Cy Scarborough’s heart never was in the “Natural State,” even though he was born and raised in Arkansas 85 years ago.
“As a kid, I dreamed of going West and becoming a singing cowboy,” he says with a laugh, and darned if that’s not exactly what he did.
In his mid-20s, in 1953, he had found employment in Colorado Springs, Colorado, at the Flying W Ranch chuckwagon supper theatre. For the next 15 years, he served as many as 1,200 people a night. Then he moved his family a few miles north of Durango and opened his own business, the Bar D Chuckwagon.
“We offer a family-type evening of delicious food and Old West entertainment,” he says. “I want people to go away saying, ‘Boy, we had a great time.’ And they don’t have to worry about drunks because we don’t serve or allow alcohol.”
What they do serve is a heaping plate of food—with lots of seconds—to as many as 700 people a night. The menu includes barbecue roast beef or chicken, or a 12-ounce Rib-eye steak; beans (with 13 ingredients), chunky applesauce, homemade biscuits and old-fashioned spice cake. “We don’t serve soy burgers, but we have lots of vegetarians, so we don’t put bacon fat in the vegetables anymore,” he notes.
Dinner starts promptly at 7:30 p.m. nightly from Memorial Day through Labor Day, followed by a stage show of Western poetry, comedy, harmony singing and lots of music. One of the Bar D Wranglers who joins the guitar-playing Scarborough on stage is Gary Cook, a two-time National Flatpick Champion guitar player who also sings tenor.
The setting is nothing short of gorgeous, with a stage nestled among
the beautiful pine trees and rugged mountain slopes of Colorado. “If the weather’s nice, we’re under the stars, but if not, we’ve got a convertible tarp top that we can put over the audience—there’s only one other one like it in the country,” he says.
But it wasn’t long ago that this ranch was almost lost forever. The Durango fire of 2002 scorched some 78,000 acres. “We were closed for a week, and when we reopened, stumps were still smoking,” he recalls.
Back in the groove now, he hopes for as many as 50,000 people this summer. “Eighty to 90 percent of our customers are repeats,” he says with pride. (During the Colorado Statehood Centennial in 1976, he served 72,000 people—an all-time high.)
The chuckwagon sits amidst a Western village located on part of the Dalton Ranch (when asked if it’s the Daltons, Scarborough laughs: “They claim to be descendants of the old gang, but I think every Dalton does.”). With shops, an ice cream parlor and train rides, the village offers “something for everybody,” Scarborough says.
For nearly 50 years, lots of everybodys have come this way to spend an evening filled with fun, laughter and good food—and they haven’t had to take out a loan for the experience. “We try to be as thrifty as we can be,” stresses Scarborough, noting the dinner and show costs $22.
Since attendance is by reservation only, the crew knows exactly how many to cook for every night. The Bar D also collectively buys its food through an association with six other chuckwagons around the West.
Growing up in Arkansas eight decades ago, Scarborough never dreamed that life could be this good. He is not only saving pieces of the Old West, he is also saving pieces of his childhood dreams.
Jana Bommersbach has been Arizona’s Journalist of the Year and has won an Emmy and two Lifetime Achievement Awards. She is the author of two nationally-acclaimed true crime books and a member of Women Writing the West.