Tom Swift and His Big Dirigible

or, Adventures Over the Forest Fire

By Victor Appleton ©1930   Book #33

Review by JP Karenko, October 2005

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



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 775ft long Graf Zeppelin Just Isn't Big Enough! Tom is approached by a cigar-smoking big-wig who wants him to build a really Big Dirigible (Big D). "The biggest one ever built." It is to be 1000 feet long and carry at least 50 passengers at 100 mph for 10,000 miles without stopping. This is going to be one big project. Can Swift Construction handle the job, you ask? Pish-tosh! Of course they can, and in six months time-or less!

Design and construction proceed on schedule, until Martin Jardine, the cigar smoking bigwig that signs the checks, decides to start making engineering changes to the nearly completed airship. His inexpert "help" threatens to sink this aerial Titanic, with only a large hole in Tom's bank account to show for it. There are further causes for concern, when Tom finds out that Martin was never authorized to build the ship in the first place.

To add injury to insult, Tom's entire family is threatened by a raging forest fire encircling  a mountaintop vacation resort where they have gone to escape the oppressive heat of Summer. Only the Big D can save them!

Everyone survives, but how these problems are resolved, you will have to locate a hard cover copy of the book to find out.

I have been unable to find this story on line.    Sorry.



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


Tom 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. Now described as "in his early twenties," and a baseball player.

Martin "Marty" Jardine-Short, stout, fussy and nervous, with brown hair. Snappy dresser in a grey suit and tan shoes. Chain-smokes "deadly" black cigars.

Barton "Bart" Swift-Widower. Wealthy and conservative. Inventor, master machinist and holder of numerous patents. Resembles Robert E. Lee, but with glasses.  In this episode, he is "in the twilight of his life" and has once again declined in his health. He has become forgetful, repeats himself and becomes faint and dizzy from Summer heat.

Mrs. Mary Nestor Swift-Radiant bride of Tom who now resides with Tom in a wing of the Swift Mansion.. Described as a "very pretty young woman with flashing brown eyes, and a sweet trilling laugh." In this tale, we find her birthday is April 2nd and that she loves fireworks. She goes on holiday to a Catskill resort with her relatives and gets more fireworks than even she can enjoy.

Ned Newton-Chum & companion of Tom. His description is never given. He continues in his position as Swifts' financial advisor and CFO (Treasurer) of Swift Construction Company.  In this tale, he advises Tom against dealing with Jardine, but is ignored.

Koku-Giant manservant of Tom. Devoted, loyal, and possessed of great strength, but apparently somewhat limited cognitive facilities. Described as "savage and only half-tame," he is antagonist and rival of Eradicate. In this episode, he continues as watchman & guard at SCC. His other chore is antagonizing Rad.

Garrett Jackson-No description given, but is spry and fit for his age. (Volumes written 15 years previously, described him as an "aged Engineer.") He is now Swift Construction Shop Manager/Superintendent.

Eradicate Andrew Jackson Abraham Lincoln Sampson, A.K.A. Rad-Aged stereotypical Negro manservant. He is now going deaf and is described as "aged, decrepit, wizened and shuffling.." He remains faithful to the Swift family. In this tale, he  is limited to being personal attendant to Barton Swift. His deceased mule Boomerang is fondly mentioned in passing.

Dr. Potter-No relation to Harry. He is not described. Most medical people are never identified or named in these stories.

Mr. and Mrs. (Amos) Nestor-Mary's parents. In spite of  roles in several of these adventures, their descriptions are never given. Their first names are not mentioned, even in passing. Walk-on parts in this tale.

James (Call me Jim) Chock-Evil dwarf, in cahoots with Martin Jardine. Short, surly, ugly, vindictive, drunkard (nice guy, huh?) & prone to playing with matches. He has mechanical skills and knows his way around dirigibles. Also "waddles" a lot and can talk himself out some amazingly tight situations that would land ordinary folks in jail.

Kelly-NLN or description. Random faceless SCC employee. Walk-on part.

Pietro & Maria Notine-Traveling Italian puppeteers. Semi-strange show people who set off a panic when they call their marionettes "children" after a car wreck and say they are all "killed." No descriptions, but warn Tom to stay away from Chock.

Bell Boy Bob- Random faceless hotel employee. Walk-on part to deliver a telegram.

Engineer Ed- Random faceless state highway employee. Helps Tom & family after a slide-n-ride down the side of a hill due to a landslide.

Mr. Thorndyke-NFN. Manager of Hotel Camon. No description except, "portly."

Mr. Wakefield Damon-Elderly & eccentric adventurer whose main purpose in life seems to be blessing everybody and everything near his person. Never fully described. In previous tales, he was "portly" with a moustache and "tortoise-shell glasses." Appears to be quite wealthy.   In this tome, he runs afoul of the Raving Rose Ranger, below.

Cosso Tobini-Maniac gardener and handyman at Hotel Camon. Psychotic who puts the "lives" of his rose bushes ahead of humans. Founder of People for the Excellent Treatment of Rosebushes. (PETER) Gets in a fistfight with Mr. Damon over a picked posy.

Mrs. Lawrence Jardine-Sister-in-law of Martin Jardine. She is "well dressed, genteel and sports many diamonds." She warns Tom against dealings with Martin, above.

Mr. Lawrence "Larry" Jardine-No physical description given. Older brother of Martin, he is a hard-headed businessman, and explorer for oil and minerals.

Kirby Larsen-Faceless USG Meteorologist who is employed to keep Silver Cloud out of bad weather. Goes righteously bananas, when Tom drives the Big D into a "hurricane."

School of Shopton Sycophants-Faceless & nameless local hoi-polloi who along with the "executives" at SCC, cadge a free ride on the Big D, when Tom and Ned go on an exhibition flight.

Ollie the Oil Man-Petroleum delivery truck driver, who gets hijacked while driving up Mt. Camon.

Fred the Fire Warden and the Wonderful Water Wielding Workers-Faceless and nameless local folks who put out a major forest fire with only grit and hand tools. (And maybe a bulldozer or three.)


As is usual lately, many of these characters (especially the ones introduced late in the story) do not rate any development or even a description. They are brought forth and discarded after they do their bits to make the story flow. The (hopefully humorous) alliterative names are my "inventions" to make reading these reviews a bit more fun.



Major Inventions: 

The Silver Cloud continues the Swift Tradition of building machines that are Bigger Faster and More Luxurious Than Anything Out There, usually by a factor of 130-150%

Sporting a 1000ft long,  rigid (not fabric) external shell made of Oralumô metal plates, and six internally mounted gasoline powered engines, the Silver Cloud is said to carry 50+ passengers at a100mph cruising speed for up to 10,000 miles. Capable of 200mph in short bursts, the ship achieves this quantum speed increase by having no external gondolas or other drag-inducing structures hanging "out in the breeze." It also sports a nose "fender" that allows minor collisions to be shrugged off without damage to the airframe. Accommodations are palatially luxurious.

Lift is supplied by a Swift developed lighter than air gas that is "not as explosive as Nitrogen," (see Errata) and is "cheaper than Helium." I call it SwiftLiftô



Commentary on Society, Attitudes, Environment & Errata


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. It also has given me a grasp of just how technologically and culturally unsophisticated the average reader was in the early 1900's.


Who Wrote This Book?-Some clews (although that term is no longer used) that were "detected" as to the author of this tale: This tale reeks with a string of coincidences that are required to allow the story line to progress. The story also requires significant foreboding, (bordering on clairvoyance,) to prepare for events that make the plot flow. Characters are introduced and discarded with abandon, many not named or described. The author's engineering knowledge is minimal. The look-and-feel of the text remains familiar. The circumstances & hazards in this tale (reckless behavior and localized hurricanes) are very reminiscent of other recent tales. Language remains a mix of modern slang and older English. The author discovered the word "veranda," and uses it several times, instead of the former "piazza." The words "ejaculate" and "dingus" are also reused many times. There are only two "Swifties" used, and unless this quirk becomes more prevalent in the remaining few volumes of the series, one wonders how such a big deal was made over this phenomenon during the 1960's. The similarity in writing style and attitudes is, in my judgment, pretty conclusive. I feel that Harriet Stratemeyer (possibly working from her father's notes, as he died in May of 1930) is firmly planted behind the typewriter for this one. The story also may have started as a draft written by the author I previously called "Ejaculatin' Jones" in other reviews and then finished by Harriet, as she did a lot of editing late in the series.


Attitudes and Prejudices- The famous Stratemeyer prejudice has turned toward the Italians in this episode. In previous tomes Rad and Koku were continuously referred to in derogatory terms, being called 'boy' or worse.. That has ceased, of late. Los Indios caught the brunt during South American  and Mexican adventures.  During the war years, Germans bore the brunt of racist name calling. Lately, Russians, Persians, Turks and Chinese all took a turn in the shredder. Now, it's the Italians. The only folks that had enough chutzpah to get a retraction were the Jews. A text change was made in late editions of Talking Pictures, removing a reference to them. You have to wonder...

The police have gone ineffective, again. Tom apprehends a psychotic crook and the local jail keepers do a "catch and release" on him.

Swift Construction has continued to grow and now has been relocated further away from the family mansion. Casa de Tomas also has gotten larger and now has at least two "wings." Tom and Mary reside in one and Barton, Rad, Koku and Mrs. Baggert reside in the other. Previously, the house was simply described as large and Victorian.

Considering how much Summer heat is a factor in this tale, Tom could have gotten really famous if he had invented central air conditioning. Willis Carrier got there first in 1923, though, but only public buildings like theaters, hotels and restaurants had his invention installed as the refrigeration machinery was massive.

Tom continues his display of reckless behavior, by flying the Silver Cloud into the teeth of a "hurricane" on a test flight. Considering the location (upstate New York) and the small size of these disturbances (in & out in 2 pages) I wonder if these storms were exaggerated. Later, Tom runs aground, getting hung up in a tree after blundering around in a fog bank. If I were piloting, I think it would be a bit safer up high and away from the local topography.


Errata-There is a running gag throughout this series. Mr. Damon's home keeps flip-flopping between Waterfield and Waterford, NY. Sometimes it is in neither, and several times in both places, at once. This is partly due to the enforced poor communication amongst the many ghostwriters at G&D that contributed to this series.

There are now 4 distinct categories. In this tome Mr. D's home flops to Waterford.

The tally for 33 volumes, to date is:

Waterfield-15,  Both places-2,   Waterford-10, and  Neither place-6.

Typos and malapropisms were almost nonexistent.  P55 has "...we've (we're) going to and p25 describes the explosive nature of Nitrogen. The electric fence surrounding SCC seems to come and go, too. On p44 it is there, and on p105 it is not.

It has previously been de rigueur for Tom to "rescue" someone, anyone, at least once per episode. In this tome, he does it in style, rescuing his entire family (in-laws included) and a hotel full of tourists.

Speaking of rescues, The Big D is said to be "the only way possible" to rescue the trapped tourists on Mt. Camon. I seem to remember a certain aerial fire extinguisher invention a few episodes back (See Vol. #24)  that could have been used to clear a safe path through the fire, at least long enough to evacuate the refugees.

Mention is made about the magic gas I call SwiftLift, being "not as explosive as Nitrogen." I'm sure the author meant to say Hydrogen, as Nitrogen as a gas is inert.


Engineering and Science, Fact vs. Fantasy- Tom's dirigible was made to outdo the 1924 Graf Zeppelin 1,  the LZ-127. Here's how he stacks up.


LZ-127 Graf Zeppelin

TS-1 Silver Cloud


776 feet / 236.53 meters

1000 feet / 304.81 meters


100 feet / 30.48 meters

Not Specified, but assumed to be about the same.

Gas Volume

3,700,000 cu. feet / 111,000 cu. meters

4,780,000 cu. feet / 143,300+ cu. meters


Five 550 hp Maybach engines

Six  (Unspecified) engines

Maximum Speed

80 mph / 128 km/h

100 mph / 160 km/h cruise

200 mph / 320 km/h top speed

Lifting Gas Type




Not Specified

10,000 miles

The speeds attainable by Silver Cloud are said to be due to a combination of streamlined design (no external gondolas or motor pods) and the rigid metal skin. 200mph will tear the fabric off a conventionally constructed airship. Even taking into account the "clean" design, it is not explained how one can go more than 2.5x the top speed of current tech airships with only one more motor. (Six to the Graf's five.) The Akron, 25% smaller in size and with 8 engines and another 15 years of technical development behind it, could only match the 85mph top speed of the Graf, not exceed it.

SwiftLift gas is the typical pixie-dust style product that is pivotal in making any airship that Tom designs, work. It is said to be "almost as safe as Helium but cheaper." It would have to be, as filling the BigD's envelope would have cost $48,000 for Hydrogen, and $72,000 for Helium, in 1915 dollars. I have not accounted for 15 years' worth of inflation (to the dollar, not the dirigible...) or the cost of replacing leakage or vented gas. Also, I can see why SCC's piggybank was drained. An original Zeppelin, precursor to the Graf, cost $100,000 in 1915 dollars and had to be funded by special government bonds sold to the German people. Tom's beast would be a large step up from that, and it was privately funded. Talk about a silver elephant!

Once again, we have a rigid shell airship (a la Red Cloud) that changes buoyancy by means of some principle other than by expanding a flexible container that holds a lighter gas and displacing heavier air. This volume change and the difference in relative density of the gasses is what creates lift. A rigid shell just gets heavier as you fill it, and you would have to start with a vacuum to get maximum benefit from any gas that you put in it. Otherwise the contents just get diluted.

Who gets to feed the parking meter on this one? The Silver Cloud is the best part of a quarter mile in length. Just building a "shed" big enough to keep this beast out of the elements would bankrupt most concerns. Tom should have just considered roofing over a mountain valley. The topography of upstate New York would almost support the idea.

It's a quarter mile walk to the other end of this "garage."

Talk about urban blight...

Geography- This author remains enigmatic about Shopton.  It is still not specified as to which state it is in, however, it is now a "small city," and a "great lake" is about 200 miles away, by air. The east edge of Lake Ontario is more like 125mi from "Shopton" but Rochester, NY is almost exactly 200mi. Since Mansburg is once again the nearest "large city," we can assume it is still sitting in New York State, on the shore of Lake George/Carlopa. Mount Camon, location of the resort hotel, is said to be about "two days' auto ride" (120mi as the crow flies) away from Shopton. Interestingly, a Google search turned up a historic Catskill mountaintop hotel a few miles south of Kingston, NY. The Mohonk Mountain House, established in 1869, has all the characteristics of the fictional hotel, including extensive flower gardens. It could easily have been the template for Mt. Camon, except for the presence of a beautiful lake that would have made this story less "thrilling."


See for more info.

JP Karenko, 10/26/05

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