It’s been called the chuck wagon for as long as I can remember.
If you go back 40 years, the sight of the blue and white Land Rover appearing in a hot harvest field at around five o’clock in the evening was always very welcome news.
The harvest tea had arrived and soon we would set it out on the flat bonnet and tuck into sandwiches, homemade brown bread and down mugs of strong tea. It always tasted great in a dry and dusty cornfield.
We didn’t quite spread out a tartan rug on the stubble, but you might sit on the ground with your back against the wheel which was closest to the sandwiches.
Then we’d finish the field picnic off with something sweet, maybe a chocolate bar, or a jammy homemade scone, all faithfully prepared by Mrs P (senior) or her helper Eileen.
It’s largely been the same over the years. Mrs P (senior) relinquished harvest meal duties when she moved house and Mrs P (junior, in this case, to avoid confusion) took over. But nowadays the tea basket is left in the yard and the trailer man brings it out to the field.
I assumed it was something brother Thomas made up or maybe cousin George Clarke
So, while technically the chuck wagon has been superseded and the modern crew wouldn’t know what I was talking about, to me it is always the chuck wagon. I assumed it was something brother Thomas made up or maybe cousin George Clarke. But recently and completely accidentally, I discovered the origins of the original chuck wagon. It was not a Meath invention at all, but a very Texan one.
In the 1860s, it was the era of the open range and Goodnight became the first rancher to drive his huge herds of cattle long distances to the markets
Charles Goodnight was a true pioneer and trailblazing Texan rancher. In the 1860s, it was the era of the open range and Goodnight became the first rancher to drive his huge herds of cattle long distances to the markets. Initially, this was to New Mexico and laterally, to the lucrative Kansas railheads. The trail he pioneered was not for the faint-hearted and his partner Oliver Loving was killed by members of Comanche tribe in 1867.
This was really pioneering long-distance stuff and at which he made his fortune. Today’s equivalent might be the Ocean Drover, the world’s largest livestock vessel, loading 14,500 cattle in New Zealand bound for China. But despite being an extremely ruthless rancher, he believed in feeding his cowboys well on these long drives, which could take months.
So, he converted an army wagon into a mobile kitchen, with a fold-down lid on the back that became a table for the cook to prepare wholesome meals. The dry provisions were kept in a chuck box on the wagon and so the original chuck wagon was born.
And back to the plains of Meath. The very agreeable cereal harvest is long over and baled-up
Goodnight is credited with its invention, but with the land enclosures, by the 1880s the long cattle drives became a thing of the past. Foreseeing this, he co-founded the one million acre JA ranch in the Texan panhandle. Later, and ever the entrepreneur, he disposed of his cattle interests and invested in the Mexican silver mines which brought him into financial ruin. He died in 1929, but his chuck wagon lives on, if not on the Texas plains, but in Meath.
And back to the plains of Meath. The very agreeable cereal harvest is long over and baled-up and the oilseed rape has been planted into excellent min-till seedbeds. I hope to be combining spring oilseed rape and/or spring beans by the time you read this.
Finally, let’s say a big collective thank you to all those ladies (I’m not being sexist, I suspect there aren’t many men involved) who diligently make harvest (and silage) lunches and teas and trundle out to the fields in their chuck wagons. They say an army moves on its belly – farming is no different.