When you're gathering and doctoring cattle across thousands of acres of Texas backcountry, chances are there may not be a food truck in sight. But there could be a chuck wagon, and people will be gathering around it playing music and telling stories. That’s part of the experience that Damon Rogers is trying to re-create in North Texas with the Handlebar D Chuckwagon experience.
“A lot of people don’t realize that there are a lot of ranches that still take the wagon out because it is the most affordable way to get your work done,” he says, adding that he has wanted to own a chuck wagon since he started cowboying full time in what he calls “big country.”
Rogers, 53, has been “on the wagon” twice, he says. The first time was in the late 1990s when the nearest town was Salt Flat, Texas. Another time, he was west of Pecos.
“I was strict cowboying, gathering cattle, doctoring cattle, stripping yearlings, doing whatever we needed to do,” he says. “But we didn’t go to town. We were out there for 30 days at a time.”
These days, Rogers manages a ranch outside of Celeste, Texas. Most mornings, he’s up at 4 a.m. He says he and wife Nicole also raise horses. Buying, selling and training the animals keep them both busy. Rogers says between the two of them, they “make a pretty good product.” Nicole also works on his day crew.
”I don’t hire her because she’s my wife,” he says. “I hire her because she’s good help.”
Now, the couple also owns a 1902 John Deere chuck wagon that they bought earlier this year from Nicole’s father.
“I didn’t want it for a yard ornament,” Rogers says. “I wanted to put it to work.”
With the help of business partner Bryan Shanahan, they’re doing just that. Shanahan, a seasoned cook for more than three decades, suggested that they team up with Tupps Brewery in McKinney, where they plan to host Stories and Songs from the Wagon on Sunday, Sept. 15.
”When people think of chuck wagon, they think of BBQ and, you know, just basic fare,” Rogers says. “Well, I’ve kicked it up a notch with this wagon.
“What we want to do is try to bring chuck wagon cooking but present a little bit higher class of food, not just BBQ, not just chicken-fried steak, but bring something that the people of Collin County, Dallas County, you know, wherever, might be more used to, but served off the wagon, a real wagon. And I’m combining it with a music series.
“Some of the best times I’ve ever had were sitting on a tailgate, swapping songs, telling stories, having a good time,” he continues. “That’s what I’m trying to create, that intimacy. It’s going to be an experience unlike anything most people have ever seen in this area.”
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Rogers hopes to combine his love for music and the Western way of life through the monthly songwriter’s showcase and meal that he says will, typically, be held at the brewery on the second Sunday of each month.
“I might tell a story or two,” he says, adding that he’ll emcee everything and talk about the history of the chuck wagon. “Then, I’m going to say, ‘By the way, that’s not what you’re going to be eating tonight.’ I’m going to bring something that’s a little more high class.”
The Handlebar D Chuckwagon experience already has a lineup of songwriters like Jeff Hopson, Justin Till, Chuck Hawthorne and Mike Blakely. The plan is to hold shows in September, October and November, then take a break in December and January and start back up in February. Rogers says they’ll run as long as there is a demand.
“The experience I want to create is craft beer, craft food, craft music,” he says. “Present something you can’t get anywhere else. All original stuff, that’s what I’m after.”