Episode 5 - The Boondoggle

(9 October 1975)
Writers: Rod Peterson & Claire Whittaker.
Director: Ralph Waite.
Music: Alexander Courage.


"Of all the people who visited Waltons Mountain during my growing to manhood years, I remember one especially. He was a man who brought new ideas to an old way of life. For a brief time his presence stirred the Walton household, and threatened the time-honored traditions of our quiet community".


The kids walk home from school as John-Boy drives up behind them. They hitch a ride home, finding Reckless asleep in front of the house. Jim Bob wants to sell some of his fish before doing his chores, but Grandma insists he do his chores first. John-Boy tries to get Ben to do his chores for him because he has a job to do for Professor Parks. Abel Bingley, the iceman, arrives with Grandpa saying that they’d have an electric icebox if he hadn’t been an old beau of Grandma’s. Esther says they do get bigger ice chunks. Abel tells Jim Bob and Elizabeth that he learned to chip ice when he worked for Admiral Byrd, chipping away ice so that Byrd could discover the North Pole.


John-Boy tells Grandma that he is picking up Porter Sims at the bus stop. The writer wrote about the Scopes trial, and is in Virginia to write a guide to the state. Grandma doesn’t like the idea that the trial tried to prove humans came from monkeys, and that a New Yorker is writing about Virginia. John-Boy asks Grandma if he could have supper with them, then tells her (as he walks out) that he is with the Federal Writers Project, which is with the Works Progress Administration. Grandma yells, “But, that’s the WPA”, she doesn’t like those make-work projects.


At the Rockfish bus stop, a group of men are shooting craps. John-Boy discovers that Porter Sims is one of them. Driving him to Mrs. Brimmer’s boarding house, Sims learns that John-Boy read some of his Scopes articles from Dayton, Tennessee. Sims reminds him that a writer shouldn’t take everything at face value. John-Boy warns Sims that his grandmother doesn’t like President Roosevelt’s WPA project, thinking it is a waste of money. He tells Sims that he’ll accompany him on his visits, knowing that many people don’t like strangers asking them questions. Sims says “Xenophobia”, which is the intense dislike of people of other cultures. Sims tells John-Boy that his attitude is to tell the truth when writing about Virginia, to find the hidden stories. John-Boy introduces Sims to Mrs. Brimmer and Jim Bob, who is trying to sell his fish to Mrs. Brimmer. Jim Bob finds that whenever he has fish, no one wants them, and when he doesn’t have fish, then people want them. Sims says that’s the principle of supply and demand.


In the front yard after supper, Sims talks with the family about his purpose in writing a book about Virginia. He becomes interested in the Baldwin sisters upon John-Boy’s suggestion that he speak with them. Grandpa thinks that is a bad idea, knowing more of their private lives than John-Boy. He suggests that Sims go with him up to the old Walton homestead. Grandma thinks her husband should stay away from this boondoggle. Elizabeth wants to know what is a boondoggle. Grandpa tells Elizabeth that when her Daddy gives her a nickel to do an hour’s work cleaning the chicken coop, but she only works twenty minutes, then that’s an example of a boondoggle. Elizabeth begins to repeat “Boondoggle, Boondoggle” and the kids join in. John-Boy doesn’t like his guest being treated this way.


At the Baldwin house, Sims is introduced to the Baldwin sisters, and to their Recipe. He thinks the drink is “superb”. Miss Emily tries to talk about her old suitor, Ashley Longworth, but Miss Mamie continues to interrupt her. Seeing that Porter Sims is a gentleman, the sisters agree to let him look through their Papa’s portamento, his private papers. John-Boy leaves Sims with the sisters as he goes to class. The sisters offer him another drop of the Recipe, commenting of the time when General Lee gave their Papa a citation.


Grandpa tells John-Boy that Sims stood him up for their trip to the homestead, and he’s suspicious of the man. Zeb knows that much of the area’s history should never see the light of day. John-Boy leaves to investigate. At Mrs. Brimmer’s house, Jim Bob tells her that he is keeping his fish in a pond. She orders four perch for Saturday night. John-Boy drives up to find that Sims moved out an hour ago. Mrs. Brimmer says that he wants free board, and a room next to the Recipe machine. Miss Emily shows John-Boy into the house. The Baldwin sisters and Sims have made exciting plans to have a picnic and fish fry at the spring. They hope that their Papa will be the central figure in Sims’ book. Seeing John-Boy, Sims apologizes for missing his appointment. John-Boy says he will return tomorrow. Miss Emily takes John-Boy aside to tell him that her sister is quite taken by Mr. Sims.


Jim Bob tells the family that his fish inventory has all been sold to Mrs. Brimmer, Corabeth, and the Baldwin sisters. Elizabeth says Gilbert is her favorite fish, and Kitty is the mother to the minnows. John-Boy explains the Sims situation to Grandpa and Grandma, saying he is researching the Baldwin’s historical papers and manuscripts, and because it is convenient he is staying with them. John-Boy tells Grandma that she was rude to him earlier. At supper John tells John-Boy that nobody really knows the man, and Olivia says that they just don’t want the Baldwin sisters hurt. John-Boy offers to take responsibility if anything bad happens, and continues to argue with Grandpa.


John-Boy writes in his journal, “How can I become a great writer if I don’t even know how to spell. Xenophobia. It took me quite awhile to find the word in the dictionary since I never expected it to start with an “x”. It’s also taking me awhile to get used to the fact that Grandma has a low opinion of a man I respect very much. And Grandpa seems reluctant for Mr. Sims to explore the Baldwin history. I believe like Porter Sims that we must explore deeply into life and write honestly of what is discovered.


At the Baldwin house, John-Boy is offered toast and coffee but he’s already had breakfast. Sims states he’s discovered that Judge Baldwin sheltered union soldiers during the War Between the States. He loves that the information hasn’t been prettied up for history. Treason charges were brought up against Baldwin, and when the sisters hear this they are devastated. John-Boy tries to counter what Sims said, but Miss Emily and Miss Mamie read the information for themselves. Miss Mamie is shocked, saying, “YANKEE SOLDIERS, in THIS house! Oh, sister, I’m wounded to the very core of my being!” Miss Emily asks John-Boy to find smelling salts, after Miss Mamie is taken ill. Miss Emily asks Mr. Sims if this is a cruel joke, but he says it is not. Sims says that he can’t falsify his writings. John-Boy says that he loves these ladies, and suggests that Sims find out what happened at the trial.


Later, Miss Mamie and Miss Emily agree to keep Mr. Sims in the house, because he must not tell the community, for they would be disgraced. John-Boy and Sims scour the documents. No information is found, and Sims believes that the war may have ended before anything was concluded. Miss Emily looks for headache powers for Miss Mamie, saying she is in a deep depression. Sims offers to make the sisters some hot tea.


John-Boy talks with Grandpa as he works in the garden, trying to see if worms have gotten to the cabbage. John-Boy says Sims found something, and Grandpa leans over and whispers “treason”. They promise to keep the news to themselves. In the morning, John-Boy enters the Baldwin house to find Miss Mamie worse. He goes for his Momma and Grandma. They rush over to take care of Miss Mamie. Olivia realizes she is not good, and Grandma thinks this has something to do with Porter Sims. John-Boy asks Sims to leave the house, offering to take him to the bus station in the morning. Sims explains that a reporter once said that a boondoggle is “anything that is made up of leftover scrapes”. Sims admits he has grown fond of the sisters, and is not as hard-nosed as he was back during the Scopes trial. But, admits he cannot lie about history to protect the vanity of people.


Elizabeth lets the fish out of their holding pond, unable to think of people eating her friends. Jim Bob becomes mad at her for what she did. He goes off to tell his customers. Later, Jim Bob walks past the sawmill as John, Grandpa, and John-Boy work. He says that the Baldwin sisters weren’t home when he called on them, and their front door was open. All three men go to investigate. They find Miss Emily is worried about Mr. Sims, who has been telling them more lies. His room is empty, and a note indicates he has already gone to the bus depot. John-Boy finds the article that Sims intends to use in his book. John-Boy reads it to them:


In the Battle of Rockfish Creek during the War Between the States a gallant, young confederate officer, Captain Matthew Baldwin, later a distinguished Virginia judge, performed a most heroic and selfish deed that nearly brought him disgrace. Recuperating at home from his own serious battle wounds, Captain Baldwin made his way to the nearby battlefield to help the wounded. He brought them back to his house, both confederate and union forces. Having been seen helping union soldiers the Captain was charged with treason. However, many of the survivors from both the confederate and union wrote letters thanking him for what he had done. These letters were to have been used as evidence on his behalf, but the war ended. The trial, which would have undoubtedly exonerated him, was never held. Perhaps Captain Baldwin’s humanistic efforts symbolized the deeper wounds the nation had suffered. His stately home and proud daughters hold honored positions in the community.”


Miss Mamie and Miss Emily quickly recover from their ordeal upon hearing the kind words.


"Their family honor restored, the Baldwin ladies returned to their happy yesterday world, cherishing the memory of another gallant gentleman caller. The guide books for all the States have become valued historical references, and when Waltons Mountain was mentioned in the volume for Virginia, Grandma never again referred to it as a boondoggle".


Elizabeth: John-Boy, who'd want to read a book about Virginia?
John-Boy: Well a lot of folks would, Elizabeth, people who were coming to visit here, and anybody who wants to know more about the state.
Grandpa: And of course we'd all like to have Santa Claus read the Virginia State Guide, now wouldn't we!
John-Boy: Alright Grandpa, why would we like to have him read it?
Grandpa: Well, that way, we could say - Yes, Santa Claus, there is a Virginia! Ha ha ha!
John-Boy: Goodnight everybody.



Miss Emily said that Ashley Longworth took “liberties” with her, and her Papa sent him away, never to return.

General Robert E. Lee gave the Baldwin sister’s Papa a citation.

The sister’s father’s name is Matthew Baldwin; a captain in the confederate army during the Civil War.

Abel Bingly, the iceman, was an old beau of Grandma.


Also appearing:

Miss Emily and Miss Mamie Baldwin (Mary Jackson and Helen Kleeb); Porter Sims (Richard McKenzie); Mrs. Brimmer (Nora Marlowe); Abel Bingly (David Clarke); Buck (Kevin Lee); Benny (Derek Triplett).