Drivers spend months each year with reins clutched in their hands as their outfits thunder around tracks across western Canada in the quest for a World Professional Chuckwagon Association championship.
This past season, the 36 chuckwagon drivers swapped reins for Sharpies to help a Fort Macleod man fulfill his own quest.
In true western spirit the obliging drivers — including World champion Rick Fraser and Stampede champion Jason Glass — autographed a straw hat for long-time chuckwagon fan Jeff Murphy.
“Ever since I started watching I’ve been interested in the chuckwagons,” Murphy said. “I don’t know if it’s just the speed they go or what, but it’s just amazing.”
Murphy has another passion — collecting autographs.
“I love autographs,” Murphy said. “I’ve got autographs galore at home.”
Murphy has pursued autographs from curlers at the World ladies’ championships at Lethbridge, Larry the Cable Guy and movie star Tom Cruise.
The most recent autograph Murphy got was from country singer Dean Brody
Two years ago a guy came into the store where Murphy works in Fort Macleod and claimed to know the chuckwagon drivers.
The man agreed to get the drivers to sign a hat but Murphy hasn’t seen the fellow since.
At the suggestion of his mother Florence, Murphy contacted Brant Hurlburt of Fort Macleod who has a long-time connection with chuckwagon racing.
An auctioneer by trade, Hurlburt conducted the tour’s tarp auction for years.
Now Hurlburt has family connections to the sport. His daughter Brienne is married to Jason Glass and his other daughter Lacey is engaged to outrider Chad Cosgrave.
“It takes time,” Hurlburt said. “You can’t go to just one show.”
Hurlburt got the first autographs on the hat and then enlisted his daughter Lacey, who travels with the tour, to help.
“We didn‘t get the last three until the very last day, Sunday at Rocky Mountain House,” Hurlburt said Aug. 20.
From Bensmiller to Van Eaton, Bremner to Vigen, and everyone in between, the drivers put their names on the hat. Hurlburt also got the association’s 2013 champion outrider, Chad Cosgrave, to sign the hat.
Hurlburt said it was necessary to approach the drivers at the right time of the day when they’re at a show. The drivers keep a strict schedule the day of a race as they get themselves and the horses ready to race that evening.
When they were approached for an autograph, the drivers didn’t hesitate.
“They were awesome,” Hurlburt said. “Every one of them was very, very receptive and happy to do it.”
No one was happier than Jeff Murphy, who will put the autographed cowboy hat in a place of honour on his wall.