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Miraflores Work

Victoria Spillway

Gatun Work

Big Ships

The third locks project is something you don't read or hear about much in the Canal Zone books and circles of historians.  I remember well the areas that were excavated.  We used to spend afternoons at the Cocoli "Third Cut" as we used to called it and Cocoli Lake.  These were the two of the excavated areas at the Miraflores third locks project. The "Third Cut" section  looks like the Canal's Gaillard Cut to a degree with its high walls of solid rock.  This section is a real mystery as I have never come across any photos of the actual excavation taking place.  I am hoping that publishing this presentation will scare out a few folks that may have such photos.  The "cut" or "dry excavation" section was done by contract and the other sections of "wet excavation" done by the Panama Canal's Dredging Division.  I have included some photos taken by Dredging Division and are some real classics.  This must have been a massive project and would have been interesting to observe the digging.  
          There was a proposed section next to the Pedro Miguel Locks as well, but the area was never excavated to the extent that was done at Miraflores and Gatun.  I understand that the jungle was cleared, but if any excavation was done, it was filled through the years with hydraulic fill from the Dredge Mindi.  In fact the Sian Yung's cargo of fermenting rice was pumped into this area.  The Sian Yung was an old Victory ship that sank in the Gaillard Cut during the late '60s.
          The Gatun excavation was similar to that of Miraflores and was done in sections.  There was not much solid rock to be drilled or blasted here.  I didn't have many good photos of the Gatun excavation, but include a few interesting ones for the presentation.
          The third locks project came to a halt when World War II began.  The men and equipment were packed up and shipped to more important missions.

I recently obtained an interesting article from the September 1940 issue of Popular Science magazine and will share the article with you:

Enlarging the Panama Canal for Bigger Battleships
How a vast engineering job will bring the "Big Ditch" up to date in Peace and War.

          Steam Shovels will soon be clanking again at the Panama Canal.  Only a little more than a quarter of a century after the opening of this "life line" of the U.S. Navy and crossroads of the world's maritime commerce, workers will break ground for a monster third set of locks - a project whose $227,000,000 cost equals more than half that of the present canal!
          The giant engineering scheme calls for conversion of the present "two-lane" canal across the Isthmus into a "three-lane" canal.  To do this, three sets of oversized single chamber locks will be built, to parallel to the present twin-chamber locks but at some distance from them.  There will be no need to dig a whole new canal, since the "Big Ditch" itself will easily carry the traffic.
         Why a new locks?  First and foremost they will ensure the U.S. Fleet of unobstructed passage between the oceans, in cases of emergency.  Canal authorities long have been jittery over the possibility of sabotage or direct attack on the present locks.  A vessel might be blown up, or time bombs might be dropped, in a lock chamber; or the locks might be bombed by raiding planes.  If a heavy explosion or a lucky hit from the air happened to destroy two side-by-side lock chambers at once, the entire Canal would be put out of commission.  Therefore, for many months, a force of several thousand men has been working night and day to equip the old locks with "special protective devices" of a secret nature.  But the Navy will feel still more comfortable when the new locks are built, from a quarter mile to a half mile away from the old ones, so hat both cannot be attacked simultaneously.  Every known safeguard against bombing and sabotage will be built into them, from the foundation up.
          Secondly, the enormous size of the new locks, 1,200 feet long and 135 feet wide, will comfortably accommodate the biggest men-of-war and ocean liners afloat or contemplated.  Widened by recent addition of antitorpedo bulges, some of our modernized battleships can barely scrape through the old locks, with only a foot to spare on each side!  Our giant aircraft carriers Lexington and Saratoga make almost as tight a fit.  Until now, the 110-foot width of the existing locks has limited the dimensions of all U.S. warships, including the 35,000-ton and 45,000 ton battleships now under construction.  As for the big merchant vessels, the Queen Elizabeth, the Queen Mary, and the Normandie, they could not squeeze into the old locks at all.  The projected locks will have plenty of room for all corners.
          Thirdly, the sheer volume of peacetime traffic through the Panama Canal, steadily rising through the years, will eventually call for more locks to handle it.  From this standpoint alone, the Governor of the Panama Canal recently declared the third-lock project should be started within nine to eleven years.  Present plans simply advance the date for completion of an outstanding national asset, both in war and in peace.
          Connecting with the present waterway several miles above and below the existing locks, "by pass" or approach channels will lead to the new locks, so hat canal traffic may be shunted through either set.  Criss crossing routes will enable a ship to be detoured around locks that may be out of commission.
          Starting from the Pacific, for example, a vessel may pass through either the old or new Miraflores Locks, which raise it in two lifts to Miraflores Lake.  The old and new sing-flight Pedro Miguel Locks then offer alternate gateways into Gaillard Cut, the artificial arm of Gatun Lake formerly known as Culebra Cut.  Separate channels from broad Gatun Lake allow the ship to be routed through either the old or new three-flight Gatun Locks for its descent to the Atlantic.

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