Empty Saddles: Orville Strandquist 1920-2012

The World Professional Chuckwagon Association was saddened by the passing of chuckwagon legend Orville Strandquist on Thursday, January 5th, 2012, at the age of 91.

Orville will be remembered as one of the greatest all around chuckwagon competitors of all time. From his start in the late 1930’s to his retirement in the early 1990’s, his career lasted well over fifty years and seven decades – the longest documented career in history. He drove at the Calgary Stampede for the first time in 1940 and his final time in 1991. Orville won dozens of show championships throughout his career as a chuckwagon driver, with his biggest wins coming at the Edmonton Exhibition in 1953, the Cloverdale Stampede in 1965 and the Cheyenne Frontier Days in 1975 – a few of the biggest shows of the day. He was a Calgary Stampede Rangeland Derby Champion Outrider a record twelve times.

Orville was  honored with the World Professional Chuckwagon Association’s Special Tribute Award, the Calgary Stampede’s Pioneers Of Rodeo Award, is a member the Canadian Rodeo Hall of Fame, and is a lifetime member of the Cowboy’s Protective Association (CPA) – a predecessor to the World Professional Chuckwagon Association (WPCA) and the Canadian Pro Rodeo Association (CPRA). He became the first chuckwagon driver to be honored with the Calgary Stampede’s prestigious Guy Weadick Award in 1985, and in 1992 the Calgary Stampede created the “Orville Strandquist Award,” given annually to the Top Rookie Driver at the Calgary Stampede Rangeland Derby Championship. He was the first Canadian chuckwagon driver to be inducted into the Cheyenne Frontier Days Hall of Fame in 2007.

He had one of the most recognizable chuckwagon designs with the playing card symbols (hearts, clubs, diamonds, and spades) painted on his wagon box, a design that was retired by the Calgary Stampede in 1992. He was one of the few men with the ability to drive two wagons, outride every heat he wasn’t driving in, and keep a consistently strong record. Orville was one of the most sought after outriders, and helped the likes of fellow legends Ronnie Glass, Hank Willard, Hally Walgenbach, Garry Dorchester and Tom Dorchester win World and Calgary Stampede Championships. He was the first driver to wear a protective helmet, which was introduced to wagon racing by Orville’s longtime sponsor Donald Cross. At a time when chuckwagon competitors were required to enter at least one other rodeo event, Orville participated in bull riding, steer decorating, standing roman races, wild horse race, and wild cow milking. Orville was a two time Canadian and Calgary Stampede Wild Horse Race Champion, the 1958 Canadian and Calgary Stampede Wild Cow Milking Champion, and a record three time Cheyenne Frontier Days Wild Horse Race Champion.

Orville was predeceased by his wife Doris. He is survived by seven children – Faye (Chuck) Blakely, Judi Melville, Ron (Sue) Strandquist, Wanda (Randy Armstrong) Strandquist, Cindy (John) Parks, Rocky Strandquist and Vicki (Darren) Anderson – thirteen grandchilren and eight great-grandchildren. Funeral services will be held on Thursday, January 12, 2012 at 2:00pm at the Stettler Funeral Homes & Crematorium, 4707 70 St, in Stettler, Alberta.

Orville will be missed by all in the WPCA, and we extend our sincere condolences to the Strandquist family.

Text and photo supplied by the World Professional Chuckwagon Association