Tom Swift In The Caves of Ice

or, The Wreck of the Airship, Red Cloud

By Victor Appleton    Book #8 1911

Review by JP Karenko, May 2005

Dustjacket images from the collection of Mark Snyder

Full Color DustjacketNote: some of the language, references & attitudes, while acceptable at the time they were written, are not Politically Correct, today.

Summary: No official summary was ever provided with any of the old Tom Swift books. However, without giving too much away, the plot can be summed up as follows:

The story opens with Tom taking Eradicate, his Negro handyman, for his first aeroplane ride in the Butterfly. Rad is frightened nearly to death, and Tom does not help things by doing aerobatics "to help him get used to flying." When the engine quits and they have to vol-plane (glide) back to earth, Rad is ready to bail out without a parachute. Tom has to physically restrain him, or he would fall to his death. Once safely back on terra firma, poor Rad seeks solace and comfort in the stable, with his cantankerous, but faithful mule, Boomerang.

Abe Abercrombie, a Colorado miner introduced in the previous volume, Tom Swift Among the Diamond Makers, shows up with a tale of a "valley of gold" in the far northern reaches of Alaska. Andy Foger, the series' generic nemesis, learns of the place by stealing and copying Abe's treasure map. Andy is constructing his own airship, a large tri-plane. A race ensues to get to the valley and collect as much gold as is possible before winter storms make travel impossible and survival unlikely.

Hazards abound from the environment and from savages, both the civilized variety and others. The story ends in near-tragedy, but you will have to read it to find out the details.

This book is available online. See:  Tom Swift in the Caves of Ice



Cast of Characters (More or less in order of appearance)

Duotone DustjacketTom Swift - Intrepid inventor & mechanic. Plucky, lively, resourceful, brave and clever. Home-schooled at a college level by his father, Barton Swift. Athlete and hunter. Familiar with how to stalk game and firearms.  Loves all things mechanical. Is a decent cook, too. In this tome, shows an uncharacteristic streak of sadism, by laughing at the discomfort of his handyman, Rad. (See below.)

Eradicate (Andrew Jackson Abraham Lincoln) Sampson, A.K.A. Eradicate or Rad - Aged stereotypical Negro journeyman jack-of-all-trades. "Eradicates dirt." Lately, is in residence on the Swift estate. Heavy deep-south accent and Uncle Remus attitude. Caretaker of Boomerang, a cantankerous aged mule. Gets his first (and maybe, last) aeroplane ride with Tom.

Mrs. Baggert - Housekeeper. Kindly, and "loves Tom like a son." Employed by the Swift family since the time Tom's mother died. She is short of stature and has to stand on a soap box to kiss Tom goodbye on one of his voyages. Excitable, she seems to expect fatalities after any mishap involving Tom's inventions.

Abe Abercrombie - Grizzled and rough Colorado miner, introduced in the Diamond Makers episode.

Ned Newton-Chum & companion of  Tom, currently employed in Shopton 1st National Bank as a newly promoted assistant cashier. This is his first extended adventure with Tom.

Jake Porter - No description given. Friend of Ned Newton. Passing mention.

Andy Foger - Red haired, squinty-eyed bully, who makes great trouble for Tom. "Poor little rich kid," son of wealthy family, born with a chip on his shoulder. Reckless, blustery and angry. Showoff. "Has money, and not much else." Lately has upped ante by announcing he will threaten Tom with a gun.

Sam Snedecker - Willing cohort of Andy Foger. No description given in this tome. Previously described as having "large ears."

Pete Bailey - Cohort and willing minion of Andy Foger. No description given. Generic bad guy.

Mr. Wakefield Damon - Elderly & eccentric adventurer whose main purpose in life seems to be blessing everybody and everything near his person.

Mr. (Ralph) Parker - Gloomy scientist, who now resides in Waterford, near Mr. Damon. (See Errata.). Constantly predicts disasters of various kinds. Able to find the dark lining in any silver cloud.

Mr. Foger - NFN given. Said to be in financial difficulty, due to bank manipulation schemes in previous volumes.

Barton Swift - Widower. Wealthy and conservative. Inventor, master machinist and holder of numerous patents.  In this episode, described as "aged" and "nervous." In this tome, he plays only a passing role

Garrett Jackson - Aged (65+ years old) "engineer" who is more a handyman/machinist and watchman type than engineer.  Resides on Swift estate.

Jim Mace - Partner of Abe Abercrombie. No description given. Passing mention.

Ned Newton's Parents - NFN's or descriptions given. Passing mention.

Simpson & Henderson - Machinists hired by Fogers to build and pilot their tri-plane. Airship.

Miss Mary Nestor - Love interest of Our Hero. Now the recipient of "frequent visits" from Tom.

Arthur Norton - Acquaintance of Swifts. No description given. Passing mention.

Sporty Stranger With Black Moustache - No other description given. Tries to steal Abe's map and vandalizes Red Cloud. May possibly be Anson Morse, due to the description given. ( Morse is a bad-guy from previous tomes.) In the employ of Foger family.

Pair of Street Thugs - Accost, beat and try to rob Tom. No descriptions given. Seem better educated than NY crooks, as they speak better English.

Pair of Seattle Police -- No descriptions given, except "burly." One is named Mike. Passing mention.

Assorted Native Indians and Eskimos - Some good, some bad. Only distinguishable to Abe and Tom.


Major Inventions

Tom Swift sort-of invents something major in this book. Except for an "improved lifting gas," unspecified modifications are made to the Red Cloud, to make it more suitable for cold-weather travel. At a minimum, extra insulation around the cabin, and electric heaters for engine lubricants and the gas generator would be needed. Whatever changes were made did not require significant effort or time, at least as far as the story timing went.

The Electric Rifle is introduced. The device, which plays a central role two volumes in the future of the series, is described as incomplete, but functions well enough to serve Tom in killing dangerous game and wounding attacking savages. The rifle sends out a silent packet charge (of  plasma?) that can be regulated from "stun" to "kill." This may have been the forerunner of the SciFi stunners and blasters used in many other adventure stories, all the way up to today's Star Trek Phaser.

I imagine the anti-gun folks down in Washington would be tripping all over themselves to ban this high-tech "assault rifle" even before the ink was dry on the patent.


Commentary on Society, Attitudes, Environment & Errata

White Quad DustjacketIt's amazing how much society and technology have changed in 95 years. Reading the old Tom Swift Sr. series has really given me an appreciation of all the modern gadgets that I've come to take for granted, (like GPS.) It also gives me an appreciation as to how much society has changed, too. I wonder what people will be taking for granted 100 years from now, and what they will think of our times? I believe Robert Heinlein put it best when he described this era as "The Crazy Years."

Attitudes,  Prejudices and Circumstances - Language usage is interesting at times. "A cat may look at a King" was quoted.  Superstitions regarding bad luck, such as "13 at a table" or "looking at the moon over the wrong shoulder" were quoted.  Fountain pens were the order of the day. Mr. Damon blesses his "liver-pin, which turns out to be:  liver-pin n. "the instrument which, by way of jocular hypothesis, is said to support, sustain, fasten, or secure the human liver" (Northall, 1896). Moving vans, at least in Shopton, are horse-drawn. Tom "doesn't believe in sneaking (spying,)" but does so anyway--on Andy Foger. Andy threatens Tom with a gun, once again upping the ante on the discord between them. Rad refers to his brethren as "stuck-up darkies and coons." Eskimos and (non-Eskimo?) Indian tribes were called "savages,"  "brown-skinned beggars," "lazy," and "bad lot." Police Are referred-to as "bluecoats" and now (at least in Seattle) go armed. "Pinging" the ground with a nightstick and firing a revolver into the air are both accepted police tactics. Shades of Fearless Fosdick...

Errata- Only a few typos were noted. On p3, someone is "pursuaded." On p4, gasoline is now spelled in the modern form. It had been "gasolene." On p97. "both" Tom should be but Tom.. Inconsistencies that were noted were on the following pages: Mr. Damon, who has been residing in both Waterford and Waterfield, NY, (at the whim of the author,) now resides in both--on the same page (p1.) Mr. Parker resides near Mr Damon, in Waterford, this time. The authors had some trouble with cartography. The Arctic Circle lies 900+ miles due north of Sitka, in Yukon Territory, Canada. In the story, it was reached after traveling only 750 miles north-west. If the Valley of Gold (VoG) was reached after only 750 miles travel, it would be in the vicinity of Mt. McKinley or Fairbanks, a good 300mi south of the Circle.

Alaska Map courtesy of Microsoft MapPoint

Hail the size of baseballs brings the Red Cloud to grief, presumably near Mt. McKinley. A check of NOAA's National Climatic Data Center shows no storms involving hail of any size in the central or arctic regions of Alaska from 1950 thru current day. It seems to be just plain too cold for thunderstorms, the primary hail-maker. I'd believe sleet, but even then, this was early winter and I'd expect snow, not the wetter stuff. The "gas bag" on Red Cloud started out as rigid Aluminum, painted red (how the airship got her name.) Now it appears to be fabric, needing repair after the abovementioned storm. The author(s) still haven't figured out that to vol-plane (glide,) you need functioning planes. Andy Foger's airship the Anthony, loses 2 of its 3 wings due to structural failure, but is said to land safely. Yeh, like a falling brick! Also, the Anthony was supposed to be named after Andy. I always thought Andy was short for Andrew.

Engineering and Science, Fact vs. Fantasy- In this volume, it is apparent that the scientific and geologic knowledge of the author(s) was again tested. The fabulous ice caves seem to be standalone igloo-shaped domes that simply show up on a valley floor. These range in size from "small" to "large enough to hold a craft twice the size of Red Cloud." No measurements for the R/C were ever mentioned,  except "large." A shed to house it  was "easily constructed" on the Swift Estate, and it was "hidden easily in a grove of trees," in Diamond Makers. The Book's dust jacket illustration of Red Cloud was given a quick scaling. Based on a 75 foot clock tower (7 stories plus roof) it is estimated that the R/C would be 60ft tall, 120ft long (including tail rudder) and 240ft span across the top wing. By contrast, the French airship La Patrie, a simple dirigible without the wings or luxury accommodations carried by Red Cloud, was 60ft tall by 240ft long.. These caves would be truly remarkable structures if they could house an airship with twice the span of the Red Cloud. (480ft plus clearance.)

If such existed, they would be a true Wonder of Nature, even today.


Geography & Environment -

To their credit, at least the authors got the gold part right. There is gold in them thar hills, but I'm not sure if it was just laying around, waiting to be picked up, as is described. Also starting this trip as winter is setting in would have been suicidal. By November, about half of the daily mean temperatures (arctic zone) are either zero or below. Without the modifying effect of the ocean, the long Arctic night temperatures of the interior drop to extreme low readings. Snow covers the ground about two-thirds of the year, and usually falls every month. Not a place I'd want to be, even in a "snug" airship. Working outside? Brrr!

Navigation, especially during storm season, would be difficult-to-impossible, especially when done by mere compass and landmark recognition. No one in the story had ever seen any landmarks, except Abe, and he had never seen them from the air. Things look different from an altitude of 2 miles.

JP Karenko 5/20/05

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