The Prime of Life

Writer: Peter Packer  Director: Christian Nyby
Guest Stars: Jay C. Flippen (Barney Fuller), Melora Conway (Martha Fletcher), Raymond Guth (Otis Watts), Ralph Moody (Gabe), Butch Patrick (Jody Fletcher), Dan Riss (), Roy Engel (Doctor), Roy Jenson (Jesse Wade)
Air Date: 29 December 1963

“Pa it’s, it’s such a waste.  You’re right in the prime of life.  You just don’t throw it away.” – Hoss

So how did Ben get to the place that even Hoss thinks he is wasting his life away?  To find out we have to go back to the beginning of the episode with Ben in San Francisco waiting to find out if he has won a lucrative railroad contract for building a trestle to span the Humboldt Canyon in Nevada.  His main rival is an old friend/enemy, Barney Fuller.

The two men differ in their reasons as to whether they win or lose the contract – Ben is happy just to be a part of the project and doesn’t mind if he gets the other job the railroad is offering, while Barney only wants the trestle.  In the end it is Ben who wins the contract.  Barney warns Ben that he will be waiting to take over if the Ponderosa fails.

Under pressure to get the timber to the railroad by the due date, we see all of the Cartwrights helping out the logging crew (with some scenes from season four’s “The Quest” being re-used again).  Ben is pushing his sons and crews which is noticed by Gabe, an old man who works at the supply hut.  Gabe tries to remind Ben about taking time out and resting but Ben isn’t interested.

Things eventually come to a head when Ben decides to risk using a faulty pulley block in order to gain some of the time they have lost back.  The pulley block breaks as they lifting a large log on to a wagon and kills Gabe (who was delivering some equipment to a logger).  Ben in his rush to help Gabe injures himself on an axe that was lodge in a nearby pile of logs.

Some time passes and we see Ben at home on the Ponderosa getting his leg tended to by the doctor.  The doctor tells him that leg is healing nicely and that he should get rid of the walking he has evidently been using.  Ben has also taken to wearing his dressing gown and slippers all day as well and moping around the house.

His sons have become worried about their father’s behaviour and when they confront him about it, Ben ends up giving up all responsibility and handing over control of the Ponderosa to them.  The boys set about completing the contract on their own but hit a brick wall with Barney Fuller, who has rented out of all the horses that can haul logs.  Barney is only interested in dealing with Ben.

As time passes, Ben gets more depressed.  He has become emotionally crippled as he deals with his guilt of “killing” Gabe.  The money he has sent Gabe’s daughter has been returned and not even Hop Sing’s attempt to pull him out of his depression has worked.

To his surprise, Ben receives a visit from Barney who remarks on Ben’s attire by saying that he didn’t mean to get him out bed.  Barney tells Ben a few things and as he is leaving he tells Ben to go back to bed.  It seems Barney’s pep talk motivates Ben into getting dressed but not losing the walking the stick.

As he limping out onto the front porch, Joe comes pass with a bunch of saddle horses he intends to take out to the logging camp in order to haul logs. Joe goes on the defensive and tells his father that they are now taking care of things and not to ask any questions. As Ben watches Joe and the horses leave him in a daze of confusion.  Just at the moment , Gabe’s daughter, Martha turns up and tells him that she doesn’t blame Ben for father’s death.

Meanwhile over at the logging camp, the men are getting a bit disgruntled with the fact that the “Bull of the Woods” (Ben) is no longer around and they want to quit.  Adam tells them that he is now “Bull of the Woods” and if any of them have a problem he invites them to prove him wrong.  This result in Adam getting into a fist fight the men who do (Joe wants to join but Hoss stops him and they both sit down to watch the fight).

At the end of the fight, Hoss nods approvingly and Ben makes his presence known.  This time around Ben, although still limping has lost the walking stick and it is obvious that Martha’s visit helped.

The episode progress to it inevitable ending with Ben providing all of the timber for the trestle and the boys getting a rest.

If you wish to discuss or comment on any points made in this article please click here (you will be taken to our Forums where you need to be a member to post).