Yee haw! Welcome to Camp What-A-Wonder. We’re glad you could come on over to sit a spell. It’s just about time for lunch, so grab a plate and we’ll head on over to the ol’ chuckwagon.
That’s right. We said chuckwagon. Here at Camp What-A-Wonder, we believe in doing things the old-fashioned way. That means every meal is served from a traditional chuckwagon.
The chuckwagon — sometimes spelled chuck wagon — was a special type of wagon used to carry food and cooking equipment as part of a wagon train. Wagon trains were common methods of transportation for early settlers of the United States and Canada making their way across the prairies to new lands.
Chuckwagons were also commonly used to feed traveling workers, such as cowboys and loggers. If you were a cowboy in the old days, there was nothing quite like the ring of the chuckwagon dinner bell at the end of a long day of hard work.
Texas rancher Charles Goodnight is given credit for the invention of the chuckwagon in 1866. He converted an old army-surplus Studebaker wagon into a mobile kitchen to feed cowboys driving cattle from Texas to New Mexico.
The name chuckwagon comes from the word “chuck,” which was a slang term for food. Goodnight’s chuckwagon had a “chuck box” added to the back of the wagon to store cooking supplies. The “chuck box” also had a hinged, flat lid to provide a flat cooking surface.
Chuckwagon food usually consisted of foods that were easy to fix and preserve. These included beans, salted meats, coffee and sourdough biscuits. The chuckwagon cook — usually called “Cookie” — was often second in command of the wagon train after the trail boss. In addition to cooking meals, he was also often the barber, doctor, banker and judge while out on the trail.
The chuckwagon was more than just a cafeteria to cowboys, though. It was the social hub of the wagon train. It’s where everyone would gather to relax and exchange tall tales. It was like a home on the range!
Today, chuckwagons are mainly just a symbol of a simpler past. However, there are modern versions of chuckwagons in the form of mobile food suppliers that serve meals in areas where large numbers of workers gather, such as at a factory.
You might also see chuckwagons taking part in special horse races called chuckwagon races. Some western tourist attractions and dude ranches feature chuckwagon meals that let you get a taste — literally! — of what life was like in the old west.