BOISE, ID… The potato industry in the state of Idaho today is about as influential to the state as the steel industry was to Pittsburgh (the steel city) during the Carnegie era.
With ideal climate, rich volcanic soil and plenty of mountain-fed irrigation, the conditions in Idaho are prime for growing top quality potatoes – and lots of them. This Pacific Northwest state grows more potatoes than any other state does, accounting for 30 percent of the nation’s total potato production. The crop generates nearly $4 billion to the state’s economy each year, according to the Idaho Potato Commission.
Idaho has serious pride. It is why the phrase ‘Famous Potatoes’ is attached to Idaho license plates. Idaho does not shy from saying the best potatoes come from their state, and the Idaho Potato Commission (IPC) has taken to the road to prove it.
Melissa Bradford is the driver of the Kenworth T680, which transports the Big Idaho Potato.
Eight years ago, in an effort to boost awareness of Idaho-grown potatoes, the IPC developed its iconic ‘Big Idaho Potato.’ A massive, manufactured 6-ton potato, was developed to promote the certified heart-healthy Idaho potatoes, and create ‘buzz’ about potatoes through its unique display.
Today, the display is transported by a Kenworth T680 with a 76-inch sleeper, and features the PACCAR Powertrain with a PACCAR MX-13 510-hp engine, PACCAR 12-speed automated transmission, and PACCAR 40K tandem rear axles. The Kenworth T680 is leased from the Kenworth Sales Co. – PacLease franchise in Boise under a full-service lease.
The Big Idaho Potato and the “Tater Team,” travel throughout the U.S. and Canada as a part of the Famous Idaho Potato Tour (https://bigidahopotato.com/tour-schedule) from March through the end of September. The Tater Team includes Kenworth T680 driver Melissa Bradford and two promotional marketing team members – Jessica Coulthard and Kaylee Wells – who educate consumers on the health benefits of potatoes, as well as raise money for local charities through its A Big Helping program.
The Big Idaho Potato is supported by the “Tater Team during the 2019 national tour. From left are Jessica Coulthard, Tater Team member; Melissa Bradford, Kenworth T680 driver and Tater Team member; and Kaylee Wells, Tater Team member.
Over the course of the tour, the Kenworth T680 will put on roughly 30,000 miles and visit hundreds of towns, including some major venues. The Tater Team recently attended the Kentucky Derby Festival in Louisville in May.
Since the Big Idaho Potato trailer is always hitched to the Kenworth T680, the IPC had the Kenworth T680 specially wrapped to promote the tour. For the IPC, it was key to feature a truck that would complement the image of quality potatoes the organization promotes.
“We take great care of our Kenworth T680 and make sure it’s always looking clean whenever we roll up to an event,” said Bradford, who has had her commercial driver’s license for 10 years. “We’re promoting potatoes from Idaho that we believe are the best available on the market. Kenworth’s established brand goes hand-in-hand with the high-quality image we want consumers to see when they check out our display and learn about Idaho potatoes.”
“For as long as we’ve had the Big Idaho Potato on the road, there has been a Kenworth T680 to haul it,” said Laura Martin, who coordinates the Big Idaho Potato Tour. “Kenworth trucks mirror the image we’re looking for and when it comes to reliability, they’ve always performed. Over the course of the program, we’ve run three Kenworth T680s, with our newest being the 2020 model. We decided to upgrade to the PACCAR 12-speed automated transmission this time to entice new driving talent, and that has worked out well for us.”
Since the Tater Team is on the road for six months out of the year, having a comfortable and practical sleeper cab is a must. On average, the team will travel 500 miles between event locations. During that time, team members will post on social media to promote the tour as well as update the tours’ blog, coordinate with events and if travel time allows, provides an opportunity to catch a quick nap.
“I really believe Kenworth had the driver in mind when they developed the T680,” said Bradford. “When I first began driving for the tour, I was a little hesitant about how things would go having two other people in the truck. Kenworth’s functional sleeper with two sleeper bunks, one used for storage and the other for sleeping, as well as the sleeper’s rotating table, is very efficient for us. Jessica and Kaylee have room to get work done or catch some sleep. The T680 has worked out great.”
Driver Melissa Bradford appreciates the PACCAR Powertrain as she transports the Big Idaho Potato on the Famous Idaho Potato Tour.
According to Bradford, the drivability of a Kenworth T680, is something that stands out, compared to other trucks she has driven.
“This is the first time in my career that I’ve driven an automated transmission, but it has grown on me,” said Bradford. “The Kenworth T680 is easy to drive and the PACCAR MX-13 engine is nice and quiet. Jessica and Kaylee are on their third tour, and they’ve mentioned how nice it is to have such a smooth and quiet ride. When you’re on the road for months on end, it’s great to travel in a truck that accommodates everyone’s needs.”
According to Bradford, when the Kenworth T680 arrives at an event, the first question most people ask is if the giant potato is real. “They really do,” she said. “Hauling something as unique as a giant potato generally draws in quite a few interested people.”
“The potato really gets people’s attention and we’re usually a big hit at events,” said Bradford. “People ask all sorts of questions about the potato and like to touch it. Not only do we have the opportunity to educate those who come by our display about the health benefits of eating potatoes, but we also get the great opportunity to give back to the communities we visit. At every charity event we attend, we have a signature board set up for people to sign. For every signature we get, the Idaho Potato Commission will donate a dollar, up to $500, through our A Big Helping program.”
Idaho’s footprint in the potato industry goes back generations, and Idahoans take great pride in the industry that has helped shape the state’s economy.
“I’m an Idaho gal and some of my earliest memories come from going out to the garden to harvest potatoes with my dad,” said Bradford. “I’m proud of our state’s potatoes and feel fortunate to represent the industry through the Famous Idaho Potato Tour. This tour has been an incredible experience for me and the Kenworth T680 makes life on the road that much better.”
SIDEBAR: Vogue Potato Hotel
After touring North America for six years, the IPC decided to stop using its original Big Idaho Potato and build a new, lighter version of the original. When the decision was made, the IPC gave Kristie Wolfe, a former Big Idaho Potato spokesperson the giant potato so she could transform the potato into a livable establishment. Wolfe recently finished the project and the potato is now available for guests to rent. Offered on Airbnb, the “Big Idaho Potato Hotel” (www.airbnb.com/rooms/32011367) is a one-bed, one-bathroom unit. The Big Idaho Potato Hotel has garnered a lot of media attention since it opened in April 2019. The Big Idaho Potato Hotel is located on 400 acres of farmland, just south of Boise.
Spud Facts: Did You Know
—The 4-ton Big Idaho Potato is 802 times heavier than the largest potato ever grown (11 pounds).
—If someone were to try and grow the Big Idaho Potato, it would take more than 7,000 years.
—To bake a potato that is as big as the Big Idaho Potato, it would take two years.
—It takes 21,562 medium-sized potatoes to equal the weight of the 4-ton potato.
—One million French fries or 20,217 servings of mashed potatoes could be made from the Big Idaho Potato.
Big Idaho Potato Tater Team
From left are: Jessica Coulthard, Tater Team member; Melissa Bradford, Kenworth T680 driver and Tater Team member; and Kaylee Wells, Tater Team member.
Photo Credit: Otto Kitsinger/AP Images for Idaho Potato Commission
Big Idaho Potato - T680 Driver Melissa Bradford