BEEF EMPIRE DAYS: Chuckwagons event comes with authentic look

5/29/2014

Residents invited again to sample savory beef.

Residents invited again to sample savory beef.

By ANGIE HAFLICH

ahaflich@gctelegram.com

A staple of Beef Empire Days each year is the Chuckwagons in the Park Community Feed.

Each year, following the Beef Empire Days Parade, the event draws several hundred people to Stevens Park to partake in samplings of beef cuts, cooked to perfection on grills, which in some cases, are affixed to actual chuckwagons.

A chuckwagon originally was a wagon that carried food and cooking equipment on the prairies in the late 1800s. The chuckwagon served as a mobile kitchen, traveling ahead of a wagon train of settlers or cowboys on cattle drives. "Chuck" was then a common slang term for food, including easy-to-preserve items like beans and salted meats, coffee and sourdough biscuits.

Bob Baker, owner of Baker Boot Co., has been participating in the event for several years, using a cooker that's attached to his own chuckwagon.

My wagon was made in about 1896. It's a John Deere Triumph. It's part of John Deere tractors, but there was a time when John Deere and Triumph were together, back in the 1800s — at some point in time," Baker said.

In that day, Baker said, chuckwagons were built in such a way as to maximize every square inch.

"A chuckwagon is probably one of the most compact campers you'll ever see. The whole thing is functional," he said. "Everything has a purpose."

In some cases, certain parts of the wagon serve more than one function, which Baker explained while he pointed things out on a photo.

"The table that's fastened on the hinges here, has a leg on it, so you can set it down and make it a table, so you've got your working surface right there," he said.

Baker built a box that goes on the chuckwagon that contains five drawers used for storing supplies and equipment.

"You put your supplies in the drawers, you have a crock for your sourdough, your flour and salt," Baker said. "They have what's called a pan boot that's like a trunk on the bottom. It's a big box that fastens to the bottom of the wagon for putting your dutch ovens and things like that — utensils and stuff you put in there."

Baker is currently in the process of building a pan boot for his own wagon.

He also has several old items that he affixes to the wagon, including unloaded shotguns and pistols, as well as an old shovel — all of which date back to the 1800s, themselves. Baker said these are common items that could be found on chuckwagons back in that time period.

"They also always had a bottle of whiskey, for medicinal purposes," he said, adding that there was also usually a Bible somewhere on board.

Dale Corbett and his brother, Rick Corbett, also use actual chuckwagons at the event.

"The chuckwagon is just kind of the look. The cooker I have cooks it the same as any of the other grills," Dale Corbett said.

Corbett has restored three chuckwagons since 2010.

"I restored the running gear. The bottom part that rolls, that holds the box — that's the running gear," Corbett said. "And then the top is the big box, and the chuck box goes on the back of it with all the drawers and stuff in it, and the seat and everything — I build all that."

Brian Price, manager of Brookover Feed Yards and chairman of the Chuckwagons in the Park event, said that there are typically three regular grills and three chuckwagons at the event. The third, which Corbett also restored and rebuilt, belongs to Dan Kraus of Plymell.

As for cooking the beef samples, Corbett said they basically just cut fat off the cuts, cook the cuts to medium done and then slice and serve it up.

With help from his wife, Jolene, and several others, Baker said he first puts a dry rub on the beef, then cooks it on a hot fire to sear it.

"As the meat gets done, we throw it into a cooler to let it rest a bit and then cut it into bite-sized pieces," Baker said.

Price said that the main premise of Chuckwagons in the Park is to give back to the community from the beef industry.

"Basically, we're just giving people samples of the different pieces of meat we cook, and the cattle women are there and they hand out recipes and things like that," Price said. "It would be something the ordinary barbecue person that cooks behind their house could do — cook it the same as these guys."

In addition to individual contributors like Baker, Kraus and the Corbett brothers, several ag-related businesses also chip in to help with the event and to provide the 700 to 800 pounds of beef cooked each year.

The samples are served free of charge, and this year's Chuckwagons in the Park is being held at 11:30 a.m. June 7 at Stevens Park, following the Beef Empire Days Parade, which takes place on Main Street and kicks off at 10:30 a.m.

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