Cliff Robertson plays a character named Chris Horn. Horn is a member of a wagon train that had crossed the prairie and deserts between Ohio and the New Mexico to start a new life in California. Now the rest of the wagon train were despairing of finding water ahead and were talking of turning back. His wife is heartbroken because their son Christian is terribly ill with a fever and thought near death. One of the other heads of family, Charlie (played by John Astin) tries to reason with Chris about how futile it is. Although practically hopeless himself Chris is very reluctant to give up after coming so far. He tells Charlie he’ll go over the sand ridge to the side of their trail to see if he can find water and what’s on the other side.
When Chris crests the top of the ridge, he is met with a scene he cannot comprehend. There are tall metal towers connected by rope-like lines that extend to the horizon in both directions and there is a black road that also extends in both directions as far as he can see. Walking down to the road he touches it and finds that it is very warm. Suddenly a huge machine comes flying down the road making a loud frightening noise and he runs for his life off the road. While scurrying away his rifle accidentally discharges and the bullet nicks his arm. Now thoroughly disoriented he walks along the road to see where it goes.
He shows up at a small 1960s vintage general store with a dining area and a gas pump out front. The friendly married couple who own the store try to help Chris and answer his questions. They give him water and the wife cleans his gunshot wound and gives him some penicillin to avoid infection. They tell him about the area where they are (New Mexico) and that there is considerable water and game in the area. When talking about the penicillin Chris realizes it may help his sick child and so he takes the container of pills. Finally, when they ask him where he got the antique rifle, he takes offense declaring that it is a brand new 1846 rifle. They inform him that it’s 1961. He disbelieves them until he sees the date on the calendar on the wall. He looks through their books and finds an encyclopedia that has an article on someone with his son’s name that went on to be a doctor in California in the late 1800s. Now Chris is encouraged to think that not only will he make it to California but that his son will live. A doctor that the couple had called checks on Chris’s wound and finds it to be satisfactory but after examining him he notes that he has fillings in his teeth that could not have been used after the middle of the nineteenth century. Because of the gunshot wound and also because he has begun doubting Chris’s sanity, the doctor called the town sheriff to come and pick Chris up. When Chris realizes what is going on, he makes a run for it. As he nears the ridge he first climbed to get to this strange world, the police cruiser approaches. Running to stay ahead of the sheriff he drops his rifle and sprints over the top of the ridge. And there he finds his own wagon. When he cautiously looks back over the ridge the twentieth century is nowhere to be seen. No powerlines, no asphalt road and no sheriff on his heels.
He goes back to the wagon train and tells Charlie that they will find water and game very soon and that they will certainly get to California. Then he tells his wife to give some of the pills to their son and that the boy will live and get better soon. Chris Horn is an awestruck man but much more confident of the future for himself and his family.
Back in 1961, the sheriff and the store owner go over the crest of the hill and see no sign of Chris. They pick up his rifle and return to the store. But when they return to the store, they realize the rifle is now an antique and in terrible shape from a century of exposure.
I think Cliff Robertson did a very good job with this role. The story is entertaining and there is plenty of human interest with the various sympathetic characters. The story is another unexplainable time travel story but it is well done.