Episode 20 - The Return

(two hour episode) (16 March 1978)
Writer: Kathleen Hite.
Director: Harry Harris.
Music: Alexander Courage


"In the early times of separation from my family, I kept in mind a clear picture of the scenes of my boyhood. But the times were changing, and my memories were far removed from the realities. The tribulant state of the country in the year before we entered the war was especially felt in our remote little community, and particularly by my father"


Part 1


John-Boy tries to call home after receiving a letter from his mother who is extremely concerned about the lack of jobs and money on Waltons Mountain. And John tries to call the army about receiving his overdue payment for an order of desks that were picked up over three months ago. While Daisy and John-Boy eat dinner at a New York City restaurant discussion surrounds the economic problems back home. John-Boy is troubled and Daisy senses his anguish. The next day, at the Associated Press, John-Boy discusses with his boss, Mr. Johnson, the abundance of work on the Virginia coast while the nearby Appalachian area is desperate for jobs. Mr. Johnson assigns John-Boy the job to research the conditions around Jefferson County.


John and Grandpa clean up the already-clean mill while talking about the work available on the coast at the shipyards and the defense plants. Grandpa becomes upset with his son who believes no one will hire a man of his father’s age. Grandpa stomps off in anger and then runs into Nurse Nora who says she sees a lot of loneliness in the hills.


Arriving at the Rockfish Depot, John-Boy walks to the telephone office and is warmly greeted by Fanny Tatum. She tells John-Boy that there is not much work for Erin since many people have given up their telephones. She confides in him that Erin has secured another job but does not know anything else about it.

Walking on the road toward the house, John-Boy is picked up by someone he, surprisingly, does not recognize. When Hank Buchanan introduces himself John-Boy describes to him what his mother, father, and sister, Erin, have written about their new friend and minister. Hank then realizes this is the ‘legendary’ John-Boy Walton. Hank stops the car a distance from the house so the author can make a ‘grand entrance’. As John-Boy gazes toward the house, he sees the family performing their daily jobs and observes his mother digging around some of her flowers. He creeps up behind her while the family gathers behind him. With his hand touching hers Olivia realizes her prayers have been answered, her eldest son is finally home for the first time in a year.


That night around the supper table John-Boy talks about his life in New York City while John sits at his desk, deep in thought pondering the lack of work at the mill. When John-Boy visits John Curtis, who has taken over his old bedroom, John-Boy reminisces about his growing up days in this room. Mary Ellen comments about their father saying, ‘We come from a very proud line.’ John-Boy adds, ‘Stubborn, too’.


With little work at the mill, John tells John-Boy he may look for work at the defense plant. John-Boy tells his father that he thinks his proper place is with his family, much to John’s irritation. Later, John grumbles to Olivia about how his son tried to tell him what he should do. Olivia compares the conversation with how he talks to Grandpa, and how Grandpa becomes angry as a result. In the morning, John-Boy talks with his mother and father about the possibility of reopening the old Guthrie Coal Mine. In the meantime, Grandpa scurries off on Old Blue to Willis and Allie’s house—a couple that needs help from Zeb. John and John-Boy visit Mr. Guthrie and, to their surprise, find Verdie working for the gentleman. Talking with the owner of the coal mine, they inquire about looking into the possibility of fixing up the mine.


With Mr. Guthrie’s permission, John and John-Boy look over the mining site while Elizabeth explores the area. Ep thinks someone has broken into the mine but discovers the Waltons inspecting the tunnels. Suddenly, after emerging from the depths of the mine, the three men hear Elizabeth cry out for help. They find her fallen down an abandoned mineshaft. John-Boy is lowered down by a rope, and rescues the uninjured Elizabeth.


That night Jason returns home without Erin. Out in the shed as he prepares for bed, John-Boy sees Hank Buchanan drop off a very tired Erin. He speaks out to the Reverend about the mystery surrounding Erin’s secret job. The next day John, John-Boy, and Ep summarize to Mr. Guthrie the repair costs necessary to reopen the mine. He agrees to the contract with a handshake. Later Ike, Ep, Harley, Ben, John-Boy, Easy Jackson, and other local men gather at the Waltons to discuss their thirty-five-dollar-a-week jobs at the mine. But Grandpa is not included in the discussion and feels left out. John-Boy follows Grandpa to the barn to ask him why he did not participate in the meeting. Zeb says that it is none of his business. When John tells Grandpa he will not allow him to work underground, Zeb says he will not be his waterboy.


Part 2


Taking a work break Grandpa tells Allie and Wallis that ‘there isn’t much in this life except love and hard work, and that’s about the size of it’. Work is in full force at the mine as John, John-Boy, and Harley inspect the shaft. Unexpectedly they find water leaking from above and rumblings emanating from overhead.


Late that night Olivia asks John-Boy to find Erin who is unusually late returning from work. He drives to Miss Fanny’s who reluctantly tells John-Boy that she is at James R. Dolworth’s house. Driving to his residence John-Boy finds Erin taking care of the man’s two children. When John finds out his daughter has been a ‘server-girl’ for a single man he becomes extremely upset with Erin. She finally admits that she has been working the extra job to pay back the money they spent raising her and all the things they gave up because of her. John does not know what to say especially during these troubling times.


At the Foster’s, Harley stares off into space as Verdie asks what is wrong. He ignores her, not wanting to worry her about his concern of the weak points in the mine. At Norfolk, John-Boy calls Mr. Johnson after finishing his investigations of the city. He has completed his formal assignment but wants approval to return to the Mountain in order to follow up on something he feels that is important. Mr. Johnson agrees to the special assignment.


At the beginning of the workday, John tells the other men he will enter the mine alone. Harley believes John is trying to protect everybody from danger. He follows John into the mine as the other men gather behind him. When John realizes what they have done, he tells the men to leave. But without warning, the fault gives way to its weaknesses and traps the men under tons of dirt and rock. Arriving from Norfolk to a deserted camp John-Boy is perplexed at what he finds. Suddenly he sees smoke emerging from the tunnel. He runs into the mine to verify his worst fears. Running back out, he pulls the emergency siren. In a few minutes Sheriff Bridges drives up to find a delirious and stunned John-Boy emerge from the disaster area. The two reenter the mine to begin digging out the trapped men.


Inside the cave Harley regains consciousness to find many of the other men partially or fully covered with fallen debris. As others waken, they help to uncover the buried men.


Mr. Guthrie and Verdie are among the first to arrive. John-Boy asks the owner to find blueprints in order to determine what is located behind the fallout. Hank Buchanan, Olivia, Mary Ellen, Corabeth, and others soon also arrive to help with the rescue. Hank is helping Ep with the digging when Grandpa and Willis arrive to spell the two diggers. Soon Grandpa uncovers someone’s helmet that was caught in the downfall. When Olivia runs out of the office with the correct blueprints she hears more rumbling from the tunnel. Another cave-in has brought more debris down. Looking at the maps, Ep and John-Boy realize that the mineshaft that Elizabeth fell into earlier could likely lead to the other side of the cave-in. When investigating the new site, they agree their best way to rescue the men is to dig from this shaft. As the women help from the surface, the men dig underground in this new direction.


Thinking people will blame him, Mr. Guthrie lays all the blame on John-Boy for approaching him with his scheme of reopening the mine. Corabeth joins Mr. Guthrie with her own blame and fear.


Thelma soon brings more men to help with the tunneling. The trapped men continue to wait, knowing only a limited amount of air remains in the pocket underneath the ground that they lay. John-Boy emerges from the shaft to see his mother stare blankly at him. After a rest, John-Boy and his grandfather return to digging. Grandpa finally breaks through the barrier. He reaches his hand inside to find the head of one of the trapped men. Grandpa climbs through to find the head to be that of his son. The weary men are carried out to a thankful group of friends and family.


"In time the debris from the cave-in was cleared away, and once the mine was made safe it provided employment for local men until the vein of coal was exhausted. Today the mine has been sealed off and those dark, hollow rooms under the earth are silent, and empty, and depleted. The near-trajedy brought the people of Waltons Mountain closer together and in our own family it healed the rift between my father and my grandfather. I had come home again, and there would be much to remember and to write about when I returned to New York".


Ben: Goodnight Daddy.
John: Goodnight Ben. Goodnight Pa.
Grandpa: Goodnight Son.
John: Goodnight John-Boy.
John-Boy (downstairs) : Goodnight Daddy. 'Night everybody



Lieutenant Robert C. Adams authorized payment for the army order to Camp Lee.

The Guthrie Coal Mine Company operated until 1935.

Harley Foster was hired as watchman when the coal mine first shut down.

James (Jim) R. Dolworth lives at 312 Hazel Avenue, Rockfish, Virginia. He is a foreman at the chemical company in Waynesboro.


Also appearing:

Ike Godsey (Joe Conley); Corabeth Godsey (Ronnie Claire Edwards); Miss Emily Baldwin (Mary Jackson); Miss Mamie Baldwin (Helen Kleeb); Cyrus Guthrie (Lloyd Nolan); Harley Foster (Hal Williams); Verdie Foster (Lynn Hamilton); Rev. Hank Buchanan (Peter Fox); Sheriff Ep Bridges (John Crawford); Fanny Tatum (Sheila Allen); Allie (Helen Page Camp); Willis (Sandy Kenyon); Nurse Nora (Nancy Priddy); Mr. Johnson (Walter Brook); Thelma (Dorothy Shaw); Daisy (Deirdre Lenihan); Burt (Lynn Storer); Merle (John Perryman); Easy Jackson (Britt Leach); Man at Bus Depot (Ed Diemer); James (Jim) R. Dolworth (Rick Beckner); Mr. Preston (Don Tuche).