Some of you may not be familiar with the intricacies of Petticoat Junction, a situation comedy that originally aired on CBS from September 1963 to April 1970, so let me introduce you to one of my favorite escapes. Petticoat Junction is a spinoff of The Beverly Hillbillies and it centers on the mishaps at the Shady Rest Hotel, which has its own stop on the Hooterville Cannonball and is situated somewhere between the towns of Pixley and Hooterville. The Shady Rest is owned and managed by Kate Bradley (Bea Benaderet) who also lives in the hotel with her uncle Joe (Edgar Buchanon) and her three daughters Billie Jo, Bobby Jo and Betty Jo (played in the show’s first season by Jeannine Riley, Pat Woodell and Linda Kaye).
Also central to most Petticoat Junction stories are Charley (Smiley Burnette) and Floyd (Rufe Davis), the big-hearted and sometimes slow-witted engineers/conductors of the Hooterville Cannonball and Sam Drucker the owner of the only store in Hooterville that supplies goods to the residents in several surrounding towns. Sam Drucker and his general store are lifelines to the folks at Petticoat Junction, Green Acres (1965-1971) and occasionally The Beverly Hillbillies (1962-1971). Sam Drucker is played by great character actor, Frank Cady.
The last, and perhaps most important character on Petticoat Junction is one I must spend a bit of time introducing you to. Not only does this character play a prominent role in my chosen episode, but he/she is central to many of the storylines featured in the show, particularly the first season. That is, of course, the C. & F.W. Hooterville Cannonball.
“Come ride the little train that is rolling down the tracks to the junction.”
The Hooterville Cannonball is played by an 1890s steam engine locomotive known in the real world as the Sierra Railway No. 3. Footage of the Sierra doing its job in Sonora, California was used as stock footage for shots of the Cannonball moving between the towns it serves – Pixley, Crabwell Corners and Hooterville – on TV in both Petticoat Junction and Green Acres. I’d say the Sierra No. 3 shines brightest, however, during Petticoat Junction’s memorable opening and closing credits, with the locomotive kicking off the catchy theme song with two well-timed toots. If you watch Petticoat Junction regularly you may notice that the No. 3 on the Sierra was changed to an 8. That was done in order to accommodate the use of footage of the train from both the left and right sides.
Like Drucker’s general store, the Hooterville Cannonball is a lifeline for Petticoat Junction and the inhabitants. And that’s no exaggeration. I imagine that’s difficult for city folk to comprehend, but if something goes wrong with the Cannonball the Shady Rest suffers. If Kate, her daughters or Uncle Joe want to buy clothing or groceries the only way they can get to Drucker’s store is on the Cannonball. If the Shady Rest plans a gathering like say… a hootenanny or a jamboree (assuming those are different types of celebrations) and the Hooterville Cannonball breaks down the party can’t go on because none of the guests can get to the junction. You get the picture, there would be no Petticoat Junction or Shady Rest without the talents of the Sierra No. 3.
“Forget about your cares , it is time to relax at the junction.”
“Cannonball Christmas” (December 24, 1963)
It’s Christmas eve day in Hooterville and Kate and the girls are preparing for the festivities. There are presents to wrap, Santa’s sleigh to build, carols to practice and the Hooterville Cannonball to decorate. All is swell as they gather the materials needed for the celebration at Drucker’s General Store. Or so they think.
Back in the big city Homer Bedloe (Charles Lane) the Vice-President of C. F. & W. Railroad Company, which owns the Cannonball convinces his boss Norman Curtis (Roy Roberts) that an unplanned inspection is called for. Curtis agrees, but is unaware that Bedloe plans the inspection in Hooterville, a place that Curtis has grown quite fond of as a result of previous dealings with the townsfolk there. Bedloe, on the other hand, is quite bitter and has made putting the Hooterville Cannonball out of business his sole mission in life. Bedloe’s previous dealings with Kate and the rest of the Hooterville residents resulted in his being made a fool of so he can taste payback and shutting down the Cannonball on Christmas eve would do quite nicely. With that in mind Homer Bedloe sets off to Hooterville and arrives in a particularly bad mood just as everyone is fixin’ to decorate the Cannonball. (By the way, Terry of A Shroud of thoughts just published a terrific post on Charles Lane and his signature bad moods, which is worth a read).
Anyway, Homer Bedloe arrives at the Shady Rest stop and without so much as a “hello” starts barking orders and citing regulations to Kate, the girls, Charley and Floyd who are decorating the Cannonball. Billie Jo and Bobby Jo try to explain the importance of the Cannonball Christmas tradition, which includes distributing gifts and caroling to lift spirits on Christmas eve, but Bedloe will have none of it. As Uncle Joe is trying to use his charms to warm up to the man Bedloe produces a writ to seize and hold the Cannonball. And to ensure no one hides the train Bedloe goes as far as to remove the throttle lever – or a similar-sounding contraption – which renders the locomotive immobile.
The next attempt to soften Homer Bedloe to the idea of a Cannonball Christmas is at the Shady Rest where Kate and the girls sing Christmas songs in hopes of transferring a bit of the spirit of the season into the Scrooge-like executive. All is in vain, however, as Bedloe is hell-bent on spoiling the plans. Then…a miracle… Word gets back to Norman Curtis that Bedloe is in Hooterville trying to spoil Christmas at the Junction. Curtis is not only friendly with Kate and fond of the Shady Rest, but he also holds all of the people at the Junction dear so he sets out to stop Bedloe’s bedlam and ensure that the Hooterville Cannonball fulfills its Christmas duties of spreading joy across the land.
And that, my friends, is what Christmas is all about. I’ve recounted the main story in “Cannonball Christmas,” but the real charm of the people of Hooterville comes across by way of the little things I didn’t mention that you will have to experience for yourself. By the way, I’d be remiss not to mention that the Sierra No. 3 turns in a fine performance in this episode with impressive turns as both star and supporting player to the entertaining inhabitants of Hooterville.
I’ve enjoyed Petticoat Junction for as long as I can remember so it’s a special treat to dedicate a post to it. All of the people and characters I’ve mentioned in this entry create the kind of warm and fuzzy atmosphere – replete with silly jokes and mishaps – that one never minds spending time with. Plus, it stars Bea Benaderet who was one of the truly great talents of the 20th Century- and one of my idols.
From me, Kate, Uncle Joe, the Bradley girls, Floyd, Charley, Sam Drucker and the Hooterville Cannonball – A VERY MERRY CHRISTMAS!
This post was originally published on my now defunct classic TV blog as part of the Classic TV Blog Association‘s A Very Merry MeTV Blogathon. You may want to visit these links because there are plenty of special classic TV Christmas memories housed there.