An Original Panama Canal Steam Railway Crane


As both the French and Americans found out the hard way, everything had to be imported by the Isthmus of Panama for the construction of the canal.

“Everything, everything, has to be brought to Panama, including the men to do the work.

There would be no home-grown labor force to count on, no armies of Egyptian fellahin this time.  Labor had to be figured like freight, very expensive freight.

Then every pick and shovel, every tent, blanket, mattress, every cook stove and locomotive, had to carried by ship across thousands of miles of ocean.  The canal builders could count on Panama to provide nothing but the place to dig the canal.”

Much of the work of preparation during the first two years of American occupation—1904-1905—would have been seriously delayed without the French supplies and equipment.   In the shops and storehouses were found a plentiful supply of repair parts, shop tools, stationary engines, material and supplies of all kinds of good quality.

The American Isthmian Canal Commission (I.C.C.) gradually replaced the old French equipment with machinery designed for a larger scale of work (such as the giant hydraulic crushers supplied by the Joshua Hendy Iron Works), to quicken the pace of construction.

The railway greatly assisted in the building of the canal. Besides all the massive tons of men, equipment and supplies the railroad hauled around it did much more. Essentially all of the tens of millions of cubic yards of material from the required canal cuts were loaded by steam shovel onto rail cars and hauled out by steam engine.

Techniques were developed to pick up large sections of track by steam powered cranes and relocate them without rebuilding them. This allowed the track to precede the railroad mounted steam shovels where ever they needed to go. Massive scrapers were developed to scrape the dirt off the dirt cars where it was being unloaded allowing them to be unloaded rapidly.

The railroads and the steam shovel were the two main pieces of power equipment used to construct the canal.  One of the suppliers of steam shovels and cranes for the construction of the waterway, was Bucyrus International, Inc. Bucyrus is a manufacturer of heavy mining equipment. Founded in Bucyrus, Ohio in 1880, the headquarters were moved to its current location in South Milwaukee, Wisconsin in 1893.

They were an early producer of steam shovels. Its products now include large electric rope shovels, walking draglines, and rotary blasthole drills for the surface mining industry.

Below are several pictures of a large railway steam crane that is currently displayed beside the Balboa Railroad Station.  It was recently painted and looked as if it were new.  It was one of many steam heavy equipments used during the construction of the Panama Canal.  Here we go.

Photograph of a large 75 ton steam engine railway crane built by the Bucyrus Co., South Milwaukee, Wis.  The picture was taken on March 22, 2009.  (Credit:  Omar Upegui R.)
Photograph of a large 75 ton steam engine railway crane built by the Bucyrus Co., South Milwaukee, Wis. The picture was taken on March 22, 2009. (Credit: Omar Upegui R.)
Photograph of metallic plate attached to the railway crane indicating the builder of the heavy equipment.  (Credit:  Omar Upegui R.)
Photograph of metallic plate attached to the railway crane indicating the builder of the heavy equipment. (Credit: Omar Upegui R.)
Photograph of the formiadable heavy equipment responsible for the construction of the Panama Canal.  (Credit:  Omar Upegui R.)
Photograph of the formidable original heavy equipment responsible for the construction of the Panama Canal. Notice the large Christmas tree red ball hanging from the crane. (Credit: Omar Upegui R.)
Another metallic plate found attached to the Bucyrus crane.  They sure wanted their company to be proudly remembered in the future.  Their name is all over the heavy equipment.  (Credit:  Omar Upegui R.)
Another metallic plate found attached to the Bucyrus crane. They sure wanted their company to be proudly remembered in the future. Their name is all over the heavy equipment. (Credit: Omar Upegui R.)
Photograph of the guts of the beast.  Notice that the cylinder is beginning to show the passing of time.  (Credit:  Omar Upegui R.)
Photograph of the guts of the beast. Notice that the cylinder is beginning to show the passing of time. (Credit: Omar Upegui R.)
An impressive front view of the railway crane with all its complex operating equpment neatly painted in black and white.  (Credit:  Omar Upegui R.)
An impressive front view of the railway crane with all its complex operating equipment neatly painted in black and white. (Credit: Omar Upegui R.)
Photograph of the long arm of the crane which resembles a giant metallic dynosaurus eating a red ball.  (Credit:  Omar Upegui R.)
Photograph of the long arm of the crane which resembles a giant metallic dinosaur playing with a red ball. (Credit: Omar Upegui R.)

Yep, everything had to be imported into Panama to successfully accomplish the construction of the Panama Canal.  I’m glad they got hold of this baby.  Good Day.

17 thoughts on “An Original Panama Canal Steam Railway Crane”

  1. The one thing that did not have to be shipped to Panama to build the canal was the American built Panama Railroad. It had been in place since 1855 and was a working railroad when the French started building the canal in 1880. It had to be expanded to meet the capacity requirements of building the canal so additional rail equipment did in fact need to be shipped to Panama. There was not one truck used in building the canal; ships, trains, horse carts and human push carts/wheelbarrows but no trucks.

    1. Hello Joseph:

      That is correct. The railroad was very important in the building of the waterway. In fact, it was because the railroad was already built and was making a very good profit, that there was additional pressure for a canal to move people and merchandise from the East to the West Coast.

      The French needed the railroad in their hands for the project, and after drawn-out negotiations between Paris and New York, they bought it for $20 million.

      Thank you for your comments. I enjoyed them.

      Regards,

      Omar.-

  2. These pictures are fantastic, require much patience to take.
    We Zonians miss the Canal Zone and appreciate when you
    share with us. Are you a professional photographer and where do you work out of? Thank you very much, Omar.
    Joanne Robinson
    (818)889-3645

    1. Hi Joanne:

      Thank you for your kind words. No, I’m not a professional photographer. I recently got hooked on photography and am getting my feet wet taking pictures for my blog. I’m currently retired and decided that photography would be good to invest my time.

      The former Canal Zone is a fascinating area sui generis in the world. The architecture style is awesome. I’m taking time to take photograph of places of interest for many Zonians who would be interested in how the area is preserved after the U.S. relinquished jurisdiction to Panama.

      Yesterday I took pictures of Balboa Heights, Gorgas Hospital and residences beside Ancon Hill. You might want to see them sometime tomorrow.

      You’re welcome, Joanne.

      Bye,

      Omar.-

    1. Hi Panama Legal Services:

      I will do my best to keep on taking pictures of the former Canal Zone. I know many people currently living abroad appreciate looking back at an area where they spent most of their life. As you know, the U.S. managed the Panama Canal for almost 100 years.

      Best Regards,

      Omar.-

  3. Hello Omar:

    A Pacific NW Panama Canal Society member sent me this link! Thank you so much for the wonderful photos and the pictures.

    In addition to living in CZ, I also lived around copper mines in AZ and have seen many large scale “open pit” mining operations from the 1950’s and 1960’s.

    This old equipment from the late 19th and early 20th century set the stage for the mining industry in the SW USA and the dam building era here in the Pacific NW USA.

    Cheers!

    1. Hi CoCo Sutton:

      I appreciate your comments regarding my pictures about the equipment used to build the Panama Canal. I’m glad Lingua Franca is contributing to the understanding of the largest building project since the great pyramids of Egypt.

      Best Regards,

      Omar.-

  4. I enjoyed the pictures and the writtings. I especially appreciated the statemnts on the railroad. My Grandfather,
    John Dabney Veney went to Panama in 1906 as a blacksmith for the railroad. He was emplyed by the Canal off and on until 1935 and returned at their request during the Second World War to aid in the war effort. For about 18 months. During construction the family lived in Empire which does not exist anymore. When I was 12 or 13 My Grandfather wanted to see Empire and the old road and railroad bed still existed on the Westbank of the Canal. My father and my Grandfather took me down this old road and into the jungle to find the remains of Empire. I still have a piece of petrafied wood found close to the old railroad bed that my Dad knew about. All you could see of Empire was concrete pillars or house foundations slowly being reclaimed by the jungle.
    Peggy Hansen

    1. Hello Peggy:

      Thank you for your nice comments about Lingua Franca. I’m so glad this post brought you back to Empire, where your Grandfather used to work. That is purpose of these posts, to re-create past experiences at the Panama Canal Zone and feel how it was then when the Panama Canal was in full construction.

      Best Regards,

      Omar.-

  5. Actually, as the builder’s plate clearly shows, the crane (it was actually a wrecking derrick, built for rerailing locomotives and cars), was built by the Bucyrus Company. It was one of four built for the Panama Canal project. Two, numbers 3 and 4, were for the Panama Railroad proper. 64 and another, a 100-ton capacity crane numbered 32, were lettered and numbered for the Isthmian Canal Commission.

    The Bucyrus Company built the majority of steam shovels used in digging the canal, and the company’s proudest possession was a view of Theodore Roosevelt sitting aboard one of their steam shovels in Culebra Cut.

    Bucyrus Company later became Bucyrus-Erie, and more recently, Bucyrus International.

    Comparison of a drawing of 64 as built with the recent photographs shows that the original boom was replaced with a longer and more sharply bent boom, probably many years after the wrecker was originally built.

    1. Hello John:

      I appreciate your explanations about the wrecking derrick used in the construction of the Panama Canal. I did see a photograph of Teddy Roosevelt sitting aboard a steam shovel in Culebra Cut.

      Thanks once again,

      Omar.-

  6. Actually, I spoke a little too soon when I said the boom on wrecker 64 had been replaced. That was based on a drawing I had. After I posted, I found a photograph I had of it helping to pick up a steam shovel that had been broadsided by a landslide, taken in about 1912 (the wrecker was built in 1910), showing it with the same boom it has in your pictures.

    Obviously, the drawing was incorrect. My apologies.

    1. Hello John:

      Don’t worry, your clarification of the boom is well taken. These machines were instrumental in the building of the international waterway.

      Thank you for your comment and correction. I’m sure our readers will take notice of your rectification.

      Best Regards,

      Omar.-

  7. I actually have a slice of the Panama Canal Railroad orginal rail. As I understand it, it was pulled up to make way for the canal and then a section was sliced up and engraved with the names of some of the higher ups working on the canal (one of which happened to be my great grandfather). On one side it says “Original Rail 1852 Panama RR” and on the other side it reads “WH Stevens — Panama”. My grandfather graduated from Canal Zone High.

  8. Recently saw a brass Bucyrus plaque that had the word Pittsburgh across the top, the date 1909 and No. 135 on it along with south Milwaukee Wisconsin. Could this be from the Panama Canal project?

    Plaque seen in Swansboro Nc, USA

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