Rex and Sheryl Wailes of Bennett, Colo., are proud of the American West and its heritage.
One of the ways they show that pride is by perfecting their chuck wagon cooking and taking part in numerous chuck wagon cooking competitions with their Lizzie II wagon.
With many competitions and gatherings held in other states, like Arizona and Texas, the Wailes figured it was time to have a get-together more centrally located, and convenient for this region’s chuck wagon enthusiasts.
“We thought it would be good to get one up north, to get folks from Montana and such to come,” said Rex Wailes, about why he and Sheryl decided to host the first Colorado Chuck Wagon Rendezvous on their property.
“For us, it was a thousand miles to go to Arizona. For the guys from Kansas and Montana, it’s even further.”
A big difference between the rendezvous held in Bennett near the beginning of May and a typical chuck wagon contest was the non-competitive atmosphere. The gathering was an opportunity to talk casually as a group about wagon judging, cooking, harnesses and chuck wagon competition details in a friendly setting.
Most of all, it was about relaxing and getting to know each other away from the stress and busyness of a cooking contest.
“So many times, when we see each other, it is in a competition,” explained Wailes. “Last night, about half the guys sat around the fire and just talked. We weren’t competing. When we are competing we are so busy we can’t socialize.”
Participants agreed with Wailes’ assessment.
“It is fun because it isn’t a competition,” said Dan McCaffree of Roundup, Mont., who, along with his wife, Carol, takes their Musselshell chuck wagon to numerous competitions throughout the country. They stopped at the rendezvous in Bennett because it was on their way home, and they read about the upcoming get-together on Facebook.
“I like meeting the people,” McCaffree explained while he offered visitors a few spicy hot cherries from his wagon. “You meet a lot of good people. I think I was born a hundred years too late,” he finished with a smile while Carol nodded her assent nearby.
Non-competitive gatherings of this type are so valued by the American Chuck Wagon Association that its current president, Wayne Calk, traveled from Texas to be a part of it all. He was impressed by the participation and interest shown in the first annual Colorado rendezvous.
“I’m extremely impressed,” offered Calk about the number of people who showed up to the Colorado gathering, which included wagons from Montana and Kansas. The personable cowboy was happy to discuss his thoughts after a casual meeting where those in attendance discussed informal plans regarding the future of the ACWA.
“Any time you have an organization doing something new in a new area, typically we would expect somewhere around 20 people,” Caulk added about the event. “I kept hearing from Rex, ‘We’ve got good numbers; we might have 40 on Saturday.’ Sure enough, I think it was at least 40 people,” he said while glancing around at those in attendance. “I think it’s an excellent turnout for the first time.”
Asked about why the ACWA likes to see gatherings of this type, Calk had an enthusiastic reply.
“We’ve got about 400 members,” he stated about the ACWA. “Out of those members, we’ve got about 125 that are wagon owners and that do chuck wagon competition. There is nothing to do for those people that don’t do chuck wagon competitions. Even the wagons that compete against each other, they don’t have time to sit around and visit. It’s all competitive,” he continued. “This (rendezvous) gives us that chuck wagon feel and we get to sit down and visit and the fellowship and friendship of it all is what this is all about.”
Along with friendship and fellowship, keeping the traditions of the American West alive also plays an important role.
“It’s our heritage,” said Sheryl Wailes about a big reason they want to bring chuck wagon cooking to the attention of more people. “It’s the United States’ heritage. It didn’t come from overseas. It didn’t come from England. It’s ours. They saw a need (back then). There wasn’t a cattle market where they were, so they created something to help them get to a market in Dodge City and different places. Part of the trails did come into Colorado. This is us. We do have to be proud of it.”
While the early May timeframe worked well for participants, the future location of the Colorado Chuck Wagon Rendezvous is not finalized at this time. It is not because the Wailes aren’t interested in hosting it again, but because there is discussion on having the rendezvous hosted in various locations, including neighboring states. That way, it can be more convenient for participants throughout the region to take part as often as possible.
“Sheryl and I enjoy doing this and we love it,” Rex declared. “But what would be nice is ... to have this rotate to different locations. That would bring in folks farther from the east. I would really like to see it move around. This is a central location, but it’s not central to the guy in Missouri,” he added. “If they want it to stay here, we will do it, (but) I would like to see it spread. I think it would gain more people. In five years, if it was back here, that would be great.” ❖