A day later, the journey continued by train. The Panama Canal didn’t exist at that time; work on its construction didn’t begin until 1881. So the immigrants had to travel from one coast to the other by train. After about three hours in a railway car packed with people, they arrived in Panama City and were immediately taken to the ocean steamer Constitution, which was to convey them to their final destination, San Francisco. For the Heers, this final voyage was the worst:
“The journey from Le Havre to New York was a pleasure cruise compared to this one, because from New York to Aspinwall we suffered from great hunger and from Panama to San Francisco it was even worse: there were no potatoes for 10 days, no such thing as bread, nothing but foul-smelling meat, sulphurated rice, Türken (polenta) and rusks and that’s all, and if you wanted to get anything you had to scramble for it.”
The daily battle for the bad food was waged with hands and feet.
“A full hour before the signal is given with a bell, people line up like wolves waiting for their prey, and as soon as the swill is set out in large containers, everyone piles in, everything by hand, and even if it’s still hot they put their hands in it to grab something.”