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TABOGA "GEM OF THE PAC FIC,”
Ideal Spot to Spend your Sundays and Holidays.
Bathing, Sight-Seeing, and a General Good Time.
No 111 North Avenue, Panama.
Getting Down to Work.
The engineering work of the Commission had its beginning in the organization of five engineering parties, each in charge of a resident engineer. The first of these engineering parties sailed for the Isthmus about the middle of May, 1904, and the remainder followed soon after. One party was assigned to making surveys for proposed harbor improvements at Colon, another to making investigations and borings in the vicinity of Gatun, a third to conducting similar investigations at Bohio, the fourth and one of the largest parties put in the field, to making surveys for a possible dam at Gamboa, and the fifth and last for designing of a waterworks and sewer system for the cities of Panama and Colon.
On May 5, 1904, Mr. John F. Wallace was appointed Chief Engineer at a salary of $25,000 per annum, to take effect June 1. Mr. Wallace arrived on the Isthmus June 24, relieving Major-General Davis of all work in connection with engineering operations. At that time there were very few suitable residences available, and during the greater part of his connection with the Commission, he occupied the three-story building in Panama, now the home of the American Legation.
The attention of the Chief Engineer during the mainder of the year 1904 was principally confined to supervising the work of the field parties, to ascertaining what
the French company had left of value, and conducting experiments in Culebra cut with a view of arriving at the cost of excavation per cubic yard. The work of this period may be said to have been wholly preparatory. A start was made on the Panama waterworks project, and work was commenced on a few new buildings for employes.
It at once became necessary to place large orders for material, and the slowness with which these were filled was a source of considerable dissatisfaction to the officials on the Isthmus. In order to relieve this situation much material was purchased in the local market especially in the line of building materials.
Some Early Drawbacks.
Employes coming down were obliged to find quarters as best they could. The Administration Building in Panama for the first year and a half was the general office headquarters, engineering, sanitation and everything else, and large numbers of employes were constantly in Panama This influx had the immediate effect of raising the price of rents, and at one time a room that wouldn't rent in New York City for more than $5.00 per month was bringing $20.00 here. Salaries in 1904 were on a much lower scale than at the present time, the average for clerks being about $100 per month. The tenants of rooms had to pay for their own water, and as the only method of getting it at that time, especially during the dry season, was from the aguadores, or street water peddlers, it cost quite a penny, particularly if one indulged in the daily luxury of a bath. Water generally retailed for five cents gold five gallons, but as the dry season advanced, and the wells on the outskirts of the city began to get low, the price rose, until the article, including the lugging up a flight of stairs, sold for as high as 15 cents gold per five gallons.
Another standing complaint among employes was the food question. Hardy fellows coming out of the North accustomed to three full meals a day, with a lunch or two
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on the side were not prepared to be pleased with the seven o'clock coffee of that beverage and bread, with an egg if you asked for it, and insisted upon it, and sometimes fruit. The monotony of the cooking routine in time too palled upon the appetite. It was simply a matter of mathematical calculation to figure the menu ahead. Ice at five cents gold per pound, and only a limited supply at that, was too costly an article to be supplied by the boarding-house keeper at every meal. It is true, the latter had his or her troubles, and these were not always given proper consideration. Every American housewife on the Isthmus knows the servant-girl problem in the States is not a marker to what it is here.
These and kindred drawbacks, together with the quiet" life created in the employes a longing for a return to the "flesh pots of Egypt', and during the first year of the canal in American hands, about every boat that brought a batch of new employes took another load back. Especially was this so when the festive stegomyia began to get busy. During the year 1904, there were comparatively few cases of yellow fever; not enough to cause alarm. There was a small outbreak in December of that year during which Mrs. John Seager, wife of the chief engineer's private secretary, fellvictim. This caused a feeling of gloom over the American colony, but as there were but few additional cases no undue excitement was caused. In April and May, 1905 and on up to September of that year, the conditions
among the American employes had all the earmarks of panic. One of the principal sources of infection during that period was the Administration Building in Panama in which two or three hundred clerks were then employed. M. O. Jackson, Supervising Architect, and R. R. West, Auditor, were counted among the victims. During the height of the scare some of the offices had scarcely a working force available, not from sickness, but because of desertion. The boats left Colon crowded on every trip, and many a one took steeragė passage rather than wait for the next vessel. There were two or three cases that resulted fatally where employes had been on the Isthmus less than ten days. The more hardened sort took a huge delight at this time in retailing terrible stories for the edification of the scared newcomer. A case is called to mind where two young men arrived on the Isthmus on the morning of a certain day and reported for duty; sent in their resignations in the afternoon, and returned to the States by the boat leaving the day following. They lost no time in getting out.
It became necessary at this juncture in order to reestablish the working morale to make a decided increase in salaries, as the thousands and thousands of fairy stories printed in the States began to have its effect on the efforts of the Commission to maintain the personnel. Most of the appointments of this period specified that quarters would be provided, but as the Commission was unable to comply with the provision, commutation was allowed employes, at first eight per cent., and later fifteen per cent. of their monthly salaries. Employes and members of their families were at first allowed the reduced rate of $15, for steamship passage New York to Colon. This was raised a few months later to $25, and afterwards reduced again to $20 where it stands at present.
Old Commission for Sea-Level Canal.
The engineering committee of the Walker Commission consisting of Messrs. Burr and Parsons visited the Isthmu3
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early in 1905. Under a resolution of the Maj. Gen. Davis, then Governor of the Canal Zone, made a member of the committee during its stay on the Isthmus. After holding sessions almost daily for several weeks, the committee met and presented a report in favor of a sea-level canal which is summed up in the following:RESOLVED, That this committee approve and recommend for adoption by the Commission a plan for a sea-level canal with a bottom width of 150 feet, and a minimum depth of water of 35 feet, and with twin tidal locks at Miraflores, whose üsable dimensions shall be 1,000 feet long and 100 feet wide, at a total estimated cost of $230,500,000. Such estimate includes an allowance for administration, engineering, sanitation, and contingencies, amounting to $38,450,000, but without allowance for interest during construction, expense of Zone Government, or collateral costs, and water supply, sewers, or paving of Panama or Colon, which last items are to be repaid by the inhabitants of those cities.
To facilitate the committee's conclusions, an estimate on three types of canal was submitted by Chief Engineer Wallace, one being for a canal with a summit level at 60 feet elevation to cost $178,013,406; another with summit level at 30 feet elevation to cost $194,213,406, and the third, the sea level type, to cost $230,500,000. Each of the above estimates included probable cost of constructing a breakwater at Colon figured at $6,500,000.
The committee set forth that a sea-level canal would furnish a waterway with no restriction to navigation, and which could easily be enlarged by widening and deepening at any time in the future to accommodate an increased traffic, without any inconvenience to the shipping using it,