A colossal four-ton replica of a Russet-Burbank potato rolled into town at the West County Museum Thursday morning, June 27, as a part of the Big Idaho Potato Truck Tour.
The hard-to-miss truck carries the 28-foot-long, 10-foot-wide potato six months out of the year to various festivals, fairs, parades and community events and made its way to Santa Rosa and Sebastopol as a sort of celebration of the Russet-Burbank, which is a descendant of the Burbank potato discovered by Luther Burbank in 1872.
The spectacularly sized spud was parked outside the West County Museum on South Main Street on Thursday from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.
Interested passersby snapped photos of the oversized vegetable while the Big Idaho Potato Truck ambassadors, the Tater Twins, interacted with the small crowd and provided interesting potato facts.
According to the Big Idaho Potato Truck tour, the potato (if it were real) would take two years to bake and would yield 1 million French fries and over 20,217 servings of mashed potatoes.
It would take 7,000 years to grow and is 802 times heavier than the largest potato ever grown, which weighed in at 11 pounds.
“When you look at a four-ton potato you always crave them so we call ourselves French fry connoisseurs because everywhere we go we like to try different potatoes,” said Jessica Coulthard, one of the potato truck ambassadors.
“We have an all-women team, and that is something we are really excited about. This is the first all-women team ever for the Big Idaho Potato truck,” Coulthard said.
Kaylee Wells is her Tater Twin ambassador partner and commercial truck driver Melissa Bradford is the driver behind the wheel.
“Driving the Idaho Potato truck is honestly one of the highlights of my driving career,” Bradford said. “The joy that we bring to people is awesome to see and watch their faces light up because most people haven’t seen anything like this.”
Bradford said the amount of driving depends on how many events the team has to go to in a given day or week.
While she’s been a commercial truck driver since 2008 — in 2016 she upgraded to a class A commercial driver's license, which allows her to operate a vehicle with a gross combination weight rating of 26,001 pounds. She said driving a truck with a massive potato can be challenging.
“You can’t become complacent because there a lot of people that are so fascinated by the potato that they forget what they’re doing behind the wheel, and they’ll maybe be not as cautious about their own safety and ours as well when they’re coming up alongside of us,” Bradford said.
She described it as almost like a game of leapfrog when drivers pass her or race ahead of her to the next off ramp in the hopes of getting a photo or video of the truck.
“It presents some interesting challenges,” she mused.
History of the Russet Burbank
Coulthard said the team got invited to come out to Santa Rosa and Sebastopol because of Burbank’s connection to the Russet-Burbank potato.
Burbank first started his early experiments with plant breeding on his small farm near Lunenburg, Massachusetts, where he developed the famous Burbank potato in 1872.
Kristen Skold, office manager at the Luther Burbank Home & Gardens in Santa Rosa, said his discovery came when he was still in his early teens.
According to Skold, Burbank noticed that his potato, the Early Rose, had grown a seed ball, which is around the size of your fingernail, and noticed that the seeds from the ball were different.
“The seeds that came from that were different from the parent plant and different in size and consistency and he realized he had a new potato,” Skold said.
In an Oct. 20, 1924, article in the Stockton Daily Evening Record, Burbank said of the discovery, “The Early Rose potato of my boyhood days,” Burbank said, “was never known to have produced a seed ball. I had been raising seedling potatoes, but they all came out, unfortunately, like the parent plant, and were not good. Just then I came across this seed ball. It was a remarkable experience. I felt that something remarkable would develop.”
According to the West County Museum, the next spring 26 seeds were planted.
All but three came up and produced 23 different varieties of tubers.
Burbank focused on two types until he created what would later be called the Burbank potato. He eventually sold sacks of potatoes to James H. Gregory for $150.
Skold said the amount was enough for Burbank to move out to California on the advice of his relatives, and set up a farm in Santa Rosa and an 18-acre plot in Sebastopol.
Skold said the Santa Rosa location functioned more as a place for his seed experiments where luminaries such as Thomas Edison and the King and Queen of Belgium came to visit and learn about his work.
“They’re really great for baking and French fries and they’re just really important to the state of Idaho and we are just really thankful Luther Burbank discovered them because they make excellent baked potatoes,” Coulthard said.
Wondering where the Big Idaho Potato truck will appear next? The big Idaho potato website has sports a feature where you can track where the truck is at all times. Follow the truck at https://bigidahopotato.com/find/.