Shelly and Gerral Waldon had a rough day trying to get a load of cattle to a livestock auction in Abilene. After loading up a half dozen head into the trailer, Gerral forgot to latch the gate, and one cow escaped back into the muddy pasture during a downpour. “We had to dress back up in our work clothes and round her back up,” Shelly recounts, exasperated. When they finally got on the road, a windshield wiper stopped working. Halfway to Abilene, a rear tire blew out. Finally, they abandoned the hope of making it to that week’s auction. “It might woulda saved the little old bulls going to the slaughterhouse and ending up on our pit,” Shelly says. “They get one more lucky week.”
Maybe the next day, a Wednesday, would be easier. That’s when the couple, in their trailer 1082 BBQ, start the first leg of a weekly three-day tour to serve barbecue in three different rural counties north of Abilene. They go to the trailer parks in Knox City on Wednesday, then to Haskell on Thursday, where customers love the stuffed baked potatoes. (Shelly has forty of them ready every week.) In Aspermont, Friday’s stop, the locals prefer the sandwiches and barbecue-topped nachos. Shelly doesn’t know for sure if any of the Angus cattle the couple raises ever get back to them in the form of raw brisket, but it’s something she ponders. “We wonder if we’ve cooked a few of them.”
The ranching and barbecue businesses, two trades sometimes honed over a lifetime, are relatively new to the Waldons. Gerral worked in a body shop in Abilene for 30 years, and Shelly spent 34 years in Rising Star as a hairdresser. They were engaged and living in Rising Star when Shelly’s elderly father broke his hip. Her parents needed help on the ranch in Old Glory. Gerral recalls his and Shelly’s life-changing decision: “How about we just sell everything here, quit our jobs, and move up and help him?” They made the move and were married on the ranch shortly after. That was three years ago.
Gerral has dabbled in barbecue for the last two decades. He mastered pork ribs early on, but his first brisket was “tough as shoe leather.” He didn’t realize it took more than eight hours of smoking to get one tender. Eventually, he got the hang of it, and started hosting Sunday barbecues at his house about a decade back. “I would invite thirty people to my house every Sunday,” he says. “I would barbecue and let them chow down, and see what their thoughts were.” All that time, he was preparing to one day run his own barbecue joint.
Six years ago, Gerral bought a food trailer, and tested the waters at Farm-to-Market Road 1082 (hence the name) and FM 600, north of Abilene near the historic Fort Phantom Hill. As with Gerral’s Sunday barbecues, the trailer was more of a weekend hobby than a business. When Shelly met him, she wasn’t too keen on barbecue. “I would never stop and eat at a barbecue place until I met this guy,” she says. Once they moved up to the ranch, the barbecue trailer went from a side project to a much-needed revenue stream. “There are not many sources of income in the area,” Gerral says, not to mention the lack of barbecue options in the region.
I found 1082 BBQ unexpectedly. The trailer was parked outside the Stonewall County courthouse in Aspermont on a Friday morning. I was finishing up a tour of seven counties—Stonewall, Fisher, Haskell, Kent, King, Knox, and Throckmorton—that I hadn’t yet visited in eight years of barbecue searches for Texas Monthly. How could I miss an area bigger than Connecticut for that long? Well, most of the counties are nowhere near the interstate, and they have a combined total population smaller than that of Pampa. In three days and seven hundred or so miles of driving, I found just five establishments serving barbecue, and another whose brisket didn’t arrive for its alleged once-a-week smoked meat special. The only real bright spot of that trip was an unplanned stop for some breakfast brisket at 1082.
I spotted a flag that read “OPEN” waving above 1082 BBQ’s truck and hit the brakes. It was 9:30 in the morning, but I’ve eaten barbecue earlier. The smell of mesquite smoke hung in the air. (The Waldons collect their own wood out on their ranch.) I approached, and as the window opened, I asked Shelly if they had any barbecue ready. She said they didn’t officially open for another hour, but Gerral had some brisket off the pit early. A bit embarrassed, I noted the flag. “He always puts that flag out before we’re open,” Shelly said. From the back of the truck, I heard Gerral’s retort. “By the time we’re open, I don’t have time to put out the flag.”
If the brisket is juicy and tender, and 1082’s was, then it’s hard to go wrong with a chopped brisket sandwich. The mesquite smoke didn’t overpower the meat. The generous portion was topped with onions, pickles, and pickled jalapeños, all of it between a warm, white bun. They make just about everything on the trailer from scratch, but the sauce was Sweet Baby Ray’s. The sandwich didn’t need much, and I wolfed it down on the trunk of my car.
Shelly may have finally developed a taste for barbecue after meeting Gerral, but after three years running the food truck, she doesn’t eat much of it anymore. Gerral agrees. “I’m not as fond of it as I was, but I still eat it,” he says. His preference is the chopped brisket sandwich topped with some Fritos.
I wondered if after three years of working the ranch and chasing after customers in rural Texas, had they made the right choice in upending their previous lives? “Working for ourselves, and living out here in the country, we love it,” Gerral says. For Shelly, serving these small communities and getting to know their regulars week after week is the real reward. They’d like to hire some help so they can serve customers more quickly, but as Shelly points out, “we run into each other as it is inside that trailer.” They’re also looking at branching out to Hamlin and Stamford, and making more than sporadic stops in Rule, but those plans will have wait until next year. As Shelly explains, “It’s fixin’ to be time to start plowing, then in September it’s gonna be time to start planting.” For now, just look for the trailer when you’re in the area, and if you see the OPEN flag flying, you might as well walk on up and see what they’ll serve you.
Knox City (Wednesday), Haskell (Thursday), Aspermont (Friday)
Hours: Wednesday–Friday 10:30–3
Pitmaster: Gerral Waldon
Method: Mesquite in an offset smoker
Year opened: 2018