Driver relished life on road with giant spud

BOISE, Idaho — People still ask whether it’s real.

“I tell them it’s real cool,” said Paul Humbracht.

Humbracht had the honor of driving on the Famous Idaho Potato Tour during both its 2012 and 2013 cross-country treks.

The giant spud, made up of a steel rib cage, lots of plywood and a substance known as “Hollywood concrete,” is so lifelike that it continues to suspend disbelief for all who see it.

“You have these pumpkins that grow to be 1,800 pounds. People figure, why can’t they do that with potatoes?” said Humbracht.

He has a new job now, driving a truck for an alcohol distributor back home in Fargo, N.D. But he’s happy for his two years spreading goodwill from Idaho.

There were minor scuffs and challenges. The truck is 2 feet wider than a standard load. Streets in cities such as New York and Philadelphia are narrow.

“And people gawk,” Humbracht said.

But even when there was trouble — the truck’s paint got chipped going through an East Coast toll booth — people were always eager to help. Often for free.

“Because they loved the truck so much,” Humbracht said.

Stops on the 2013 tour, which ended in November, included NASCAR races, the Kentucky Derby, and the McCormick Place convention center in Chicago.

“It was crazy getting the truck in there,” Humbracht said.

The time commitment was a little crazy, too. Each tour meant Humbracht and his fellow Tater Team members were on the road with the big spud for seven and a half months.

Kristie Wolfe was part of the 2013 Tater Team. She recalls scores of people all along the 30,000-plus mile route, hanging out of their car windows and snapping photos with their cellphones and iPads.

Once, in Pennsylvania, the big potato happened to pull up beside a car whose driver was a reporter. The reporter asked for an interview. The Tater Team said yes and put on the truck’s blinkers. The reporter interviewed the crew right in the middle of the road.

“We created quite the distraction,” said Wolfe.

The Idaho Potato Commission, working with Foerstel Design, created the Great Big Idaho Potato Truck to celebrate the commission’s 75th anniversary in 2012.

Schofield Design, a local firm, built the rig. The firm Evans Hardy + Young handled the public relations.

The truck has a mission beyond celebrating — raising money and awareness for the nonprofit Meals-on-Wheels program. There’s already talk of sending it out again in 2014.

At a glance

Here is a glance of the miles logged and cities toured by the Famous Idaho Potato Tour truck the past two years:

The 2012 tour covered:

•16,800 miles

•36 states

•157 cities

The 2013 tour covered:

•30,222 miles

•34 states (with repeat trips to some states)

•78 cities

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