Chris Smith: They traveled far to behold the potato nearly the size of Idaho

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Throughout Santa Rosa and beyond today there are kids who can’t stop talking about the tater they saw and posed alongside for pictures that one day will astound their grandchildren.

These young’uns can’t wait for school to resume so they can start off their What I Did Last Summer essay: “I went to Luther Burbank Home & Gardens and stood beside a 28-foot, 8,000-pound Fiberglas facsimile of a Russet Burbank potato.”

Grown-ups came, too, to behold the super spud and visit with the three-woman crew of the Big Idaho Potato Truck.

I went by, of course. In addition to swooning over the mobile display that is the pride of the Idaho Potato Commission, I met some remarkable people.

Among them were potato-inspired poet Janice Dabney of Mountain View and Richard Norris, a motorcycle tourist from where? England.


THE POET came to Santa Rosa because she studied years ago the qualities, potential and symbolism of “the humble, yet remarkable potato.”

“I’ve written a book,” shared Dabney, who’s 67 and retired from fascinating work at the National Accelerator Laboratory at Stanford. The book is “The Comfort of Potatoes.”

From beside the tater truck, Dabney said she began writing poems on the potato as a “wonderful point of meditation” and they evolved into her 2015 book.

Read even a single verse of her poem, “Water Content,” and it becomes clear why she felt compelled to come to the Santa Rosa stop of the great potato:

I was comforted to learn that potatoes contain the same water content as humans. When I feel dry at 75%, the Russet Burbank agrees, becoming fluffier to the taste when heated.

Learning from The History Channel that 19th-century factory workers pocketed baked potatoes for both warmth and lunch, Dabney wrote:

This month I drew the night shift, coldest slice of our clock even with a heavy coat zipped to the chin. Mother sends bread and cheese from home, but I still buy two baked potatoes from the foreman. Cheap comfort.

One in each pocket, I warm my hands when fingers are not needed for production. When I hold their rough brown skin, I am shaking hands with my father, no longer alive. My palms Embrace their small eyes in the darkness, for they have seen more than I will ever know.

Dabney so liked the big potato she plans to see it again Thursday, when it’s on display from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. at the West County Museum in Sebastopol.


AND THE BRIT on the BMW: He’s Richard Norris, a 58-year-old computer security expert from near London.

Years back, while researching roadside attractions in America, he came upon an earlier giant potato. “And it stuck in my mind,” he said.

After shipping his motorcycle to Denver for a ride through the western U.S., Norris read about the traveling potato stopping in Sonoma County.

“I changed the itinerary of my holiday so I could come here,” he said, adding that to see the spud and meet the truck crew was well worth the trip.

I thought to try to guide him to say that he was traveling on a shoestring, but decided to keep the high road.

You can reach Chris Smith at 707-521-5211 or

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