The Flash and Excitement of Chuckwagon racing has its roots in the History of the Old West. While a number of stories have looked at the origins of this spectacular sport, one in particular is considered the most likely explanation of this fast paced competition that fans flock to see at rodeos and racing events across the west.
Legend has it that days gone by that a cowboy’s home was his chuckwagon. After finishing a long day on the range, he’d return to the chuckwagon for a meal, some song and stories with friends, and a well earned rest. At the end of the week, all the cowboys in the area would meet up and head to town for some entertainment. The last one in would have to buy the first round at the saloon, so the cowboys would be as anxious as possible in loading up and heading out. A fast team and efficient packing were the name of the game and still are in today’s races.
Alberta’s first chuckwagon racing competition took place at the 1923 Calgary Stampede. Racers were urged to imitate the cowboy’s breaking of camp, with all the speed and skill that is required. The racers caught the fancy of Albertan’s who wanted to see more racing with the horsemanship, technique, excitement and action the new sport brought to rodeos. Since that time, chuckwagon races have been a crowd pleasing event every summer.
The Canadian Professional Chuckwagon Association (CPCA) has been in existence for over 60 years. It started in the late 1940’s in farming communities all across Alberta and Saskatchewan where farmers and ranchers would gather at a local track in a level field and race horses hitched to a grain wagon. Drivers such as Josh Delaronde, John and George Stupka, Glen Ronald and the Oulettes were involved at this time. By the mid 50’s Slim Helmig from Esterhazy, SK and Allan Bensmiller from Dewberry, AB arrived on the scene. Chuckwagon racing was an entirely different thing. Drivers just showed up and raced.
In the late 1960’s and early 1970’s an association of Rodeo Committees was formed. Towns such as Lloydminster, Pierceland and Meadow Lake were members. Each of these locations held chuckwagon races along with their rodeos. In the late 1970’s the Northern Chuckwagon Association (NCA) was formed seperate from the Rodeo Committee. Dick Dye, a former driver, and Chris Vallevand, a former president of the NCA, were instrumental in forming the association.
In 1979 the NCA became the NPCA, Northern Professional Chuckwagon Association, the members felt it was time to be recognized as a professional group of horsemen who were very dedicated to their sport. An executive was formed and the membership was made up of drivers, outriders, helpers, judges and associate members from across Alberta and Saskatchewan.
In 1995 the NPCA underwent another change to become the Canadian Professional Chuckwagon Association. Past President Marylin Napper is quoted as saying “The change in our name and our logo which is the first step in presenting a new image for the 90’s and into the 21st century. We feel the CPCA better reflects the scope and history of our sport and we believe the new image will help us (CPCA) and wagon racing in general become more visible across the country”.
Through the years the CPCA has seen a number of changes in the sport, many of them related to safety. The changes have included modifications to the races, the types of horses used and the wagons required for competition. Current regulations state that each driver must have a covered wagon that weights a minimum of 1325 lbs including the weight of the driver and stove. Four thoroughbred horses are used to pull the wagon. The driver is assisted by his outriders, one who holds the lead team steady before the start of the race and the other who loads the stove into the back of the wagon.
Drivers are required to wear safety vests and many now wear a safety helmet during the race. The CPCA continues to improve safety and the sport and penalties are put in place and enforced.
The Wagon Trail is a long one and although the names may have changed as people move on; those who have left their footprint will not be forgotten. The days of sitting around camp, telling stories, singing songs and visiting will be forever remembered. The logos, rules, race locations and people will continue to change and evolve but the History of the Old West will live on through the Canadian Professional Chuckwagon Association.
See you along the trail…