Prince Dobalob Builds a Zeppelin (Part Twenty)

Dobby and Sylvia discuss technical aspects of zeppelin construction over lunch. Lunch and dessert, let’s not forget dessert!

Prince Dobalob is heading home from his visit with Gari, and this is a farewell lunch with Sylvia. You’ve already missed out on a bunch of the story. Here’s a link if you’re one of those types who prefer to start at the beginning. There’s a big old chart below to help you sort out the cast of thousands. Recommended snack: Cream puffs and assorted petits fours.


Can you find the restaurant on this map? It’s subtle, one of the bigger rectangles, by a bridge.

The waiter tried to take away the appetizers, but met resistance. Instead, he found room for the main course by consolidating a couple platters. He glanced at the near-empty juice pitcher and said he’d be right back with more.

“Let’s talk about the airport situation again. A zeppelin isn’t a supersonic jet, but it still needs a dedicated take-off and landing area. Some of them tethered to the top of a tower, which seems a bit extreme in your case. Am I right that you have a nice big flat area to take off from?”

“Yes, there’s a big space by the workshop where we can build a hanger and still have space to get it out and launch it. I hadn’t thought about the landing much. Hot air balloons and blimps just drop down. This could be pretty big, though. What if the riding car dropped down from the zeppelin? Then we’d only need to find a landing area big enough for the car. The zeppelin could be tethered above the car.”

“That’s a great idea! I can work with that.”

“How about this: I have an old amphibious vehicle. It needs a little work, but then I could land on, ahem, land or water and it wouldn’t matter. We could even make it detachable. You never know when that might come in handy.”

Sylvia looked skeptical. “What is needs a little work? That sounds ominous.”

“I’ll have my crews take a look at it before the weekend. Magic works best on new things, but old things that need repair need a hands-on approach. Like the oil pan for my car. That repair would have taken the same effort in the Principality. Newt’s been sitting out there for quite some time, but my guys will know what it needs to run again. As for the couches, snack bar, the bathroom, that’s all new, so no problem. If our vision is clear, my crew can do all that overnight.”

“You make it sound so easy!”

“Magic makes everything easy. It’s the original cheat.”

“You said you wanted everything to be environmentally sensitive, sustainable. How is an old military surplus truck going to meet those standards?”

“We don’t need to use the original engine. We could install a new electric. As long as the drive train and other electrical systems are good, we can use them. Or maybe we’ll just use the shell. Upcycle it. We’ll know more after the crew looks at it.”

“There’s one more thing. You have a professional mechanic coming to visit this weekend. Shouldn’t that professional mechanic be involved in the evaluation? Any competent mechanic is going to want to look at it first-hand.” Sylvia made an unsuccessful attempt of meeting his eyes.

”Oh, yeah,” said Dobby. He felt a little foolish.  He picked a piece of kale off a platter and tossed it over his shoulder. “You are absolutely right. That’s the whole point in getting you involved. I completely forgot and slipped back into my old way of working. Which was never terribly effective, I might add.”

Prince Dobalob looked over the platters. It was mostly kale. “Are we ready for dessert, or do you want some more squash fritters first?”

“Dessert!” Sylvia was studying him carefully. Had she been too bold? They had so recently met that they didn’t know much about each other. She liked him, but wasn’t silly enough to award points for good behavior on the basis of his royalty. She watched him catch the waiter’s attention, point to the empty juice pitcher, and then make a sweeping motion over the empty platters.

“I don’t know what to say. Rodney and I have been muddling through for years and it will be interesting to learn how you fit into the team on this project.” He looked her in the eye as a couple waiters cleared the table. “I have no idea how Rodney will react, and I can’t have him quitting on me. The learning curve is more likely to look like a curve ball from where he stands. In the long run, I think we’re going to be a more efficient team, and that should be less frustrating for him. If we can demonstrate that to him right away, I won’t have to deal with him pouting and acting sulky.” The Prince smiled at her. “That’s my area of expertise, keeping everyone happy.”

Cream puffs

A waiter used a little crumb sweeper on the table while another set down a pitcher of juice and two fresh glasses. Another waiter came up balancing a tray with two fruit cups, an oversized platter of cookies, and a smaller plate with tiny sugar topped cream puffs, colorful fruit tarts, and miniature frosted square layer cakes, all in fluted paper cups. Sylvia was stunned.

“On second thought, can we switch out that pumpkin juice for lingonberry juice?” The Prince was back. The waiter smiled and nodded at him and scurried off to the kitchen pass-through for juice.

Dobby continued his conversation about construction coordination.

“Let’s try to figure out what I can get Rodney started on before you arrive. Obviously, anything to do with the riding car is out. I do like the idea of being able to land on water, because you never know, so the amphibious shell could work. It’s about the right size, too. But I’ll let you take it from there.”

“Fair enough,” said Sylvia. “While your crew helps with my evaluation, I’ll come up with ideas for how we can work together. As for Rodney, maybe he can start to look at the zeppelin—the balloon—part of it.”

Raspberry topped tart

Dobby nodded. “Sounds good so far. What did you have in mind?”

“I’ve thought a lot about how to keep your zeppelin aloft. Early zeppelins used helium, but our planet has finite amounts of helium. It’s an element, so we can’t make more of it. When it escapes our balloons, or whatever, it leaves the planet, floats off into outer space, and we have no way to retrieve it. It’s totally gone. The early zeppelins substituted hydrogen for helium, but hydrogen is very flammable, and that’s why the Hindenburg is famous. So helium and hydrogen are out. Hot air balloons go up, but then you have to heat the air, and I mean very hot like steam. I think we want to get away from anything remotely incendiary, if safety is a concern. So, I was thinking that when you blow up a regular balloon, they sink to the ground. Not quite, though, they bounce around and the slightest breeze picks them up. You can keep them in the air with the slightest poke. What if our zeppelin is filled with air and we keep it up with gentle pokes. Stop poking and it drifts back down.”
“Sounds good to me, but we can’t hand an idea like that to Rodney and expect to get good results.”

“I’m not finished. I read about a guy who built a tiny magic carpet based upon ripple power. It used waves of electrical current to tickle it from underneath. As it wiggled, it pushed air under it and moved the carpet forward. I’m betting we can get it to move up, too. His little carpet was tethered to a huge battery in his lab, but Zeppelin will be outdoors so we can use solar. We can also use wind power as a backup, and put the wind catchers on swivels and steer with them. So, tell me, how many license plates have you got?”

“I’ve got stacks of them, all different colors.”

“Can we use the dark colors on top to collect heat? Make simple solar collectors out of them? We might even be able to heat the air in Zeppelin to get some lift. And the lighter colors could go beneath on the rippler.”

“I can have the crew trim them into fish scale shapes so zeppelin looks like a gigantic fish!”
“Now you’re being silly, but there’s a reason why fish scales aren’t rectangular. They’re curvilinear because fish are. So maybe you’ve got something there. Zeppelin is curvy, too. Anyway the lower scales, the ripplers, need to attach to the frame so they can undulate. The upper ones only need to charge the battery. Speaking of the frame, got anything we can build a frame from?”

“About a million bamboo poles. They’re kind of bendy, they’d be perfect. They’re all different sizes, so big ones for the main frame, and skinny infill ones to attach license plates to.”

“It’s a good thing I can come out to look at your—,” Sylvia hesitated, “inventory. I can also research some wind and solar options. One thing we need to come up with is the material for the air chamber. Zeppelins have a framework, but they also have gas chambers, except we’re not using gas. Still, having multiple chambers is standard practice, and it makes sense for us, too. What kind of membrane will we use? Balloons are rubber, but that’s heavy and expensive. Plastic wouldn’t be much better. You’re not going to have any gigantic scraps of either one laying around. In World War One they used cow intestines, but surely we can come up with something better than that.”

“Hmmm. We have lots of wool. Could we knit something?”

“You’re joking, right?”

“No, we have lots of sheep and piles and piles of wool.”

“I meant about knitting a membrane. You can’t knit a membrane.” It occurred to Sylvia that Dobby wasn’t taking this too seriously.

“I think I can make it work. Maybe more like felt than knitting, but let me work on that. Wool is really lightweight.”

“So, who’s taking notes here? You’re starting on the flotation dynamics and I’ll look at the car when I get there, right? You’re going to talk to your millwright and explain my role so he doesn’t get his feelings hurt.”

“You know, this project is more complicated than I thought. I would never have figured that out if we hadn’t talked it through like this. So, thanks.”

Petits fours

Sylvia looked at The Prince thoughtfully. She reached toward the nearly untouched petit fours and then changed her mind.

“Can I take these home for the kids?”

“Of course!”

“So, maybe this zeppelin can’t be built overnight. Is that what you’re saying?”

The Prince caught the waiter’s eye. He pointed at the petit fours and cupped his paws in a box shape.

“Yeah, I suppose that’s exactly what I mean. There are two weekends before the party, and that’s on weekend number three. You’re still coming this weekend, I hope? What about the following weekend? Do you have that one free, too? We need to make some test runs, and have a little time for adjustments and modifications. Annabelle needs to be comfortable operating it. She had a bit of trouble with the blimp.”

“Blimp? What blimp? You have a blimp?”

“Uh, kind of. It’s retired, you know. Um, it was defective. Oh look! They’re bringing a pink box for the petit fours!” The Prince was a little too eager to change the subject. Sylvia kept digging.

“I think I need to hear about this blimp. Does it have any parts we can use?”

Dobby was relieved that she wasn’t interested in disasters, the way Gari was. But she wasn’t yet aware that for him, disaster lay around every corner. He could deal with her question about spare parts. How refreshing!

“Well, the riding car, the basket, it’s toast. It has a nice drawbridge, but those are easy to build. Some of the ballast bags are still okay, but we ate the ballast.”

You ate the ballast?”

“Well, yeah. It was macadamia nuts. Weird choice, but that’s what they sent. There were thousands. When we decided to eat them, my crew had to open them with a sledge hammer.”

“Hah! I tried a band saw, once. Put each nut in a vise. It took forever, but the kids loved them.”

“If you got them from Gari, I can tell you where he got them.”

Get out!” Sylvia was chuckling, now. She pulled the tidy string-tied pink box toward her and started to stand up. Dobby stood up, too, but a bit too quickly and the table rocked. Sylvia snatched up the box in surprise as Dobby’s chair fell to the pavement behind him with a sharp cracking sound. The look on Sylvia’s face told him the chair was broken. He didn’t look behind him, but stepped toward her and took her elbow, steering her toward the restaurant entrance.

“Not to worry, my dear. I will cover it.”


Prince Dobalob arrived home in good cheer. Naked mole rats unloaded his packages, distributed gifts, and our prince quickly settled back into his leisurely routine. Rodney had taken advantage of his absence to visit relatives up north, so any worries about explaining Sylvia’s role in the zeppelin construction project could be postponed. Worrying was overrated, anyway. It seemed that The Prince always worried about the wrong thing. In his absence, a note had arrived from his mother. He plopped down and a red cushion appeared beneath him. He had missed the homey details of being, well, at home. He opened the envelope and muttered some words you will not find in the glossary.

My dearest Dobby;

The girls are going to be here for lunch on Friday. I told them you would be here to review the plans for my birthday party. Noon sharp!

Love, Mommy

An ominous note

To be continued . . .


The vast Cast of Characters:


This story needs a lot more illustrations! Select an event from this story (how about a popcorn machine?), draw a picture of it, and send me an email. I’ll reply so that you can attach a digital copy of your masterpiece to it. I’ll add it to the story!

Or, if you’d rather help with the glossary, send me the list of words you had to look up (or should have looked up, but didn’t!). When I finish writing the ending, I will start putting together the glossary.

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