Over the past twenty years, we’ve made a strong effort to uncover as much of America’s lost wheeled history as possible. It’s been a long – and sometimes dry – road. Nonetheless, as we look back over the decades of research, there are plenty of successes within the individual ‘finds’ and overall groupings of period artifacts, imagery, and ephemera. For those who may have only recently signed up for this blog, the primary areas we focus on are the heavier farm, freight, ranch, coach, military, and a few business vehicles.
Some of the fruits of our research labors can be seen in the thousands of old wagon images now held in the Wheels That Won The West® Archives. Within that collection, the Trail and Ranch Wagon category includes a respectable number of period chuck wagon photos. Most are unpublished and rarely-seen examples of our nation’s early western and cowboy heritage. From these original images, we’re able to help dispense with guess work while establishing a supportable background for a myriad of historical questions.
This small portion of a larger photo shows the beginnings of a meal preparation on the back of an early Bain chuck wagon.
Among the chuck wagon images in the archives, there are a number of wagon brands represented. Legendary names like Mitchell, Bain, Peter Schuttler, Studebaker, Stoughton, Old Hickory, and more are shown in settings from Texas and Colorado to the Dakotas, Wyoming, and Montana. While the images vary in condition, location, size, content, and vehicle brand shown, the central chuck wagon theme remains the same. Differences between camp sites, clothing, and other equipment from the late 1800’s and early 1900’s can also be seen. Sometimes a remuda is included in the photo. At other times, only a handful of cowboys, the cook, and wagon are represented.
This image is cropped from a large cabinet card depicting an early camp; replete with cowboys, tents, chuck wagon, bed rolls, cattle, and a remuda.
When it comes to the design of the chuck box, there seems to be no end to the variations. Differences not only include the exterior shape of the box but the interior configurations as well. Close examination often points out distinctions in even the smallest details. Contrasting table leg designs, latches, drawers, or even different ways of attaching the pan boot help us more completely appreciate the individual personalities represented in every chuck wagon. One nineteenth century photo, which appears to be taken on the western plains, shows a box-style coffee grinder tucked into a section of the chuck box. It’s a departure from the more commonly seen grinder mounted on the back of the upper sideboard. Another image shows a camp using buffalo chips as a fuel source for the fire while others show coals from available wood. Over and over we can see similar, yet distinct, characteristics represented in these vehicles and people. Looking through the old cameras, the images stare back at us, frozen in time, yet still alive with the fierce and independent spirit that built the nation we call home.
As we continue to celebrate America’s early western wheels, we’re reminded that each of these primary source images has much to teach. Ultimately, by growing that base of information, we’re not only able to provide verifiable answers to questions that might otherwise remain unknown but, open new doors of understanding and opportunity to future generations equally intrigued by the subject.
Stay tuned… coming soon to this blog… One of the best original Bain Rack Bed wagons I’ve ever seen!