Long before food trucks became all the rage, a horse-drawn cart in Miamisburg was a favorite haunt of hungry residents and visitors. The horse is long gone, but the century-old recipe was ranked among the top 100 hamburgers in the United States by the book “Hamburger America”.
It was 4:00 p.m. on a Thursday afternoon and people were queuing at the Hamburger Wagon to order freshly made burgers, fried to perfection and served on a bun with freshly sliced onions, pickles, salt and pepper.
It smelled good.
“That’s usually what draws people in,” Zach Ele said from inside the wagon. “They are fried in a cast iron skillet.” Zach and Jesse Harris work in the tiny Hamburger Wagon today. Jesse frys the slider-sized patties in a twenty-inch cast-iron skillet, while Zach takes the orders and bakes the buns.
“I’ve been here for about ten months now, since last November, and I love it,” Zach said between orders. “We have a lot of regulars who know us by name and we know them by name.”
The Hamburger Wagon is cash only – no credit cards, QVC codes or apps. “We love being the cheapest place in Miamisburg to have a great meal, and it’s great food,” Zach said. “Everything here is fifty dollars. We sell singles for a dollar fifty, doubles for three dollars – these come with two patties – and we also sell chips and drinks for a dollar fifty as well.
The Hamburger Wagon has been making the same burgers, the same way for 109 years. “So it’s a secret recipe, even we don’t know it, and we have to sign an accountability contract that we’re not allowed to tell anyone if we find out.”
Hamburger Wagon’s origin story began in 1913 during the Great Miami Flood when 27-year-old Miamisburg resident Sherman “Cocky” Porter volunteered to help provide food for flood victims and relief workers.
Porter’s burgers, made from a family favorite recipe, were so popular that after the floodwaters receded and Porter returned to his job as a wheel builder at the Enterprise Buggy Company on Pearl Street , residents always asked for “Porter Burger’s.”
Porter made a wagon based on a milk delivery truck, which he parked in the marketplace, and began selling hamburgers six days a week. According to an article on Dann Woellert, Food Etymologists Blog“Porter became famous for his booming chat appeal to potential clients: ‘A pickle in the middle and an onion on top rock your belly.’
The Porter family owned the wagon until 1968. The company changed ownership a few times and in the 1980s the wagon was rebuilt based on the original design by Mike Hunter of Miamisburg Woodcraft.
Current owner Jack Sperry purchased the Hamburger Wagon in 2008, intent on preserving and enhancing its heritage. It was Sperry who coined the slogan “No stinky cheeses and no sloppy sauces”.
In a recent CNN travel articleThe Hamburger Wagon has been featured as one of six iconic places in the United States to get a classic burger.
Holly Mencke and her mother, Judi Harmon, returned to Miamisburg from Washington State for a family reunion and a special detour to the Hamburger Wagon. “My mom grew up here and we come here every year for a burger,” Holly tells me. “It’s my grandfather’s birthday today. He passed away, but it was his favorite place (and) that’s what we’re here for.
“Grandfather Plumber, yes,” his mother Judi interjected. “We lived here for years and then left the state. So what is it about burgers that keeps people coming back? Judi said “It’s just – I don’t know – just a house feel.”
Or, as one longtime Miamisburg resident puts it – That’s Miamisburg’s word.