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“The Mayoral Limo”



From “Willlie’s World,” the Sunday opinion column of former Mayor Willie L. Brown, Jr. in today’s San Francisco Chronicle.

“Sometimes I feel like the Rodney Dangerfield of mayors.

“I hopped onto a packed-to-the-rafters F-line trolley the other night and the driver immediately announced, ‘Ladies and gentleman, you are riding in the mayoral limo.’

“To which some guy in the back piped up, ‘They don’t have limos in Mineola.'”

Mayor Brown grew up in the tiny Texas town of Mineola.

Just shows again that you never know who you’ll see on the F-line.

(Thanks to Adolfo Echeverry for the great photo, from our Facebook group.)

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Cable Car Holiday Tradition

DG0005, Californa St cable car decorated for Christmas, California at Presidio, early 50's(Phillip Scherer)We’ve been loving the decorated cable cars on the Powell and California lines this holiday season (see photo below). The idea of decorated cable cars actually goes back at least 65 years to the last desperate years of the California Street Cable Railway Company.

After Muni took over the Powell Cable lines in 1944, “Cal Cable” soldiered on with its three lines: California from Market all the way out to Presidio Avenue (where the car above is pictured, in front of the old Jewish Community Center); O’Farrell, Jones & Hyde (the northern end of which was later incorporated into one of the Powell lines); and the Jones Street shuttle from Market to O’Farrell. But Cal Cable, a small privately owned company, was getting deeper and deeper into financial straits. This led to creative fund-raising ideas, such as soliciting “all over” advertising for some of their cable cars, precursors to the ghastly ad “wraps” we see today on Muni LRVs and buses (but thanks in part to our advocacy, not on the historic streetcars!).

The shot above dates to the last holiday season of operation for Cal Cable. It has to be 1950, since the trolley bus wires are in place for the impending conversion of Muni’s 1-California to trolley coaches. Cal Cable shut down operations in mid-1951 when they were unable to get insurance, leaving their cables silent for holiday season of that year. (Muni took over Cal Cable and resumed operations in early 1952.) The car is sponsored by Hiram Walker, a Canadian distiller, and advertises its Imperial whiskey.

Below, we see a decorated California Street cable car headed downtown from Powell Street in a December 17 photo from the SFMTA blog.

Night Street Scenes and Cable CarsHappy Holidays, everyone!


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Now THAT’S a Storm!


The breathless media hype aside, yes, we actually did have a pretty good soaker on December 11; biggest we’ve seen in a few years (which is like saying that first Budweiser tasted great … after a month in Saudi Arabia). Yet, in context…

Church and Market, c.1930

Now THAT’S a storm. Market, looking east at Church in 1931. That high riding 1550-class Market Street Railway car, on the 8-Market line, just skates across the pond, its Eclipse fender riding the waves.  That Willys Knight on the left is up to its hubs.

This intersection was very prone to flooding until the Muni Metro subway was built beneath in the 1970s, incorporating drainage improvements (hat tip: Emiliano Echeverria).

Compare that scene to today, with PCC No. 1074, honoring Toronto (where the bigger problem is snow) crossing that same Market and Church intersection, puddle-free. (Thanks to Matt Lee for the photo, from our Facebook Group.) The building you see at the corner in the 1931 shot gave way to the Safeway parking lot. (Not an improvement.)Church and Market 1074_121114 copy


The streetcars soldiered through the storm, while the cable cars sat in the barn for the second rain in a row, pulled from the streets by management for “safety reasons.” The cables no doubt were on the street back in that 1931 storm, on Castro, Clay, O’Farrell, and Jones as well as Powell, California, Hyde, and Mason. In fact, the cable cars — and their skilled crews — have regularly handled storms like today’s over the past century plus. Current SFMTA management, though, shows an abundance of caution with the cables.

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Dressed for the Season


On our Facebook Market Street Railway group, photographers are reminding us that the holidays are upon us, and San Francisco’s historic rail vehicles reflect that. Above, Adolfo Echeverry’s great night shot combines PCC No. 1073 (honoring El Paso-Juarez, with wreath supplied by our volunteers) and the cable car turntable at Powell and Market, with its banners promoting holiday shopping across the street at The Emporium (Westfield’s San Francisco Centre). Below, Curley Reed captures Powell cable car No. 10 taking the plunge down the Hyde Street Hill. If you’re on Facebook, search for Market Street Railway and choose the “group” so you can comment and post photos as well! And if you”re not a member of Market Street Railway yet, click here to learn why you should be!



Oh, and don’t forget, ’tis the season to get great gifts, either at our San Francisco Railway Museum or our online store.

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‘Tis the Season


Our elves were out and about this rainy Sunday, making sure the F-line streetcars, whether naughty or nice, all got their wreaths mounted on the front end for the holiday season. At the 17th and Castro terminal, now reopened after renovations to the surrounding Jane Warner Plaza, Market Street Railway volunteers Shanan Delp, William Watt, and Jeremy Whiteman.

10372210_10152541444561239_2408627319082403510_nJeremy has been a busy guy, helping out on cable car decorating as well, as indicated in this post from our Facebook group. We like to see as many folks as possible involved in making the historic streetcars and cable cars look great for the season.

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Special Sale at Our Museum


Not just “Black Friday,” but an entire weekend of discounts, giving you a chance to save on those unique gifts for friends — or yourself! Our exclusive field guide to the historic streetcars and cable cars, ON TRACK. Our exclusive full color 2015 “Museums in Motion” calendar. An array of apparel, cards, posters, bookmarks and more we design ourselves  and you can’t find anywhere else.

Our Members, who always get an 10% off all merchandise, can apply their discount after they take the initial 15% savings, making this an exceptional opportunity for them. For you non-members, it’s a great reason to join Market Street Railway right now. The proceeds from your membership and purchases support our non-profit’s mission of preserving historic transit in San Francisco.

So come to our San Francisco Railway Museum this weekend, or shop online! (Online, when you check out, enter the coupon code stockton100 for the 15% discount. Members then add their discount code, shown on the checkout page, to get their additional 10% savings.)

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Gratitude: Big Picture and Closeup

Haight Street, West from Central Avenue

On this Thanksgiving weekend, we’re grateful for many things.

We’re grateful for the ongoing support of our members, donors, volunteers, and neighborhood, business, and labor groups in providing strong advocacy for San Francisco’s historic streetcars and cable cars.

We’re grateful for the hard work of so many employees of our preservation partners at the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency (SFMTA) in keeping Muni’s vintage transit vehicles on the street, looking good, and running safely.

We’re grateful for the leadership of SFMTA’s Ed Reiskin and John Haley and their senior teams, and of course their Board of Directors, led by Chair Tom Nolan and Vice Chair Cheryl Brinkman. And for the support we’ve received from so many Mayors and Supervisors over the decades.

These are “big-picture” thanks. But there’s a world of “closeup” thanks to share too. Including the photo above — or more specifically what it represents. It’s Haight Street between Central and Masonic avenues, just before Thanksgiving 1906; specifically, a bakery selling mince and squash pies for a quarter. It’s a detail in a wider shot that’s the subject of the Thanksgiving post of the great new blog recently launched by SFMTA.

The blog, Moving SF, which carries all kinds of news about the city’s transportation operations, also includes recurring posts featuring photos from the SFMTA Archives. This is possible because of a strengthened commitment by the agency to preserve its photographic past. Some of the work came from staff photographers documenting the original Municipal Railway, founded as a city agency in 1912. But other images, including hundreds of rare glass plates, came from old rival United Railroads, which became the Market Street Railway Company in 1921 and was merged into Muni in 1944.

For decades, these glass plates languished, largely forgotten, at times neglected, even sometimes stolen. Many ended up in the hands of individual preservationists; in recent years volunteers including Emiliano Echeverria have reunited many of these lost glass plates with the SFMTA Archive. Large glass plate negatives provide incredible detail not usually available from smaller film negatives. The SFMTA blog makes it possible to share these marvelous snapshots of history with thoughtful curation, in this case by Jeremy Menzies. Here’s the wider shot, with the detail indicated by the dotted lines on the upper right of the image.

One geek-out observation: here on Haight, United Railroads went to the expense of replacing the tracks of the old standard gauge cable car line, badly damaged in the Earthquake and Fire, with brand new standard gauge streetcar tracks. But just six blocks to the north, on Fulton Street, the company left identical cable car tracks in place and ran streetcars over them for the next 41 years!

Haight Street, West from Central Avenue
We’re grateful for SFMTA’s commitment to their Archives, which fall under the purview of SFMTA Marketing Director Candace Sue. And we’re grateful for the dozens of photographers whose images of San Francisco’s transit history have been donated to our Market Street Railway Archives. Led by our Education Committee chair, Alison Cant, these images are being curated by volunteers led by Mike Sheridan and Bob Strachan, to whom we are also grateful.

Our members are now seeing Market Street Railway Archives images in every issue of our quarterly member newsletter, Inside Track.  Join here to get Inside Track delivered to you four times a year, along with the other benefits of Market Street Railway Membership. Your membership helps us continue the advocacy and support of San Francisco historic transit, including our own archival activities — and of course, this website.

We incurred significant one-time expenses these past few months rebuilding this site from scratch on a proven, robust platform that gives us better capabilities, including the ability to post our own archival images more frequently, as you’ll see in the coming weeks. We’ve mailed a year-end donation letter to our members, outlining our needs and asking for your help. Members and non-members alike can help us by donating securely here. Any amount is welcome.

Thanks and Happy Thanksgiving to all!



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Thanks for the Green!

P1060109One hundred Thanksgivings ago, Muni was laying streetcar track at the spot you see here, and finishing up the Stockton Tunnel in the background, all to create the original F-line, the F-Stockton, which was initially built to carry crowds to the Panama-Pacific International Exposition.

Fast forward to today, when Muni is building a rail line under Stockton Street — the new Central Subway, which will be an extension of the T-Third line when it opens, slated for four years from now.

Constructing the Union Square Station on lower Stockton required rerouting all traffic, including the 8x, 30, and 45 bus lines, off the street while it was dug up. Businesses have been suffering. But for this holiday season, they’ve laid artificial turf over the first two blocks of what’s normally the Stockton Street roadway to cover up the excavation.

People love it.

The project is called Winter Walk, and there’s a series of events that go with it. It runs through New Year’s Day, after which construction starts again. That means those two blocks of green will still be in place on December 29, the 100th anniversary of the opening of the first F-line. Sounds like a good time and place to raise a glass to Muni’s first 100 years on Stockton Street. If anyone’s interested, we’ll help!

And by the way, drop by our San Francisco Railway Museum to see our new Exhibit, “Fair, Please,” showing how Muni came of age by building lines to serve that 1915 Panama-Pacific International Exhibition. If you can’t make it down, you can read an archive article about the 1915 Fair from our Member newsletter, Inside Track. Join here to get all kinds of unique member-only content. Memberships make great gifts too!


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Shiny Museum for Your Shopping Spree



We’ve just completed the sealing process on the floor of our San Francisco Railway Museum and it looks fabulous. Yes, those are replica tracks embedded in the “street,” with a “switch” visible at the bottom to take you right to the check-out counter.

Which brings us to this:


Come on down before Thanksgiving and save 25% on all books. It’s a great way to start your holiday shopping a little early.

The museum will be closed Thanksgiving, of course; open again on Friday morning at 10 a.m. and all weekend as well. But the savings come before Thanksgiving. And online too (use code turkey25 at checkout).

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Flagship Powell Cable Car Slips Into Service (1 Comment)

Car 1 Roll Out 007Without fanfare, the latest product of Muni’s able cable car shops has rejoined the fleet after a full restoration and makeover.

And it’s a honey.

Powell Street Cable Car No. 1 (not to be confused with its “cousin,” Muni streetcar No. 1), quietly slipped out of the cable car barn and went into service on the Powell-Mason line November 15, following a two-year rebuilding process.

Despite its number, Powell No. 1 (full history here) is not the oldest car in the Powell fleet, though parts of it are venerable. Muni wanted something special to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the opening of Andrew Hallidie’s first cable car line (on Clay Street) in 1873. With cable cars gone on Clay for 30 years by that time, Muni chose to mark the centennial of the invention of the cable car by creating  a Powell car that was as close to possible to their original 1888 appearance. Charlie Smallwood, rail historian and then-head of cable car maintenance, had a worn-out car in the fleet at the time, No. 506, that needed rebuilding. That car had been built in 1893 by Carter Brothers.  Smallwood hung the 506’s roof from the ceiling and built a new cable car under it, also salvaging the seats.Car 1 Roll Out 027Smallwood added long-vanished touches to his centennial creation, like roof signs on the ends of the car that showed where it was going. The rear end said “Powell Street.” The front originally said “Market Street & North Beach,” which is still true for the Mason line, but since the Powell-Hyde line, which the car will also serve, goes nowhere near North Beach, Smallwood changed the front sign to read “Market Street & Fisherman’s Wharf.


Since the original livery chosen was used only on cars that ran the Powell-Mason line, and the restored car would serve both the Mason and Hyde lines, he couldn’t paint the destinations permanently beneath the front windows, so he created reversible metal signs with the Mason destinations on one side, Hyde on the other.  He also added conical caps on the roof, a detail that had long ago vanished from cable cars but had originally served as vents for interior kerosene lamps. Some aspects of the original Powell Street cable cars (like No. 9 above, shot when new in 1888), couldn’t be duplicated. For example the original open front end was barred by a 1904 requirement for windshields on transit vehicles.

Car 1 Roll Out 041Some of this 1973 restoration detail had vanished from No. 1 in subsequent decades. For example, the owner’s name, “Powell Street Railway Co.”, on the side rocker panels, was replaced by a standard San Francisco Municipal Railway decal.  The destination signs on the ends were replaced by ones with stick-on letters. And the roof signs disappeared.  With Market Street Railway’s help, Muni’s great crafts workers were able to put these original touches back on Powell No. 1 to get it as close as possible to its original appearance.

When No. 1 was created in 1973, all the Powell cable cars were painted in Muni’s then-standard green and cream, as now modeled on Powell cable car No. 3. But its handsome maroon livery with sky blue and white trim was so well liked, it was adopted, in simplified form, for all the Powell cars (except No. 3) when the cable system was rebuilt in 1982-84.

Since then, with Market Street Railway’s help, Muni has gradually reintroduced historic liveries to the Powell Street cable car line, such that there are now 9 of them. Scroll to the bottom of this page and click on the ones you want to see. Our museum and our online store offers a poster of all the historic cable car liveries. Proceeds help support our work to bring these historic cable car liveries back to the streets of San Francisco.

Thanks to the cable car maintenance team for sending along the launch photos and to Joe Thompson, the Cable Car Guy (great site by the way) for letting us use the 1888 shot.

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