Big Idaho Potato Tour stops in Carol Stream
The pride of Idaho is no couch potato.
This spud spends more than six months of the year on the open road as the star of a cross-country tour. It's a Russet Burbank, and it must shine on its own. No gravy. No fixings.
"It's always working," Larry Bathe says.
He's no slouch, either. Bathe is guy who drives the 6-ton replica of an Idaho potato across the nation. The trip takes a 48-foot-long flatbed trailer, some serious parking skills and a deep appreciation of the root vegetable.
"Who doesn't love a potato?" says Bathe, greeting shoppers Thursday with the rest of the "Tater Team" outside an Angelo Caputo's Fresh Markets in Carol Stream.
His wife needed convincing when he told her he wanted to spend so much time away from home for the campaign by the Idaho Potato Commission, a state agency that represents the industry.
But Bathe has a few pointers for husbands with a leery significant other.
"You beg her a little and you annoy her a little," the Boise man said.
He probably accomplished the latter with all that talk of potatoes. He knows, for instance, that potatoes reach maturity after about 150 to 180 days of growing.
That's a tidbit he shares when folks crane their necks at the truck's oversized load and ask, "Is it real?" Or, "How did you get out of the ground?"
"At first, it really did throw me," Bathe says of those questions, "and now I have fun with it."
So he jokes and keeps up the charade before politely informing crowds that this potato is really a fake built by a husband and wife in Weiser, Idaho.
"I got a big gag out of it," said Renee Pallucci, who wheeled her grocery cart up to the truck outside Caputo's.
To get a sense of its size, the 12,130-pound replica is 1,102 times heavier than the largest potato ever grown -- tipping the scales at a modest 11 pounds. With a hollow interior, it's also a convenient storage space for the team's luggage and bikes.
"You just don't go run errands in a 12-foot-wide truck," Bathe says.
Bathe is the tour's driving ambassador, and he's joined by two "Spud Studs," the guys who sometimes go mountain biking when they're not charming shoppers. What's it take to earn the stud title? "Apparently, I don't have it," Bathe said with a smile.
In its fifth year, the tour also spotlights a host of causes during stops around the nation and visits schools to teach kids about the nutritional benefits of potatoes. Caputo's shoppers were encouraged to write their names on a board alongside the truck, and for every signature, the Idaho Potato Commission pledged to donate $1 to the St. Jude Children's Research Hospital, up to $500.
Besides supporting that mission, Bathe said the job lets him see the country and opens up opportunities for ziplining and other adventures.
After spending a few hours in Carol Stream, the team is headed to Indianpolis and, later this month, New York, where the potato will set sail on a barge around the Statue of Liberty.
"I get waved at, smiled at, a thumbs-up, all day long," Bathe said. "That's such a great feeling."