Wecome To RVs and OHVs

This blog is all about RVs (recreational vehicles) and OHVs (Off Highway Vehicles), camping, and survival
and how they work together to provide wholesome family fun and great learning opportunities.
Many posts are intended to familiarize novice campers and RVers with RV systems and basic camping and survival
skills. But even experienced RVers and campers will enjoy the anecdotes and may even benefit from a new
perspective. Comments, questions, and suggestions are encouraged.

Saturday, March 21, 2015

Chuck Box

The idea of a "Chuck Box" has been mentioned in several posts as an asset for camping.  So what is a chuck box?  It is kind of like a portable kitchen, mostly used for camping.  Since its likely that many people have never seen one, here is a link to project plans to build your own chuck box.  To some extent they are based on the trail proven techniques used to build chuck wagons for wagon trains and cattle drives in the Old West.  Ideally, your chuck box is a complete, portable camp kitchen.  If you camp in an RV you probably won't need a chuck box since all its features are built into your rig, but some folks like cooking outdoors and may find them useful.  There is even  a trend for RVs to have outdoor kitchens and a chuck box is a pretty good substitute if your RV doesn't have one.  For tent campers, a chuck box can deliver a lot of utility and convenience.  A chuck box can be carried in a pickup, SUV, or even in the trunk of your car.  Unless your RV has enormous "basement" storage compartments you may need a rear cargo carrier or a small trailer if you want to add one to your RV.  One advantage to building your own instead of buying one pre-built is  you can design it to fit and make best use of the space you have available to transport it.

Chuck boxes originated for use in chuck wagons on cattle drives and wagon trains in the Old West.  They were designed to secure all the basic ingredients and cooking gear needed to provide meals for the cowboys moving herds of cattle across open range and across rivers -- no roads, no bridges.  They excelled at making maximum use of minimum space, conserving weight, and keeping everything dry and secure during what was often rather wild weather and rough travel.  They often had specific bins for basic ingredients like flour, salt, and sugar.  Keep in mind the cuisine on cattle drives wasn't fancy and everything had to be made from just a few key ingredients.  You may recall the warning "Cookie" gave the would be trail hands in the movie "City Slickers":  "You ain't getting no nouveau, almondine, bottled water, sauteed city food!  The food's hot, brown... and plenty of it!"   Which means they were pretty much eating beans and bacon and the coffee was boiled in a pot not a percolator and you had to strain the coffee grounds through your teeth, kind of like Army coffee! Here are some examples of chuck boxes:

                               Camp Chuck Box             cedarboxopen1.jpg

There are commercially manufactured chuck boxes you can buy (see Classic Chuck Box, but many people like to build their own.  The one shown in the link is freestanding on its own legs so it doesn't need a table or the back of a vehicle for a platform.  Buying one ready built is an attractive option if you don't have the tools or skills or desire or space to build your own.  Just check the dimensions carefully to make sure it will fit in your vehicle.  Building your own allows you to customize the size and shape to make maximum use of your available space to transport it and the accommodate the things you need to put in it and how you want to use it.  Consider the loaded weight as well as the size.  One that is too big or too heavy to move isn't going to you much good.  So building one that takes up the whole bed of your full size pickup probably isn't a good idea.  It might make an interesting conversation piece and be useful on your patio at home but if you can't pick it up and put it in the back of your vehicle it won't work for camping.  If  you find you can't fit everything in one box, you can supplement it with additional bins or design a second unit to provide additional capabilities as well as additional space -- if you have somewhere to carry it on your  camping trips.

You can design your own chuck box to fit your specific vehicle and your personal requirements.  There are two major limitations you need to take into consideration:  1) size and 2) weight.  The dimensions of your chuck box will have to fit within available space in the vehicle you plan to transport it in.  Another advantage to building your own is you can customize the shape to take advantage of available space in your vehicle.  Sometimes square boxes won't fit inside a closed automobile trunk.  You can get pretty big and fancy if you'll be using it in a pickup truck or large SUV, but will have to scale things down if your means of getting to camp is a sub-compact car.  If you make it too big, it won't fit in your vehicle.  Even if you have a large vehicle to haul it around in you won't want to make it TOO big or it will be too heavy to move, especially when you load it down with utensils, cookware, and provisions.  One solution is to build it in two or more pieces that can be easily moved and then quickly assembled in camp.  When choosing materials, consider that it will most likely have to stand up to rainy days in camp.  A good quality marine grade plywood would be much better than particle board.  Sure, particle board is cheaper, but it is also very heavy and tends to fall apart when it gets wet.  While you will probably want to have space on the front door/shelf for your camp stove and sink, you probably shouldn't try to store and transport the stove inside the chuck box.  That space could be better used for organizing ingredients and untensils.  Most stoves either are either self contained or come in pretty good carrying cases.  Designing your own chuck box  lets you choose the size to fit your available transport space and to customize features to accommodate your specific gear and camping style.  One innovation I found that I thought was quite interesting was a two-sided chuck box that opened to provide counter space on both the front and the back.  Such an approach gives more room for a stove, a sink, and food prep space for those of us who like to spread out.  One side might be used as serving space for a buffet style meal.

The rear outdoor kitchen in teardrop trailers is often based on a chuck box design.  For some ideas about how to build yours, stop by an RV show or a dealer and check out some teardrop trailers.  Some key features you will usually find are lockable drawers and cabinets to prevent things from falling out during travel.  Most of the storage spaces will be fairly small but actual size should be determined by your specific needs.  In some configurations the main door covers all the interior cubbyholes to keep things in place.  You'll probably need at least one cabinet large enough to store your cook kit or pots and pans.  It is often convenient and secure to have small, individual compartments or bins for things like flour, sugar, and spices.  You will most likely find it convenient to include some kind of sink even if its just a plastic dishpan.  It can be convenient to have a shelf or platform on which to set a water jug high enough so gravity can supply water directly into your sink or be available for cooking or drinking.  Another option is to use larger water jugs and a battery or manually operated pump to transfer water from the jugs to the sink.  The sink and water system are good candidates to be separate from the chuck box itself.  You'll soon learn you need the space in the box to corral all your kitchen items and provisions where they'll be secure in travel and easy to use in camp.   For smaller chuck boxes, the "sink" will probably be a plastic dishpan you can set on the shelf when the box is open.  The front of the box is normally hinged at the bottom so it opens out to create a shelf.  This is different than a teardrop trailer where the back is often hinged at the top so it opens up to form a canopy over the cooking area.   An umbrella or stand alone canopy can provide shelter over your chuck box.  If you're building your own you will probably find it well worth the slight extra cost to use piano hinges on the main door/shelf.  These hinges run the full length of the opening and distribute the weight better than individual hinges and are less likely to pull loose or twist during use.  You will want to waterproof the outside so it is resistant to wind, dust, and rain.  Ordinary residential foam type weatherstripping will help seal the doors.  Joints should be caulked and the whole thing sealed in a good quality outdoor paint or varnish.  You can be as creative as you like with the paint scheme.  Some paint them to match their vehicles, some just to be bright and cheery.  Or you might decorate it with favorite club, sports, or organization themes or logos.  You will  want to add sturdy handles so it can be easily moved in and out of your vehicle as necessary.  If you have large chuck box in the back of a pickup or SUV you might use it in place, but you still need to be able to load and unload it at home.  Smaller boxes you might carry in the trunk of the family car will probably be moved to the end of a picnic table for use.  If you plan to move your boxes often in camp you will definitely want to make sure they aren't too bulky or too heavy.  It would be good if they could be handled easily by one person, but if you camp with your family you may be able to manage something that requires two people to carry it.

If you want the extra convenience of a large chuck box but need to hold down the weight,  consider toting all the utensils, ingredients, etc separately in plastic tubs and just putting them in your camp kitchen when you get to camp.  While that defeats some of the benefits of a self-contained chuck box, it does give you the option for more storage and more food preparation space in camp while spreading out the weight for easier carrying.

A handy addition to a chuck box is some sort of canopy or umbrella to provide shade and protection from rain.  Something like a beach or patio umbrella might be attached directly to a large chuck box.  For smaller units you may want to employ a dining fly or a free-standing canopy which could also shelter the entire picnic table for eating.  Of course you may want some kind of canopy over the picnic table whether your chuck box is there or not.  Sometimes it is advantageous to include mounting brackets for a canopy or umbrella on the chuck box itself.

A friend of mine built what could be considered the ultimate chuck box.  He started with a large gas powered iron griddle (about 3' x 3') that had been part of a decommissioned Forest Service camp kitchen along with a similar size grill for steaks and burgers and a couple of large gas burners for stock pots etc. He converted all the orifices on the gas appliances from natural gas to propane and ran the whole thing from a large, mobile home size propane tank that fit under the cooking platforms.  It was all assembled on a small (4'x'8') trailer frame.  The lift-off lid had fold down legs to turn it into a convenient table.  A shepherds crook style lantern holder held a Coleman gas lantern high above the whole setup for ease of use in low light conditions.  The extra space left in the trailer around the stove and propane tank carried cook ware and utensils, ingredients, and condiments.  I helped him serve breakfast, lunch, and dinner to more than 100 people at a time using that trailer on several occasions.  It was quite fun to use and always drew a lot of comments from the crowd.

Chuck it!

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