Episode 7 - The Wingwalker

(23 October 1975)
Writer: Andy White.
Director: Harry S. Laidman.
Music: Alexander Courage.


"While we were walking the green meadows of Waltons Mountain, daring flyers were conquering the beckoning blue skies. We had come to know an airmail pilot who would fly slightly off course just to say "Hello" to us, and especially to Jim Bob. Jim Bob's head was in the clouds back in those days, dreaming of machines which he hoped one day to fly".


Jim Bob scans the skies for a plane overhead. John-Boy leaves for an interview with a wing-walker who is appearing at a local airfield. Maude Gormley makes a visit to tell the family that she’d like to give then her goat, Myrtle, because she can no longer take care of her. Grandma isn’t happy with the idea, but the children convince her that the goat should stay. Grandma admits that the goat is the “poor man’s cow”. Maude leaves but not without feeling pains of remorse over giving up her goat and telling the family that alfalfa grass is the goat’s favorite food. The people inside Al’s Barber Shop watch the airplane fly over on its “come-on” flight, and a crowd begins to build as John-Boy and Jason stop in front of the bank to watch a person clad all in white walk out on the plane’s wing.


After dropping off Jason, John-Boy drives out to the airstrip to meet the plane as it lands. He introduces himself to Rex as the person assigned by the Jefferson County Times to write an article about wing walking. Rex says he got his facial scar when he “kissed” the ground a little too hard one time. John-Boy is taken aback when he finds out that the wing-walker is a woman by the name of Bobby Strom. Not making a very good first impression John-Boy runs after Bobby to apologize for being rude. He suggests that next time she let her hair out from under her aviator’s cap, to give the crowd a thrill. He also suggests that she stay with his family, rather than to stay at another hotel room that are all the same. John-Boy says that his youngest brother loves aviation. Rex gives a special rate for a family of three, but the amount is still too much for them. Rex doesn’t accept John-Boy’s invitation to stay in their hayloft, saying that he and Bobby go their separate ways (her decision).


When John-Boy leans over to close her car door, she looks defensive. On the way home, John-Boy tells her about some of the historical events that change the way society lives, comparing her wing-walking to those events. Bobby says “hogwash”, saying she only gives the audience what they want: thrills. She says that over 250 barnstorming accidents occur each year, with 80 killed and 150 injured. John-Boy tells her he wants to write an article on why she takes the chance that she does each and every time she steps out on a wing.


Grandpa and Elizabeth sit on the front porch talking about the Brothers Grimm story The Brave Little Tailor, where he killed seven flies in one blow. Elizabeth declares that she killed five flies with one swat. Ben tells Grandma that Maude let Myrtle into the house, but Grandma says to tie the goat securely to the tree (and refuses to let the goat into the house). Grandpa tells Elizabeth not to kill one particular fly because he thinks it’s a “Walton fly”, and then he relates information about the common housefly.


At supper Mary Ellen and Erin think its romantic it is to be a female wing-walker. Elizabeth remembers when her Momma took an airplane ride with a man who delivered the postal mail. Bobby says her Scandinavian name “strom” means “electrical current”. Grandpa relates about the early barnstormers who were play actors that rode around on horses in order to play in barns. John-Boy listens and catches a private glance at Bobby. Grandma thinks it is terrible that Bobby makes such a spectacle of herself. Olivia and Mary Ellen tell Grandma that they think Bobby heard the offending thing she said. Grandma said she better get ready to meet her maker. John-Boy and Bobby find Myrtle on top of the shed’s roof. John-Boy says that the goat will get it from Grandma, and Bobby says, “Like I did.” John-Boy explains that Grandma feels it is sinful to endanger one’s life for entertainment. But he also says that the whole family will pray for her that she will safely return from her flight. John-Boy tries to be romantic with Bobby but she backs off. He says that he is sorry, and she closes the door behind her. John-Boy knocks to ask if he can ride along with her on her next “come-on” ride. She says it is difficult to say no to him.


The next day John-Boy flies as Bobby makes her “come-on” flight. She slips, but regains her balance, and waves to the crowd below as her hair blows in the wind. They return home to find Myrtle on the roof. Bobby invites John-Boy inside the shed. He tries to kiss her but she backs off again. She explains that when she was fifteen years old a stranger in the woods attacked her. John-Boy doesn’t know what to say, finally saying that one incident doesn’t have to be a whole lifetime. After John-Boy leaves Bobby finds a single, red rose, and thinks John-Boy left it.


In the living room Bobby, Jim-Bob and the rest of the family talk about flying. Bobby wants to fly soldiers to war zones in Europe. Jim-Bob intently listens to her talk about warm and cold air currents, and how they affect the wings of an airplane. She says there is nothing to fear unless she decides to climb onto the top wing without a safety net. Later John-Boy tells Bobby that for her to be happy she must love her own life and not be afraid of it; saying life is precious. While they kiss, Jim Bob sees them. Later Bobby tells Olivia that she is falling in love with John-Boy, and that a girl has never been courted so tenderly before.


John-Boy writes in his journal: I have never encountered a woman like Bobby Strom before. From the first moment I saw her I found her tantalizing and romantic, even chilling. But what Bobby has told me abut herself has made me think about my own feelings for her. And I now realize that they may not have been of the most noble type. I feel embarrassed and guilty when I think about how I might have treated her. From here on I want to put these feelings behind me, and be her friend and truly help her.


Ben milks Myrtle, then lets Elizabeth help. Bobby helps Grandma in the kitchen. Grandma says, “Don’t court death, child.” Ben and Elizabeth come in with the small amount of goat milk. Bobby goes up to John-Boy’s room. He says he’s been trying to catch up with his studies. She wants to stop the article, because she wants to stop wing-walking, now that she has so much to lose. John-Boy admits that he has many different feelings for her. She realizes that his feelings have changed toward her. She becomes angry, unwilling to listen to him. She walks out to the shed where Jim Bob admits, “The roses were from me.”


Jason and Ben walk, wondering why the girls are taking so long to get ready for the air show. John says he’s glad Bobby quit. Grandpa says that, “You spend all your early years waiting for the right girl to come along, then you wait for her the rest of your life.” Elizabeth is upset because Myrtle is gone, and blames Grandma for not letting them love her. John-Boy wonders where Bobby is, and then finds a note saying that she has left. He admits to his mother than they had words last night, because his feelings toward her changed. Olivia tells him that she’s in love with him. John-Boy believes that she will attempt to wing-walk today and they drive to the airfield to stop her.


The announcer tells the crowd that Bobby Strom will attempt for the first time to walk on the top wing. John-Boy tries to communicate with Bobby but the announcer says there is no way to talk with her. Bobby prepares to perform her dangerous stunt as the crowd and the family looks on. At sixty-five miles per hour Bobby climbs on top of the plane’s wing. Rex tells her to stop, but she ignores him. She stands on the wing with two red flags in her hands. The crowd cheers, but as she climbs down she loses her footing for a second. Jim Bob tensely looks on, as she regains her footing and reenters the cockpit. John-Boy is relieved to see that she is safe.


Back on the ground, John-Boy asks Bobby if she is all right. Bobby says there is no need for him to explain. She says that she now knows where she is going with her life. She says, “You ain’t the only cute country boy with the choir-boy face and a way with words.” She says goodbye and walks to her truck. Jim Bob gives her one last rose, and she kisses him as John-Boy looks on. The family drives home to find that Grandma has found Myrtle and brought her back from Maude’s house. She says the goat needs more love and care than most goats because she is very sensitive.


"We were never to see or hear from the wingwalker again. To this day I think of Bobby Strom whenever I see a white dove in flight, and within Jim Bob's heart I'm sure there's a bitter-sweet memory".


Elizabeth: Grandma, remember all the flies I swatted for you so Myrtle could stay?
Grandma: You did well, Elizabeth.
Elizabeth: I see a lot of fireflies outside, do you suppose they're friends coming to look for me with lanterns?
Grandpa: More 'n likely they're the flies you swotted bound for Heaven with their halos burning bright.
Elizabeth: Well I flushed them down the toilet....
Olivia: Goodnight Elizabeth.
Elizabeth: Goodnight Mama. Goodnight Daddy.
John: Goodnight honey. Come on Liv, turn off the light.
Elizabeth: Turn off the fireflies too.
Grandpa chuckles.
John-Boy: Goodnight Elizabeth.



Tom Bower reappears as Dr. Curtis Willard in The Wedding (season 5, episode 7).

Maude Gormley gives the Walton’s her goat Myrtle.

A sign announces that Rex Barker, the pilot, is giving: “Air Rides $2 for 5 minutes, $4 for 10 minutes, upside down $10”.

On the side of Rex’s truck is the words: Death Defying – Bobby Strom”.

Walton’s Mountain is about 26 miles away from Flander’s Field, a nearby airfield.

The Brothers Grimm tale The Brave Little Tailor can be found at: http://www.ucs.mun.ca/~wbarker/fairies/grimm/ and http://www.fln.vcu.edu/grimm/schneider_e.html.


Also appearing:

Bobby Strom (Lee Purcell); Rex Barker (Tom Bower); Maude Gormley (Merie Earle); The Announcer (John Mitchum).