Linda Hall Library of Science, Engineering, & Technology
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Leonardo's Miter Gate
Languedoc Canal
Caledonian Canal
Panama Canal Zone

The Panama Canal

Panama Canal Zone
French Project
Gatun Dam and Locks
Culebra Cut
Opening Panama Canal

Centuries of Civil Engineering

Nichols, A.B., Office Engineer, Culebra, Canal Zone, Panama
Panama Canal Notebooks.
Manuscripts, typescripts, maps, blueprints, and printed materials, circa 1906-1920.
94 volumes
Water Supply
Image Index

In July 1906, A.B. Nichols was appointed Office Engineer at Culebra, a position he held until he left Panama in 1914. At Culebra he would have seen the mountain range, nine miles wide and 550 feet high, that proved the most difficult challenge of the canal construction. The design for the channel to be cut through the mountains specified a width of 670 feet at the top. But the sides kept breaking loose and sliding into the trench, and the width at top eventually was almost three times as large. Although the huge American steam shovels could remove five times the amount of material than the machines used by the French could move at the start of the project, only dynamite could break the layers of rock that had to be blasted away. On December 12, 1908, twenty-three workers died when 44,000 pounds of dynamite exploded prematurely. It was the worst accident of the canal project, and happened at Bas Obispo in the Culebra Cut. One of Nicols's notebooks contains reports on the blast by the Superintendent of Construction and by the Electrical Engineer . These photographs show how one of the gigantic steam shovels was thrown completely across the cut and crushed.


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