Tom Swift and His Motor-Cycle

Back in 1910 a boys’ book series entitled Tom Swift began its long run. Tom was a teenager who loved to invent things, and since his father, Barton Swift, was a wealthy inventor with a couple of well-equiped machine shops near his house, Tom was able to indulge his love of new and improved machinery.

Tom Swift and His Motor-Cycle begins with Mr. Swift asking his son to ride his bicycle to Mansburg and mail a letter about Mr. Swift’s new turbine motor to the family’s Washington lawyers. The Shopton, New York post office was just a couple of miles away, but there were villains trying to steal the valuable motor, so mailing from a different location was considered a safer option.

On his way to Mansburg Tom saw a cloud of dust up the road and thought someone was driving a herd of cattle, but when the dust cloud drew closer he heard “chug-chug” and realized it was a motorcycle with its “muffler wide open.” A middle-aged man was driving at top speed, and had so little control of the vehicle that he almost crashed into Tom.

At the post office a well-dressed man with a black mustache seemed interested in what Tom was doing. Tom had lunch at a restaurant and overheard men talking about machine shops behind Swift’s house. One of them was the man from the post office.

Tom was almost home when he saw the man with the motorcycle smash into a tree right in front of the Swifts’ house. The man’s name was Wakefield Damon, and he would become a regular character in the book series, always exclaiming such things as “bless my eyelashes,” and “bless my hatband.” Mr. Damon explained that he’d bought the motorcycle because his doctor thought it would help his liver, but he hated the contraption, and would never ride it again.

Mr. Damon was helped into the house to rest, and Tom asked if he could buy the motorcycle from him. He agreed to sell it for 50 dollars, but before Tom could get the money from his room the man with the mustache was seen sneaking around the machine shops, and Tom and his father rushed out to confront him. When the “mustache man” saw Tom he remembered an important engagement and ran off.

Tom repaired and made improvements on his motorcycle in between bouts of trying to keep Mr. Swift’s turbine motor from being stolen by villains who wanted to be the ones to patent the great invention. He also found time to repair mechanical devices owned by just about every nice person he meets up with. He repaired the brake on the wagon owned by an elderly black man, and fixed the cog on a farm lady’s new-fangled butter churn.

Mr. Swift finished his turbine motor, and wanted to ship the drawings and working model to Albany, where one of his Washington lawyers would be staying for several days. Tom thought the bad guys would be expecting everything to be shipped by freight car, so he believed it would be better for him to take the items there on his motorcycle. The bad guys might think he was just out riding.

Tom made good time on his motorcycle until it began to rain, and he drove into a horse shed beside a country church to wait out the bad weather. Alas, someone snuck up on him, clubbed him on the head, and stole the papers and model.

Mr. Swift would lose ten thousand dollars if he couldn’t get his motor patented, so Tom set out on his motorcycle in search of the thieves. He came upon the elderly black man he’d helped earlier, learned the man had seen one of the outlaws, then found out the thieves were hiding out in an abandoned mansion. Tom did some scouting, and saw the men were indeed holed up in the old house.

But how could one young man on a motorcycle capture several desperate men? If only that nice Wakefield Damon would come along in a new automobile, purchased because his doctor insisted that driving it would be good for his liver. And if only Mr. Damon had several friends with him, and everyone decided capturing thieves would be a grand adventure ….

This book taught me vague instructions for repairing machinery – instructions that may be as unreliable as the doctor’s idea that driving along dirt roads could heal your liver.

I’ve read that a couple generations of boys loved this series for its almost plausible sections on mechanical know-how, and  I now suspect they also enjoyed the stories because the books are a hoot to read. Tom is a likable young man, and when he’s been beaten, and is feeling terrible about his father’s patent information being stolen from him, he knows it wouldn’t be right to continue on with his adventure without taking a few minutes to repair the butter churn owned by the farm family that took him in and literally gave him tea and sympathy.

If you would like to read Tom Swift and His Motor-Cycle it can be downloaded free of charge at:

http://www.gutenberg.org/ebooks/4230