10 essential Jim-Bob episodes of The Waltons
The youngest Walton son loved cars and motorcycles, dreamed of becoming a pilot and discovered a devastating family secret.
Though John-Boy is undoubtedly the main character in early seasons, The Waltons found time to focus on the other children throughout its long run. The younger siblings grew the most over the show’s nine years, especially Jim-Bob. He started as a precocious youngster and ended the series as a young man.
We’ve highlighted ten of the best episodes that focus on James Robert Walton. He has many great moments not listed here, like getting a tattoo or finding a peacock, but these are the stories that showcase his character in big ways.
Do you have a favorite not on this list? Let us know in a comment!
1. The Runaway
In one of the first episodes centered around Jim-Bob, the youngest Walton son brings the guinea pig, Porthos, home from school. When Porthos dies, Jim-Bob is distraught and runs away from home. He wants to take a train to Japan then tries to join the Air Corps. John-Boy finds his little brother and they discuss the reasons Jim-Bob feels so alienated. The episode touches on many recurring themes on this list, including feeling left out and trying to fulfil big dreams.
2. The Search
Olivia takes her youngest children, Elizabeth and Jim-Bob, on a journey to meet an old friend. On the way, they get a flat tire and become stranded in the wilderness. Jim-Bob steps up to help them survive, finding food to eat in the forest and even driving away a bear. It’s wonderful episode – with story credit given to Grandma herself, Ellen Corby – that shows Jim-Bob’s practical instincts and the connection he shares with his father and grandfather.
3. The Secret
One of the most dramatic episodes on this list, “The Secret” marks a major turning point for Jim-Bob. He continues to feel different from the rest of his family, spurred by Ben and Erin teasing that he was found on the doorstep as a baby. When Jim-Bob looks into his past, he discovers a devastating family secret. It’s not only one of Jim-Bob’s best episodes but one of the finest episodes of the entire series. As a bonus, anyone who played with a yoyo as a kid can relate to Jim-Bob’s attempts at mastering the unruly toy.
4. The Great Motorcycle Race
After Jim-Bob fixes Ike Godsey’s motorcycle, the friendly store owner lets him ride it whenever he wants. Because it has a sidecar, it’s safer than a normal motorcycle – except when Jim-Bob does tricks like raising the sidecar completely off the ground. Even though Olivia is worried, Jim-Bob enters a motorcycle race. It’s an exciting episode and one of five directed by star Richard Thomas.
5. The Flight
John Walton actor Ralph Waite also directed many episodes, including this one about Jim-Bob’s friendship with a runaway who wants to join the Air Corps. Jim-Bob has not been shy about his pilot ambitions, but this episode cements those aspirations by giving him a companion to dream with. It also sets up the disappointment heading Jim-Bob’s way in later seasons. This episode also features child actor Michelle Stacy, who voiced Penny in the Disney film The Rescuers in 1977, the same year this episode aired.
6. Spring Fever
This memorable episode features Jim-Bob and Ben constantly butting heads about everything from chores to girls. Grandpa Zeb blames the spring season for their restless ways. After the brothers go out with each other’s dates, things escalate into a physical fight between the boys. Anyone who remembers coming down with a case of their own spring fever will enjoy this episode.
7. The Calling
In this romantic episode, a young woman leaves the convent where she is studying to stay with the Baldwin sisters. Jim-Bob immediately takes a liking to her after meeting her in a tree, trying to rescue his tangled kite. He slicks his hair back and wears aftershave just to escort her to the library. It’s a fun episode that puts Jim-Bob front and center.
8. The Beau
Though the main story referenced in the title of this episode follows Grandma and a man she knew when she was young, the secondary plot involving Jim-Bob and moonshiner Yancy Tucker is worth noting. Because of a gasoline shortage, Jim-Bob conspires with Yancy to make alcohol strong enough to fuel a car. They successfully brew 190 proof moonshine and, with a little adjustment of the carburetor, use it in Jim-Bob’s car. Before thinking of his homemade solution, Jim-Bob wishes he constructed an electric car. He was 80 years ahead of his time!
9. The Burden
Jim-Bob’s car also plays a role in this episode, though a much more serious one. While trying to fix his brakes, Jim-Bob narrowly escapes getting crushed. After behaving recklessly with a friend named Tinker, this near-death experience gives Jim-Bob a whole new outlook on life. He wants to become a preacher after talking with the new reverend. Tony Moran, brother of Happy Days star Erin Moran, played Tinker a year after appearing in the original Halloween.
10. The Tailspin
The devastating payoff to years of Jim-Bob professing his desire to be a pilot, this episode reveals that his eyesight is not good enough to achieve his dream. It’s a dramatic, soul-searching story that mixes heartache with optimism, as only The Waltons could do. Even though Jim-Bob never joined the Air Corps, Earl Hamner’s closing narration does note that he was able to fly a plane he built later in life.