Tom Swift and His Great Oil Gusher

or, The Treasure of Goby Farm

By Victor Appleton 1924  Book #27

Review by JP Karenko, September 2005

Note: 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:

Spring has sprung. It's been  6 months since the adventures in Greenland, and the time has now come to get down to the business of making money. Swift Construction has undertaken a contract, at the behest of Mr. Damon, to make oil well drilling equipment for a group of Texas wildcatters. In short order, it is found that these fellows are "shady characters." They have to be watched constantly by Ned Newton, the Swift CFO, to keep them from pulling various financial shenanigans. There's also a matter of a "cad" snuffling around Tom's sweetie, Mary Nestor. That he is one of the Terrible Texas Trio, is added fuel to the fire.

While money matters occupy Ned, Tom comes up with a new style rotary well drilling rig that cuts through rock 3 times faster than the existing machinery can. They go to Texas to try the new device, and find out that "roughnecks" didn't get that nickname by being "nice."  The dangers of tenderfeet drilling a well are the least of their worries once the crude starts flying.

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

If this book is available on line I have not been able to find it.    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. In this tome (1924) is described as 6ft tall and "about 21 years old."

Ned Newton-Chum & companion of Tom. No description given. He has resumed his position as Swifts' financial advisor and CFO (Treasurer) of  Swift Construction Company. Voice of caution regarding Tom's expenditures, sometimes obnoxiously so. In the last several tales, he is doom-and-gloom and sarcastic. Needs a girl friend, or something...See Carol Goby, below.

Garrett Jackson-No description given, but is spry and fit for his age. (Original volumes described him as "aged."

"Hillobie"-Later determined to be one Hitt Goby-Aeronaut, severely injured in a wreck testing a new airplane. Rescued from a fiery death by Tom & Ned.

Dr. Sherwood-NFN or description. Attending physician, Shopton Hospital.

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, his great strength is highlighted and put to great use.

Eradicate Andrew Jackson Abraham Lincoln Sampson, A.K.A. Rad-Aged stereotypical Negro manservant. "Eradicates dirt." Eradicate has now "become too old to do much," He is described as "grey, old and hobbling." He remains faithful to Tom and helps out where he can. Constant rival and antagonist of giant Koku.

Mr. Wakefield Damon-Elderly & eccentric adventurer whose main purpose in life seems to be blessing everybody and everything near his person. Never fully described, except as "portly" with a moustache and "tortoise-shell glasses." Appears to be quite wealthy.  In this episode, he brings Swift Construction a dubious business proposition with a group of shady characters. See below.

The Terrible Texas Trio:

Thompson- NFN or description, except "sharp dresser. Swindler/bad guy/oil wildcatter.

Bragden- NFN or description, except "sharp dresser. Swindler/bad guy/oil wildcatter.

Hankenshaw-Fat, gross, uncouth, rough dresser, cad, and drunkard. Those are his good points. Also smokes a "foul" pipe. Has the audacity to annoy and actually touch Mary Nestor's arm.

Barton Swift-Widower. Wealthy and conservative. Inventor, master machinist and holder of numerous patents.  In this episode, he is described as an invalid and having trouble with his teeth. Mr. Swift, has enjoyed improved health of late. We also find he wears glasses.

Miss Mary Nestor-Tom's betrothed love interest who lives on the east side of Shopton. Described as a "very pretty young woman with flashing brown eyes, and a sweet trilling laugh." Blushes easily, especially around Tom. Also described as "plucky."

Mr. (Amos) Nestor-Mary's father. In spite of major roles in several of these adventures, his description is never given, and his first name was only mentioned in passing, in episodes #1 and #6. In this tome, he is recovering from a potentially fatal, but unspecified malady that was arrested in the far North. The cold dry climate effected a near cure.

Mrs. (Amos) Nestor-Mary's mother. In spite of major roles in several of these adventures, her description is never given, and her first name is never mentioned. The only thing known about her is that she is a good cook and wife, caring deeply for her husband, and is more or less helpless without a man around to take care of her.

Wilkins-NFN or description given. Faceless owner of Shopton's only confection shop. Walk-on part.

Ried & Crawford-NFN's or descriptions. Washington attorneys that represent Swift Construction in patent matters.

Texas Telegraph Operator- NFN or description given. Faceless college student working a summer job "pounding the key" for tuition money.

Carol Goby-Beautiful farmer's daughter with chestnut hair, limpid brown eyes and a "perfect" figure. Good cook and practical demeanor. Much taken with Ned Newton.

Farmer "Pa" Goby-50-ish, blind, kindly and intelligent. Wears colored glasses and hails from "up North."

Mammy Jemimah-No real name or description given. Faceless old Negro servant lady on Goby farm.

Judge Wilson-NFN or description given. Faceless, Circuit Court Judge, acts as counsel for Gobys in contractual matters.

Mr. Blythe-NFN or description given. Faceless representative of "a major oil company." Interested in purchasing Tom's handiwork.

Wesson & Robbins-Dallas firefighting firm. Supply Tom with commercial Swift-designed aerial extinguisher bombs, when "Da Gusher" is threatened by a brush fire.

 

 

Major Inventions:  

The Humming-bird aircraft (See Vol #9) is reintroduced. Fly-on part. No bearing on the details of the plot except as a transportation prop.

 

The Winged Arrow flying boat (See Vol #26) is reintroduced. Fly-on part. The main bearing on the details of the plot is its' use as heavy lifter and a firefighting platform late in the story. Interesting aside, Tom's original motor-boat (See Vol #2) was named Arrow.

 

The  Swift Aerial Fire Extinguisher Bombs (See Vol#24) are used late in the story.

 

A new well drilling bit is developed, based on the "rotary method" rather than the old "percussion" style of drilling. This bit allows wells to be cut three times faster than state-of-the-art rigs. No description or details of this wondrous device are given.

 

A new-style well capping device is also introduced, that allows a "gusher" to be throttled and then sealed-off safely and quickly. No description or details of this wondrous device are given.

 

 

 

Commentary on Society, Attitudes, Environment & Errata

 

It's amazing how much technology and society have changed. Interestingly enough, this particular old Tom Swift Sr. episode has little to do with actual invention(s) and much more with personalities and social conflict rather than any gadgets. Society's attitudes (or at least the authors') are changing, constantly, too. I wonder what people will be taking for granted 100 years from now, and what they  will think of our "modern" society and its' mores (or lack of them...)

Attitudes and Prejudices-There is actually some real business transacted in this tome. I had begun to think Ned Newton was a drone as opposed to a worker bee. I find that in this tale, he actually is working for the interests of Swift Construction.

Bits of Scripture are quoted in the story, as well as numerous modern as opposed to "folksy" aphorisms (one-liner words of wisdom.) Tom is also extremely "physical" in this tale, getting into hand-to-hand combat three separate times, once while carrying a pistol. That he disarms this mugger is believable, but to give the miscreant his gun back and send him on his way is the height of foolhardy all-Americanism, in my book. At a minimum, disable the firearm, or just keep it and turn it over to police. Maybe all those electric shocks and blows on the head are starting to affect Tom's judgment...

Public drunkenness plays a part in this tale for the second time. Hankenshaw (in addition to his other fine qualities) is a mean drunk, and when he tries to molest Mary Nestor while inebriated, Tom ends up shoving him through the plate glass window. That he is unscathed, is hard to believe, although it is said "God protects fools and drunkards." My (admittedly limited) experience watching a boyhood friend on a bicycle collide with a showcase window required a strong stomach, many stitches and a long recuperation. Tom was also lucky not to lose his shirt in a personal injury lawsuit....

There is a lot of time spent in discussion of personalities and character, rather than the inventions and technical stuff. This leads me to think that this author may be another new fish. Ed Stratemeyer's daughter was gearing up to take over authorship of the series, about now.

Errata- I've decided to change the format of the scorecard I use to keep track of this running gag. I had previously complained that the folks at G&D couldn't keep track of Mr. D's home town, and I found out, lately, that I can't either-and I have a computer! Cut and paste will screw you up every time, if you copy a mistake. I did.

There are now 4 distinct categories.   In this tome Mr. D's home is not identified.

The tally for 27 volumes, to date is: 

Waterfield-13, Both places-2, Waterford-7, and Neither place-5.

Not a single misspelling or malapropism was noted in the text. Uncharacteristically good care was taken at G&D while editing and/or typesetting this tale.

 

Engineering and Science, Fact vs. Fantasy-

  

 Tom's "revolutionary" rotary well drill may have been actually invented in 1894 A rotary drilling rig was used to drill Corsicana's first well in that year.   It is now housed in the Smithsonian's Museum of History and Technology.

  

 Picture Post Card - Greatest Oil Fields in U.S.
Powell Field - Corsicana
From the collection of Edward L. Williams

The Spindletop Gusher (See below) may have been the real event that this tale of travail was based upon. The authors seem to whipsaw back and forth between "inventing" their own fanciful stories and "filing off the serial numbers" on real events and attributing them to Our Hero. Details of Spindletop well match almost exactly what transpired at "Goby Farm." Electric Locomotive was another tale where reality was shamelessly plagiarized and those readers without close contact to current events would think that Tom's "inventions" were original-or perhaps Baldwin Locomotive Works stole Tom's ideas???

 

Spindletop - Birth of the Texas Oil Industry

Though not a California well, the Spindletop gusher, which blew out on January 10, 1901 near Beaumont in East Texas, had a great impact on the California oil industry. Spindletop was not the first nor the biggest gusher - the Adams Canyon, Shamrock and Blue Goose gushers of California were earlier and the Lakeview gusher was bigger. However, Spindletop was certainly one of the great gushers of all time, and, most important, it heralded the birth of the Texas oil industry.

Spindletop blew in when Anthony Lucas, a Louisiana mining engineer, drilled a well to 1,020 feet on a lease owned by Texas businessman and amateur geologist Patillo "Bud" Higgins. Lucas placed his well on a low hill that he and Higgins thought might be a salt dome, and when the ground began to tremble on that fateful day in January and a great spout of oil exploded into the air, it confirmed their belief that oil accumulated around salt domes. The well produced an astounding 800,000 barrels of oil in just 8 days, but quickly dropped off enough so that by January 19 Lucas and his crew were able to cap it and gain control of it. (Can you imagine 3/4M barrels of oil "thrown away?" JPK)

By September, there were at least six wells producing from the crest of Spindletop, with many more on the way. The field produced over 17 million barrels of oil in 1902, but production declined rapidly, and dropped to 10,000 barrels/day by the start of 1904. However, oil was found on the flanks of the dome in 1925, which led to another surge in drilling that pushed production to an all time high of 27 million barrels in 1927. Total production from the field in 1985 stood at 153 million barrels.

Above was from The Handbook of Texas Online Go there for more info on Spindletop.

 

Geography- Thaxton Woods is located about 2 miles from Shopton. Nestors and Newtons reside on the same street, on the east side of Shopton. The Swifts' summer cottage is again mentioned, but not used, in this tale. The high stockade fence around a very large Swift Construction, remains.

  

 "Largest Producer in Panhandle
11000 Barrel Gusher near Borger, Texas"
1920s

  

 "Along Dixon Creek Canyon, Borger Texas Oil Fields"
1920s

  

 Boom town Borger showing Theatre, late 1920s
Photos courtesy Ken Sharpe Collection

  

 Gusher Powell Field Corsicana
>From the collection of Edward L. Williams

 

Borger, TX is 50 miles NE of Amarillo in Hutchinson Co., the "panhandle"

Texas covers more than 260,000 square miles. The oil industry, for all the benefit "black gold" has brought to this country, turned the northern part of it into an industrial wasteland. I cry when I see the ecological devastation in these old photos.

JP Karenko 9/28/05

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