Memories of chuck wagons in the hot, dusty summer
WORTHINGTON — Chuck Wagon: a wagon with cooking facilities providing food for workers at a ranch, worksite, or lumber camp.
Summer time travels and museums are lasting memories. One of our trips was to visit to our daughter, Jill, in San Angelo, Texas. We all motored together from San Angelo to Ruidoso, N.M., a little more than 350 miles one way. We headed west and stopped to google and giggle at the amusing touristy alien site of Roswell, N.M. In mid-1947, a United States Air Force balloon crashed at a ranch near Roswell. Rumors abound that the government retrieved alien bodies and covered up the true happening. It has been described as "the world's most famous, most exhaustively investigated, and most thoroughly debunked UFO claim.”
Then, it was on to Ruidoso, where the landscape had turned to hills and pine trees that look like much like the Badlands of South Dakota. Ruidoso is a gambling town, like Deadwood, S.D. It has a wonderful museum that has a tremendous amount of horse memorabilia. The Hubbard Museum of the American West is a place where visitors can experience the west in three area cultures — the Native American, Hispanic and Pioneer. The museum’s 10,000-plus piece collection includes wagons, carriages, saddles, firearms, artwork and Native American artifacts.
One of the wagons in the museum was a chuck wagon, and it reminded me that Cal and I had seen a chuck wagon race in Jackson, Minn. It was a hot, windy, dust-in-the-air kind of day, and we climbed way up the bleachers to get a good view. Cal went to the snack bar and bought me a caramel apple. When he climbed back up the bleachers and handed it to me, the lady in front of me had just swung her long hair in the air to get it out of her face. The timing was horrible; her
hair wrapped around the caramel apple! She was not a happy camper, nor I, as we proceeded to untangle the gooey mess.
A chuck wagon is a type of "field kitchen" covered wagon historically used for the storage and transportation of perishable food and cooking equipment on the prairies of the United States and Canada. Such wagons formed part of a wagon train of settlers or fed traveling workers such as cowboys or loggers. Chuck wagon rules for racing were based on the famous Calgary Stampede in Alberta, Canada. A chuck wagon is a regulation farm wagon weighing at least 1,325 pounds with the driver in the seat. The wagon is equipped with a canvas cover and flap that extends at least eight feet out from the rear end of the wagon with poles six feet long attached to form a tent. A stove is also included to make a complete chuck wagon camp. The chuck wagon is pulled by four spirited horses, which provide the driver with a superb test of skill and driving ability in unfamiliar surroundings. Each wagon has four outriders, each mounted on a swift saddle horse.
The race takes place as four chuck wagons line up in given positions with four horses hitched in tandem fashion. The rear of the wagon is to the grandstand, with camp stoves on the ground, flaps on the back of the wagon supported by two poles. There are four outriders to each outfit — three at the back of the wagon to load the stove and poles and the fourth to hold the front team until, at the sound of the gun, the camp breaks. The stove must be loaded and the tent poles put in the wagon.
It's a race from the time the gun sounds. Only one of the outriders may ride to the position beside the lead team, but may only encourage the horses with their hats and their hands. The other outriders must stay at the rear of the wagon, within 150 feet at all times, until the race is over. Each wagon and all four outriders must turn a figure eight around two barrels set in the infield, then onto the track and around the full half mile track with all horses on the dead
run. With four wagons in each race, and four horses on each wagon, plus four outriders for each outfit, it makes a total of 32 horses in each chuck wagon race — all on the dead run!
Whatever summer adventure you have this year, I wish you happy trails!
A special thank-you goes out to Gwen Fleace of Round Lake for spending time to educate me about chuck wagon racing and the pictures for this story.