Page 1 of 2
Wagon trains, settlers, Indians, cowboys, dust, floods, humor, unexpected severe weather and most certainly Chuck Wagons are a part of American history. Chuck Wagons, cooking and Model TT’s are a passion of Wayne Calk, Class of 1964. In fact he has been featured on the Food Channel at the Ruidoso, NM competition Chuck Wagon cook-off!!
Below is just one of Wayne’s Chuck Wagon experiences, while cooking for a group of deer hunters (click photos to enlarge):
It was November 30, 2006 and the weather was unseasonably warm, well not all that uncommon for Terrell County in South West Texas, but it was around 70+ degrees fareinhigt. My sidekick Skip “Chupa” Clark and I met my longtime friend Glenn Benson at the turn off the highway to Alkali Flats on the Jack Clarke Ranch, 13 miles South of Dryden, Texas. The turn to go to the ranch is on a road that locals call Smugglers Road This 10,000 acre location was the site the outfitter, Rusty Reed, had set up for the Mule/Whitetail Deer hunt. Rusty hires us to bring our chuck wagon and cook for two separate groups of hunters on back to back week-ends. The first week-end is booked by a beer distributor (Gambrinas—which handles, among others-Corona- for the United States) who brings in 10-12 clients from all over the United States. The second hunt is booked by individuals and typically come from all of Texas. These guys, and sometimes girls are from all walks of life and they love coming to this very remote part of the world located just a few short miles from the Rio Grande which separates the United States and Mexico.
After traveling on the dirt road for a few minutes it was easily noticeable that it had not rained in this area in quite some time. Overwhelming evidence was that the Caliche dust was ankle deep along the road and the Jack Rabbits, what few there were, were doing a rain dance. You could look in the rear view mirror and all you could see was a big white cloud of dust behind our truck and trailer. Glenn had to follow almost a mile behind us to keep from eating dust. Most of the hunters had not arrived when we got to the site so we were able to maneuver the chuck wagon with our 300 horses without a problem. Once we decided on where the wagon was going to be placed we unhitched the horses and kept them in the remuda close to the wagon. You never know when you might need the horses in the middle of the night. A considerable amount of time was spent unloading all the gear and getting everything in place to be ready to serve the hunters breakfast at 5:30 AM. We visited with Bill and Rusty a while before setting up and they informed us that the hunters were about the same bunch of fellows as last year with the exception of four new ones representing the big grocery chain, Raylee’s, in Albuquerque, New Mexico.
Once the goods were unloaded we layed out the wagon fly (tent) and drove stakes in the ground for the ropes and raised the center and end poles and used the block and tackle to tighten the center line rope that attaches to the front of the wagon. The location of the fly is setting on about two inches of Calachi dirt and just under surface are large Limestone rocks which make for a very difficult time driving stakes driven in the ground. We broke several in the process and they are made of ¾” sucker rods. Wayne Sutton, the local rancher, runs sheep on this land and has said that sometimes when building a fence they have to use dynamite to blast a hole for the fence posts.
Then came the heavy work of positioning the stove.
It is bottomless metal box which weighs about 600-700 lbs and has a stove pipe that goes through the top of the fly and the stove itself is like a regular old cook stove which has round cutouts on the top. It provides us with a large cooking surface and supplies our “new” home with an ample source of heat. Next, the side curtains were hung which are actually the walls of our home and makes the cooking and day to day activities comfortable regardless of what the weather is doing outside.
Rusty Reed, the outfitter, promised us wood so we wouldn’t have to bring any from home because of the space it takes to carry enough wood for eight days. We went to the big pile they have stacked over by the hunter’s conversation pit and loaded up enough to last us for the first three to four days. There was a little one legged bird that hung around the camp for two days. He was considered him our “watch bird.” We would leave him thing to eat. I’m sure he has an interesting story as to why he only has one leg. He told us all about the leg problem and what was going on in his life, all of which we didn’t understand because no one spoke One legged, Yellow Breasted, black bird language. It didn’t seem to bother him too much that we didn’t speak his language because he kept telling us the same story over and over again.
Everything in place it was now time to stir up something for supper. This fine meal consisted of ham and cheese quesadillas. We were plenty hungry by that time and anything would taste good. We got into our bedrolls about 9pm so we could get some rest before getting up a bit after 4 am to began breakfast preparations and have it ready for the hunters by 5:30. It was a little hard for me to go to sleep, but soon dozed off. It was only a little while later, at 12:29 to be exact, when the wind started. Usually wind will sort of creep up on you and get more intense as the “front” moves in. Well, not this one. The first wind was between 40-50 mph and gusted to probably 60 and above.
The first thing I heard was one of the main poles of the fly (tent) crashing down and hitting the stove. I jumped up and went outside of my teepee and saw the side curtains standing straight out from where they were clipped on to the top sheet. Wow, we are going to have a problem I thought. I put the pole back up and retightened the guy ropes and buy this time the wind had increased to the point that the center pole and the wagon pole had already blown down again. I hollered: “Skip, I need some help out here”. He was already on his way and together we just grabbed a piece of the tarp to try and hold it down till maybe the wind would let up a little bit. No such luck! Skip was holding on to the canvas fly and the wind was lifting the whole tent up and him off the ground. All the time we were hoping to come out of this storm without too much damage. We were quite busy trying to keep our “little home” together as best as we could and managed to get off a few quick prayers in hopes of getting some Devine intervention. The “call” didn’t go through as far as we knew.
By this time the tables, empty pans, serapes (we were using them for tablecloths), paper towels, pan liners and anything else that was the least bit light, had already blown away.
We were trying to keep the big canvas fly from completely blowing away by keeping the ropes holding it down, tight. The quick consensus was to take down the side curtains so the wind could blow under unobstructed, all the while trying to keep the main poles tight. We began to see where the canvas was torn and where the poles had been punching holes in the top. The end of the fly by the wagon, was pretty much shredded.
This was Skip’s collapsed home that use to be a 2-3 man tent.
We had gotten up so quickly that we didn’t put on any clothes, just boots. So all we had on was our long underwear which wasn’t stopping much of the north wind. I guess we were operating on adrenaline because it was probably two hours later when we finally got cold. We fought the wind till around 3:30 or 4 o’clock when we decided it didn’t matter what we did, the wind was gong to do what ever it wanted to with our camp, regardless of our efforts. We finally went to the “remuda” which is where we had our 300 horses and got inside. We set there in a daze for what seemed like hours when I asked Skip “what do you think about a little heat”? He said “that would be nice”. Then we cranked up the Silverado and finally got warm.
We sat in the pick up for the remainder of the night which was a couple of hours. Some time during that couple of hours Glenn got cold enough to join us and get warm. I don’t know how he did it, but some how Skip curled up on the floor behind the front seat. How, I don’t know, since the back was full of food preparation items. The fly measures 16’x24’ and this is what it looked like as the Sun started to lighten up the night sky..
Rusty has an awning for the hunters like you would put out to park a vehicle under. It is anchored to the ground with long spikes in the ground and the wind had pulled them out of the ground about 12” and the whole thing would blow up to the end of the spike and bang then fall down and do the same thing again and again. The hunters were out by the big fire pit till around 11 last evening and when they went to bed they built the fire up real big for some reason, I guess to keep the Lions away from the camp. It evidently worked because not one Lion was sighted. The problem with the fire was it was blowing our way during the high winds carrying large embers through what remained of our camp.
Around 5:30 Eddie came around and tapped on the window and said Damn, “that was quite a wind”. I had to agree. The wind was still blowing around 30 mph. We got out of the pickup and got some clothes on and tried to put what was left of the canvas back up and get a fire built. We still need to feed the hunters. We got somewhat put back together and go breakfast ready by around 9am. The wing was still blowing hard enough that we had to put horseshoes on the tortillas to keep them from blowing away. We were glad to get the huevos con chorizo burritos ready cause we were pretty hungry ourselves. The wind was still blowing hard enough that I didn’t even attempt to put my contact lens in until around 5 in the afternoon. We were hoping the wind would lay by the evening so we could cook the ribeye steaks on the grill outside the tent. We finally go to enjoy the evening after the wind quit around 5:30.
That evening when we got ready to climb into our cots, it was like sleeping on the ground because there was so much dirt and dust in everything. But it was still a wonderful feeling to finally get some sleep.
Friday was a pretty good day. Skip and I took off on a couple mile hike towards the Rio Grande. We found a “alien” stash of a flashlight, plastic bottle, clothes, jacket, and some condoms. Go figure that one out. Anyway the stuff had been there a while. This is some pretty rough country to be hoofing it through. I guess it happens all the time because the main road is well used all the way to the river.
Some of the meals we prepared were, Ribeye steaks, Fajitas, Enchaladas, hamburgers, chicken fried steaks, French fries, garden salad, sopapillas, pudding, burritos, baked potatoes, and lots of coffee.
Oh you may wonder about our One Legged, Yellow breasted Black “Watch Bird” well he was back in full force after the storm, but had tweaked his tune a little….maybe we should of named him "The Warning Bird~!