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Wagon Train is an American Western series that ran on NBC from 1957-1962 and then on ABC from 1962-1965 (the network also aired daytime repeats, as Major Adams, Trailmaster and Trailmaster [post-1961 Ward Bond episodes] from January 1963 through September 1965). The show debuted at #15 in the Nielsen Ratings, rose to #2 in the next three seasons, and peaked at #1 in the 1961-1962 television season. After moving to ABC in the autumn of 1962, the ratings began to decline, and Wagon Train did not again make the Top 20 listing.

The show was based on the 1950 film Wagon Master directed by John Ford and starring Ben Johnson, Harry Carey Jr., and Ward Bond.

Synopsis

The show chronicles the adventures of a wagon train as it makes its way from Missourimarker to Californiamarker. There were 284 episodes: the first aired on September 18, 1957, and the final segment was broadcast on May 2, 1965. Some of the actors appearing on Wagon Train included Ward Bond as wagon master Major Seth Adams (seasons 1-4), Robert Horton as scout Flint McCullough (seasons 1-5), John McIntire as wagon master Christopher Hale (seasons 4-8), Robert Fuller as scout Cooper Smith (seasons 7-8), Denny Scott Miller as Duke Shannon (seasons 5-7), Michael Burns as Barnaby West (seasons 4-8), Frank McGrath as Charlie Wooster (cook, seasons 1-8), and Terry Wilson as Bill Hawks. McIntire replaced Bond as wagon master upon Bond's death, and Fuller replaced Horton as scout when Horton opted to depart, an obvious choice since Fuller had already played a lead in another western series (Laramie on NBC) and physically resembled Horton.

The eight-season one-hour show was filmed in black-and-white except for its seventh season, which was 90 minutes and in color. The series returned to its original format for its last season.

Like Rawhide, the show is set a few years after the American Civil War but whereas there were few Indians in Rawhide, they often turned up in Wagon Train, causing the wagons to form a circle. Major Adams was in the war with Bill Hawks. Wooster was no good at anything else so became a cook in the army (in the first episode he was clean shaven but quickly grew a beard). Normally, each episode was the story of one person, after whom that episode was named and their problems were resolved through the episode.

In "The Sacramento Story" which was the last episode in the first season, the wagon train finally arrives in California after a three month journey. Some stars from earlier episodes appear. At the end of the show, Flint McCullough has his $400 pay for the journey, says his goodbyes and rides off. Adams knows he'll spend the money on girls, do a number of jobs when it is gone, and then find another wagon train to scout for (was there doubt that Horton would be in the show again?). With all the other wagons gone, there is just Adams, Hawks and Wooster. They are going to take a river boat back to Saint Joe and eventually start a new wagon train to California.

Cast

  • Ward Bond — Major Seth Adams (1957-1961). He died of a heart attack on November 5, 1960, in the middle of the fourth season and was replaced by John McIntire as wagon master. No explanation was ever given on the show.
  • Robert Horton — Flint McCullough (1957-1962)
  • John McIntire — Christopher Hale (1959-1965)
  • Robert Fuller — Cooper Smith (1959-1965)
  • Frank McGrath — Charlie Wooster (1957-1965)
  • Terry Wilson — Bill Hawks (1957-1965)
  • Denny Miller — Duke Shannon (1961-1964) He played this role over only twenty-nine episodes.
  • Michael Burns — Barnaby West (1960-1965)
  • Ernest Borgnine played Willy Moran in the pilot episode, broadcast September 18, 1957. Adams had fought with him at Gettysburg.


Notable guest stars

  • The episode "Alias Bill Hawks", available on DVD, is a story of townspeople covering for a murder and trying to dig a needed artesian well. Terry Wilson, as the real "Bill Hawks", arrives to put the puzzle together.
  • The 1958 episode "The Sacramento Story" features veteran western film star Roscoe Ates in his later familiar role of "Old Timer".
  • The episode "The Greenhorn Story" features child actor Ronnie Dapo, who later co-starred on Room for One More and The New Phil Silvers Show.
  • Dayton Lummis appeared in three episodes: as Major Barham in "The Martha Barham Story" (NBC, 1959), as T.J. Gingle in "The John Turnbull Storey" (NBC, 1962), and as the Reverend Philip Marshall in "The Myra Marsahall Story" (ABC, 1963).
  • John M. Pickard appeared as Jed Otis in the 1959 episode "The Matthew Lowry Story".
  • Franchot Tone appeared in the lead role in "The Malachi Hobart Story" as a traveling preacher who loses confidence in his own Christian message.
  • John Wayne, appeared briefly in a long shot in the episode directed by John Ford, "The Coulter Craven Story", portraying William Tecumseh Sherman, and billed under the pseudonym "Michael Morris", a reference to Wayne's boyhood name, Marion Michael Morrison. Several other regulars from The John Ford Stock Company also appeared. This episode was shown 18 days after Ward Bond's death, and is the only episode in this series directed by John Ford.
  • Lee Marvin appeared as newly-hired wagonmaster Jud Benedict in the Series 4 episode that introduced the Chris Hale character, " The Christopher Hale Story"
  • Another episode features Theodore Bikel as a traveling musician who is transporting a mysterious shipment of dynamite to San Franciscomarker for the Army.
  • Karl Swenson played mountain man Jim Bridger in "The Jim Bridger Story". Francis De Sales also appeared in the episode as Mark.
  • Prolific western actor Gregg Palmer appeared in three episodes: as Groton in "The Mary Halstead Story" (1957), Paul Dawson in "The Riley Gratton Story" (1957), and as Raleigh in "The Jose Morales Story" (1960).
  • Tyler McVey appeared six times on Wagon Train, including a two-part 1960 episode "Trial for Murder".
  • Joyce Meadows appeared three times: as Martha Williams in "The Conchita Vasquez Story" (1959), as Rheba Polke in "The Jed Polke Story", and as Melaine in "The Artie Matthewson Story" (both 1961).
  • Eduard Franz appeared in the lead in 1957 in "The Les Rand Story", and James Philbrook had a minor role in the same episode.
  • Darby Hinton, a child actor, appeared in March 1964 as Benjie Diel in the 90-minute episode "The Ben Engel Story".
  • Johnny Washbrook appeared as Tommy Peeks in "The Swift Cloud Story", with Rafael Campos in the 1959 title role, and as Ron Pearson in "The Beth Pearson Story", with Virginia Grey in the 1961 title role.
  • In one of his final acting roles prior to his entering politics, future U.S. President Ronald Reagan played Captain Paul Winters in the seventh season episode "The Fort Pierce Story," first broadcast in September 1963.


Theme music

The first season theme "Wagon Train" was written by Henri Rene and Bob Russell, and lyrics were not used. The theme was conducted by Revue musical director Stanley Wilson. In the second season, a new more modern sounding theme was introduced. "(Roll Along) Wagon Train" was written by Sammy Fain and Jack Brooks and sung by Johnny O'Neill. About midway through the second season this was replaced with an instrumental version by Stanley Wilson. In the third season a more traditional sounding score was introduced. "Wagons Ho!" was written and conducted by Jerome Moross, who adapted it from a passage of music he had written for the 1959 film The Jayhawkers. This theme would last through the series run and is the most remembered Wagon Train theme. Stanley Wilson re-recorded "Wagons Ho!" for the last two seasons.

Daytime network repeats, syndication and DVD release

When the original Ward Bond episodes were broadcast weekday afternoons on ABC beginning in 1963, a new series title and theme would have to be used to separate the two airings and avoid viewer confusion because Wagon Train was still on the ABC evening schedule. Trailmaster was the name given and a new theme song, the "Trailmaster Theme," was written and conducted by Stanley Wilson. The hour-long episodes entered syndication under this title, eventually reverting to its original title. The 90-minute episodes were usually syndicated separately, sometimes shown on local stations as "movies".

On November 4, 2008, Timeless Media Group released the seventh, 90-minute color season on Region 1 DVD in the United States. Selected episodes have also been released on budget DVD releases.

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