It's all eyes on big screen blockbusters at the Spud Drive In.
Potatoes with eyes keep watch from the big tater truck at the Spud Drive-In.

Spud Drive-In Giant Potato

Field review by the editors.

Driggs, Idaho

The drive north into the Teton Valley is ruler-straight and billiard-table-flat. Not much grabs your attention on Highway 33 aside from the snow-peaked Teton Mountains on either side, but even nature's majesty can get repetitive. Then, up ahead, you see an old red truck parked beside the road, and on its flatbed is a giant potato -- a classic roadside postcard image made real. How did that get here?

Giant potato on a truckbed.
Weirdly zen, the potato makes a memorable daytime photo-op.

"It was a collective brainstorming type thing," said Dawnelle Mumm who, with her husband Richard Wood, built the potato after buying the Spud Drive-In movie theater behind it. "When we bought it, the thought was that the theater was gonna die," she said -- but the 1953 drive-in is still going strong, and now it's even listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Dawnelle is too modest to credit the Spud's revival to her giant potato, but its presence definitely didn't hurt.

In 1989 Dawn and Richard had an idea to place a big boulder in the front of the Spud and paint it like a potato. "We spent a lot of time looking for rocks," she said, "although if we had found one that big, I don't know how we would have moved it." Frustrated, the couple -- who also farmed potatoes -- remembered a classic novelty postcard of a giant spud on the back of a farm truck. "I was looking in the Thrifty Nickel newspaper and saw an ad for an 'Ugly Farm Truck,'" said Dawnelle. "So we bought it. And then we built the potato."

The original big potato.
Sara Wood poses with the original potato, soon after its arrival.

Building a better potato.
1992: building a better potato.

Made of a chicken wire and stucco over a wooden skeleton, the tater was lifted onto the back of the truck, which was then painted red like the one on the postcard and christened "Old Murphy," because, Dawnelle said, farmers in the Teton Valley call potatoes "murphies." Lettered on the back bumper is, "Teton Valley Seed Potato." Dawnelle explained that seed potatoes are small, which makes the huge spud on the truck even more impressive. "It would be fine if other big potatoes were bigger," said Dawnelle (in fact, some are), because they would have grown from the the world's largest little seed potato at the drive-in. "That was always the idea."

In 1992 kids tried to steal the potato and ended up cracking it in half like an egg. Dawnelle said that the kids were "scared to death" because "all the people in Valley were up in arms" over the destruction of what had quickly become a local landmark. But anger soon turned to civic energy, and over $1,000 was raised by the community to build a new potato, made with more durable plywood and shotcrete. "And we bolted this one to the bed of the truck," said Dawnelle, "so it wasn't going anywhere."

Nighttime at the Spud Drive-In.
Illuminated spud on left, movie in progress on right, Milky Way above.

Soon afterward, Dawnelle and Richard created several smaller spud people, with names such as Commen-tater, Imi-tater, and Medi-tater. They're moved around on the drive-in property: in the truck, at the ticket booth, on an outdoor bench where visitors can pose. Meanwhile, the truck and giant potato became the highlight of the local 4th of July parade, and only stopped appearing when the 1946 Chevy wouldn't run any more.

Today the Spud Drive-In is managed by Dawnelle's son and daughter-in law. They've expanded the outdoor movie-watching experience to include cars, campsites, overnight cabins, and fire-heated hot tubs. But they've wisely left the roadside truck and giant potato unchanged, a 1980s tribute to a 1950s postcard that still stops 21st century travelers.

"People take pictures of it all the time," said Dawnelle, "I've had some people tell me it's photographed more than the Tetons."



Spud Drive-In Giant Potato

Spud Drive-In Theater

Address:
2175 S. Hwy 33, Driggs, ID
Directions:
Spud Drive-In Theater. One mile south of town, east side of Hwy 33.
Hours:
Lit at night. (Call to verify) Local health policies may affect hours and access.
Phone:
208-354-2727
RA Rates:
Major Fun
Save to My Sights

Nearby Offbeat Places

Antler Arches of JacksonAntler Arches of Jackson, Jackson, WY - 23 mi.
Collapsed Teton Dam OverlookCollapsed Teton Dam Overlook, Newdale, ID - 26 mi.
Frostop Root Beer MugFrostop Root Beer Mug, Ashton, ID - 32 mi.
In the region:
Yellowstone Bear World, Rexburg, ID - 38 mi.

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August 5, 2020

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