Tom Swift Among the Diamond Makers
or, The Secret of Phantom Mountain
By Victor Appleton Book #7 ©1911
Review by JP Karenko, May 2005
White Quad, Brown Quad and Duotone images from the collection of Mark Snyder
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 shopping for a diamond brooch at a jewelry store in the city of Chester, 50 miles from Shopton. Barcoe Jenks, the nervous and eccentric financier introduced on Earthquake Island, shows up, having been followed by sinister and threatening members of The Diamond Makers. He enlists Tom's aid to travel to Colorado and determine the method of making artificial but perfect gemstones. The secret of this process was used as bait to defraud Jenks of a large sum of money by the bad guys.
Sinister plots are afoot. Our hero, is accompanied by Jenks, "de blessing man," Mr. Damon and Mr. Parker, the doom & gloom scientist from Earthquake Island. They set off for the Rockies in Tom's ever more luxurious dirigible/biplane airship, the Red Cloud,.
How they escape from captivity on Phantom Mountain, the clutches of The Diamond Makers, and the fury of Mother Nature, is something you will have to read the book to ascertain.
This book is available online. See: Tom Swift Among the Diamond Makers
Cast of Characters (More or less in order of appearance)
Mr. Track -- NFN or description given. Proprietor of a small jewelry store in the city of Chester, NY.
Tom Swift -- Intrepid inventor & mechanic. Plucky, lively, resourceful, brave and clever. Et cetera...In this tome, shows an increasing interest in Miss Mary Nestor, for whom he is now buying diamond jewelry.
Mr. Barcoe Jenks -- A nervous and mysterious character, introduced in Wireless Message. Claims to know how to make gem-quality diamonds. Enlists Toms aid to recover his rights" from bad guys.
Enos Folwell -- Leader of the Diamond Makers Gang (DMG). Scruffy, stumblebum appearance.
The Shadowy Stranger, ( Farley Munson ) -- No description, except "dangerous." Muscle for DMG.
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.
Garrett Jackson -- Aged (65+ years old) "engineer" who is more a handyman/machinist and watchman type than engineer. Resides on Swift estate.
Barton Swift -- Widower. Wealthy and conservative. Inventor, master machinist and holder of numerous patents. In this episode, described as "aged" and "nervous," he plays only a passing role.
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, resides in Chester, where Tom is doing business. No real part in this story.
Mr. Roberts -- NFN or description given. Proprietor of a large jewelry store in the city of Chester.
Mr. Porter -- NFN or description given. Gemologist employed by Mr. Roberts, above.
Mr. Wakefield Damon -- Elderly & eccentric adventurer whose main purpose in life seems to be blessing everybody and everything near his person. In this episode, he has lost weight, has become fit and is spry enough to go stomping up mountainsides in Colorado. Previously described as "too stout to run" and constantly suffering various medical ailments. Doesn't seem bothered by Colorado Mountain altitude.
Mr. Ralph Parker -- Gloomy scientist, introduced in Wireless Message. Friend of Wakefield Damon. Constantly predicts disasters of various kinds. Is able to find a dark lining in any silver cloud. In this tome, predicts landslides and the destruction of Phantom Mountain. Reminiscent of a certain fellow named "Joe," from L'il Abner. (See illustration.)
Miss Mary Nestor -- Love interest of Our Hero. Now, the recipient of "frequent visits" from Tom. ( --and diamond jewelry. Things are getting serious, folks. )
Bill Slatterly -- Colorado miner noted for a loud mouth.
Jed Nugg -- Colorado miner noted for being elderly, quiet, and sleeping a lot.
The Phantom of the Mountain, (Bill Renshaw) -- Repentant ex-cohort of DMG. He is the "phantom" of "Phantom" Mountain. Wears a ghost costume to scare trespassers away. Becomes friend and rescuer of Tom & company, after they are captured by bad-guys.
Pair of DMG Guards -- Accost & threaten Tom and Co. No descriptions or names given.
Assorted DMG Members -- No descriptions or names given, except more than two. All are nefarious to malevolent in attitude.
Abe Abercrombie -- Grizzled and rough Colorado miner. Needs Toms help to make the next story in the series possible. Shows up, literally at the last minute, in the story.
Tom Swift didn't invent anything even minor in this book. The diamond making process, however was of great interest to him, and represented some nearly plausible technology. See Engineering and Science, Fact vs. Fantasy, below.
Commentary on Society, Attitudes, Environment & Errata
It'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 was interesting at times. Tom and his associates go armed with rifles, shotguns and revolvers, but these do not seem to deter anyone. Bad guys ignore them and good guys charge the armed Bill Renshaw (at the time, thought to be a bad guy) with no concern for personal safety. Rad was not referred-to with the usual demeaning terms that today are considered racial slurs. The writing style is enough different, that this author may have been one of the ghost (Phantom?) writers that took over from the originator of the series, Edward Stratemeyer. Howard Garis is credited as author of all 35 original books, but writing style has changed enough on several occasions to make one wonder.
Errata & Inconsistencies -- Only a few typos were noted. On p87 Mr. Parker wish (ed) The tense was wrong. On p147 ...and instant later should be "an." On p158 Tom relpys instead of reply-ing John Sharp, a pivotal character in several previous books has dropped off the face of the Earth. No explanation was given for his conspicuous absence. The Red Cloud (RC) now will accommodate 10 and has a dining room and storage room(s). In the original story, it carries 5 and the galley/eating area was part of the main cabin. Stores were kept near the mechanical equipment. This monster air-yacht seems to become ever-more capable and luxurious, while shrinking in size. RC is described as "small enough to hide in a grove of trees." You could hide an elephant in a tree, more easily, but you'd have to paint his toenails red... ( Ask any 3rd grader if you don't get the previous reference. ) See also, my analysis of RC's size in the review of Tom Swift in the Caves of Ice. Phantom Mountain's caves are warm enough to make note of. Most caverns of any depth have an ambient temperature of about 50F. Warmer temps only occur as you get very deep.
Engineering and Science, Fact vs. Fantasy-- In this volume, the scientific and geologic knowledge of the author(s) was again tested. Diamond making is described as a multi-step process, involving extensive milling/grinding of ingredients, pressing those ingredients into a pre-form, and baking or sintering them. The resultant pellets were then exposed to great pressure, heat and massive jolts of celestial voltage. The process sounds plausible, except for the final stage. Also missing would be multiple purification stages needed for the materials. Gem grade diamond is "pure" carbon with trace impurities that give it (usually unwanted) colors. Many forged powder-metal parts are made, today, by a similar process, sans the lightning, of course.
Speaking of lightning, this is where the authors really ran out of steam Being on or in a mountain/cave anywhere near lightning, especially the :"terrific" type described, would be an invitation to become a crispy critter. Standing on dry ground (as opposed to rain-dampened) with or without the presence of iron ore, is likely to result in a more than just hair-raising experience. You also don't "outrun" something traveling at near light speed. In a real universe, Tom and his cohorts would still be on Phantom Mountain--or at least their bones would be. Finally, it would take some bolt to bring down a mountainside and collapse a cave complex as large as was described in the story.
Geography & Environment -- Chester is a city 50 miles from Shopton in an unspecified direction. Leadville and Indian Ridge are towns listed on the route to Phantom Mountain, as are Black Gulch and Silver Trail. No descriptions, directions or distances are given for any of these places. Colorado has many iron deposits, so that part of the story is accurate. It also has many caves, some very large. The caves described in the story are not typical, with smooth floors and regular walls. Nor do large or deep caves usually occur high up inside an igneous rock mountain top. The passages described in the story would be more believable if identified as mine shafts or tunnels.
JP Karenko 5/20/05
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