The annual arrival of the Idaho Potato Commission’s Great Big Idaho Potato Truck has become one of the year’s most eagerly anticipated moments for 7-year-old Jacob Walker, who is believed to be the world’s smallest boy for his age.
The truck, which hauls a 6-ton replica russet Burbank, departed from Boise on March 20 on its sixth U.S. tour. Though IPC receives more than 300 requests for the truck to make appearances at events throughout the country each tour, the organization has prioritized a stop at Walker’s Virginia home for a third consecutive year.
Once again, Walker, who has a rare form of dwarfism, will be riding with the Tater Team during the National Memorial Day Parade at Arlington National Cemetery.
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“He and the team have built a wonderful friendship,” said his mother, Ashley Walker. “The people of Idaho are represented well by everyone involved with the truck’s tour and how they have made a child from so far away feel like he is part of the Idaho potato family.”
After learning about the boy, the Tater Team visited Walker dressed as superheroes and gave him his own cape. The Potato Commission also donated $500 toward Walker’s Make A Wish trip to Florida. The team returned the following year to pick him up for a road trip to the Memorial Day parade.
“The day was filled with fun, and Jacob enjoyed talking on the CB to other truckers,” his mother said.
Commission President and CEO Frank Muir said the truck has logged more than 100,000 miles during its previous tours and is scheduled to drive another 23,000 miles over the next six months. The commission will map the truck’s progress on its website, idahopotato.com. Some highlights of the sixth trek will include a Houston children’s festival, the Kentucky Derby, a NASCAR race at Pocono Raceway in Pennsylvania, a Five Guys Burgers and Fries corporate meeting, a potato chip festival in Saratoga Springs, N.Y., and Spud Days in Shelley.
The current tour budget is about $700,000 and covers the tour’s charitable program, called A Big Helping, Muir said. The truck makes donations of up to $500 per event, supporting a broad range of local charities. Muir said IPC intends to air one or two new truck-centered commercials this season. He said the truck continues to generate a social media buzz and local news coverage wherever it travels.
“It’s getting bigger and bigger,” Muir said. “I don’t see any reason to stop it.”
Laura Martin, who directs the truck tour with Foerstel Designs in Boise, said about 300 people from throughout the world applied to serve as new Tater Team members. IPC ultimately chose two recent Idaho college graduates, Boise State’s Kaylee Wells and University of Idaho’s Jessica Coulthard. The women, who call themselves the Tater Twins, are friends who have traveled abroad together, Martin said.
Larry Bathe has returned to drive the truck.