Zeppelin Mania-Book Review: “Zeppelin Hindenburg”

Nothing excites the imagination more than does the great zeppelin Hindenburg. In 1936, the world was abuzz with airship fever. The fastest ocean liners were crossing the Atlantic in 5 days. The Hindenburg cut that time in half on the westbound flight. On the eastbound trip to Europe, she could sometimes make the flight in less than 48 hours.

Unfortunately, what sticks in our minds is this:

and Herb Morrison’s words, “Oh, the humanity!”, instead of this:

However, as spectacular as the disaster was, caught on the newsreel cameras of the day, the loss of life was comparatively small. Thirteen of thirty-six passengers, twenty-two of the sixty-one crewman, and one of the ground crew died.

In 27 years of commercial flight by the DELAG and its successor, the DZR, those thirty-six deaths were the only deaths that occurred. No airline today can boast of such a record.

For lovers of the airship and the Hindenburg in particular, Dan Grossman, Cheryl Ganz, and Patrick Russell have done us the supreme favor of writing the definitive book on the greatest of all airships. Zeppelin Hindenburg: An Illustrated History of LZ-129 tells the story of this great ship and captures the mood of the world when for the first time in history one could fly anywhere in the world on the DZR and its partner airlines.

The world was filled with optimism in 1936 because technology was shrinking the globe. And for those with money, the world truly was their oyster. In the midst of the Depression, there was hope that better days were indeed here again.

Zeppelin Hindenburg tells the story of LZ-129 through words and pictures. The pictures alone are worth the price of the book. The text is informative and gives us a picture into what life was like in those heady days of hope. Unlike like many books recounting history, this one isn’t as dry as week old toast.

We learn all about the Hindenburg and what it took to fly her. We learn all about her role as a flying post office. We learn what life aboard her was like for passengers and crew. (For the crew it was work, work, work.) We get a detailed look into the building of the great ship. Everything is here that any zeppelin aficionado could even hope for.

And we learn the details, the known facts, of the disaster. Grossman, et. al., also debunk several popular myths regarding the cause of one of the most spectacular aircraft tragedies ever caught on film.

Zeppelin Hindenburg: An Illustrated History of the LZ-129 is a must have for aviation enthusiasts, airship aficionados, and anyone interested in the optimism created by advancing technology.

Comments are always welcome! And until next time, happy reading!

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Zeppelin Mania: In Those Days, Giants

The Graf Zeppelin Over Rio

On the Graf Zeppelin 

Hugo Eckener (translated from the German by Douglas Robinson)

I have always felt that such effects as were produced by the Zeppelin airship were traceable to a large degree to aesthetic feelings. The mass of the mighty airship hull, which seemed matched by its lightness and grace, and whose beauty of form was modulated in delicate shades of color, never failed to make a strong impression on people’s minds. It was not, as generally described, ‘a silver bird soaring in majestic flight,’ but rather a fabulous silvery fish, floating quietly in the ocean of air and captivating the eye just like a fantastic, exotic fish seen in an aquarium. And this fairy-like apparition, which seemed to melt into the silvery blue background of the sky, when it appeared far away, lighted by the sun, seemed to be coming from another world and to be returned there like a dream…

The mighty hull indeed! The Hindenburg weighed 236 tons, was 13 stories tall, and was nearly as long as 3 football fields. The 7 million plus cubic feet of hydrogen was sufficient to run an ordinary kitchen stove for several hundred years.

The 17 huge gas cells of the R 101 used the intestines of a million cows to provide the leak-proof lining.

However, not only were the ships of behemoth dimensions, so were their hangers. The Goodyear-Zeppelin hanger in Akron, Ohio was so huge clouds sometimes formed and a soft rain would fall.

And as Dr Eckener wrote, those giants of the sky were like something from another world, a dream world. They were exotic silvery fish of immense size and fairy origin.

John R McCormick’s account of seeing the Graf Zeppelin when a young boy fills me with envy. Here it is in part:

Out of the Blue

…I was a little uneasy. Something wasn’t quite right. Suddenly I realized why. We were alone, absolutely alone, and surrounded by a profound silence. That whole land, usually so full of sound and action, was empty and still. Even the animals were quiet. There was no wind, not the slightest breeze.

Into that remarkable silence there came from far away the smallest possible purring, strange and repetitive, gradually approaching, becoming louder — the unmistakable beating of powerful engines. I looked to the west and at first saw nothing. Then it was there, nosing down out of the clouds a half-mile away, a gigantic, wondrous apparition moving slowly through the sky.

“Grandma!” I screamed.

She was out of the kitchen door in an instant. I pointed to the sky. The great dirigible was very low, perhaps because the captain was trying to find some landmark.

There is a wonderful opening scene in the movie Star Wars. A great starship is passing very low and directly overhead so that one sees only the underside. That underside moves deliberately and interminably on and on until at last it is gone. The Graf Zeppelin, moving ever so slowly above us, was like that. We saw every crease and contour from nose to fins. It was so low that we could see, or imagined we could see, people waving at us from the slanted windows of its passenger gondola.

We stood entranced. Slowly, slowly the ship moved over us, beyond us, and at last was gone.

The above accounts and information are taken from one of the books in my library: The Zeppelin Reader: Stories, Poems, and Songs from the Age of Airships, edited by Robert Hedin. A fascinating book. Highly recommended!

Comments are always welcome! And until next time, happy reading!

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Movie Review: Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow

sky-captain-and-the-world-of-tomorrow

 

This past weekend I watched a dieselpunk cult classic: Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow. I loved it! The 1930s and 40s feel of the cinematography, the cheesy ‘tween war movie dialogue, the Art Deco and Streamline Moderne designs, the fabulous inventions, hero versus evil genius, the terrifying mechanical monsters, and let’s not forget that fabulous spaceship! Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow has it all.

The movie is part noir mystery and part comic book superhero adventure. The film is a blend of the 30s and 40s acting style combined with exquisite modern special effects.

The acting and plot are typical of the old B grade movie. The stuff I grew up with in the 50s and early 60s. And perhaps that’s why I like the movie. It’s all action and adventure. No complicated plot. Simply an evil genius bent on destroying the world and our superhero who has to stop him. There are no complex characters. No one is pouring angst all over the screen. Just action with a romance subplot to keep the personal level interesting. In fact the movie isn’t all that much different from Indiana Jones or Lara Croft. It is pure entertainment. Nothing thought provoking here. Just stuff to get your adrenaline pumping.

If you have no idea what a B grade movie is, then you may think Sky Captain is ridiculous. Clearly some of the reviews I read on Rotten Tomatoes indicated to me the reviewer had no idea what the director was trying to achieve. The movie is a tribute to the movie fare that entertained millions every Saturday afternoon at the theater.

The B grade movie was not much different than the dime novel or the pulp magazine. It was cheap entertainment and movie studios cranked them out by the score.

One very popular theme of the old B movie was that of the knight-errant story from the Middle Ages. It is the story of a knight who embarks on a mission of great importance. The traditional Western is classic knight-errant stuff. A gang of bad guys takes over a town. The lone sheriff comes to the town and cleans it up. Usually by killing the bad guys. The classic movie The Magnificent Seven is the knight-errant trope. And so is Sky Captain. Only he can save the world from impending destruction.

In my opinion, Kerry Conran did an admirable job in recreating the old B movie. All the tropes are there to relive your youth — provided, of course, you’re old enough.

Otherwise, sit back and simply enjoy a Time Machine that takes you back to another world, an older and maybe better world, when a movie ticket cost 50¢ and a bag of popcorn was a quarter.

Two features of the movie I especially loved were the fabulous art deco and streamline moderne designs of the space ship’s exterior and interior and the mechanical monsters. The space ship takes you back to Buck Rogers and the monsters are straight out of the comic books I used to read. Truly fabulous stuff there.

Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow is highly recommended. Definitely five stars.

As always comments are welcome and, until next time, happy reading!

Hindenburg III docking at the Empire State Building
Hindenburg III docking at the Empire State Building
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Zeppelin Mania: Day 5-R 34 Arrives Home

R34 over RNAS Pulham 1919 copy

The R 34 over the Royal Naval Air Service station at Pulham, Norfolk in 1919.

Throughout the morning of July 13, messages of congratulations poured into the airship’s wireless room. King George, the chief of the Air Service, the Board of Admiralty, the Prime Minister, Winston Churchill, among many others.

From General Maitland’s log:

6.20 am—Over Pulham. Quite a number of people on the landing ground despite the early hour. Scott makes two circles of the ground, and puts the ship gently down into the hands of the landing party. Time of landing, 6.57 am. Total time of return journey from Long Island, New York, to Pulham, Norfolk, is therefore 75 hours and 3 minutes; or 3 days, 3 hours, and 3 minutes.

Seventeen years later, the faster Hindenburg’s average time from Frankfurt to Lakehurst, New Jersey was 66 hours and 37 minutes; and from Lakehurst to Frankfurt, 51 hours and 23 minutes. Certainly slower than a jet, but far and away much more luxurious. On par with a cruise ship of today.

The R 34 was a military ship. A copy of a 1916 German war zeppelin that had been captured, largely intact. A mere two years later the Germans were building even larger zeppelins, with greater range. A range they felt would enable them to bomb New York City. One of these “X” Class zeppelins, the LZ-114, was given to the French as war reparations. Renamed Dixmude, in 1923 she made a 4400 mile flight and was in the air for well over 118 hours without any problems. Her maximum range was calculated to be over 7400 miles. The specially rebuilt L 59, the Africa Ship, had a range of 10,000 miles and a payload over 104,000 pounds. She could have flown to America, bombed New York, and flown back to Germany without refueling.

At the time and for decades to come no airplane was capable of doing what the L 59, the R 34, or the Dixmude did. The airship in 1919 and in the following two decades was clearly seen as the wave of the future. Land-based passenger aircraft would not be able to cross the Atlantic non-stop until after World War II. The most famous of the 1930s flying boats, the Boeing 314 Clipper, introduced in 1939, could carry 74 passengers during the day or 36 at night, had a mere 10,000 pound payload capacity, and had a range of  3,685 miles. Certainly a plane to rival the Hindenburg, but only in speed. The airship still laid claim to greater range, payload capacity, comfort, and quiet.

So what happened? In part, the airship herself was to blame. Expensive to build, operate, and maintain, no private company was willing to expend the capital. The rigid airships that were in existence were mostly military vessels and as a weapon of war, the zepp’s days had come and gone.

The R 34 is a prime example of government neglect. The British press hailed the event and the Air Ministry ignored it and its potential for future military application. In fact, the Air Ministry went to great lengths to scrap their rigid airship program—completely ignoring the role the rigid airship could have played as a transport ship in supplying far-flung and isolated military installations with speed and efficiency. Much as the L 59 had tried to do in 1917, in her attempt to resupply the army in German East Africa.

Then, as now, the rigid airship, while not the fastest aircraft, had the ability to carry tons of cargo vast distances to anywhere in the world. The airship needs no airfield or expensive airports. The problem of huge landing crews was solved by the US Navy. A dozen men and a motorized mooring mast handled the 785 foot long (239 m) USS Akron and USS Macon.

More than anything, our desire for speed killed the airship—in spite of its practicality.

Yet, in the early days of aviation, it was Count Zeppelin’s dream that conquered the skies. The crew of the R 34 deserve high praise for their brave accomplishment. Doing what no one had done before.

Today let’s take a moment to celebrate their great achievement.

I hope you’ve enjoyed this touch of Zeppelin Mania. As always, comments are welcome. Until next time, happy reading!

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The Wonderful Machine Age: The Daring Young Men in Their Flying Machines #3

The time period between World War I and World War II was the heyday of the rigid airship. Those two decades were filled with the exploits of what the great airships did and the dreams of what the future might hold for air travel.

1919 was an auspicious year. The war to end all wars was over. The airplane had developed in technological leaps and bounds. The airship as well had been refined. And whereas the airplane was mostly still a toy or of use for short distance flights, the airship was viewed as a machine of great commercial and military value.

On the 6th of March 1919, the British rigid airship, R33, took its first flight. Eight days later, her sister ship, R34, made it’s inaugural flight. Both airships were based on the design of German zeppelins in 1916. It is interesting to note, these were the most successful of any British rigid airship. The R33’s career lasted for nine years before she was scrapped in 1928 due to severe metal fatigue in her frame.

The R33 near her hanger:

Airship_R33

The R34 made the first east to west crossing of the Atlantic by air (the more difficult crossing due to the prevailing westerly winds) in July 1919, flying from England to Canada. Hot meals were even served on board, courtesy of a hotplate welded to an engine exhaust manifold. On the 13th of July 1919, the R34 returned to England; completing the first ever round trip across the Atlantic by air.

The flight of the R34 in 1919 fueled speculation of the possibilities for commercial airship flights across the Atlantic on a grand scale.

August 20, 1919 saw the first flight of the LZ-120, Bodensee, the Zeppelin company’s new commercial airship for the DELAG airline. She flew over 100 flights, carrying 2,322 passengers over 31,000 miles (50,000 km). Unfortunately, the Allied powers forced the Germans to turn over the Bodensee to the Italian government as a war reparations in July 1921. As the Esperia, she made flights for the Italian government, including a 1,500 mile long distance flight, before being scrapped in July 1928.

The Bodensee:

Airship_Bodensee,_Oct._1919

The LZ-121, Nordstern, never served the DELAG and was turned over to France on 13 July 1921 as war reparations. The French Government never made much use of the ship and she was scrapped in 1926.

A substantial book could be written chronicling just the airships of the interwar period. To exemplify The Wonderful Machine Age, I’ll focus on the triumphs and the dreams.

The short two year life of the R100 was a dream come true. The world’s first luxury commercial airship. Her first flight was on 16 December 1929. She and her sister ship, the R101, were, at the time, the largest airships ever built. She was meant to carry 100 passengers in elegance for an envisioned transatlantic passenger service. In 1930, she flew from England to Canada and back again; repeating the R34’s flight and proving once again the feasibility of such a transatlantic service. Below are pictures of the R100:

R100 at St Hubert

Below the lounge on the R100:

R100-Interior-Lounge

The Grand Staircase in the R100:

R100stir

Unfortunately, with the crash and subsequent fire which destroyed the R101 on 5 October 1930, the R100 was grounded and then scrapped the following year. The British were no longer interested in rigid airships.

This left but three rigid airships flying: the German-built USS Los Angeles, the newly launched USS Akron, built by Goodyear-Zeppelin for the US Navy, and the Zeppelin Company’s LZ-127, Graf Zeppelin.

The USS Los Angeles was the US Navy’s most successful airship. She was a sturdy vessel, logging 4398 hours of flight time and flying 172,400 nautical miles (319,300 km) with no major incidents. She was a testimony to the superior engineering and craftsmanship of the Zeppelin Company. She was decommissioned in 1932, returned to service briefly after the crash of the USS Akron in 1933, and then once again mothballed. She was scrapped in 1940.

The USS Los Angeles over Washington Blvd in Detroit, 1926:

USS Los Angeles over Washington Blvd, Detroit, 1926

The greatest airship of all was the LZ-127 Graf Zeppelin. She was an experimental ship. To avoid valving off lift gas to compensate for fuel usage, the Graf’s engines burned Blau gas, which weighed about the same as air. This successfully innovative feature was not duplicated in any other airship.

The Graf was small compared to the R100 and R101. She only had room for 20 passengers. And while accommodations were pleasant, they were not sumptuous.

The Graf Zeppelin:

7840653478_a0c7f2435b_o

The combination lounge/dining room on the Graf:

lz127-dining-room

A cabin on the Graf:

GrafZeppelin 007

The Graf Zeppelin‘s career from 1928 to 1932 primarily involved experimental and demonstration flights displaying the airship’s capabilities. These flights included a round trip across the Atlantic in 1928, the round the world flight in 1929, the Europe-Pan American flight of 1930 (Germany to South America to North America and back to Germany), the 1931 polar expedition, two round trips to the Middle East, and a variety of other European flights.

The round the world flight set a world record. The Graf completed the circumnavigation in 21 days and could have made an even faster flight, except part of the purpose was a goodwill tour which involved spending extra time in Japan.

You can read more about her polar flight at airships.net.

Beginning in 1932 until she was retired in 1937 after the Hindenburg tragedy, the Graf provided regular passenger, mail, and freight service between Germany and Brazil. Below is my favorite picture of the Graf Zeppelin coming flying into Rio de Janeiro.

Zeppelin,Baia_de_Guanabara,25-5-1930

The Graf Zeppelin was the first aircraft to fly over 1,000,000 miles (1,056,000). She made 590 flights, 144 transoceanic crossings, carried 13,110 passengers, and logged 17,177 hours of flying time. She did this without a single injury to passenger or crew. Keep in mind, her lift gas was hydrogen. Which I think proves beyond a shadow of a doubt, with the proper precautions, hydrogen is safe. She was scrapped in 1940.

The Hindenburg is well known and I won’t cover her story here. Her sister ship, the LZ-130 Graf Zeppelin (II) took her first flight on 14 September 1938. Like the Hindenburg, she was designed to fly using helium as her lift gas. However, the US government reneged on its promise to deliver helium to the Germans and the Graf Zeppelin II was inflated with hydrogen. She never entered commercial service and made but 30 flights. On 20 August 1939 she made her last flight. When she landed at 9:38 PM, the era of rigid airship flight came to an end.

The LZ-130 Graf Zeppelin (II):

lz-130-219-web

More pictures of the LZ-130 can be seen at blimp info.Dining Room of LZ130

The rigid airships were the largest aircraft to fly. The success of the R33 and R34, the Graf Zeppelin, the USS Los Angeles, and the R100 excited the depression beleaguered public that good things were coming. Science and technology would make life better.

Lester Dent’s Zeppelin Tales and the fictional Doc Savage’s use of an airship were exciting fantasies reflective of this new hope that better times were coming.

The May 1930 issue of Modern Mechanics featured an airship with pontoons (to help cut hangar costs) and the July 1929 issue of Modern Mechanix, featuring an airship with wings and boat hull (to combine the best features of airships and seaplanes), were further examples of the possibilities that airships provided to improve intercontinental transportation.

zeppelin with wings Modern-Mechanics-May-1930-cover

There were even thoughts of an airship tuberculosis hospital. See airships.net for the article.

tuberculosis-airship-clinic-web

The airship has and continues to excite our imaginations as no other flying machine. Is it any wonder our retro-futurist fiction continues to make our dreams reality, even if only within the realities of our imaginations.

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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.”

“Thanks.”

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.”

“Thanks.”

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?”

“No.”

“Kinda thought so. Never seen ya before.”

“Never been here before.”

“Miami?”

“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.

“Rand.”

“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’?”

“Gamble.”

“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’?”

“Something.”

“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.

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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?”

“Yes.”

“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.”

“Yes.”

“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.”

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8 Sentence Sunday on Dieselpunks #37

Last week we stopped in the middle of Rand Hart’s rumination over von Osler’s offer of a sweet pile of deutsche marks to make a simple delivery. Today we continue his ruminations and finish the chapter. It’s quite a bit over 8 sentences, however I just couldn’t see dragging out the scene for one more Sunday and post a mere 6 sentences next week. I hope y’all don’t mind. 🙂

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.”

This brings chapter one of Rand Hart to an end. I’ve finished the story and am now in the process of editing and at present it is with the beta readers. The tale is a 21,000 word novella. At present. I’m hoping to publish in October.

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

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8 Sentence Sunday on Dieselpunks #35

Last week we found von Osler telling Rand Hart why he was so interested in the professional poker player. This was part of the conversation:

“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.”

“Really?” The question dripped of sarcasm.

The question is, of course, why has von Osler invested so much time into learning about Hart. Was it all for just this one mission? Perhaps. Von Osler, though, has other things on his mind. Here is today’s snippet:

Von Osler nodded. “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.”

To be continued!

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

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8 Sentence Sunday on Dieselpunks #34

Last week we learned Rand Hart was exactly who von Osler was looking for in a courier. This week we find out why. We begin this week’s snippet with the tail end of last week’s:

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.”

“Really?” The question dripped of sarcasm.

To be continued!

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

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