NY man making cross-country trip on mower stops in Vandalia

For the past 75 days, Lucas Van Engen has seen America like few people ever will – from the seat of a garden tractor.
Beginning on May 15 in Santa Monica, Calif., Van Engen has traversed nearly two-thirds the width of the continent – more than 2,000 miles so far – on a Sears Craftsman garden tractor. Powered by a 26-horsepower Kohler engine, the GT 5000 series tractor has held up just fine; perhaps better than Van Engen.
“The last week has been treacherous,” said the 31-year-old actor, writer and bar tender. He’s a native of South Bend, Ind., but now makes his home in New York City. “It’s been very hot and very humid.
“I sunburn easily, so I’ve kept putting on No. 50 sunscreen, but that doesn’t help with the heat.” Lately, he said, it’s just been too hot to wear long-sleeve shirts and long pants to project him from the sun.”
So what is he up to? Why would someone sign up for 3,300-mile trip on a lawn mower?
“Craftsman wanted to test the durability of the tractor,” Van Engen said, “so they came up with the idea of driving it across the country.”
Van Engen auditioned for the part, and Sears thought he had the right stuff to make the trip. He has run a marathon, so he knows something of endurance events.
So far, his route has followed the historic U.S. Route 66 for about 1,200 of the 2,000 miles he’s traveled. He’s avoided the interstates, because mowers aren’t allowed; sticking, instead, to the back roads and state highways. He’s followed by a couple of helpers in a recreational vehicle.
He passed through Vandalia at mid-day on Friday, stopping from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. to show off the tractor and enjoy the air-conditioning at the local Sears store.
“We’re lucky to be along the path of his trip,” said Randy Ruholl, owner of the Sears stores in Vandalia and Effingham. “He’s promoting Craftsman products as durable ones. So far, he has more than 2,000 miles on the engine. That’s pretty good.”
Van Engen’s travels have taken him through California, Arizona, New Mexico, Texas, Oklahoma, Arkansas, Missouri and Illinois.
From here, he went east on U.S. Route 40 to Effingham. He crossed the Indiana border Saturday night and will continue east through Indiana, Ohio, Pennsylvania, New Jersey and, finally, to New York City.  
When things get tough, he points to his goal – to make it back to the Big Apple by Aug. 24, when he’s scheduled to help the grounds crew mow the grass in Mets Stadium.
Meanwhile, he’s logging eight- to 10-hour days ­– covering an average of 50 miles per day at a mind-numbing 7 miles per hour.
“We’ve done 70 miles per day a couple of times and 80 miles once, but those are long days.”
So what does one do while traveling the backroads of America at anything but warp speed? Van Engen is working on a couple screenplays, so he’s had plenty of time to mull over plots while doing his 100-day gig with Sears. And he’s posting his thoughts and photos on a website each night. To follow his trip, see www.craftsmanacrossamerica.com.
“People always want to know what I’m doing when they see me driving along the road,” he said. He’s been incorporated into a wedding reception, rubbed shoulders with local dignitaries, made appearances at countless Sears stores, endured rainstorms, been attacked by hoards of insects and even been pulled over a time or two by curious police officers wondering who or what he’s running from.
“It’s definitely broadened my horizons,” he said. “I’ve gotten to know a lot of different types of people from all over the country. That part of the trip has been great.”
The weather? Well, that’s another story.
But the next time he’s tending bar and some New Yorker asks what he did over the summer, he’ll have a heck of a story to tell.

Lucas Van Engen, who is traveling cross-country on a Sears Craftsman riding mower, made a stop at the Vandalia Sears store on Friday morning.

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