The Chuck Wagon was introduced to us by a man named Charles Goodnight. This was a man that knew there were hungry men on the cow trails. In fact, in 1866 he would be one of those men leading over 2000 cattle. He bought an old army wagon and redesigned it to fit his needs. Using the army’s idea he took one of their Studebaker’s and transformed it into a more steady wagon with a chuck box, grill and boot. The Studebaker was already a fine wagon with sturdy axles to help when traveling across the terrain from one place to the next.
The chuck box would be able to hold all types of meat that would be needed on these long trips. There was a hinge lid with many shelves for storage, when it wasn’t hugging the top of the box it could drop down and be used for a cooking area.
The boot is where the Dutch ovens and grills were kept. Without the Dutch Ovens and grills, there’s no telling how long it would’ve took to feed all the men. It was the cook’s responsibility to make sure all the utensils were on the chuck wagon, without them could mean some very hungry cowboys.
The chuck wagon reminds me a lot of a fire engine, the side of it has all types of tools needed for the trade and a water storage. There is actually a water barrel on the side that is filled up completely, which is about two days for a camp of 10 men. This water must be used for all boiling purposes, soups, the essential coffee and drinking water.
The wagon box was an area that the cook, or person in charge of the chuck wagon stored away their personal belongings such as bedding and clothes. Sometimes, if the chuck box was full they stored the food in here. You might’ve even found logs or cow chips so that in case the prairies didn’t have any there’d be some to cook with, if needed.
Every night, when the chuck wagon would stop the cowboys would have to start putting up camp. Each morning the cowboys woke to a strong smell of black coffee, if they were lucky they got sugar. If not, they went without or sucked it up. The cowboys would now begin to fold up camp, beddings would be rolled and breakfast would be cooking. Once the meal was served, everyone chatted a bit and sat on the ground to eat. As soon as they finished their meal, they’d scrape their plate clean and place it in the tray designated for dirty dishes.
Sure, chuck wagons were used on the trails following men for years throughout history. They served hot meals and kept men alive. Did they die out? No, they didn’t. Today, a chuck wagon is known to the rest of us as a “Mobile Lunch” or “The Roach Coach” but it all serves the same purpose, hot food. Feed those that are hungry.