The First Food Truck

By Ana Kinkaid, editor of the culinary magazine CONNECT

The culinary world is always changing and there is no better proof of that than food trucks. As far back as 1691, push food carts in the Dutch colony of New Amsterdam (present day New York City) had to have a license to sell sea-fresh oysters and garden vegetables from the street.

But the true roots of food trucks began in dusty Texas cattle country. By 1866, Charles Goodnight, a tall former Texas Ranger, had become one of the most successful cattle kings in Texas. But cattle from the many smaller surrounding ranches were soon flooding the market and dramatically dropped the price per head of cattle.

Not a man to leave a problem unchallenged, Goodnight proposed to his longtime friend Oliver Loving that they skip the local depressed market and drive their joint cattle herds overland for 2,000 miles to Southern Wyoming where the prices were much higher.

There was only one problem — how to feed the dozens of cowhands needed to move the vast herd north through the Texas Panhandle and eastern Colorado to the beef-hungry settlers of Wyoming.

Having traveled extensively as a Texas Ranger, Goodnight knew he had to redesign a standard range wagon if he was going to solve his problem. He decided to buy a sturdy Studebaker wagon, a favorite of the U.S. Cavalry because of its strong steel axles (and yes, the same company that would later produce cars).

To this trail-sturdy frame he added specialized space for both gear and food ranging from rain slickers to dried pinto beans. At the rear of the wagon, Goodnight installed a hinged box that unfolded to create a portable work surface for the camp cook or “cookie.”

If the name for the camp cook seemed casual, it was only a verbal illusion. The drive’s cook was second only to the trail boss in authority. And along the way, some camp cookie gave this innovative wagon his boss’ nickname: Chuck — hence the chuck wagon.

Today the motorized ancestor of the chuck wagon can be found in nearly every city from coast to coast. Behind them stands the legacy of a history-making man named Goodnight, whose creativity launched an industry that’s still rolling right along.

Learn more about food trucks in the fall issue of Sizzle Magazine, coming in late September.

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