In the old west, a “chuck line” (or “chuckline”) formed at the chuck wagon (the official Texas state vehicle) so cowboys could get their fill of grub. Some people were said to “ride the chuck line” (“chuck line riders” or “chuck liners”)—hangers-on who didn’t do much but to stick around for a free meal.
(Dictionary of American Regional English)
chuck line n Often in phr ride (the) chuck line West
A succession of places where a cowboy can get a free meal; hence chuck liner or chuck line rider one who frequents such places; a moocher
1903 (1965) Adams Log Cowboy 280 West, He was riding the chuck-line all right, but Miller gave him a welcome, as he was the real thing.
1928 French Ranchman NM 153, We received a visit from one of those gentlemen, known throughout the West as “Chuck-liners.”
1933 AmSp 8.1.32 nTX, Ride a chuck line. To secure free board by visiting from one ranch to another. The average ranchman received chuckline riders cordially, glad to have company. The word was often used figuratively to designate any moocher.
1958 Blasingame Dakota Cowboy 159 SD (as of 1905), If a “doings,”..was whispered from camp to camp by chuckline riders—those unemployed newsmen who rode from place to place, dropping a good story for a meal—every one of us perked up his ears.
1961 Adams Old-Time Cowhand 9 West, Any worthy cowboy might be forced to ride chuckline durin this season [winter], but the professional chuck liner was jes’ a plain range bum, despised by all cowboys. He was the kind that took advantage of the country’s hospitality and stayed as long as he dared wherever there wasn’t any work for ‘im to do and the meals were free and reg’lar.
Illustrated History of the Union Stockyards:
A Sketch-book of Familiar Faces
by W. Joseph Grand
Chicago, IL: Thos. Knapp Printing & Binding Company
Some of the old hands are kept on the pay roll, while the others must “rustle for themselves” until next spring—that is, “sweat out,” work for their board or “go visiting,” riding the “chuck line.”
4 November 1900, Kansas City (MO) Star, “The Cowman’s Ideal Girl: He Describes Her in Detail and in Terms to Suit,” pg. 7:
She is pretty enough to make some honest cowman lose his heart to her and make her queen of his heard, if she’ll have him, but she isn’t such a looker that every chuck-line riding cow-puncher in the country will want to hang around the old man’s ranch till he’s fired.
Live Search Books
The Log of a Cowboy
by Andy Adams
New York, NY: Grosset & Dunlap
“He was riding the chuckline all right, but Miller gave him a welcome, as he was the real thing. He had been working out in the Pan-handle country, New Mexico, and the devil knows where, since he had left the range.
Live Search Books
by Andy Adams
Boston, MA: Houghton, Mifflin and Company
“One thing sure, we won’t fret about it; still we might think that riding a chuck-line would beat footing it in granger country, broke.”
The Old-Time Cowhand
by Ramon F. Adams
New York, NY: Macmillan
Another way the cowhand could live in the winter when he run out of a job was to ride the grub line. Any worthy cowboy might be forced to ride chuck line durin’ this season, but the professional chuck liner was jes’ a plain range bum, despised by all cowboys. He was the kind that took advantage of the country’s hospitality and stayed as long as he dared wherever there wasn’t any work for ‘im to do and the meals were free and reg’lar. Some cowhands took this way to spend the winter for the sake of variety, and if such riders weren’t too plentiful they were welcome. People who’d been shut in all winter was glad to see new faces, and them riders brought news from the outside.
A Dictionary of the Old West, 1850-1900
by Peter Christopher Watts
New York, NY: Knopf
chuck-line rider Also grub-line rider. A man, out of work or just plain idle, who rode from ranch to ranch for free chuck or grub.
The Cowboy Encyclopedia
by Richard W. Slatta
W. W. Norton & Company
CHUCK-LINE RIDER Also grub-line rider. Unemployed hand who rode from ranch to ranch, exchanging a bit of news and gossip for a meal.