We all understand that the use of modern machinery has resulted in much saving of labor; but it takes such figures as have recently been published in the Canal Record by Mr. Borlich, Division Engineer in the Culebra cut, to give us an adequate idea as to just how great this saving of labor can be. The figures given are based upon the work accomplished during the final month of the last dry season, when material was taken out at the rate of 18,600 cubic yards per steam shovel per month. A comparison is made between the number of men actually required to do a given amount of work with the use of machines and the number of men that would be required were the excavation done by hand labor alone. The use of the 70-ton and 95-ton steam shovels requires the service of only 298 la borers, including the men used in moving up the shovel and clearing the track, and the engineer and trainmen. On the supposition that one good man could load 6 cubic yards in 8 hours, to move the 815.270 cubic yards per month would call for the work of 5,456 laborers, a saving of over 5,000 men from the steam shovels alone. Another important saving in the use of the steam shovel is connected with the question of drilling and blasting the ground into such sizes and weights as men can load on the cars. A man can handle a rock of from 150 to 200 pounds weight; a steam shovel will handle rock weighing 21,000 pounds. In breaking up the material into sizes that can be handled by men, two or three times as much drilling is necessary as to break it up for the shovels. While one-third of a pound of explosives will blast out a cubic yard of ma terial suitable for a steam shovel to handle, a pound of explosive must be used to break the same amount for hand labor. Hence, if the loading were done by hand, instead of 700 to 800 men as at present, it would take from 2,100 to 2,400 men; and, instead of using, as in the month of March last, 260,000 pounds of explo sive for an output of 815,270 cubic yards, it would have been necessary to use 780,000 pounds. A large part of the labor cost of excavating the Culebra cut is due to the work of disposing of the ex cavated material on selected dumping grounds, on to which the material is hauled over railroad tracks. After the track is once laid, it has to be continually shifted over to the edge of the dump. This is done by what is known as a track-throwing machine, which will throw over a mile of track a distance of 9 feet in eight hours. This machine is handled by three men and six laborers, who do the same work in the same time that would necessitate the employment of 500 or 600 hand laborers. When the trainload of material has been hauled out to the dump, there comes the important question of unloading, and this is done by means of a special machine which has made a record at Culebra of unloading 5,000 cubic yards from sixteen trains in eight hours. At this rate, seven un-loaders and plows would take care of the daily output in the month of March last; and this would mean that 28 white men and 42 laborers could unload 32,000 cubic yards a day. A man with a shovel could unload only 12 cubic yards a day, upon which basis we find that, by the old methods of unloading by hand, it would require 2,660 laborers and 100 white foremen to do as much as 28 white men and 43 laborers and firemen, employed on mechanical unloading. After the material has been plowed off the cars, it is pushed away from the track by mechanical spreaders, which distribute the material from 9 to 12 feet out from the track. To accomplish this work by hand would in volve the use of 3,000 laborers, as against 8 machines, 16 white men, and 24 laborers and firemen. A com parison of the train service of the French, as used twenty-five years ago for hauling the material out to dump, and the service now in operation at Panama, shows also a remarkable gain in efficiency. This com parison is, of course, no reflection on the French meth ods, as the development in the size and capacity of trains during the last quarter century has been ex traordinary. The standard engine used by the French, and rebuilt by us, hauls a dozen four-yard dump cars, or a train carrying 48 cubic yards of material. Our engines haul 20 Western dump cars of 12 yards capac ity each, or 240 cubic yards per train; or they will haul 17 flat cars of 18 cubic yards capacity; a total of 306 cubic yards per train. Therefore, to haul our present output of 32,000 cubic yards daily, it takes 666 French trains as against 133 trains of Western dumps, or 104 trains of flat cars of our American equipment. In a general comparison of results with the work done twenty-five years ago by the French, which Mr. Bolich is careful to state were the methods In vogue twenty years ago on similar work in the United States, we find that with a total of 7,000 men, superintendents, timekeepers, laborers, etc., we took out of the Culebra cut in March last 815,270 cubic yards. At the height of their operations the French took out a maximum of 282,528 cubic yards from the Cule'bra cut in one month, with the employment of from 16,000 to 18,000 laborers alone, not including su perintendents, foremen, etc. Probably of this number of laborers about fifty per cent, or 9,000, was the ef ficient working force. The results per month, per la borer, work out as 32 cubic yards under the French, as against 116 cubic yards per man per month, under our present administration.
This article was originally published with the title "Labor Saving at Panama"