The Chuck Wagon by
(34 Stories)

Prompted By Vacations

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My father was an early fan of the camper.  Nowadays you go to a dealer and walk through dazzling showrooms with recreational vehicles of every description and size, full of amenities.  In the 60s, there were few choices and no dealers, so we bought a camper and undertook a 1000+ mile drive to the factory to pick it up.

"What outfit do you cook for?"

Powder blue 1956 Ford pickup. Bench seat, four on the floor.  Dad driving, mom in the passenger seat, two squirming daughters wedged between.  For three hot days of driving.  I was referred to in the family as a laplander, always wanting to sit on mom’s lap, imagine her thighs of steel. Hot. But hey, we had “air conditioning.”  The swamp cooler was a device that hung from the slightly-open passenger window.  It consisted of a tray into which you regularly poured water, above that a circular set of baffles.  When you pulled the chain on the side, the baffles would spin and sweep through the tray of water and get saturated, then the supposedly cooling breeze wafted over you from the wind coming through the window at freeway speeds and evaporating the water.  I was grateful when the thing just spit water at me.  Three days.

Chuck Wagon was the name of this camper, painted in large lettering on the outside. Dad was so proud when it was slid into the bed of the pickup at the factory.  Campers were a rare sight, so when we drove into gas stations or grocery stores on the way home, people would ask “what outfit do you cook for?” No no, this is our camper, we don’t camp in tents, we don’t cook for any road crews. He would then proudly throw open the door and invite people to heave themselves up and in (he hadn’t made the steps yet) where there was about enough room for two people to turn around, and point out the amenities.

Modern day RVs have wide screen tvs, granite countertops, and hygienically sealed plumbing systems. The Chuck Wagon slept four, had a little place to cook and eat, and some closets and cupboards. And if you’ve read this far.. At mom’s insistence, dad converted the tall clothes closet at the back into a potty. A folding stool with a plastic seat, and a carefully centered bucket underneath.  That bucket was in turn placed inside a larger bucket that had sand in the bottom, to lend crucial stability so the whole contraption didn’t tip disastrously while underway.  Being the man of the family, all the icky jobs fell to dad, including emptying this bucket.  I’m grateful that my aging memory has no visual images of this procedure.


Profile photo of Susan Susan

Characterizations: funny, well written


  1. John Zussman says:

    Your family was truly ahead of its time! I’ll bet you and your sister gleefully rode home in the camper instead of the truck. Was this just the first of many family adventures in the Chuck Wagon?

  2. Suzy says:

    Love this story. Your description of riding four across – no seat belts then, of course – brought back fond memories for me. But that swamp cooler is the craziest thing I have ever heard of! Hope your family got a lot of use out of the camper, and it was worth the thousand-mile drive to get it.

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