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The Day the Streetcars (Almost) Died

It was 30 years ago today, September 17, 1982, that surface streetcars on Market Street were supposed to roll into history forever. As Market Street Railway member Bob Davis reminds us, that was expected to be the final day of operation of Muni’s streamlined PCC streetcars, with full seven-day operation in the Muni Metro Subway on all five lines (J,K,L,M,N) starting the next morning, using new Boeing light rail vehicles.

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When PCC No. 1108 took the N-Judah beach loop on September 17, 1982, it was thought it would be the last PCC to ever do that. Thanks to lots of effort by advocates, that turned out not to be true. Bob Davis photo.

Bob says he drove up from Southern California just for the event.

“I went to Geneva [Division, at San Jose and Ocean Avenues] and found that the last car would be an ‘N’ and went off to intercept it. A handful of passengers rode that historic car. When we reached the 30th Ave. wye, the motorman told us that a charter car would be following us, and put our car ‘in the hole’ and turned off the lights. Soon the charter run [PCC No. 1006] came by, and we sat tight until it passed our hideout inbound. Now it was back onto Judah St. and our date with history.”

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PCC No. 1006, pictured here at the old Geneva car house after pulling in on September 17, 1982, was supposed to be the last car back to the barn, carrying railfans on a charter. But it got tricked by No. 1108, hiding on a siding. Bob Davis photo.

But of course, it didn’t turn out that way. Thanks to the efforts of advocates, including leaders of Market Street Railway, vintage streetcars returned to Market Street the following summer for the first Trolley Festival, which proved the allure of historic transit and led to the permanent F-line. (No. 1006 was chosen to be one of three PCCs in the Festival fleet.) During the Trolley Festival years, the vintage streetcars occasionally operated on the outer ends of the J, K, L, M, and N lines. Since 1995, of course, PCCs have operated on the F-line every single day.

Even better, both the charter streetcar (No. 1006) and the last pull-in (No. 1108) are still around.

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PCC No. 1006 testing on 19th Avenue on the M-Ocean View line, September 2012. Whole Wheat Toast photo from the Market Street Railway Flickr Group.

No. 1006, in fact, is out most days right now on the K, L, and M lines being tested after just returning from a total rebuild by Brookville Equipment Corporation in Pennsylvania. It will soon be carrying passengers again. No. 1108 is one of the “reserve fleet” of unrestored PCCs, some 20 in all, being held by Muni for possible future restoration if demand warrants.

One other note: the N-line has been officially off-limits to vintage streetcars for well over a decade, since Muni discovered that a new accessibility ramp at Ninth and Judah was misdesigned such that the biggest vintage streetcars would hit it as they swung into the curve on Ninth Avenue. A year or so ago, Muni ran some late night tests and found that all the single-end PCC cars (Nos. 1040, 1050-1063, and 1070-1080) would clear the ramp. Based on their relative size, all the Milan trams should clear the ramp as well. along with most of the older, one-of-a-kind cars, such as the popular Blackpool boat tram. To the best of our knowledge, only the seven double-end PCC cars (Nos. 1006-1011 and 1015), big Muni “Iron Monsters” Nos. 130 and 162, and possibly Car No. 1, wouldn’t clear the ramp.

We will be renewing our efforts with Muni to allow charters and other special operations of the streetcars that fit on the N-Judah line, in hopes that today’s riders have a chance to duplicate that special trip Bob Davis and others took 30 years ago today.

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Comments

When I was operating a charter with the Boat, I was specifically informed that I could take the Boat out to Judah & La Playa…sadly, I couldn’t convince the charter people that they needed to go out the Nancy.

Regarding the clearance at 9th and Judah: I seem to recall reading somewhere many years ago that certain of the PCCs were seldom if ever assigned to the J-Church line because they were likely to scrape something… was that a curve or at the bottom of a grade somewhere near Mission Dolores? If that was correct, it’s remarkable how history can repeat (or at least rhyme).

I am glad that September 17, 1982 was not the last day for the PCCs and that they, like the cable cars before them, have enough supporters to keep them going. That’s a big reason I love San Francisco.

Let’s not forget Muni GM Harold Gessehimer or Mayor Diane Fienstein, who approved the idea of the Trolley Festival. The Powell Cable Car was down for a one year restoration, and the summer Trolley Festival was a great way to provide tourist an alternative to the cable car. The next few years was great time on Market St., thanks to the fans a well, such as the late Morey Clebolt. Cars from around the world made summer visits to Market Street.

If you take a look around our site, particularly the pages discussing the Trolley Festival, you’ll see plenty of paeans to all three of these folks: Harold Geissenheimer, Mayor Dianne Feinstein, and Maury Klebolt (corrected spellings on all three). We could never forget any of these three, all very important to the F-line being here today.

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