The Wonderful Machine Age: The Daring Young Men in Their Flying Machines #2

Airships. Those behemoths of the sky. Gentle giants that fill us with awe. That still inspire us to dream of their return some 78 years after the end of commercial airship flight. Oh, how we love them!

Yet, given today’s scale of economics, they are on par with the dinosaurs. The giants are gone and all that remains are those semi-lighter-than-air Zeppelin NTs. Something akin to watching birds and seeing in them the gigantic might of the Tyrannosaurus Rex and the monstrous bulk of the Brachiosaurus.

Many books have been written about airships and many more will undoubtedly be written. They capture our imagination. They were the first flying machines to prove the feasibility of flying through the air with the greatest of ease. I’ve written previously on airships. Check out my guest blog post at The Old Shelter for additional information and pictures. This week and next, I’ll tell a little more of the history of those marvelous lighter than air machines.

On December 17, 1903, the Wright brothers inaugurated heavier-than-air powered flight. Their initial flight lasted 12 seconds and the plane flew 120 feet. Their best effort of the day was a 59 second flight, for a distance of 852 feet. Certainly not an auspicious start when compared with the first powered airship flight in 1852 which traveled 27 km (17 miles). Nor when compared with the first zeppelin flight in 1900, which lasted 17 minutes and covered a distance of 6 km (3.7 miles). Clearly, the airship and not the airplane was the wave of the future.

However, World War I changed the picture and changed it dramatically, as wars often do. Airplane performance increased substantially. So much so, the plane proved itself superior to the airship in short distance operation. Mostly due to cheaper operating costs and speed. But for long distance flights, the airship was still king.

From the moment the Montgolfier balloon ascended into the sky in 1783, people started figuring out ways to make the balloon steerable and capable of free flight, independent of the wind.

The first powered flight of an airship occurred in 1852 when Henri Giffard flew 27 km (17 miles) in a steam-powered airship. He flew from Paris to Élancourt. However, the wind was too strong for him to make the return flight. He was, however, able to make turns and circles to show his airship was fully controllable.

Here is a picture of the model in the London Museum:


Thirty-two years later, Charles Renard and Arthur Constantin Krebs, in the French army airship La France, made the first fully controllable free flight. The airship was powered by an electric motor. The La France flew 8 km (5 miles) in 23 minutes and was able to fly against the wind to return to its starting point.

Here is a photo of La France:


The first fully controllable air dirigible 'La France', designed by Captain Charles Renard and Lieutenant Arthur Krebs, at Chalais-Meudon. (Photo by Hulton Archive/Getty Images)

In the early years of the 20th century, while Count Zeppelin was experimenting with rigid airships (vessels with gas cells contained inside a framework that gave the envelope or hull a fixed shape), Alberto Santos-Dumont was building and flying non-rigid airships (vessels with no framework, relying on gas pressure to maintain the shape of the envelope) in France. He was so successful, he started an airship craze. Soon everyone was getting into the act. Everyone wanted an airship. One of the most ambitious of these early airship men, was journalist Walter Wellman. In his airship, America, he made two attempts to fly to the North Pole and in 1910 attempted to fly across the Atlantic. You can read about his exploits on

Here is a picture of the airship America:


Non-rigid airships are limited in size due to the inherent instability of the envelope or hull. If too long, they may develop a kink should gas pressure become insufficient to maintain the shape.

The solution lay in giving the envelope some manner of framework to keep its shape. A semi-rigid airship has a keel to prevent buckling, gas pressure maintains the envelope’s width. A rigid airship supports the envelope with a framework. The lift gas is contained in cells within the framework. The largest airships we’re rigid in design, due to their inherent structural strength.

Enter Count Zeppelin. For the airship to be a successful passenger liner, cargo hauler, or military vessel, it needs to be able to carry a lot of weight and fly a great distance. The Count understood this and focused on the development of the rigid airship. From 1900 to 1911, numerous improvements were made and lessons learned on how to build and fly rigid airships.

The world’s first airline, the DELAG, went into operation in 1910 and in 1911 the LZ 10, Schwaben, joined the next year by the LZ 11, Viktoria Luise, was making regular flights between German cities, as well as pleasure cruises. By July 1914, the DELAG airships had flown 172,535 km on 1588 commercial flights, carrying 34,028 passengers. With no fatalities.

Here is a picture of the LZ 10:


During World War I the Germans built 90 airships, 73 of which were by the Zeppelin company. All of them were destroyed or turned over to the Allies. What the war revealed was that the rigid airship did not make for an effective strategic bomber. Its strength lay in reconnaissance, cargo hauling, and long distance flight.

A Schütte-Lanz airship, Zeppelin’s main competitor:


Perhaps the most spectacular achievement was by the LZ 104 (Navy ship L 59), known as the Africa Ship. On November 21, 1917, the LZ 104 took off from Bulgaria carrying 15 tons of supplies for the beleaguered German East Africa Army. On November 23, Lieutenant Commander Bockholt received an abort order and the ship returned to Bulgaria, arriving the morning of November 25.

The LZ 104:


The LZ 104 had flown over 6800 km (4200 miles) in 95 hours and had enough fuel for another 64 hours flight time. It wouldn’t be until 1938, when a modified Focke-Wulf FW200 “Condor” made the 3728 mile flight from Berlin to New York City, that trans-Atlantic commercial plane flights began to be conceived of as possible by land-based airplanes. I think it significant that LZ 104 could have flown from Berlin to New York with ease. In fact she could have flown for another 500 miles to Detroit, Michigan or Charlotte, North Carolina.

After the end of World War I, the airship was the only aircraft capable of trans-oceanic intercontinental flight. Next week we’ll conclude our look at the airship, one of the most marvelous machines of The Wonderful Machine Age.

Share This!

The Wonderful Machine Age: The Daring Young Men in Their Flying Machines



They fly through the air with the greatest of ease,
Those daring young men in their flying machines.

My apologies for the parody. It does though capture the spirit of the Wonderful Machine Age. A time of daring do, a time when men and women pushed the boundaries of their world further and further. A time of rapid technological development.

We have always been envious of the birds. We’ve always wanted to be able to fly like them. Well, we still don’t fly like the birds do. We do, however, fly. And we do so with the greatest of ease in our marvelous flying machines.

Such was not always the case. The world’s first airline, the DELAG, was started a mere 106 years ago. The first powered, controlled, and sustained lighter than air flight took place in 1852. In 1874, Félix du Temple made the first successful heavier than air powered flight, although du Temple’s Monoplane was not completely self-powered. That feat would come in 1903 with the Wright brothers’ flight.

Myth aside, the history of flight began many centuries ago by attempting to imitate birds or riding aloft on kites. Flight via kite was generally more successful than was jumping from a tower in a bird suit and vigorously flapping manmade wings. Para-sailing is a popular sport today and can trace its roots back to those 6th century Chinese kite flyers, the first recorded one being the prisoner Yuan Huangtou.

However, if all we had available to us were flapping wings and kites, travel as we know it today would be much different. Certainly international travel would be. So lets fast forward to the 18th century in Europe, where in the latter half of 1783 a lot of hot air was occurring in France.

A momentous year was 1783. The Montgolfier brothers successfully demonstrated the feasibility of manned flight in a hot air balloon and Jacques Charles and the Robert brothers did the same in a hydrogen-filled balloon.

Suddenly ballooning became the rage and continues to this day as a sport, both hot air ballooning as well as the helium heads. In the early 20th century, ballooning was an especially popular sport in Britain. There balloons used coal gas for lift because it was readily available from the local gas works.

Of course, no sooner were hot air and hydrogen balloons flying about than people started to explore the possibility of dirigibles, or steerable balloons — what we today call airships. We will look at airships next week.

From 1783 onwards, balloons gave us our first true taste of flight, became useful in war to observe enemy troop movements and to defend against attack by enemy planes, and were of importance to the scientific community. High altitude scientific flights have given way to high altitude sporting flights and is a popular sport today. One such balloon in 2002 reached an altitude of 53 km/32.9 miles. And who hasn’t heard of the weather balloon, perhaps the most ubiquitous of scientific balloons, made über-famous as the reason for all of those UFO sightings. Can we spell R-O-S-W-E-L-L?

I have yet to take a flight on a balloon hot air or helium. It is on my list of things to do before I die. If I’m lucky there’ll be a storm and the balloon will be blown to Mysterious Island and I’ll meet Captain Nemo. One can only hope.

To some degree, balloons are the ugly step-sister in lighter-than-air flight. We retro-futurist writers love airships and seem to never give balloons a thought. Yet if it wasn’t for the balloon, we’d probably never had had the airship. After all, Count Zeppelin’s first flying experience was in an American Civil War observation balloon.

If you’ve gone ballooning, do consider telling us about your experience!

Share This!

Rand Hart and the Pajama Putsch – Chapter Two!

Rand Hart began life in the late 20th century as a real estate agent turned professional gambler who wins an Atlantic-class yacht in a poker game and takes to traveling the world on his new acquisition. Rand’s predecessor also did the occasional “odd job” for extra cash when Lady Luck didn’t seem to be by his side and his considerable skill couldn’t make up for her abandonment.

However, that character sits in a drawer. The novel is half completed. Someday, since my other great love (aside from airships) is the sailing ship, I may pull out that uncompleted manuscript and give Rand’s predecessor life. After all who doesn’t like a good sea yarn? Just think of Moby Dick without all those ghastly chapters on whales. I love whales, but really — all that biology in a novel?

My wonderful sea yarn is around 30 years old. Well, the half of it I actually wrote. One day, I was thinking of that unfinished manuscript and said to myself, Why not set the whole thing in the ‘30s with airships and make it dieselpunk? Why not, indeed? And thus Rand Hart was born.

Rand Hart and the Pajama Putsch is now available for pre-order purchase at Amazon, Apple, Kobo, and through the Tolino (Germany’s answer to the Kindle) network.

Let’s take another look at that wonderful cover and let’s sample chapter two. Aye, there be flamingoes here!

Rand Hart 1 web version

Chapter 2: Milly

Friday, 6 May 1938
Coconut Grove
Miami, Florida

When Hart checked at the ticket counter in Miami, he discovered the Pan Am flight he wanted didn’t take off until eight the next morning. He bought a ticket for one of the five remaining seats and then left the terminal to find a cab. Two were waiting. The drivers standing on the curb by their vehicles. A big, white General sedan and a brand new, elegant, if old-fashioned, Checker. Hart picked the Checker.

“Where to, Pal?”

“The hotel closest to the Pan Am seaplane terminal.”

“Can do.”

The cabbie took Hart’s suitcase and put it in the trunk, while Hart got in the back seat. The fellow then got behind the wheel and the cab was rolling.

Within minutes, Hart found himself, suitcase in hand, standing before the entrance to The Mango House Hotel. The place was a three story stucco building painted a hideous shade of pink. Hart thought a moment and decided he’d never seen a mango that color and wondered why the owners hadn’t called the place the Flamingo Palace. Oh, well. As long as the bed was comfortable and the water hot, it probably didn’t matter what the name or the color was.

He walked in and requested a room. The clerk told him they had one and, after Hart signed for it, gave him the key. Room 305.

“Any place close by I can get a meal and something to drink?” Hart asked.

“The Highball, three doors down is a decent bar and at the corner,” the clerk pointed in the opposite direction, “Jimmy’s is a good place to get a meal.”

“Thanks,” Hart replied and took the stairs to his room. He wasn’t overly fond of elevators.

The stairwell opened onto a hall with eight rooms, four rooms on either side, and a bathroom at the end of the hall.

“Ten dollars a night and no private bath,” he muttered while walking down the hall looking for his room. He found it two doors from the bathroom on his right. After unlocking and opening the door, he set his suitcase inside, walked down to the bathroom and took a look around. “Clean enough,” he said. Then returned to his room, which was more or less your standard hotel room. A double bed, chest of drawers, pitcher and wash basin, wardrobe, chair, and lamp. Nothing fancy. Ten bucks. He shook his head.

A look at his watch told him the lunch crowd would probably be at the diner in another hour. He felt tired. Two nights of little sleep were explanation enough.  And even though the Curtiss had sleeper berths, Hart had mostly tossed and turned on his flight to Miami, via Atlanta. He wanted nothing more than to take a long nap, but he had too much money on him and needed to go to the bank. He also needed to pick up Brazilian currency.

He left his room, locked the door, and went back downstairs to the lobby. He asked the clerk to telephone for a cab and then took a seat and waited. The chair was comfy and he began to doze off, when the clerk woke him.

“Your taxi has arrived, sir.”


Hart made his way out to the curb, told the cabbie what he wanted, and got in when the fellow told him he could take him to any bank he wanted.

An hour later, Hart was back in his room. He untied his shoes and took them off. He slipped out of his suit and lay on the bed. A nap and a bath afterwards, then he’d get a bite of supper.

He woke with a start. The room was dark. What time was it? He groped for the lamp, found the switch, and turned it on. He looked at his watch. Half-past seven. He sat on the edge of the bed. Yeah, he thought, a bath, something to eat, and a drink. Come back here, get some sleep, and then the flight. He reached for his suit coat. From one of the pockets, he took out the Briggs mixture and a pack of cigarette papers. He rolled four cigarettes. Three he put on the dresser, the fourth in his mouth and lit it.

Hart opened his suitcase, found a fresh shirt, and taking his clothes and shaving kit with him, padded down to the bathroom. The little box was still in the inside suit coat pocket and he wanted it to stay there. He didn’t like the thought of someone coming to collect his thirty thousand deutsche marks should he not make the delivery. Then again, they’d have to find him. But if von Osler had truly been watching him, they’d probably find him.

His cigarette smoked out, he flipped the butt into the toilet, and turned on the faucets for the tub. The water was nice and hot. Might make the place worth ten bucks after all, he thought.

When the tub was half full, he got in, took a minute to enjoy the water, and then washed. When done, he rinsed and toweled off. After shaving, he dressed, and returned to his room. He put the three cigarettes into his suit coat pocket, looked out the window at a row of palm trees, illuminated by a matching row of lights, and left his room, locking the door behind him.

Down the stairs, across the lobby, and out the front door. On the sidewalk, he looked up and down the street and set off for Jimmy’s. He patted the suit coat, felt the box, and relaxed.

The diner occupied the corner, making it L-shaped, and had large glass windows. Hart supposed the idea was so passersby could see inside and decide to satisfy the rumblings in their stomachs there instead of somewhere else. The place didn’t look busy and it didn’t look any different than a hundred others up and down the east coast. He entered. There were plenty of seats at the counter and he took one.

A tired looking waitress came over to him.

“Long day?” he asked.

“Yeah. What would ya like?”

“What’s good?”

She looked at him. Her eyes taking in everything visible above the counter. “The chili ain’t bad and the hamburger’s decent.”

“Okay. A bowl of chili and a hamburger.”

“Want cheese on the burger?”

Hart thought a moment. “Sure. Cost extra?”

“Yeah, a nickel.”

“Sure. What the hell? Only live once.”

She smiled. A pretty smile. And when she walked away she put a little swing in her porch.

Not bad looking, he thought. Probably thirty-something, he guessed. She wore her chestnut hair in a Lupe Velez cut: a short curly mop, bangs covering one side of her face. Hart thought she looked attractive with her hair like that. Add some lipstick and she’d look pretty good on a guy’s arm.

In a moment, she returned with a glass of water. “Want coffee, Mister?”

“Maybe later. Have any pie?”

“The peach is okay. Owner’s wife cans the peaches herself.”

He nodded. “Maybe later.”

“Sure.” She walked away. The porch was still swinging.

Hart looked around. Down at the one end of the counter were two older men. Three booths were occupied. One by a woman, two by couples. Otherwise, the place was empty.

The waitress was back with his chili. “Your cheeseburger will be ready in a few minutes.”


She lingered. Hart took a spoonful of chili and conveyed it to his mouth.

“What d’ya think?”

He nodded. “Good.”

“Thought ya’d like it. Ya from around here?”


“Kinda thought so. Never seen ya before.”

“Never been here before.”


“No. Here. This place.”

“I’m Milly and I’m glad you came in tonight.”

He smiled and she smiled back.

“Someone wants some more coffee. I’ll be back…” She waited.


“I’ll be back, Rand.”

Her voice was pleasant. Mellow with a touch of cane syrup.

He spooned chili and in a bit she was back with the burger.

“I gave ya an extra pickle. On me.”

“Thanks, Milly.”

Hart took a bite of the cheeseburger and nodded.

“They’re pretty good,” Milly said. “So what are ya doing in town, Rand?”

“Catching a flight to Rio.”

“Oh, gosh. That’s exciting. I’ve never been anywhere. What’s in Rio?”

“A job.”

“A job. In Rio.” Milly sighed.

Hart shrugged. “Sounds exciting. Doesn’t mean it is.”

“Maybe. At this point, I think Cleveland sounds exciting.”

Hart laughed. “Maybe it is. Never been there.”

One of Milly’s fingers touched his hand. “Maybe we could go there and see. Ya know. When ya get back from Rio.”

Hart looked at her and their eyes met. “Yeah,” he said. “Maybe. When I get back from Rio.”

“Say, I get off at ten. Wanna go somewhere?”

“Sure, Milly. I’d like that.” Hart looked at his watch. “Just might be done with my pie and coffee by then.”

She smiled. Yep, Hart thought, that was one hell of a pretty smile.


At ten, Milly and Hart left the diner, arm in arm, and walked down the street to the Highball. They got a table far enough away from the swing band so they could hear each other talk and yet enjoy the music. Hart went to the bar and ordered a gin rickey for himself and a Bee’s Knees for Milly. He brought the drinks back to the table.

“Bee’s Knees. That’s an old Prohibition drink to cover the taste of bad booze,” Hart said.

“That so? Taste’s pretty good, if ya ask me. Here.”

Hart took the glass, turned it, and drank from where Milly had taken a sip. She smiled at the gesture.

“Not bad,” Hart said. “Not bad at all.”

“Told ya. So, Rand, what d’ya do for a livin’?”


“Are ya serious?”

Hart nodded and took a sip of his drink.

“I never met a gambler before.”

“Sure you have. You look at one every time you look in the mirror.”

“What d’ya mean? I’m a waitress.”

“Life’s a gamble. It’s one great big crapshoot. Makes everyone of us who eats and breathes a gambler.”

“Oh. Ya go to college or somethin’?”


“So tell me, Mr Gambler, who went to somethin’, what’s it like in Rio?”

Hart spent the next hour telling her about Rio, the Riviera, Italy, Germany, France, and Britain. Then he asked her to tell him about her life.

“I’ve done nothin’ and been nowhere,” Milly replied.

“Tell me about waitressing. I’ve never waited tables. What’s it like?”

“Well, if ya really wanna know…”

Hart nodded.

Milly told him. Whereas Hart had told her of the world at large, she told him about her customers, her neighbors, her best friend, Mary, the grocery store owner, and her mother. Hart learned of the everyday world that wasn’t much different than the neighborhood world he grew up in. A world where having five pennies to spend on candy was a very big deal. Her stories made him homesick.

At last she asked him, “Where ya stayin’, Rand?”

He looked at her. She was not beautiful. She was, though, easy on the eyes. “I can’t stay.”

“I know.” Her eyes told him she, too, was lonely.

“The Mango House.”

“I don’t have to go home just yet.”

“Okay.” He stood, put a ten on the table, and held out his hand. Milly took it and, holding hands, they left the bar.

Once on the street, she let go of his hand, and slipped her arm around his waist. He put his arm around her and pulled her close to him. He leaned down and she lifted her face to receive his kiss.

They entered the hotel. The night clerk only gave them the briefest of glances. They crossed the lobby and, making an exception, Hart guided Milly to the elevator. When the doors closed, he kissed her and she kissed him back.

Hart thought of spending some time in Miami once he got back from Rio. Maybe go to Cleveland with Milly. The elevator doors opened. Their arms around each other, they slowly walked down the hall, kissing the entire way. When they reached Rand’s room, they stopped kissing and let go of each other so he could get his key and unlock the door. He turned the knob, pushed the door open, and turned on the light. His room looked as though a bomb had gone off in it.

Share This!

Rand Hart and the Pajama Putsch – Cover and Sample Chapter!

Rand Hart and the Pajama Putsch is now available for pre-order purchase at Amazon, Apple, Kobo, and through the Tolino (Germany’s answer to the Kindle) network.

I’ve already revealed the cover, but I think it so neat I’m going to post it here and following the cover is chapter one. Just to wet your appetite. Enjoy!

Rand Hart 1 web version

Chapter 1: The Job

Thursday, 5 May 1938
On the Hindenburg
Over the Atlantic

Rand Hart looked at four jacks. He couldn’t imagine what the German’s hand was. Certainly the possibility existed the fellow had something better, although the odds were slim. Very slim.

The last round of betting saw the other American fold, some joe from Philadelphia’s high society. Now only Helmut von Osler, the well-known German industrialist, and he remained at the table. The chips in the center represented over five thousand dollars. Hart ran through the probability tables in his mind. He looked at the German. His black suit, blond crewcut, the gold ring on his finger, and the stack of chips in front of him. Hart looked at his own chips.

“I think it’s time, Mr von Osler, we see who’s bluffing.” Hart pushed all of his chips into the pile in the middle of the table. “That’s nine thousand dollars. And I call.”

The German counted his chips. “It seems, Herr Hart, I’m short two thousand. Perhaps I might write a check?”

“That gold ring on your finger. I’ll settle for that.”

The German touched the ring. Was that a pained expression which flitted across his face? He looked at Hart, looked at the cards in his hand, shrugged, pushed his chips into the center of the table, and took the ring off his finger. He held it for a moment, turned it in the light and seemed to be reading what was perhaps an inscription, then placed it amongst the chips.

Von Osler flipped his cards over. “Four eights, mein Herr.”

Hart turned his cards over and said, “Four jacks.”

“Mein Gott im Himmel. You are a very lucky man, Herr Hart.”

“Sometimes, Mr von Osler. Sometimes.”

The German shook his head. “I am done. I have lost enough for one night. Treasure the ring, Herr Hart. It was a gift from the Führer.” The German got up from the table and left.

A steward came and collected the chips. “I’ll take these to the purser, sir.”

“I’d like the money in American dollars.”

“Yes, sir.” The steward left.

Hart looked at the ring. There was a bit of fancy scrollwork and a couple small gems. No inscription. He tried it on several fingers before he found it fit the middle finger of his right hand. He walked to the promenade and looked out the window of the Hindenburg. In a couple hours, the sun would be up. Down below, on the Atlantic, Hart saw the lights of a ship. Otherwise, there were only the stars.

Yes, Hart thought, sometimes he was lucky. This past winter, for example. His time on the Riviera had been profitable. He’d been lucky more often than not. And a good amount of that luck he himself had made. It wasn’t all in the hand one was dealt or the roll of the dice. One also had to know what to do with it. Chemin de fer and backgammon. Those had been his main sources of income. They required thoughtful play. He never visited the roulette table. Luck wasn’t a lady often enough for Hart’s liking. And luck was all there was. Now he was looking forward to going home.

He chuckled at the thought of home. The sound, though, lacked mirth. He had no home. There was just the United States. That was home. And after the years away it would be good to spend a little time among his fellow Americans. Maybe he’d rent a room in a small town and do nothing more than have a beer in the local bar and chat about the weather or the crops. Maybe sit in the village park and feed the birds. He had enough money he could do nothing for a long time. A very long time.

But he knew himself better than that. No sense spending all his money. Maybe enjoy the summer in Ohio. Get a beach house on Lake Erie. Catawba Island or Put-In-Bay. Then, if Archie would have him, spend the winter in California. Come spring, take the train to Miami and pickup where he’d left off. The Brazilian Clipper to Rio, the Graf Zeppelin to Europe, and the Hindenburg back to America. The same as he’d done for the past few years.

The best gambling was in Europe. He could also get in a decent game or two on the Hindenburg or Graf. Like the one he’d just won. Always helps when several wealthy industrialists want to lose a little money. Little to them, that is. Of course, one wonders when they cheat. Hart shrugged. People are people and even wealthy industrialists are, at the end of the day, people. You just have to get a little more creative than they are.

He walked over to the stairs and went down to B deck. His cabin was on the lower deck, but he decided to stop in at the bar and smoking lounge instead. He went through the pressurized airlock. Four other passengers were in the lounge having a smoke. Hart took a seat by himself and set on the table a cigarette paper and a package of Briggs Pipe Mixture. He put tobacco in the paper and rolled a cigarette. When finished, he put it between his lips and lit it.

Yes, he thought, it would be good to get home. Be good to enjoy his winnings. Enjoy some time doing nothing. Nothing in particular.


Hart was roused from sleep by someone knocking on his cabin door. He got out of bed, went to the door, and called out, “Yes? What is it?”

“A message for you, sir.”

Hart slipped on a robe over his pajamas and opened the door. The steward handed him an envelope.

“Just a minute.” Hart rummaged through a drawer and gave the man a dollar.

“Thank you, sir.”

“You’re welcome.” Hart closed the door, sat on his bed, and opened the envelope. The note inside, written in a large hand with a double-broad nib, read:

Dear Herr Hart,

Please do me the honor of meeting with me at your earliest convenience in the dining area promenade.

Respectfully yours,

von Osler

Hart tossed the note and envelope into the wastebasket. “Wonder what the hell he wants?” he said to the mirror and then gazed at the ring on his right hand.

With a perturbed look on his face, Hart gathered his clothes and shaving kit and went to the shower. A man was just coming out. Hart nodded his head in greeting. The man did likewise. Hart entered what amounted to a little closet. He turned on the water. The temperature was good. The pressure, abysmal. He lathered up and rinsed off, singing “Amor ti vieta” from the opera Fedora by Giordano.

When done, Hart toweled himself dry, shaved, and dressed. The only downside to flying on the Hindenburg was the low water pressure of the shower. Then again, it did have a shower.

Dressed in a navy suit, white shirt, repp tie, Hart made his way to the promenade by the dining area. Breakfast was over and the dining tables themselves were empty. A few people were sitting on the seats by the windows. Most were probably over on the starboard promenade and in the lounge. Or the bar and smoking room.

He spied the German sitting in the far corner on one of the window seats and walked towards him. Von Osler stood and smiled. The smile seemed genuine enough. Perhaps the guy just wanted company. Upon reaching the industrialist, Hart shook hands with him, and the German indicated they should take a table in the dining area. They walked the short distance to the entrance through the low wall. Von Osler, in the lead, headed towards a table in the far corner. Hart frowned. He had the feeling this was not going to be a casual talk and he hadn’t even had a cigarette yet this morning. Standing at the table, von Osler indicated Hart should sit and he did so. The German took the seat opposite.

“I am pleased, Herr Hart, you decided to meet with me.”

“What’s on your mind, Mr von Osler?”

“I have a small job for you.”

Hart’s eyes narrowed. “What kind of job?”

“I want you to deliver a package.”

“What kind of package?”

The German took a small box out of his suit coat pocket, put it on the table, and said, “This.” It was about the size of a deck of cards, brown, wrapped with a brown ribbon, and appeared to be made of cardboard.

Hart reached for the box and was stopped by von Osler, who put his hand over it.

“I need this box in the hands of a certain person in Rio de Janeiro by noon on the eleventh of May. I will give you twenty-five thousand deutsche marks now and the person to whom you give this box — unopened — will give you another twenty-five thousand.”

Hart thought a moment. “That’s around twenty thousand dollars. Twenty Gs just to deliver a box?”


“What’s in it?”

“It is best if you not know, Herr Hart.”

“Okay, then why me?”

“Because I like your luck.”

“Sometimes I’m lucky.”

The German paused, as if searching for the words to say, then spoke, “You are a very creative poker player. I like and reward creativity.”

Hart looked him in the eyes. “You’re not so bad in the creativity department yourself.”

Von Osler smiled. “You see, Herr Hart, we already have the start for a good working relationship. We understand creativity.”

“And why would I need to be creative?”

“You might not have the need. Then again…” Von Osler shrugged. “Luck. She is not always the lady. No?”

“True enough. So you’re telling me I might need to get a little creative in getting this box to the ‘certain person’.”

“Maybe. Maybe not. I would say the odds are in your favor this delivery will be quite routine.”

“Only if Luck decides to be a lady.”

“As you say, Herr Hart.”

“Deliver the box and get a total of fifty thousand deutsche marks.”


“That’s a lot of money. Even for you, I bet. Why?”

“Because I don’t want you to turn down my offer.”

Hart looked out the window. The Hindenburg was a couple hours away from Lakehurst. The ocean was giving way to the New Jersey shoreline. These occasional odd jobs were nothing new. They helped for those times when even skill and creativity could not overcome one of Fortuna’s frowning spells. Most were very routine and this one sounded easy enough. There was a ship steaming west. Probably heading for the harbor in New York and maybe home.

“Must be something pretty big in that little box,” Hart said.

Von Osler picked it up and turned it over in his hand. A smile touched his lips. “Let us say history is inside.”

Hart looked at von Osler. “History, huh? I suppose I have to pay my own airfare.”

“You will agree to deliver my package?”

“Why don’t you just deliver it yourself? Or have some errand boy from your company drop it off?”

“It is best if my company is not involved in the transaction. Nor do we want the German government implicated in any direct involvement.”

Hart’s eyes bored into the German. “So this isn’t as innocuous as you make it sound.”

It was von Osler’s turn to look out the window. “Herr Hart, you are a simple man. Even, let us say, an invisible man. Yes?”

“I have no notoriety, if that is what you mean.”

Von Osler looked at Hart. “Precisely. That is what I mean. And you are skilled, creative, and lucky. You are exactly the person I was looking for. In point of fact, we’ve been watching you for some time. If this delivery goes well, we may have more work for you in the future.”

“Really? You’re turning me into one damn expensive delivery boy.”

Von Osler shrugged. “That is my business. So, Herr Hart, if the airfare is going to be an issue, I will add another three thousand deutsche marks to cover tickets and expenses. Will you accept my little delivery job?”

“If I don’t?”

“I have a person who will make the delivery. But…” Von Osler shrugged. “He is not as skilled, creative, or lucky as you are. With you…? Let us say it is like having four jacks instead of four eights.”

Hart turned his gaze towards the window and the ocean beyond. He’d been hoping to spend some time at home enjoying his money. And after last night, plus his winnings in Europe, he had quite a bit to enjoy. Now, however, fifty-three thousand deutsche marks were staring him in the face. And just to deliver a little box. By noon on the eleventh. He wouldn’t have much time. Probably have to catch a red eye out of La Guardia or Floyd Bennett tonight for Miami and then a three day flight on a Pan Am clipper. He pursed his lips. If he was lucky, he might be able to get in some poker or backgammon on the Miami to Rio flight and sweeten the job even more. There were usually at least a few high rollers making the trip. It wasn’t every day he got the chance to make this much money from a simple delivery. Once he got back to the States, there’d be plenty of time to enjoy his great big pile of cash.

Hart turned his attention back to the German. “Five thousand for tickets and expenses.”

Von Osler considered for a moment and then agreed. “Fifty-five thousand to ‘run my errand’ I believe you Americans say.”

“We say that.”

Hart looked out the window of the giant airship. The sky was blue with a big old cumulus cloud drifting along. The ocean was calm, placid even.

“Okay, Mr von Osler. I’ll do it.”

Share This!


I very much enjoy reading Jenny Burke’s blog posts. They are positive and inspirational. I asked her if she would be willing to be a guest on my blog and was very pleased when she accepted.

Her post is a practical illustration that shows we are not powerless. We can make a difference. We can be people who bring about change in our world.

So without further ado, I give you Jenny Burke.


I saw their plans for the future and I shuddered. The High School that bordered my neighborhood was planning extensive construction and a new road that would be incredibly close to the fence, with no buffer.  This road would practically connect with a dead end neighborhood road. I knew immediately that old neighborhood trees would die from cut roots and fences might fall from erosion. Far worse, neighborhood kids could be injured or killed by traffic cutting through from the new road.

Safety issues always get a knee-jerk reaction from me, so I checked with our neighborhood association. Unfortunately, this had dwindled to nothing. As the president quit and moved away, she left all the boxes of association “stuff” at my house. Just for safe-keeping. Our school board representative was not interested in my concerns. I spoke with the head of the planning commission and he mocked me, saying that schools were exempt from normal rules. I should just be grateful that they weren’t taking our homes. I hung onto my temper (Rule #5 below) and launched my own quiet plan to change their plans. It has been said that much can be accomplished if you don’t take credit.

Rules to Make Changes

To fix a small problem that involves the city, like dangerous playground equipment or a bad intersection, these steps almost always work.


  1. Outline the problem.
  2. Mention the negative consequences of ignoring the problem.
  3. Suggest a solution, preferably cheap and easy.
  4. Mention the positive consequences and savings.
  5. Always be polite.

Rules to Appear Powerful

For the road problem I needed more than my city rules; I also needed political pressure and the appearance of a powerful organization. Happily, that is quite doable!


Rule #1: Create the beginnings of an organization.

Rule #2: Get friends to send letters. People are busy, so you’ll probably need to write and type these letters for them. Send a new one every week, addressing a slightly different aspect of the problem. This is awesomely convincing. Nobody sends real letters!

I re-started our neighborhood association of about 450 homes, organized a delivery system, and wrote a monthly newsletter that included two Meet Your Neighbors columns. People love feeling connected. Then I began my letter-writing campaign, typing a unique letter from each neighborhood resident that they signed and mailed. I even included a stamped, addressed envelope.

Now for Rule #3: Suggest a solution. I conducted my own land survey. I measured, recorded, and drew everything on graph paper. Then I proposed an alternate placement of the road that would be cheaper, easier, and would not hurt my neighborhood or its children. The school board noted the cost savings of my plan, also noting that people were often paid for such work. I laughed quietly to myself. People are seldom paid to make needed changes.

The Result

The new road was located where I wanted it. Several school board members mentioned the importance of staying on the good side of our neighborhood, since we had such a strong organization and concerned residents. “That neighborhood is very active, very strong.” Again I laughed inside. We did gradually become a strong association. But right then it was really just me, one small person with the carefully constructed illusion of power, and they never knew. All it cost me was some time, envelopes, and stamps.

You can make a difference!

Speak up when you see a problem! Volunteer, mentor, clean up a river, serve in a soup kitchen; these contributions bring local changes that are easy to see and appreciate. When the city is involved my “RULES” can help. Make sure a long-dead tree is cut down before it falls. Fix a dangerous intersection. Stop a road. This is important and satisfying work.

We can also make a difference as the writer of a book that entertains and educates. I wrote The Dragon Dreamer because it helped me to have my own world to escape into. I wanted to share my love of the oceans and friendships with really unique “people”. I want kids to appreciate our amazing world and help protect it from greedy corporations.

About J S Burke

J.S. Burke is the author of The Dragon Dreamer series, a young adult science fantasy with flying dragons, a detailed undersea world, and unexpected friendship. Learn more at her website: The Dragon Dreamer is available in paperback and e-book:

Amazon US: The Dragon Dreamer

Amazon UK



Share This!

8 Sentence Sunday on Dieselpunks #39

Last Sunday we began Chapter 2 of Rand Hart and the Pajama Putsch. Having received a few comments with suggested improvements, I rewrote the section posted last week and include it today for comparison. Today’s 8 sentences start after “Flamingo Palace”.

I intend to publish the novella October 16th. Here is last week’s revised snippet and today’s:

When Hart checked at the ticket counter in Miami, he discovered the Pan Am flight he wanted didn’t take off until eight the next morning. He bought a ticket for one of the five remaining seats and then left the terminal to find a cab. Two were waiting. The drivers standing on the curb by their vehicles. A big, white General sedan and a brand new, elegant, if old-fashioned, Checker. Hart picked the Checker.

“Where to, Pal?”

“The hotel closest to the Pan Am seaplane terminal.”

“Can do.”

The cabbie took Hart’s suitcase and put it in the trunk, while Hart got in the back seat. The cabbie got behind the wheel and the cab was rolling.

Within minutes, Hart found himself, suitcase in hand, standing before the entrance to The Mango House Hotel. The place was a three story stucco building painted a hideous shade of pink. Hart thought a moment and decided he’d never seen a mango that color and wondered why the owners hadn’t called the place the Flamingo Palace. Oh, well. As long as the bed was comfortable and the water hot, it probably didn’t matter what the name or the color was.

He walked in and requested a room. The clerk told him they had one and, after Hart signed for it, gave him the key. Room 305.

“Any place close by I can get a meal and something to drink?” Hart asked.

“The Highball, three doors down is a decent bar and at the corner,” the clerk pointed in the opposite direction, “Jimmy’s is a good place to get a meal.”

“Thanks,” Hart replied and took the stairs to his room. He wasn’t overly fond of elevators.

To be continued!

If you write or read Dieselpunk, join in the fun: 8 Sentence Sunday on Dieselpunks.

Share This!