It's not every soap opera that can boast a former President's heir among its regulars, much less one who seems typecast. But as the newest member of CBS's The Young and the Restless, Steven Ford, Jerry and Betty's adventurous youngest son, has slipped into the role of amiable bartender Andy Richards like a pair of well-worn Tony Lama's. "He's a Route 66 kind of guy: He's lived in a lot of places, been a rodeo performer and is a bit of a womanizer," says Ford, 25, of his TV persona. It's all familiar territory for the former White House resident who has squired the likes of actress Valerie Perrine, worked as a cowboy and rodeo rider and been lassoed by a paternity suit. His heart runneth over with empathy. Basically, figures Ford, "Andy's quite a nice guy."

He's not alone in that assessment. Within six weeks of his first appearance, Steve's TV character had been seduced by Nikki, the local stripper (actress Melody Thomas). But Steve insists that's the only way he's Young and Restless anymore. After his out-of-court settlement in last year's paternity suit brought by Joi Malkin, of Newport Beach, Steve countersued for visitation rights with the boy. Now the episode, court records and Steve's lips are sealed. "There are two other persons involved, and I'm just not going to talk about it," he says. He's so busy these days that he's not even dating. "It's not such a big thing for me," shrugs Steve. "It'll happen in its own good time."

Ford spends two or three days a week taping the soap in L.A. and commutes in his yellow Honda from his 13-acre ranch in San Luis Obispo, 200 miles north of the city. "I get the best of both worlds," says Steve, though he prefers the ranch. "Spreading manure is a great way of bringing yourself down to earth." To help pay the mortgage, he shares the four-bedroom ranchhouse with two male college students.

Though he has no political ambitions, Ford also has been active in the local fight against licensing of the Diablo Canyon Nuclear Power Plant, located near a known earthquake fault 12 miles from his ranch. "This is a safety issue," says Steve, who like his father is pro-nuclear. "There's no feasible evacuation plan in the event of an earthquake." His only other brushes with politics are occasional lecture-circuit jaunts with Dad. "He talks about economics, then I make little jokes about his golf game," says Steve. "We've become more like buddies than father and son recently." He calls his folks often and looks back with humor on his years as part of "an ordinary Midwestern family thrust into the White House with hardly time to brush our hair and look smart."

"Dating was the worst," Steve now grins. "It's bad enough on a first date trying not to say something dumb without having three Secret Service guys with you." As adolescent revenge, Steve and a friend once ditched his G-man guard to ride off on a Montana ranch. They then fired four rifle shots into the air and came galloping back with Steve slumped over the saddle. "The guy comes running out, and the first words he uttered, I swear, were 'My career! My career!' " Steve laughs.

It was harder getting away from his family's shadow. Though he had never been on a horse until he was 18, he seized on the cowboy life and took rodeo lessons. "I spent a lot of time in the dirt," Steve remembers. Later, as a member of the L.A. Rough Riders, a professional rodeo team, he damaged a sciatic nerve and still must limit his time in the saddle.

During those years he also ranched, drifted in and out of three colleges without graduating (most recently studying acting at California Polytechnic at San Luis Obispo), and began to win parts through auditions for shows like 240-Robert and Happy Days and notably in the recently released movie Cattle Annie and Little Britches, with Rod Steiger and Burt Lancaster. "I just kind of fell into acting," says Steve, who maintains he won his soap opera break through his skills rather than connections. "I had my share of rejections," says Steve. "Until now I've mostly been Jerry Ford's boy. For the first time I have the chance to be my own person."