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Chuckwagon | Wagons | History of | Amish Reproduction Wagons
Reconditioned or reproduction Chuck Wagons can be found today at all types of events from rodeos, cook off competition, or on working trail rides
In the 1800s and early 1900s trail riders would spend months out on the open trail with no food source available except from the accompanying Chuck Wagon and what they could hunt or harvest along the trail.
To feed a hungry group of cowboys each day required a cook and a fully equipped Chuck Wagon to travel out ahead of the drive to set up camps for each night.
This daily ritual could occur from 60 to 180 times on a typical trail ride.
The Chuck Wagon carried food staples, water and cooking supplies along with all the cookware that would be needed to bake, fry and cook up large batches of grub.
Chuck Wagons were special equipped wagons complete with a special built in chuck box that included a tailgate that folded down off the back into a large work table.
This would become the cooks worktable used to roll out pie and biscuit dough as well as cut up vegetables and fresh meat to make the campfire stews.
When the tailgate was folded up it covered the chuck box like an old fashioned fold up desk, which inspired Charles Goodnight a rancher from Texas who is credited for the concept.
The old fold up desk were fixed with shelves, slots and drawers to hold stationary and writing supplies inside.
As Goodnight sat in front of his desk sketching out the concept of a wagon box made for cooking equipment and supplies the concept chuck box was designed.
The chuck box was built on a larger scale with the same slanted top design and equipped with shelves, slots and drawers to hold such things as cooking utensils, spices and dry staples.
Goodnight was a rancher and probably like most other things invented in the early days, he was just trying to figure out a better way to feed his ranch hands as they herded cattle to market.
Goodnight was also an adventurist combined with an entrepreneur who was always wanting to do things bigger and better.
Who knows, just maybe this is where the idea that everything in Texas has to be bigger and better originated from.
The year would have been 1866. It was just about a year after the Civil war ended. The traditional Midwest markets were already being glutted with cattle and in order to get better prices for his own cattle Goodnight concluded that he would have to take his herd from Texas to market much further West.
This meant a much longer trip than the typical route going into Kansas. Interesting a typical horse rider could go around 20-25 miles per day but in driving cattle that mileage was sometimes cut in half. That meant to travel 2000 miles, the drive Goodnight was planning for when he invented the Chuck Wagon, could take as long as six months or more compared to only two months to drive them up to Kansas
This also meant that the wagon he needed would need to be able to haul a lot of extra food and supplies. In fact up to 800 lbs of just salted pork and dried beans alone. Other staples included coffee, onions, potatoes, flour, baking powder, lard and seasonings.
During those periods staples were stored in heavy wooden crates, kegs or tins that added to the weight.
He would not only need to figure out the overall weight but how to balance it with the water barrels needed to sustain the drive for up to two days or more at a time until the ride could reach the next watering hole.
There was no refrigeration so everything had to be dried or cured.
The old cast iron skillets, pots and Dutch ovens and other heavy cooking utensils all added to the weight, plus the Chuck Wagon would also be used for a rolling office, a supply wagon, an emergency room and for all the other trail ride equipment that might be needed along journey.
Some of the supplies could be replenished as the trail ride reached larger towns and fresh meat and beef would be available either from wild game or taking from the cattle that might be slowing down the drive.
Goodnight decided the heavy duty made Studebaker Wagons that were used during the Civil war to haul heavy supplies and ammunition into the troops would be his best option to adapt to his Chuck Wagon idea.
They were readily available and soon his equipped wagon combined with the old cowboy term “chuck” for a meal, quickly became known as the Chuckwagon or Chuck Wagon.
It’s unclear if Goodnight ever sought a patent for his invention or reaped any other benefit other than for his own men’s comfort.
Without all the current day communications it’s also interesting how the concept and design was shared with so many that have duplicated the chuck wagon and box almost to all of the same exact design.
For all these years and even including the new chuck wagons, they all still have a chuck box that resembles the old time fold up writing desk.
Perhaps one of the early newspapers or magazines wrote a story on it, but soon wagon makers including the Studebaker Wagon Company started building the Chuck Wagons commercially.
Reconditioned or reproduction Chuck Wagons can be found today at all types of events from rodeos, cook off competition to still being used on working trail rides.
Some areas up in Canada and Alaska, still use the trail ride with a fully equipped Chuck Wagon to move cattle up into summer pastures as the winter months clear.
Although the Amish still use horse and wagons, the Chuck Wagons they build are authentic replicas but are more for commercial use, theme ranches and backdrops or for these old time working cowboys.
You can actually purchase a Amish built covered Chuck Wagon from the online Cottage Craft Works .com General Store, or purchase the hardware and running gear to build your own Chuck Wagon.
Cottage Craft Works also carries the outdoor cooking equipment similar to that used on the old time trail rides.
Pictures of Chuck Wagons and outdoor cooking equipment is courtesy of Cottage Craft Works.
Modern Day Campfire Beans
- 1-1/2 lb Ground Beef
- 1 med Chopped Onion
- 1 lb Smoked Sausage, Sliced 1/2" Thick
- 1 lb Bacon, Cut in Small Pieces
- 1 c. Brown Sugar
- 2 Tbsp Mustard
- 2 Tbsp Vinegar
- 2 Tbsp Worcestershire Sauce
- 1-32 oz Bottle of Ketchup
- 1-16 oz Can of Kidney Beans, Undrained
- 1-16 oz Can of Great Northern Beans, Undrained
- 1-16 oz Can of Pinto Beans, Undrained
- 1-16 oz Can of Lima Beans, Undrained
- In about an 8-quart Dutch oven, cook bacon until crisp. Add ground beef, and onions; cook until beef is browned. Add smoked sausage.
- Combine sugar, ketchup, mustard, vinegar, and Worcestershire sauce.
- Add to meats. Add all the beans and cook uncovered for 2-3 hours or until the sauce is thickened. Keep Stirred.