The first time I saw Kathy Christensen we were locked in a head-to-head conflict; bidding for a high wheel, narrow-tired, Peter Schuttler wagon. For a while, it was an intense back-and-forth battle of wills. Ultimately, she triumphed but I introduced myself, got to know her, and we’ve been wonderful friends ever since. Even though she took the prize that day (and did a phenomenal job turning that set of wheels into a competitive chuck wagon), she’s often reminded me that a few years later I managed to sneak in and walk away with a great Schuttler, myself. That’s a whole other story involving a cornfield, cats, and tennis shoes. Someday, I’ll get around to telling that tale. In the meantime, I recently asked Kathy, who’s a World Champion Chuck Wagon competitor with more than 25 years of experience, if she would share some of her background and thoughts on Dutch oven and chuck wagon cooking.
Kathy Christensen's Bain wagon is an exceptional example of a high-wheel Bain wagon.
By the way, as I alluded to earlier, she’s equally savvy when it comes to recognizing good wagons! The box-brake Bain she uses is a super-rare survivor and great part of history. Back to the subject of food, though, below are a few of the cooking-related questions I posed to her so, let’s jump in. We’ll have more posts highlighting her expertise in the coming months.
What are some of the basic items and info needed to get started in Dutch oven cooking? To get started, it’s good to have a lid lifter for your Dutch oven as well as leather gloves, a coal shovel, and a tripod to put your lid on while stirring or adding ingredients. In the attached photo is a 12” deep oven. For that size, you’ll need a 3-horseshoe sized tripod. For anything larger, you’ll want 4 horseshoes for your tripod. It’s important to shake out your ashes and just cook with the coals. The ashes insulate the heat and that will result in a cooler cooking temperature. Keep in mind, if the wind is blowing, you’ll have a much higher temperature.
Some of the chuck wagon basics needed for competitive cooking.
What got you interested in chuck wagons and Dutch oven cooking? I sold a surrey to a friend that cooked monthly at a local trade show. He invited me to come and help.After several months, I made friends with a couple that did competition cooking with their chuck wagon. Soon, I began to help them as well. A year or so later, I acquired my own chuck wagon and began competing and catering. What a tremendous time I’ve had!
Everyone leans toward a favorite dish. What is yours? Hmmm... that’s hard. I love peach cobbler and have been fortunate to place well in competition with mine. But I’m also partial to good, chicken-fried steak.
How long did you compete? I competed and catered for about 15 years, traveling from California to Virginia, north to Wyoming and all over Texas.
What was your most memorable competition? I’ve had so many great experiences all over the country. 2006 in Amarillo, Texas probably stands out the most. That’s the year I won the Championship. The competition was really tough. If I remember correctly, there were 38 wagons I was up against. It was a great time and a tremendous highlight for me.
Kathy's World Championship buckle... A hard-earned and coveted award.
What word of encouragement can you give to someone just getting involved in Dutch oven cooking or chuck wagon cookoffs? You’ll meet a lot of great people! It’s hard work but very rewarding.
Why do old wagons intrigue you? I love the history of these pieces. Studying and learning the backgrounds of each wagon is its own reward. Plus, I get a lot of enjoyment working on them and seeing the results.
Kathy is shown here alongside one of her chuck wagon projects.
I’ll have to echo what Kathy says about the vehicles and the people. Diving into this subject will introduce you to folks from all ages, parts of the country, and walks of life. More than a taste of the Old West, it’s the flavor of what makes America such an amazing society. There are always things that can be improved in this country but, the truth is, there are a lot of really good people out there that want to be good citizens and are always looking to enrich the lives of others. I’ve traveled the vast majority of the U.S., myself, and am a better person just from meeting and getting to know so many others. Plus, I’ve made a ton of friends in the process.
Stay tuned. There’s so much more to come as the Wheels That Won The West® blog gets cranked back up. In the meantime, don’t be a stranger. Drop us a line and let us know what’s going on in your neck-of-the-woods. Plus, I’d be interested to know of other, wagon-related topics you might like to see profiled. Have a great weekend!