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Tuesday, March 15, 2011

The Spirit of the West, Ellensburg, Washington

                                                                                                    Story by Roger Edison

The Spirit of the West gathering in Ellensburg, Washington has brought the best traditional cowboy musicians, poets, and artists together to celebrate the western tradition of ranching and the cowboy life. Past nationally known entertainers — many of whom have performed at Carnegie Hall, Grand Old Opry, National Public Radio and numerous other venues around the world included - Don Edwards, Waddie Mitchell, Baxter Black, R. W. Hampton, Wylie and the Wild West, Stephanie Davis Band, Paul Zarzyski, Sourdough Slim, Doris and Belinda and Juni Fisher.

The entertainment goes beyond the extravaganza of music, including cowboy poetry and western art, Ranch Roping Competition, Chuckwagon Cook-off,  Square Dance lessons,  Gun Show, a Fiddle contest, the kids corral,  Whiskey tasting,  Blacksmith and spinning needlework demonstrations. This is one of the greatest Cowboy events in the Pacific Northwest receiving a good turn out from the event evident by the crammed parking lot of the Rodeo Fairgrounds.

Cowboy-Western Art, Photography and Poetry projects decorated the wall of the Spirit of the West - Dance Hall. Buckaroos from around Kittitas County elementary schools used this year’s theme "Be Kind to Animals" using the Code of the West, “8 Principles to Live By” to create their projects. Several hundred projects were on this years display.

“Trail Boss” Bill Holmes devoted many hours planning and rounding up the needed sponsors as Ellensburg hosted their first competitive Chuckwagon Cook-off.  Bob Ottmar is the President of the recently formed Northwest Chapter to the American Chuck Wagon Association. The ACWA organization founded in Bryson, Texas, 1997 today has members in 31 states, Canada, Germany, Sweden and Switzerland. The interest of chuck wagon cooking has since grown founding the Northwest Chapter in July of 2010 that includes Washington, Oregon, Idaho, Montana, British Columbia and Alberta, Canada. 

Bob Ottmar has demonstrated Chuck wagon cooking at the Spirit of the West event in previous years with the Columbia Basin Dutch Oven Society.  Bob has been cooking with cast iron Dutch Ovens for about 12 years.  During the 2010 gathering, Bob spoke with Keith McGowan about putting the competitive event together inviting other chuck wagon enthusiast  to participate. Each wagon team prepares meals for up to 50 people.

Many travel concerns about rain and snow eased with the provided sunny days though the temperatures still cold dropping each night below freezing. However, as the weekend remained clear, the Chuck Wagon Cooks managed their wagons as they set up along the downtown streets of Ellensburg. Cooking during these events normally are done over open fires and dug out ground pits but the spit irons had to be ran over fire-boxes and Kingsford BBQ coals provided by sponsors due to City Ordinance and Fire Marshall.  

The crowds of visiting tourist among local folks filtered through the serving lines for the hearty meals. Each wagon team made staples of  Cowboy Chicken fried Steak, Chuck wagon Beans, Potatoes, Breads and Biscuits and Peach Cobbler feeding 50 meals per wagon. Each team with hopes to become the Grand Champion of the Spirit of the West Chuck Wagon cook-off. 

Participating wagons: 

Lightning A and Coyote Mule Company - from Burbank, Wa. owned by Les and Pat Myers
Paradise Rose - from Arlington, Oregon, owned by Rod McGuire
Rock'n R O - from Moses Lake, Washington owned by Bob Ottmar
Longhorn Cattle Company - Ellensburg, Washington owned by Greg Akehurst

Friday, February 18, 2011 Wagon judging for the best and most authentic looking wagon set up went to Greg Akehurst of Longhorn Cattle Company. 
Saturday, February 19, 2011 the food categories were judged: 

First Place Winners for Food Categories  

MEAT:           Rocking RO
BEANS:         Longhorn Cattle Co.
POTATOES:  Paradise Rose
BREAD:         Paradise Rose
DESSERT:     Longhorn Cattle Co.
WAGON:      Longhorn Cattle Co.
Sunday, February 20, 2011 the event manager tallied votes from the day before calculating the totals score on the people choice award.  First Place for Peoples Choice
Food    – Longhorn Cattle Company
Wagon – Paradise Rose
Overall Winner and Grand Champion went to Greg Akehurst,  Longhorn Cattle Company .

Bob Ottmar built his wagon using the running gear from a wagon that came across the United States from the mid west following the Oregon trail. He located the wagon in Oregon where the previous owner share the story about his great grand father's passage. Restoring the running gear, Bob elected to rebuilding the wagon box, provide with new bows, canvas and chuck box.  Bob researched dozens of photos to finished his wagon.  To learn more about judging Chuck Wagons, Bob visited The Spirit of the West Festival held in Sioux Falls, South Dakota last September meeting with cook-off host Cassandra Swanson and  Bob Sparks and Bill Thompson from the American Chuck Wagon Association.  Bill Thompson and Bob Sparks were on hand to not only be wagon and event judges during the Spirit of the West Festival held in Sioux Falls but also conduct a Wagon Judging Clinic training others from across the nation.  

Bob Ottmar
After attending this event, Bob brought back his knowledge of lessons he learned to conduct the Ellensburg event plus help establish the new Northwest Chapter. "We have over 12 wagons in our area" states Bob. The northwest chapter after approved by the American Chuck Wagon Association then elected officers from their newly formed membership of their new committee:  Bob Ottmar -  President, Rod McGuire - Vice President, John Spain - Secretary,  Greg Akehurst - Treasures and Les Meyers - Director. The group now has 9 members.

The Northwest Chapter of American Chuck Wagon Association has confirmed three events for the 2011 season with additional inquiries from others areas in Washington, Oregon, Idaho and Montana. Completing the Spirit of the West, Ellensburg, Wa this past February with current schedule events planned for Stevensville, Montana June 18-19, 2011 and Dayton, Washington (Mule Mania) July 15-17, 2011. 

For information about joining the Northwest Chapter
contact Bob Ottmar email
American Chuck Wagon Association email

The Chuck Wagon Cook - Off  sponsors contributed to the successful competition at the Spirit of the West and the Ellensburg community. 

Fred Meyer's Store:
Owens Meats  of Cle Elum, Washington
Star Bucks Coffee
Lodge Cast Iron 

Juni Fisher
Juni Fisher was one of many performers during the Spirit of the West. She tours the country delighting audiences with her original songs, exquisite vocals and outstanding guitar playing. She has an uncanny ability to bring alive unforgettable characters and images, stunning stories that often carry a deep and compassionate reflection of the human spirit. Her 2009 Wrangler Award from the National Cowboy and Western Heritage Museum is a landmark win, the first woman to win a Wrangler Award in the Outstanding Western Album category. Juni has won Western Music Association awards every year from 2005 to present, most recently in 2009 for Album of the Year and Female Performer of the Year.
Items display at the craft show of Spirit of the West

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