"Waltons Mountain meant many things to my family. It was a source of food for we took game from its forests and fish from its streams. It was a refuge in time of trouble, and a link with the history of our family's past. And once it became the setting for a race that none of us would ever forget".
John-Boy rides Old Blue toward his father’s truck, then race home. John beats his son by about five truck lengths, as the family looks on. The family talks about the local horse race that John-Boy has entered. Preparing for the race John-Boy tries to place a saddle on the mule, but Old Blue will have nothing to do with it as it runs away with the kids in pursuit. Later at Boatwright John-Boy and Carl Jensen talk about Carl’s fancy car breaking down. He offers to treat John-Boy to lunch in exchange for the help. Carl comments how well John-Boy does in Professor Henderson’s class; with John-Boy getting an “A” in his latest composition, while he getting a “B+”. They both look at a pretty girl who walks into the cafeteria. Carl knows her from an earlier party, but she has forgotten his name. Carl introduces John-Boy to Selena Linville. John-Boy recognizes the Linville name, asking if she is kin to the Linville’s from Thatcher Grove. She says that Col. Seth Linville is her grandfather. The three of them then talk about the cross-country race that Selena’s family has sponsored for years.
Back home Grandma and Olivia wonder at the speed that the children now do their homework so they can go outside to help with getting Old Blue ready for the race. Grandma quizzes Elizabeth on her spelling, asking her to spell “chair”. After correctly spelling the word Ben asks Grandma if she wants Elizabeth to spell “Constantinople”. Grandma responds to Ben saying, “You have a nasty tongue, boy. Do you want me to take a switch to you?” The kids run past Grandpa and John who are chopping wood. They try to place the saddle on the mule. John-Boy drives Carl back to his home. Carl says his family own horses, but John-Boy admits they only have one mule. Carl shows John-Boy his family’s prize horse “Thunder Bay”, a descendent of three derby winners. He decides to enter the race, but John-Boy is now not sure about his chances to win the race.
As the family relaxes in the living room after a long, hard day, John-Boy walks through looking dejected. John walks out to the porch, telling his son that he barely acknowledged that the children had gotten the saddle on Old Blue. They talk about John not being able to win the race, and Grandpa winning it last in 1915. John-Boy is concerned, but doesn’t tell his father. He promises John that he will show his appreciation to the children. In the morning John-Boy rides Old Blue back to the house. He tells the children to meet him up at the meadow. When Grandpa says he would like to go with them, Grandma mentions the long to-do list she has for him. Zeb remembers his days of riding in the race, saying it’s not age that is important, but spirit. Grandma disagrees that John-Boy will win. They bet: if Grandpa loses he will build his wife an herb garden, and if Esther loses she will knit him argyle socks (even though Zeb wants something more “personal”).
As John-Boy runs the mule, the children cheer them on. After they finish and are back in the barn John-Boy tells Jason that he should run him after school (for extra exercise), Ben should give him a nice rub-down, Jim-Bob will feed him oats, hay, and water, Mary Ellen will brush the mule, and Elizabeth will soap the saddle so it will be soft for John-Boy’s behind. John hears all the duties, and tells his son that they have a “regular organization”, and if they lose it will not be from lack of trying. John-Boy admits that his spirit has returned, and feels better about the race.
At school, John-Boy drops an arm-full of books in front of the library. Selena and Carl walk out. Selena mentions that her grandfather thinks highly of John-Boy’s father. John-Boy studies at his desk as his mother puts away his cleaned clothes. He mentions Selena but doesn’t think she would go out with him because the Linville family is “high-society” and doesn’t know what he has to offer. Olivia doesn’t like what he is saying; sternly stating that he has “himself” to offer (and that is plenty even for “high-society”). Back at school, John-Boy runs into Selena and Carl. She runs off to class while the boys talk about the race. John-Boy leaves for Biology lecture.
John-Boy rides Old Blue up to Ike’s store to register for the race. A banner in front of the store states “Linville Cross Country Race”. In front of John-Boy is Zack Roswell, registering his mule that he got off a moonshiner. John-Boy talks with Ike and Col. Linville, wanting to see his grandfather’s name on the trophy. The colonel reminisces how the community talked for months about the excitement Zeb brought to the race. John-Boy continues to exercise the mule, but falls into a mud puddle. Just then Carl rides by to register for the race. He acts for directions and rides on for another half mile to Ike’s store. Later, as the family sits on the front porch, Jim Bob says that Old Blue will win by a mile, and Elizabeth says he’ll win by two miles. When Jensen’s horse is said to be a thoroughbred, Elizabeth wants to know if Old Blue is one, too. But Mary Ellen says a mule is half donkey and half horse. Elizabeth surmises that Old Blue must be half-thoroughbred. John-Boy is uneasy at the talk of him winning the race. John notices his uneasiness. Grandma and Olivia are impressed with the “new” Mary Ellen who eagerly volunteers to help with the dishes.
John-Boy skips breakfast, late for classes. He runs into Selena who says that Carl thinks his mule will be his stiffest completion. Selena asks John to go to lunch with her. They have a date at noon in the cafeteria. Grandma helps Mary Ellen knit a blanket for Old Blue. Selena walks toward the cafeteria, but is stopped by Professor Foster who gives her permission to make-up her test right now. She has no choice. John-Boy patiently waits for her, but she doesn’t show up. Selena finally finishes the test at 12:45, but when she races to the cafeteria, John-Boy has already left. Carl finds her and they go to the Sweet Shop for lunch. As John-Boy drives away he sees the two of them. Back home John-Boy takes his anger out on the children, criticizing all that they have been doing for him and Old Blue. John hears what his eldest son said. He tells John-Boy that he doesn’t want him to ride in the race with that bad attitude. John says the race should be run for the fun of it, and not for a mean and spiteful attitude. John-Boy says Carl is like that, but John says, “He’s not my son, you are!” John-Boy thinks about what his father has said.
On the morning of the race, Grandpa gives his grandson a 1913 Woodrow Wilson campaign button that he wore during his race. Zeb also tells John-Boy some detours that will give him an advantage over the other racers. Mary Ellen finishes the blanket (getting approval from Grandma) and runs out to present it to John-Boy as the children finish their Old Blue’s grooming. John-Boy apologizes for his past bad attitude, and says he appreciates all that they have done. He rides off to Ike’s store as the family scramble into the truck. At Ike’s store Selena tries to explain what happened yesterday, but John-Boy thinks it was just a misunderstanding (and doesn’t believing what she is saying). Selena asks John-Boy, “Will you do me the honor of being my escort after the race?”. John-Boy says yes.
Ike announces that the entries should go to the starting line of the race. Then Colonel Linville talks about the only rule: All contestants must circle the old tree at the top of the mountain. He fires his gun, and the race begins. John takes the family and Selena in the truck to the top of the mountain. Carl takes an early lead as the riders race on the flat lands before the mountain. As they get to the hilly section John-Boy cuts off to take the steepest but shorter route. He rejoins the group, now in the middle of the pack. The horses have trouble jumping a log, having to go around, as John-Boy takes another steep, shorter route. He again rejoins the group, this time in the lead. As they circle the old tree the family finds Carl slightly in the lead. As they descend a rattlesnake spooks the horses. John-Boy takes a shortcut as the others go around the snake.
Back at Ike’s store the crowd watches for a glimpse of the riders. Soon John-Boy enters from his shortcut route, and is in the lead. As they approach the finish line Carl rapidly gains on John-Boy but as they cross the line, John-Boy is in the lead, and wins the race! Zeb yells at the family’s victory, telling his wife that he’ll still build her an herb garden. Esther wants to know what color socks he wants knitted. John-Boy is presented the trophy and all congratulate him. Carl congratulates him, and they promise to race again next year. Selena comments that they look a mess. The threesome goes off for lemonade: John-Boy’s treat.
"That sense of pride and confidence that my mother and father instilled in us as a family was shaken occasionally. But in all, it stood us in very good stead. When we left Waltons Mountain and went to make our way in the larger world, we were always able to fall back on those rich and true feelings that we learnt as children".
John-Boy: Yes, Elizabeth?
Elizabeth: When Blue dies, will he go to Heaven?
John-Boy: I expect so.
Grandma: Now John-Boy you be careful what you tell that child! Heaven's for people, not for mules.
Grandpa: Old woman, you're just mad because you lost that bet!
Grandma: I am not mad. And move your feet, they're cold!
Jim Bob: If Blue doesn't go to Heaven, where will he go?
John-Boy: Um well maybe er, maybe to a special Heaven for mules, Jim Bob. Goodnight.
Jim Bob: Goodnight, John-Boy. Goodnight, Elizabeth.
Elizabeth: Goodnight Jim Bob. Goodnight Blue!
Grandpa won the Linville Cross Country Race in 1915, the last time a Walton won the race, until this year (1934) when John-Boy won the race.
Ike Godsey (Joe Conley); Carl Jensen (Brendan Burns); Selena Linville (Kathleen Quinlan); Colonel Linville (Frank Janson); Zack Roswell (Jim Gammon); Professor Foster (Glen Gordon).