A.B. Nichols began his assignment in Panama as assistant engineer at
Gatun on the Atlantic side of the Isthmus, where he worked for a year
until June 1905. The American plan for the canal called for locks, rather
than a sea-level passage as the French had attempted, and the largest of
the various lock sites was Gatun, with three levels of chambers. The
enormous concrete and steel chambers were built in pairs to handle
two-lane traffic of ships as large as the Titanic.
Another feature at Gatun was the dam on the Chagres River that created
a man-made lake as a pathway for ships to travel across most of the
Isthmus. The Gatun Dam is a key element in the canal design, for it not
only allows ships to sail across most of the Isthmus, it provides
hydroelectric power for the Canal Zone, including the electrical
mechanisms of the canal locks.