SHELLEY — Despite chilly weather to start the day, the 91st Idaho Spud Day still brought out a decent crowd Saturday and kept the long-running tradition of Shelley’s community celebration — one of the biggest in Bingham County — alive.
While the start to the day’s weather may have kept numbers down a bit — Shelley Police Chief Rod Mohler estimated crowds at previous Spud Day events at upwards of 20,000 people — there was still a large turnout of people lining State Street for the parade, and most of them quickly made their way over to Shelley City Park/Dawn Lloyd Field for the remainder of the day’s activities.
The temperature picked up a bit and the sun came out enough to keep things running smoothly as the day went along.
“As long as it doesn’t rain or snow, we get a good crowd,” said Spud Day co-chairman Chris Sheetz. “People like to come out and see their neighbors, that’s the biggest factor.”
Some people look at the timing of the event as a celebration of the harvest of Idaho’s No. 1 crop, but there is a neighborly draw as well and Sheetz said Spud Day brings in people from much greater distances than Bingham County, especially to take in the spectacle of the spud tug, one of the last and biggest attractions of the entire day with teams taking part in a tug-of-war over a pit filled with extra-soupy instant mashed potatoes.
“We’ve had people come from Iowa, Wisconsin, Phoenix, Canada, the neighboring states, just to see this,” Sheetz said as she prepared for the spud tug.
As the pit was filled with soupy spuds by a cement truck being used just for the occasion, the announcer made one final try at rounding up teams to participate.
“Don’t grab your friends, grab your enemies,” the announcer joked.
Grand Marshal Merlin Dial — a lifelong Shelley resident and farmer — and newly crowned Miss Russet for 2019-2020 JaNelle Servoss presided over the festivities. Servoss donned a pair of irrigating boots before stepping into the wet mixture of instant mashed potatoes, buttering it and seasoning it and giving it an official taste with a thumbs up signal before the spud tug began.
The parade was long and the treats tossed to the crowd were generous, ranging from the usual candy offered all the way up to full-size Idaho Spud candy bars and full-size, 10-ounce bags of beef jerky from the nearby Golden Valley Natural plant.
Once the parade ended, the park was flooded with people. There were plenty of food booths to choose from — many of them having just been at the Eastern Idaho State Fair — and the free baked potato giveaway, with people standing in line for at least an hour to get a free cooked baker with all the toppings.
Volunteers at the baked potato area said they gave away between 4,000-4,500 baked potatoes in an hour, and there was still a line once the toppings had all been used up.