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Photos by Earle Harrison. Entrance from the Atlantic Ocean.
ROMANCE OF PANAMA III. OUR WATER BRIDGE ACROSS THE ISTHMUS ONCE was a time when the incipient scholar opened his first geography at page 1 and had revealed to him the fundamental fact of creation that "an Isthmus is a narrow neck of land connecting two larger bodies of land." But gone are the days when it was so. The schoolboy of tomorrow will find page 1 to be a revised version, with such modern definitions as these: Q. What is a Strait? A. A Strait is a narrow body of water connecting two larger bodies of water. Q. What is an Isthmus? A. An Isthmus is a neck of land with a Canal Zone running across it and connecting two larger bodies of water. Q. What is the difference between an Isthmus and a Strait? A. A Strait is a waterway created by the first chapter of Genesis; an Isthmus is a waterway created by Act of Con gress. Q. What is a Canal Zone? A. A strip of land running alongside the waterway, with 14-inch guns and mortar batteries at each end and soldiers in the middle; these are commonly called Aids to Naviga tion. Q. What is a Canal? A. A Canal is an expensive proposition generally called a Big Ditch, because it usually isn't. Q. What is a Bridge? A. A mass of structural steel extending across water and held up by piers. Q. Is a Bridge always a mass of steel? A. It is not. It may be a mass of water 85 feet high and many miles long, extending across land and held up by locks. And thus he will learn?with the help of drawings, photographs, and probably with motion pictures also? what it has taken us nine years to learn. All this time we have been digging away at the Isthmus of Panama with steam shov els and suction dredges and ladder dredges?and non chalantly calling the hole "the Big Ditch." Now that we have it about finished, at a cost of something like $375,000,000, we discover that what we and Goethals have made is not a ditch at all, but a bridge! For that is what the Panama Canal really is,?a water bridge across the isthmus, a bridge thirty-two miles long (from Gatun to Pedro Miguel) and eighty-five feet high. Like any other bridge, it is upheld by piers at each end; but the engi neers call them locks. In stead of supporting tons of structural steel, they re strain tons of Chagres water, and they also act as giant elevators to hoist and to lower ships of any size and of every land that traffics on the deep. The only part of the fin ished waterway that looks like a ditch is the stretch of about nine miles from the Chagres River to Pedro Miguel lock, the section known as Culebra Cut. (It ought to be known as the Gaillard Cut, in memory of the great engineer who did it and had to die before he saw the first ocean steamer pass through it.) That is a ditch with a vengeance; for the latest report of the chief engineer shows that the highest point of excava tion (at Gold Hill) is 534 feet. The water in this cut is simply an extension of the great Gatun Lake, and is therefore part of the bridge proper. Like other bridges, it has approaches at each end; but we call them sea-level channels. The Atlantic approach is seven miles long and 500 feet wide; the approach from the Pacific is the same width, but is a mile longer. "TO the landlubber who stands in front of a show win dow and traces the progress of a ship across the isthmus as it appears on the relief map, the transit is a simple matter. You steer your ship in from the Atlan tic, and head for the Gatun Locks at the end of the sea level approach; the lock gate swings open, and you steam in; the gate closes behind you, water rushes in from somewhere, and the ship rises to the level of the second lock. In you go; again the gate closes behind you; and again you rise into the third lock, from which you pass into Gatun Lake. Then you steam ahead across the lake and through Culebra until you come to Pedro Miguel Lock. You pass into this, and the bottom drops out, leaving you at the level of little Miraflores Lake, which was made by the Rio Grande just as Gatun Lake was made by the Chagres. On reaching the other end of the lake, you enter the top lock of the Mira flores pair, and are lowered by two processes into the sea-level exit. Then you navigate the western approach By EDGAR ALLEN FORBES and sail on majestically into the broad Pacific. It is as simple as falling off a log. But it isn't. Even to the mariner who has sailed all the Seven Seas and even steered his vessel through the Suez Canal, the passage of his ship for the first time across this wonderful bridge of water will be an event of his career on the waves; for it differs from the transit of Suez as widely as an elevator differs from a sidewalk. While there are some respects in which the Panama waterway resembles that of Suez, even these points of resemblance are very different. For example: 1. As you enter the Suez Canal from the Mediterra nean, the terminal city of Port Said is on the right: entering the Panama Canal from the Caribbean, the terminal city of Colon is on your left. 2. On the map Gatun Lake looks somewhat like the Bitter Lakes of Suez; but the Bitter Lakes are as briny as their name implies, while Gatun Lake is made of fresh river water, and will clear the hulls of the passing ships of their barnacles without extra charge. 3. The Suez Canal offices are at the northern end of the waterway, just beyond the breakwater; the admin istration buildings of the Panama Canal are at the southern end. From our geographical viewpoint, Suez is a pay-as-you-enter waterway; but at Panama you pay as you leave. 4. The terminal city of Panama is also on your left, as you cross from the Atlantic side: at the Egyptian exit, the terminal city of Suez is on your right. ?"PHE passage of a ship across this remarkable water bridge of Panama is by no means so simple a mat ter as is supposed, nor is it anything like so simple as the slow and tedious transit of the sea-level Suez Canal. A merchant vessel entering the canal from the Carib bean encounters nothing eventful until it is abreast of Margarita Island and passes between the two long breakwaters, each of which ends 1,000 feet from the center of the sea-level approach channel. But if it was a hostile warboat, intent upon un doing the work of nine long years, it would have the most thrilling experi ences long before it reached the 2,000-yard mouth of the channel. Over on Margarita Island (on the eastern or Colon side) are being planted some four teen-inch guns and a hor net's nest of terrible mor tars; on Toro Point (the shore end of the western breakwater) is another highly explosive batten- of the same caliber. The men behind these guns do not have to wait until the war ship comes close enough for them to see if its Captain has had a fresh shave: they shoot by mathematics in stead of by eyesight. The modern system of range : Great Gate of Gatun; eighty-seven feet high, eight feet thick.