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Vol. XXV, No. 2
BATTLING WITH THE PANAMA SLIDES
BY WILLIAM JOSEPH SHOWALTER Author of “The Panama Canal” and “The Countries of the Caribbean," in the
NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC MAGAZINE
HE only reason why ships have permitted any catastrophe to turn them not been using the Panama Canal aside from their ultimate purpose; men
since last October is that Nature whose achievements in the face of unhas been battling to the last ditch in her precedented difficulties make a story as efforts to thwart the purpose of man to inspiring as anything in human history. put a shipway through the vitals of proud No one who failed to visit the Isthmus old Culebra Mountain. But for this great during the construction period can underbattle, Culebra Cut would have been a stand the full import of the coming of finished job two years ago.
these slides into Culebra Cut. With each The weapons used by Nature in her passing year they have renewed and reefforts to confound the plans of the canal
doubled their attacks on the canal plans. engineers have been slides and breaks in They seem to be maneuvered by the hand the banks of the canal, and effective of some great marshal and sent fortlı to weapons indeed have they proven. How, the fray in every way calculated to put with them, she has stood between the the canal engineers to discomfiture. canal army and the completion of the Now they are quiescent, attempting to task to which it addressed itself consti lull the engineers into a false security; tutes the most thrilling episode in the now they make a feint, stopping short of history of canal engineering.
an actual conflict; now they come in the Over 250 acres of ground lying outside dead of night, spreading chaos and disof the intended banks of the canal, and rupting everything in whatever direction containing over 30 million cubic yards of they move; now they set up the appearmaterial, have swept, with silent but ter ance of being rendered thoroughly harmrific force, down into the canal. Now less by allowing dikes of basalt to peep this onslaught has demoralized an entire out which seem to tie them to the bowels railroad system; now it has put the com of the eartlı, only to destroy the hopes pressed air and water systems out of which these dikes arouse in the hearts of commission: now it has bottled up one the besiegers, by shearing them off as if end of Culebra Cut with an avalanche of they were but pipe-stems, and then flowdebris; now it has imprisoned dirt trains ing, unrestrained, into the cut. and wrecked steam shovels. But with all Consider what the removal of 30 milthe wreck and ruin and chaos there have lion cubic vards of material means. It been men with wills of iron who have is enough to build a sort of Chinese wall met each new situation with a new spirit 7 feet thick and 7 feet high reaching of determination; men who have never from New York to San Francisco. It is
Photo and copyright by Edith H. Tracy THE DEEPEST LART OF CULEBRI CUT Looking south irom the west bank of the canal, near Contractors Hill, Cucaracha slide shows on the left side of the pictu Some 10 million pounds of dinamite have been exploded in Culebra and enough material removed to make 26 pyramids, each as large as the Great Pyramid of Cheops, in ligypt. or 2.500 shares. cach as large as the Washington Monu
LOOKING INTO THE CULEBRA CUT FROM THE TOP OF A SLIDE, SHOWING THE BROKEN
more than could be drawn by all the life fighting them. It is no wonder that horses and mules in the United States. Colonel Goethals has aged 20 years in six It would fill a million and a half big while struggling with them. But it is a Lidgerwood cars, enough to make a string wonder, the greatest engineering wonder 12,000 miles long. These figures show of the age, that in spite of these difficulthat the mere getting rid of this surplus ties they have been able to remove 106 material is no mean job.
million cubic yards of material from the But when you reflect that each yard of cut in less time than it was estimated that this sliding material has rendered doubly they could remove 53 million cubic yards. difficult the getting out of three yards of And this wonder grow's when I look at other material, the true meaning of the their cost sheets and see them removing slides will begin to appear. There have a cubic yard for an average of 60-odd been times when 170 trains were going cents, when it was estimated that, unhinout of the cut one day at the south end, dered by slides, the cost of removing a only to be stopped entirely the next day cubic yard would be 99 cents, by the Cucaracha slide getting busy. Speaking of the terrific strain involved Now there may be a dozen tracks in use upon those who are responsible for the in the cut, and 24 hours later half of battle with the slides at Panama, no incithese will be out of commission. That dent in my life can stand out more viiis what makes the slides such serious idly than one I will now relate, illustratthings to combat.
ing the meaning of it all to the engineers.
Cucaracha slide resumed her old tricks. THE GREATEST ENGINEERING WONDER OF
when I was on the Isthmus last Jay. THE AGE
She had been quiescent for some time, It is no wonder that the lamented and it was believed that she had retired Colonel Gaillard lost his health and his from the fray for good and all.