Ep.20 - The Return

  Original Airdate: March 16, 1978 - 2 Hour Episode
Writer: Kathleen Hite
Director: Harry Harris


  Worried about his family, a shortage of work in the Blue Ridge causes John-Boy to return home. He helps his father win work reopening an old coal mine but the community is shattered when it collapses trapping many of the communities' men inside.


  "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 farther."



John-Boy reads a letter from his mother that prompts him to call home but he can’t through on the phone.

John calls Camp Lee on the phone at the store. He hasn’t been paid for 3 months for the last order of desks he made for the military and he can’t get a straight answer from them when he calls.

John-Boy talks to Daisy Garner over drinks in a restaurant. She senses that something is wrong. He is concerned that his father may leave the mountain again in search of work. She says that he should go but he doesn’t want to leave her or his job at the Associated Press behind.

Grandpa runs into Nurse Nora who has come back down from helping the mountain folk with their medical needs. She says that their main problem though is loneliness.

John-Boy meets with Mr. Johnson, his editor at the Associated Press. John-Boy worked for Mr. Johnson at the Jefferson County Times and bought his printing press from him as well. John-Boy convinces Mr.Johnson that there is a story about the lack of work in Jefferson County and the editor gives him the okay to go and bring back a story.

John-Boy takes the bus back to Rockfish. He goes in to Fanny Tatham’s Telephone Office he hopes of meeting Erin but learns from Fannie that she has another job. Fannie can’t keep her on the switchboard that often as people have been getting rid of their phones with less work around.

As he walks home, the Baptist Minister, Hank Buchanan pulls up and offers him a ride home. Along the way they get to know each other. John-Boy says that Hank is referred to as a “Dreamboat” by Erin and Hank knows all about the “Legendary” John-Boy.

Although many members of the family see him as he walks into the yard he motions for them to stay quiet until he sneaks up behind his Mama who is busy fixing the flower bed at the front of the house. The family erupts into joyous cheer at his unannounced arrival.

John-Boy goes upstairs to see John-Curtis and his old room. Mary Ellen comes in and they talk about how things are.

Jason and Erin arrive home later and Erin asks John-Boy not to talk to their parents about her second job. She is tired from the late nights that she has been working and she is not to proud of the work.

Outside on the porch, John-Boy discusses the work situation with his Daddy. John-Boy expresses to his Daddy that he should stay home and not go to the shipyards in Norfolk. But John states that his place is where he can provide for his family.

Elizabeth comes in to say goodnight to John-Boy who is sleeping in the shed. She was proud of th fact that she had cleaned up the shed and made it nice for him. He says that she has grown up. After she leaves John-Boy looks at his old printing press and copies of his newspaper “The Blue Ridge Chronicle”.

John talks to Olivia in bed. He says that his son was talking to him and giving him advise like his Dad used to. John said the back of his neck was getting hot but he told his son that he is proud of him.

The next day John-Boy stops by the general store to say hi to Ike and Corabeth. Even Ike is looking for another job. His customers have not been paying their bills and John-Boy notices that their shelves aren’t fulling stocked. Corabeth is trying to sell off old family antiques to make ends meet.

Nurse Nora and Grandpa ride up to Willis and Allie’s place. They are a lonely couple that Grandpa has decided to help reinvigorate. Grandpa gives Allie a lace handkerchief that he and Ester made for her. Willis has found a water spring and Grandpa helps him to dig a larger opening at the source.

John and John-Boy go to visit Mr. Guthrie the owner of the old coal mine. They hope to shore up the mine so that it can be worked again and provide jobs in the area. Verdie Foster greets them at the door. They are surprised to learn that she helps to do his cleaning. The men ask if he would consider re-opening his mine which has been closed since 1935. The workers left for better pay in other places. Mr. Guthrie, now retired, allows them to inspect the property.

John, John-Boy and Elizabeth arrive at the old mine. The men go inside the mine to inspect the condition of the wood beams that hold up the walls and ceiling. The wood is rotten and needs to be replaced. Sheriff Bridges shows up to see who is trespassing on the property, meanwhile Elizabeth falls through a rotten boards covering a mine shaft. John-Boy goes down into the hole with the aide of Ep, John and a rope to help her out.

That night Erin gets a ride home from Hank. She has been out late again and is still not willing to talk about what she is doing.

They go to see Mr. Guthrie again who agrees to have the work done and reopen the mine.

John-Boy pops into the Dew Drop Inn to see Thelma. She pours him a welcome home beer. He talks to Jason who has been playing the piano about Erin but Jason doesn’t know what Erin is up to either.

John meets with a group of local men in his kitchen about helping set up the mine for operation. The work pays $35 a week and John will set up a new mill at the mine to save time. Grandpa is upset because his son won’t allow him to do any work down in the mine. Grandpa says he won’t be their water boy and rides off on Blue the mule.

Allie brings out lemonade and sugar cookies for her husband Artie and Zeb who have made good progress on making a trench for the spring water to flow. The husband and wife throw loving jabs at each other causing Zeb to proclaim that only two things that matter in life, love and hard work.

Work begins at the mine. Harley, John-Boy and John discover a trail of running water dripping in the man-made cave.

Olivia and Corabeth help stitch a quilt at the Baldwin house. The sister’s are very pleased that John-Boy has returned and found work for the men of the community. They think he should be named Jefferson County Man of the Year. Miss Mamie says that “Good things abound when he’s around.” Corabeth on the other hand seems put off by John-Boy’s presence.

That night Olivia is upset when Erin doesn’t come home before bedtime and send John-Boy to find her. Miss Fanny directs him to a house in Rockfish. Erin has been working for a recent widower who works in Waynesboro. She feeds his two small children, washes the clothes and cleans the house. Her Mama isn’t too pleased about her situation but Erin has no intention of leaving the job as she makes more than she does working for Miss Fannie.

John and Harley seal the water leak in the mine but it still needs to be shored up before it’s safe. John-Boy goes to interview a ship builder in Norfolk. John-Boy asks where he gets his coal from and informs him that there will soon be some Virginia coal coming from the Guthrie Mine soon.

John asks Zeb if he’ll come manage the mill at the mine but Grandpa is still put out and says he is busy elsewhere.

John tries to keep his men from entering the mine until he has shored up the fault line in the ceiling. John yells at them to leave that it is not safe but at that very moment a cave-in happens trapping the men in the mine. John-Boy arrives back at the mine to find no one around but he sees smoke coming from the mine entrance. He runs inside to see the fallen wall of earth. John-Boy runs back outside and blows the steam whistle to call the community for help. People across the community hear the whistle and fear the worst. Sheriff Bridges makes it to the mine first and helps John-Boy to begin the digging process. When Mr. Guthrie arrives John-Boy asks him for help to find plans for the mine and another way into the trapped men. Mr. Guthrie has lost his wits and is of no help. Olivia finds a blueprint that she believes may help but as she goes back towards the mine another collapse happens. Corabeth blows the steam whistle as the rest of the woman run into the mine. They pull all the men out who have been digging. John-Boy looks at the blueprint and figures that the shaft that Elizabeth fell into must be behind the cave-in. Ep and John-Boy go down to investigate and find a wall of earth and begin to dig. Mr. Guthrie lets his fear take root and believes that he will be blamed for this accident. Both he and Corabeth blame John-Boy for bringing this on them. After many hours of work they finally begin to break through the wall. Grandpa reaches through the hole and touches John’s head. They make the hole bigger and crawl through to find all the men alive.

Olivia gives thanks at the dinner table for the safe return of her men and for the hopeful return of Grandma to their table. Later John-Boy sits alone at the table writing his story as the family says their goodnights.

Secondary Story:



  "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."

Episode Notes & Interesting Facts:

  • Richard Thomas gets top billing before the episode title.
  • Lieutenant Robert C. Adams authorized the payment for the desks that John built for the army at Camp Lee.
  • The Guthrie Coal Mine Company operated until 1935.
  • Harley Foster was hired as watchman when the coal mine first shut down.

Additional Cast:



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


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