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National championship chuck wagon

IN THE SPRING of 1866, Charles Goodnight commissioned the building of the first chuck wagon at a wagonyard in Weatherford, Texas.

It was crafted of bois de arc wood atop the gear of a former government wagon. Goodnight designed it to hold all the necessary utensils and supplies to feed and doctor the men on his first cattle drive.

And, thus was created what became one of the most recognizable fixtures of the American West.

Each fall on a grassy field in Lubbock, exact replicas of that first Goodnight chuck wagon set up to camps. The wood from mesquite fires lingered over the 35 wagons at 12th annual National Cowboy Symposium and Celebration as the cooks labored over a meal of chicken fried steak, beans, biscuits, cobbler and campfire coffee.

The sights are nostalgic and the smells of frying beef and baking biscuits and cobbler and bubbling coffee are agonizingly inviting. Don't even think about getting a cholesterol check after lunch at one of the wagons.

Each wagon cooks the same menu competing in the National Championship Chuck Wagon Cookoff.

It's quite a sight as the head cooks direct each cooking crew. It's also serious business. Each wagon wants to be called the best of the best just like it was more than a century ago.

The "cookie" on that first Goodnight chuck wagon had a reputation, and the trail boss knew it had better be a good one. Drovers had to be fed well on the long trail to the railhead.

Southwest Farm Press spent a weekend photographing the men and women who each fall relive in Lubbock the days when cattle drives stretched across Texas and the Plains of Kansas and Nebraska as far as the eye could see - and the ever present chuck wagon was as much a part of the scene as the Longhorns.

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