Episode 3 - The Calf


(First USA transmission 28 Sept 1972)

Writer: Jim Byrnes.

Director: Harry Harris.

Music: Alexander Courage.


The Calf


"Waltons Mountain was an everlasting presence in our lives. Whenever I could, when I was growing up there during the Depression years, I would climb its slopes. Up there I could get lost in dreams, dreams of becoming a writer, of becoming a man. I knew no writers so I had no writer to model myself after, but as a boy aspiring to manhood I had only to follow in the footsteps of a remarkable father".


Jim Bob and Elizabeth run to the barn to find Chance, the milk cow, has run away. Inside the house Grandpa walks downstairs to find Grandma and Olivia making flapjacks and coffee for breakfast. When Grandpa says he has a chill in his bones Ben thinks it means his grandfather is old. Grandma believes it only means he is getting grumpy. Jim Bob and Elizabeth run inside to tell what happened. Grandpa informs them that the pregnant cow went off to have her baby. John and John-Boy come downstairs to find the children anxious about Chance. Seeing the expressions on their young faces, John decides to look for their cow. But John and John-Boy eventually give up the search, unable to find the cow. As the children grab their school lunches, Grandpa reassures the children that he will search for Chance.


Driving the truck on the muddy road to work up on the Mountain John breaks the truck’s front axle in a rain-filled hole. Grandma sews on the front porch, waiting for her husband to return from his search. Olivia agrees with her that, “the Walton’s stubbornness has kept us going”. Grandpa finds Chance with her newborn bull. Later Grandma observes the threesome coming up the road and calls for Olivia. That night John walks home to find the family crowding around the new family member named “Bullet”. Over supper John tells the family that they can’t keep the bull because it doesn’t give milk and they need the money to pay for a new axle that will cost nine dollars. Erin begs her mother to reconsider but Olivia states, “I’m sorry, honey, but what your father says is rule in this house.” John is troubled by his decision, but has no other choice, needing the truck so crucial to his business of cutting timber and selling railroad ties and firewood. Olivia admits the calf is like one of the family. The family says goodnight as John ponders his decision.


The next morning the kids play with the baby calf as John-Boy tells his father that he would hate to be in his shoes. John informs his children that he just sold the calf to George Anderson, who farms down the road. The children are broken-hearted. Before the family awakens the next morning, John leaves with the calf. But Chance bellows at her loss, awakening the children who watch their father take away Bullet. At the Anderson farm, John and Anderson haggle over price. John insists on selling for nine dollars, but Anderson wants to buy at seven, even though he agreed yesterday to nine. Anderson finally agrees on nine dollars. Back at the house, Chance continues to “moo” as the family hears her distress while listening to the radio. John-Boy walks to Chance, telling her that they love her, to quit crying, and to have a good night sleep. John and Olivia sit by the fire as Chance continue to bellow. Erin says she can’t sleep and Elizabeth is crying. Olivia tells John that Chance sounds so human, like how she would feel if she had lost a child.


The next day Grandma bakes two cakes as Chance continues to “moo”. Finally Grandma says she has three dollars and Olivia finds two dollars thirty-eight cents in her money jar. Still short of money to buy back the calf, Olivia decides to sell her homemade memory quilt that Miss Emily wanted to buy for five dollars. Olivia and Grandpa give the money and quilt to John-Boy so he can buy back the calf. At the Anderson farm John-Boy finds that Anderson wants twelve dollars, having invested feed and a pen on the calf. John arrives home to find that a nervous Olivia has sent John-Boy to buy back the calf. John decides it was a good decision. When John-Boy returns he tells that Anderson wants twelve dollars. John says that amount is too much. Observing Jim Bob and Elizabeth listening at the stairs he suggests they visit the calf tomorrow after school. After seeing his father confronted with this difficult decision, John-Boy writes in his journal: “I saw a look on Daddy’s face today and all of a sudden I found myself looking at him not as my daddy but as another man. Maybe I’m growing up a little. Maybe it was the pain in his face. But it came to me that for all the pleasure Momma and Daddy find in us children, there are other times it must be heartbreaking to them. I’m going to try to be of more help around here, and I’m going to speak to the other children, too, and tell them to show more appreciation.”


Jim Bob and Elizabeth visit the calf, but learn from Mr. Anderson that the calf will soon be slaughtered. The kids are horrified. After dark the family wait for John to return as he searches for Jim Bob and Elizabeth who are missing. John returns without finding them. Sheriff Bridges and Mr. Anderson arrive with the farmer accusing Jim Bob and Elizabeth of stealing his calf. John and Olivia admit that the two are missing. When Anderson says that he told the two kids about his plans to slaughter the cow, John angrily tells Anderson that if the children took the calf, it was to save its life. John promises to return the calf in the morning. John-Boy finds Reckless and John grabs lanterns in order to search for the children. Jim Bob and Elizabeth walk Bullet to Brian’s cave so they can protect it. John and John-Boy find the children’s trail, but by this time the children have become lost. Suddenly the scream of a wild animal is heard and Jim Bob and Elizabeth hide under a tree’s branches. Soon the children hear Reckless’ bark as he finds them huddled under the branches. John and John-Boy follow shortly. John promises Reckless a soup bone as a reward. Back at the house, Olivia tells John that the kids are afraid that they’ll get a spanking. John tells his wife that what he tells them will affect them the rest of their lives with respect to “right and wrong”. When the kids walk downstairs for their punishment John tells them that what they did was wrong: they took something that didn’t belong to them and they worried their mother and the rest of the family. Jim Bob wonders what they should have done. John tells them that next time to come to him and they will talk. He gives them a kiss and promises them that the calf will not die. After the children leave Olivia knows her husband will stay awake all night to figure how to save the calf. John knows that he will have company.


The next morning Sheriff Bridges and Mr. Anderson arrive to settle the issue. With Ep as John’s witness John offers Anderson nine dollars plus enough work on his farm from his boys to make up the three-dollar difference. Anderson agrees, but says he’ll keep the calf until the debt is paid. Grandpa says, “Good, you might as well feed him, as us!” Anderson reconsiders and John-Boy promises he and his brothers will begin work tomorrow after school. Chance is reunited with her son and the family is happy again.


"It was a fine thing to know such people, and to be one of them, and to share in their abundant love. It was a poor time, but in it we were richer than we knew. Forty years have passed, but the voices from that house are as fresh as yesterday".


Elizabeth: Mama.
Olivia: Yes Elizabeth.
Elizabeth: You asleep?
Olivia: Almost.
Elizabeth: You reckon Chance is asleep?
Olivia: Ha, wouldn't surprise me.
Elizabeth: Goodnight, Mama.
Olivia: Goodnight Elizabeth.



During the opening credits, we see that the license plates of John’s truck are 35-178 Virginia.

George Anderson’s farm is just down the road from the Walton’s.

The episode occurs during the spring of the year because most cows birth in the spring.

Chance’s baby bull is named Bullet.

Brian’s cave is a place where John-Boy used to write.


Also appearing:

Sheriff Ep Bridges (John Crawford), George Anderson (Leonard Stone).


(synopsis written by William Atkins and edited by Arthur Dungate)