When Kyle Rauterkus graduated from Boise State University with a marketing degree, he knew he didn’t want to sit behind a desk. What he didn’t know was that he wanted to sit in front of a four-ton potato. At least, not until he landed an interview to be a Tater Team ambassador and chauffeur said potato around America.
“I was like ‘I need to do this,’” Rauterkus said over the phone on July 25 as the potato climbed through White Pass on its journey from Skagway, Alaska to Whitehorse as part of the Big Idaho Potato Tour.
The spud was made in 2012 to celebrate the 75th anniversary of the Idaho Potato Commission. It consists of a steel structure with fibreglass moulding that’s been painted to look like a potato. It’s permanently mounted to a trailer hauled by a bright red big rig.
“Anywhere the trailer goes, the potato goes,” said Rauterkus. So does a three-person Tater Team.
The potato was supposed to tour the states as a one-time thing in 2012, but it proved so popular it now hits the road for seven months each year.
The July visit marked its first time in Alaska. The only states the potato hasn’t visited include Maine and Hawaii. Rauterkus said a trip to the island is in the works for 2024, though it’s more labour-intensive than most trips — the potato will have to be separated from the truck and shipped out of San Diego on a barge.
Its Canadian visit required less planning. The potato was scheduled to attend the Blues, Brews and BBQs Festival in Skagway over the July 21 weekend. However, when Yukoners heard about the titanic tuber passing through the territory, Canadian outcry was too great for the Tater Team to ignore.
The potato’s social media quickly announced the potato would plant itself in the parking lot beside the Airport Chalet on July 25 (the Chalet confirmed it will serve potato bacon soup on July 26, in honour of the visit).
Crowds built and dispersed all afternoon as delays pushed the potato’s arrival from 12:30 p.m. to 4 p.m. For one, a four-ton root vegetable doesn’t handle super well through mountain passes, so the Tater Team had to take it slow on steep descents. Then there were the delays at customs (Rauterkus said this was an insurance issue rather than an issue of produce restrictions).
None of those hiccups were enough to deter Whitehorse resident Paul Scholz. He works near the Chalet and checked in on the potato’s progress via Facebook so he could be there to see it arrive. Scholz said his wife is the bigger potato fan of the two (“She has Irish ancestry,” he said by way of explanation), but he enjoys a potato himself.
“One of my guilty pleasures is French fries and potato chips and potatoes au gratin and baked potato with sour cream and bacon bits on them,” he said. “Now I’m hungry.”
Unfortunately the Tater Team couldn’t hand out potato-based snacks, or even the pins and stickers they normally give away (“It’s a tariff issue,” said Rauterkus). But the main reason Scholz wanted to see the truck come through town was the sheer spectacle of a massive potato cruising down the Alaska Highway on a flat bed.
“I’m kind of a sucker for those,” said Scholz. He said his family, including his wife and two kids, have a bit of a track record when it comes to visiting giant novelty attractions. They’ve seen the world’s largest dinosaur in Drumheller, Alberta; the USS Enterprise in Vulcan, Alberta; the giant beaver in Beaverlodge, Alberta; the giant chief’s head in Indian Head, Saskatchewan and the Terex Titan. Located in Sparwood, B.C., the Titan is known as the biggest dump truck in the western hemisphere.
Scholz doesn’t know what the psychology is behind our societal obsession with oversized items. Neither does Rauterkus, though when it comes to the potato, he has a theory.
“It’s just a silly enough and goofy enough vegetable that people can get behind it,” said Rauterkus. “And then they think of the versatility of a potato. There are so many things you can do with it and you think, what would I do with a potato that big?”
By Amy Kenny, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter
Original Published on Jul 26, 2023