up in Monroe, my father had a Mobile station on the town square. The Mobile station later became a Shell station. Jack’s Mobile turned into Jack’s Shell. I worked for my father after school, sweeping the floor, pumping gas, and washing windshields. This was back in the days when service stations were real service stations. I wasn’t tall enough to reach the middle of the windshield, so I stood on a five-gallon bucket.
One of the men who used to come in and drink pop (8-ounce bottles, 10 cents a bottle) and eat peanuts from the penny peanut machine was John Van Ryswyk. (Yep, that’s pure Dutch.) John, along with an assortment of farmers, liked to tell stories, solve world problems, and empty corn out of their pant cuffs (which I swept up). The Cold War was in full swing. Dwight (Ike) Eisenhower was president (“He’s either golfing or goofing,”), Khrushchev was the feared leader of “Rooshie,” (“Truman should never have stopped McArthur”), and gas was 28 cents a gallon for regular, 30 cents for ethyl (By Gawd, that’s highway robbery, Jack!).
Fast forward to today. I travel through Monroe occasionally on my way to Newton. A sight to make any farm boy stop in his tracks, gawk, and swell with pride, caught my attention. Beside Highway 14 was a string of nine (count'm, nine) Farmall tractors hitched together from biggest to smallest. I couldn't help but stop and take a picture. I noticed some of the tractors had signs stating that they were owned by John Van Ryswyk. The building standing beside where these tractors were lined up was Van Ryswyk Plumbing and Heating. It was a Sunday, so no one was around, but I made a mental note that I had to check out this string of tractors. I could smell a good story.
On another trip through Monroe, this time on a weekday, I made a point of stopping at Van Ryswyk Plumbing and Heating. There was John Van Ryswyk, 75 years old, and still going strong. I asked him how many of the tractors in that string of nine were his. “All of'm,” he said, pulling his ear. “All told, I have a hundred, give or take.”
So John and I hopped in his truck and ventured forth to various barns, warehouses, and garages scattered in and around Monroe, where these tractors are stored. Not only does he have Farmalls, but John Deeres, ACs, Cases, Massey Fergusons, and even one old Minie. In fact (John also farms), he has the first tractor his dad ever owned, and the first tractor he ever owned. And he still has his first plumbing and heating truck, a 1950 GMC, all tricked out real purdy. True to his Dutch blood, John does not throw stuff away, and takes great care of all his property.
He has participated in all of the WHO tractor rides, furnishing tractors for others to drive.
But it doesn't stop there. Not only does John collect big tractors, but also models of tractors. In his home are several showcases containing, literally, thousands of models. And it doesn't stop there, either. He also collects general memorabilia. He has brass spittoons, cream separators, steam whistles, you name it.
But the string of nine Farmalls is his crowning achievement. He pulls this string in Monroe's Old Settlers Celebration. His son even pulled the string of Farmalls over to nearby Prairie City for their annual celebration. (Can you imagine passing a string of nine Farmall tractors, all hitched together?!)
Did I mention that John is also a volunteer firefighter and EMT? He's been on the force in Monroe for 33 years.
“Slow down, John,” I told him, on my way out.
“Well, then, try to stay out of trouble.”
“What fun would that be?”
Have a good story? Call or text Curt Swarm in Mt. Pleasant at 319-217-0526, email him at firstname.lastname@example.org, or visit his website at www.empty-nest-words-photos-and-frames.